Saturday, April 24, 2010

Review: "Beautiful Creatures" by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is a teenage Gothic romance set in a small southern town. Ethan Wate is a high school student being raise by his housekeeper after his mother’s death and his father’s subsequent depression. When Lena Duchannes moves to town, she is immediately shunned by the “in-crowd” due to her weird clothes and strange personality. The more Ethan learns of Lena, the more he is drawn to her - despite the massive pressure he receives from his friends to shun her. Ethan discovers that Lena’s family are Casters, beings capable of performing magic through spells. On Lena’s upcoming sixteenth birthday, she will learn whether her magic will be claimed by the light or the dark. Until then, she lives in fear that she will be forced against her will to turn to the dark.

One thing that I liked about this book is that it was told from the point of view of the male lead. So many of teen romances are written from the view point of the girl that this book seems fresh right from the first page. Ethan was a great character. He was smart, thoughtful, very relatable. I think boys like Ethan are out there in every high school. He’s popular. He fits in. Yet, there is a deep secret self within Ethan that keeps him separate from the other kids in school. In some ways, he seems all alone in the middle of a crowd.

It is this secret part of Ethan with relates to Lena from the moment he sees her. She doesn’t fit in. She isn’t popular. And she wears her difference like a badge of honor. Ethan sees her courage and longs for it within himself. If anything, Lena’s presence gives him permission to be himself for the first time.

Lena’s character is moderately interesting, though slightly predictable. While Ethan’s character feels fresh, Lena’s is borderline cliché. However, what her character lacks in originality, she makes up for by supplying the conflict and drama to fuel the plot. I don’t want to give too much more about the plot away, so I will be brief on that point. Let’s just say that there was enough conflict and drama to keep this 600 page book interesting.

History also plays a strong role in this novel. Like a lot of southern towns, the Civil War still has a strong presence in the place identity. With the weaving in of past events into the present, the authors are able to give that feeling of history being a live, active thing.

I enjoyed this book. I found it entertaining, although slightly predictable. I don’t know if there are any plans for a sequel, but the world of the Casters could provide some good material for the story to continue.

Overall, I give Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl…

Compelling Characters – 3 ½ bookmarks

Plot – 2 bookmarks

Historic Detail – 3 bookmarks

Paranormal Elements – 3 bookmarks

Age Appropriateness - 4 1/2 bookmarks

Dream Cast (Otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Vanessa Marano (Lena), a young James McAvoy (Ethan), Billy Zane (Uncle Macon Ravenwood)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: "Halfway To The Grave" by Jeaniene Frost

Oooh, I love me a good vampire book! On the sage advice of my new writing partner, Elyse, I read Halfway To The Grave by Jeaninene Frost, the first in the Night Huntress series. Cat Crawfield is a genetic anomaly, half vampire, half human. This unique combination means that she is mortal and has a heartbeat, but she is also blessed with certain vamp powers such as speed, strength and funky eyes that turn green when she’s pissed off or horny. Rock on!

When we first meet Cat, she has a major chip on her shoulder. It seems that Daddy-Dearest raped her mother, which resulted in her conception. As a result, her mother instilled in her a deep hated for the undead. (Apparently, her mother didn’t care about things like teaching her half-vamp daughter self-hatred…) So from the time Cat is sixteen years old, Cat is encouraged by her ding-bat mom to hunt vampires. The story opens six years into the hunt. Cat has successfully killed sixteen vamps, but mostly due to them being young vamps and her having dumb-luck. One night she meets Bones, an old Master Vamp with some serious skills. If it weren’t for the fact that he found her fighting amusing, cat might have been lunch inside ten seconds, even with her vamp power. Bones is a bounty hunter. He kills vamps with prices on their heads, but he also has another agenda – to kill a group of evil vampires who are hunting young human women to turn into blood & sex slaves. Together, Cat and Bones decide to join forces for a common goal. In the process, they fall in love. (Awwwww…)

I really liked this book! Cat and Bones made such a great couple. From the time they first meet, they have chemistry that crackles of the page. (In the beginning, they actually reminded me a little of Sidney and Sark from my favorite cancelled show, Alias, with the exception that Sark & Sidney never got it on when everyone knew they wanted to. I digress.) Cat herself is a tough woman who does not let her human side slow her down – in fact she uses her heartbeat to lull vamps into believing she is harmless, affording her the element of surprise. The fight scenes were realistic and exciting. The lovey-dovey sections were sweet and sexy without being over done.

