Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: 'Jacob' by Jacquelyn Frank (...and the virgin archetype in modern romance)

Note from the blogger:  Ugh!  I am so far behind on my book reviews!  I have been reading like a fiend, but I've been a little blocked when it comes to reviewing.  Part of my issue is I don't know what information readers might find useful.  Do you want comments on the cover art?  More discussion on the writing quality?  Or do you want more of my wacky observations and opinions?  If you have suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.  I do read them and it will help me to improve. 

Jacob is the first book in Jacqueline Franks, Nightwalker Series.  The Nightwalkers are the dark races who live alongside humans without humans knowing about them...demons, vampires, lycans, etc.  The series focuses specifically on demons.  (Demons are not spawn of Satan, but magical elements beings who have been distorted by human myths.)  Jacob is the Enforcer of the demon race.  He roots out and punishes those who seek to do harm to humans.  His is a respected and necessary role, but a lonely one.  Few demons want to befriend the Enforcer.  His only true friend is Noah, the demon king. 

One night while hunting a crazy, summoned demon, Jacob sees a human woman fall out of a 5th story window while she was stargazing (I'm going to resist laughing at the implausibility of a person falling from a window while stargazing in New York City for the moment. Just go with it.), and he saves her from crashing to her death.  The woman is Bella (yes, another f’ing romantic heroine named Bella…), a human with some unusual talents—within their first meeting, she is able to sense the location of a summoned demon and kill him.  Pretty kick-ass for a librarian.  While the relationship between Jacob and Bella grows, so does the inexplicable psychic connection between them. 

I finished this book, so I suppose it had enough going for it that it kept me reading, but I can’t say I loved it.  Part of me was confused by it.  The author wrote it all serious-like, but then some weird thing would happen and I wouldn’t know if the author was trying to be funny on purpose or if it was unintentional.  For example, the falling out of the window thing.  The author made few efforts to make this seem believable, so I couldn’t tell if she made it ridiculous on purpose or not. 

Then, this book used a particular plot device that is a pet peeve of mine.  I don’t want to come down on Frank for this, because she is by far not the only author who does this.  In fact, it is done so much in romance that it has become cliché.  I’m talking about the impossibly beautiful, smart, sexy woman who in her late twenties is still completely virginal and has to be taught sex by the uber experienced man.  This is the twenty-first century!  Unless there is a logical explanation to support why the woman would be inexperienced, why do this?  To me, it sends a poor message to women about their sexuality.  Women have just as much right to play the field and learn their bodies as men, so why do so many romance authors act like their women are coming straight out of the puritanical 1950’s?  In this book, Jacob had this enhanced sense of smell and her could smell that Bella had not been “marked by a man.”  Ewwwwww!!!!!  Are you f’ing kidding me? 

I blame editors for this also.  If it doesn’t make sense for the woman to be a virgin, why propagate that image?  I guess women readers need to speak up more on this issue, which I why I am taking this review over as my soap box.  An experienced woman does not mean she is promiscuous or a whore.  If you are a reader and you agree with me on this, please speak up.  Publishers and authors will continue to write characters like this if we let them. 

So, I am going to toss this issue back over to all of you.  What do you think of the virginal heroine in contemporary romances?  Does it send a poor message to women or does it enhance the sexual tension.  I would love to hear from you on this. 

Before I sign off, my overall impression