What didn’t I like? If you couldn’t tell already, I hated the mother. She acted like a bigot. Imagine a white mother with a mulatto child telling that kid how evil African-Americans are. Worse, imagine that the child has a responsibility to hunt and kill all African-Americans. Hello, Lady? Have you looked at your kid lately? She’s half her daddy! I hope she gets off’ed in the next book.
 Overall, I give Halfway To The Grave by Jeaniene Frost…

Interpretation of Vampire Lore – 4 bookmarks

Character Development – 3 bookmarks

Fight Scenes – 4 bookmarks

Love Story – 4 bookmarks

Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Don’t know her name, but the model on the cover of the book (Cat Crawfield), David Anders (Bones), Todd Duffey (Timmie).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review: "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls

Personal narrative, or autobiography, has always held a special place in my heart. For many years, personal narrative was all I wrote. The problem with personal narrative is that you have to have actually experienced things that people want to read about. Jeannette Walls has lived one of those lives that is so incredible, that it reads like fiction.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls details her experiences growing up in poverty with two eccentric and neglectful parents. More than once while reading her story I wondered how much more these poor children could endure. Her artistic mother was childlike and selfish, expecting her kids to take care of her. She had the most incredible selective vision and a huge case of denial. The father reminded me a little bit of the father in Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast. Rex Walls was brilliant to the borderline of insanity, but never quite falling over that edge. He did have a roaring case of alcoholism, which prevented him from turning his inventive schemes into money-makers. This left the five children of the Walls family to go hungry and without adequate clothing or shelter for most of their childhood. While the circumstances were difficult, Jeannette Walls also was able to find moments of beauty in her upbringing and reasons for hope.

Reading The Glass Castle is a little like having your eyes opened to something that you don’t want to see. We hear stories about poverty in the United States, we know about all of the government programs out there to help the poor, yet families like this do actually exist. For this reason, I think people need to read this book.

Overall, I give The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls…

Literary Merit/Writing Quality – 5 bookmarks (The voice was very strong.)

Thematic Development – 4 bookmarks
 Honestly – 5 bookmarks (Very important in personal narrative…)

Dream Cast (Otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Jeannette Walls photo is on the back of the books, so she starred as herself. A younger Gary Busey (Rex Walls/Father), a younger Carole Kane (Rose Mary Walls/Mother).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Review: "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a Young Adult novel about a girl who becomes the school outcast after her call to the police leads to the busting up of a large party and the arrest of many teens for underage drinking. The story takes place over the course of Melinda’s horrific freshman year of high school where most people aren’t talking to her, and she is not speaking to anyone else. Along the way, the reader gets clues that Melinda is hiding a secret, one that might explain her actions on that fateful night of the party. While she keeps that secret to herself, her grades suffer, her relationships deteriorate and she struggles to fight off depression.

Before you start thinking this is another melodramatic story about a brooding teenager, let me assure you, Speak can be incredibly funny. Told in the first person, Melinda’s sarcastic voice and spot-on observations of high school life made me chuckle. Flipping open to a random page, I read, “Nothing good ever happens at lunch. The cafeteria is a giant sound stage where they film daily segments of Teenage Humiliation Rituals. And it smells gross.” Who can’t relate to that? I spent three years of high school reading in the choir room during lunch!

While this book deals with some mature themes, the author handles them in a subtle and appropriate manor. The teens in the story are realistic, not overly perfect. I think most teens would be able to identify with at least one character and see their friends in others.

The writing of this book has a strong literary quality. Speak was a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award and won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature from the American Library Association.

Overall I give Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson…

Literary merit – 4 bookmarks

Plot – 2 ½ bookmarks (Lots of foreshadowing made ending predictable)

Voice/Tone – 4 ½ bookmarks

Character development – 3 bookmarks

Age appropriateness – 4 ½ bookmarks

Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Vanessa Marano (Melinda)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review: "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett

I am in complete awe of Kathryn Stockett right now.  This is her first book!  I think I might be in literary love...

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's - a time when African Americans were technically "free" but trapped in a terrifying world of modern slavery.  This is a story about two groups of women.  The white society ladies and the black maids who work for them.  The house help is mostly ignored by their employers.  They raise the white children, clean the white houses and know the intimate details of the white families.  When a young white woman gets the idea of writing a collection of real stories of experiences form the maids' point of view, we see the danger of telling tales in the Deep South. 

This is not a Caucasian-trashing book.  Some of the employee/employer relationships are abusive, but there are also those that are touching and close.  Instead, it is a book about the imaginary lines people draw to separate ourselves from others.  There have been many books written about the racial troubles in the pre-Civil Rights days, but The Help provides a fresh, new perspective on commonly known tale.  Think Gone With The Wind if told from Mammie's perspective in complete honestly. 

The characters on both sides of the racial divide, were varied and well rounded.  Just when you thought a person was a villain, Stockett would trick you up with a redeeming quality.  The same goes for the heroines, they aren't perfect.  Miss Skeeter, the white writer working to interview the maids, starts off as a naive girl, opens herself to the horrors going on around her and somehow manages to find hope in the end. 

Overall, I'd give The Help:

Literary merit - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Character development - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Plot development - 5 bookmarks  (I think this is my first five!)
Historical detail - 4 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Agyness Deyn (Miss Skeeter), Mo'Nique (Minny), Rosamund Pike (Miss Celia), Dawnn Lewis (Aibileen)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Review: "Drood" by Dan Simmons

I first learned of the book Drood by Dan Simmons when recommended it to me. I read the description and immediately HAD to have this book. The below summary is quoted from Publishers Weekly:

“Bestseller Simmons (The Terror) brilliantly imagines a terrifying sequence of events as the inspiration for Dickens's last, uncompleted novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in this unsettling and complex thriller. In the course of narrowly escaping death in an 1865 train wreck and trying to rescue fellow passengers, Dickens encounters a ghoulish figure named Drood, who had apparently been traveling in a coffin. Along with his real-life novelist friend Wilkie Collins, who narrates the tale, Dickens pursues the elusive Drood, an effort that leads the pair to a nightmarish world beneath London's streets. Collins begins to wonder whether the object of their quest, if indeed the man exists, is merely a cover for his colleague's own murderous inclinations.”

Are you serious? A mystery about two of the all-time great writers and based in part on actual historic events which inspired Dicken’s novel about Edwin Drood. What’s not to like here? I ordered the hardcover on the spot.

Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed. The idea was interesting. The opium-addicted Wilkie Collins narration was brilliant and funny. The historic detail was well researched and spot on. The complex relationship between the authors were insightful. The scenes in the London sewers and opium dens were creepy as hell. So, why didn’t I enjoy reading this book more than I did? I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think this was a situation where the editor should have exercised more control over the project. It’s not just that the book was long… it was the fact that your could have cut 50-75 pages without losing anything. Several times I sat this book aside to read other things and procrastinated getting back to it. If any of you know me at all, you would know how unlike me that is. Finishing the book had almost become a chore, rather than enjoyable recreation.

For those who are Dickens’ fans, this novel should be interesting enough to hold your attention. However, if you have not read several of Dickens’ books (especially Bleak House), you may get bored with all of the literary references. Overall, I would say that Drood has some incredible things going for it, it just takes some commitment to actually read.

Plot – 1 ½ bookmarks (too slow)

Literary Merit – 2 bookmarks (without further edits), 4 1/2 bookmarks possible if tightened up.

Character Development – 3 ½ bookmarks

Creepy Factor – 2 ½ bookmarks

Historical Detail – 4 ½ bookmarks

Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Paul Giamatti (Wilkie Collins), Anthony Hopkins (Charles Dickens), The tall creepy dude who was on the TV show Moonlighting in the 80’s (Drood)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Review "Reading Between The Lines" by Lauren Dane

In preparation for my trip to Romantic Times Booklovers Convention later this month (, I am giving myself a crash course in romance literature. I have to admit, I'm not a romance reader. That doesn't mean I don't think there are great romance books out there, or that I'm trying to be a literary snob - it's just one genre I haven't had any experience with yet. Since my manuscript is solidly Chick Lit, I thought this convention would be a good way to network with other writers and hopefully, connect with an agent. Not to mention, there will be a plethora of my favorite vamp writers there. I can't wait!!!

So, for the next couple of weeks, I'll be reading and reviewing some of the authors who are presenting at the convention. I took the plunge by starting with the Erotic Romance, Reading Between The Lines by Lauren Dane. You know how the old cliché warns you not to judge a book by its cover? Well, I have never found a better example than this book. The cover art and the title seem bland and have nothing at all to do with the story inside. This turns out to be a great thing, because the story is wonderful!

Twenty-five year old Haley O'Brian is an American working for an Irish historic/anthropology foundation. Her current project is studying one of the many stone circles which can be found all over Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. It is here that she comes across a scroll that she needs to translate. Conall macCormac is a hunky Faerie who has been lurking in the wings for nine hundred years waiting for the right person to translate and read the scroll, releasing him from a curse placed on him be Ninane, a power hungry ex-fling. Slightly implausibly, but necessary none-the-less, Haley learns that she is actually a half-Faerie and of age to receive her induction into the Fae world. (Dane actually does a much better job with explaining this. Don't judge on my half-assed summary.) Predictably, Haley and Conall fall in a passionate love with each other and he makes her his wife. Together, they must defeat the evil Ninane who after learning of Conall's release from her curse, decides to seek vengeance.

While the hot-magic-Faerie-sex is well done, the story itself is engaging and beautifully written. Without giving too much away, I will just say that I at times the story was playful and light-hearted and at others heartbreakingly sorrowful. Dane is a great writer and is able to create a world so different, yet strikingly similar to our own. (The pubs in the Faerie hill serve Guinness. They could make their own brew, but they figure why do so when the perfection of Guinness exists.) The sex scenes were hot & steamy in all of the right ways. I would have liked to see a little more build up in the chemistry before they fell into bed together (They were ripping each other's clothes off by page 25.), but as the novel moved on, the love between this couple was believable.

Perhaps was not quite as believable was Haley's acceptance of her Fae heritage and her new life in the hill. She seemed to roll with the punches a little too easily. She did fight to hold on to certain remnants of the outside world, but I would have liked more insight into her thoughts.

Overall I give Reading Between the Lines...

Interpretation of Faerie lore - 3 1/2 bookmarks

Hot-Magic-Faerie-Sex - 12 bookmarks! (I mean, what's not to like?)

Character Development - 2 bookmarks

Literary Merit - 3 1/2 bookmarks

Plot - 4 bookmarks

Cover Art - 0 bookmarks (Although the author probably did not have much to do with that.)

Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Jacinda Barrett (Haley), Orlando Bloom (Conall), Lara Flynn Boyle (Ninane)

Would I recommend it? Sure, but only to right person. It is definitely NC-17 (as it should be for an Erotic Romance), and I'd never recommend it to my mother (again a bonus for the genre).

The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty

Okay, if you want to get picky, I didn't read read this book.  I've been listening to the audio book in my car.  I bought it to get me through the long drive from Florida to Wisconsin without going completely insane.  Anyway, I finished it yesterday and thought I'd add it to my diary. 

"The Rest of Her Life" is about a recent high school graduate, Kara, who accidentally kills a pedestrian with her SUV.  The story is told from the point of view of her mother, Leigh, and utilizes many flashbacks to create an irregular chronology.  The novel follows the fallout from the accident and the change in family dynamics over the course of a hot Kansas summer. 

While this book is about the remorse and grief following a horrendous accident, it has as much, if not more, to say about the relationships within a family.  Like many mothers, Leigh has trouble relating to and communicating with her teenage daughter.  Conversely, Her husband,Gary, has the same problem with their son, Justin.  While it could be argued that the conflicts in the family are stereotypical, I think they really work in this novel.  Moriarty manages to refrain from villifying anyone or making them seem unsympathetic.  These characters were so real, I felt like I was spying on the family next door. 

The accident which frames the story involves a distracted teenage driver on her cell phone.  As a former insurance agent, I've seen tragedies like this happen over and over again.  All it takes is a lack of driving focus for a split second for someone to get hurt.  While this situation may have been done before in books or film, the realism of watching each character float through the grieving process is interesting.  The teenage girl killed in the accident is a former student of Leigh's, which adds another layer to her confused emotions. 

This is a character driven novel.  If you are looking for wild car chases, mystery or dramatic plot twists, you will not find it here.  However, the writing is beautiful and Moriarty manages to weave the character's struggles together in a fresh, interesting way, without creating un-necessary melodrama. 

Overall, I give The Rest of her Life...

Literary Merit - 3 1/2 bookmarks

Character Development - 4 1/2 bookmarks

Plot - 2 bookmarks

Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Francis MacDormond (Leigh), Dakota Fanning (Kara), Jae Head (Justin)

Likeliness that I'll read it again - None.  No offense to this book or anything, but there are very few books that I feel compelled to re-read.  I would recommend this for a nice summer read.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening & The Struggle

One thing followers of my reading diary will have to get used to is my obsession with vampires. Whether they be sparkly & vegetarian or viscous & bloody, I loves me the vamps!!! That being said --- to be perfectly honest, I avoided reading the Vampire Diaries series, because the commercials for the TV show looked like 90210 with fangs. However, I found this book on clearance for a dollar yesterday, so I picked it up. (I can't resist a bargain!)

This volume is actually the first two books in the series bound together. (Two for the price of one - Yay!) I ended up being glad for it, because The Awakening ends on such a cliffhanger that I had to read The Struggle right away. Elena is the girl in high school that I always hated, mostly because I couldn't understand why anyone would like their self-worth with their position in the popularity food chain. Luckily, Elena grows some character early enough in the book to keep me interested. When the exotic & steamy Stefan Salvatore shows up at school on the first day of senior year, he quickly becomes to talk of the school. Elena immediately sets her sights on him. Predictably, we soon learn that Stefan is a vampire, originally born in Renesance Italy. I liked Stefan as a character. He had flaws. While beautiful on the outside and sweet in personality, he was very weak in vampire powers. due to his unwillingness to drink from and kill humans. (Sigh... another vegetarian vamp?)

No teenage love story would be complete without the evil vamp to round out the love triangle. Soon after Elena & Stefan hook up, his evil & infinitely stronger brother, Damon, comes to town. At first, Damon's goal is to cause problems for his little bro, but he quickly becomes intrigued by the beautiful and strong Elena. Damon will not rest until he makes her his forever.

Okay, that's enough summary. I don't want to give anything way on accident. This series is okay. Better than 90210 with fangs, but nowhere near as good as Vampire Academy or Twilight. I found Elena a bit hard to relate too. Her preoccupation with her own popularity grew annoying fast. (Sending herself flowers and love letters from a fake French boyfriend named Jean-Claude? Right.) There was also a rift between her and one of her best friends, Caroline, which presented itself at the very beginning of the first book. By the end of the second book, I still had no idea why Caroline suddenly decided to hate Elena. On the other hand, Bella Swan haters might actually like Elena because she is stronger and more independent. She doesn't fall in love with Stefan and drop her other friends or forget her other goals (as lame as they are).

I really liked the character of Stefan for his insecurities and awkwardness, although, he's no match for Edward Cullen in the race for Sexiest High School Boyfriend. He has an interesting back story, although we are left with many glaring holes (Why does no one in town question a high schooler driving a Porsche 911 and no parents?).

The third part of the trinity, Damon, seems slightly one dimensional. He's evil. He's powerful. He has no conscience. By the end of the second book, I still don't know if he wants Elena to feed his power trip or whether he really loves her.

The Vampire Diaries does have some interesting secondary characters. I particularly liked Elena’s friends, Matt & Bonnie. Matt is the clueless, but kind human who after spurned by Elena get relegated to "friend" mode. He gets used over and over again by the selfish Elena, but keeps coming back for more. (Can anyone say Mike Newton?) Somehow, LJ Smith manages this without making Matt seem pathetic and weak. Bonnie is a funny little thing who seems to be coming into her own psychic powers. Interesting side story which could add to the series in many ways...

Overall I give The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening & The Struggle...

Interpretation of Vampire Lore - 3 bookmarks

Compelling Characters - 2 bookmarks

Age Appropriateness - 4 1/2 bookmarks

Love Story - 1 1/2 bookmarks

Fight Scenes - 2 bookmarks

Literary Merit - 2 bookmarks

Dream Cast (Otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Emily deRavin (Elena), Zach Efron (Stefan), James Franco (Damon)

Likeliness that I will finish reading the series - Only if I get a good deal on the books. Not paying full price, but I would continue reading.

Dear Diary...

It seems diaries are like diets in that they tend to start at the beginning of a time period... January 1st or maybe on the first day of a school year or a new job. You will notice that this diary starts on a Thursday... in the middle of the month... on an ordinary day. Now, I figure that either makes me unconventional and therefore edgy, or a complete over-thinker on this whole start date thing. I'm suspecting it's the latter.

Anyway, the purpose of this blog is to partially fulfill a childhood dream. I've always wanted a job where I would be paid to read and talk about books. I saw myself as an Olympic metalist in reading, someone who others would seek out for opinions and critiques. One word from me would make or break an author! Unfortunately, my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa seemed about as far from the literary world as you could get without falling off the edge of the universe, and I had no idea how to achieve my big dreams of literary infamy.

Instead, I followed the conventional routes. I got a job working in insurance. Accumulated a husband, an SUV and a house in a Middle-American suburb with no mature trees. By 33, it seemed I was as far off from my childhood visions as I could be.

Then, came 2009. The year of the downsizing. When I lost my job, I felt true terror. People around me thought I seemed cool and in control... someone who rolled with the punches easily. Inside, my guts had be put through a meat grinder. What saved me from a complete and total meltdown was my belief in Karma. It may be trite, but things happen for a reason. I just needed to figure out what that reason was.

I started with a little self-examination. I asked myself, what I would want to do if I had no where in particular to be on Monday. The first answer was read. The second was write. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be paid to do either of these things. Luckily, my husband has a well paying job and he assured me that I didn't need to work... at least for a while. He encouraged me to pursue my literary passions. Giving up the power of my own paycheck was not easy. It wasn't that I'm such a materialistic person or anything... I rarely spend money on myself... but I like the feeling of security that money brings me. I guess it's a remnant of my "monetarily challenged" childhood. In any case, beginning on June 5th, 2009, I officially joined the ranks of America's unemployed. Even though it was uncomfortable, I took those feelings of terror and stuck them into my back pocket. They are still with me, but I rarely take them out to examine them.

So, this is now April 8th, 2010. What have I done with my time off so far? In addition to reading a couple books a week and taking grad school classes, I've officially completed my first novel and started a second one. At the beginning of March, I started the query process to find an agent (which is sheer torture to my impatient and impulsive nature).

Now, that the writing part of my dream is well on it's way, it is time to fulfill the reading portion. Of course, I have always read, but I am now going to do something with my reading. I plan to use this diary to record the books I read and my thoughts about them. So what if no one is paying me for my witty and insightful opinions, I can still share them. Be warned though, I can and will read anything (except westerns for some reason) so readers of this diary will have to suffer through the craptastic trash novels and the literary classics with me. If there is one thing I have learned about books, you can find beauty and art in surprising places. come along on my journey with me. I welcome your comments and opinions. If you disagree with my rankings, let me know. I'm a big girl and can take a little healthy debate. :)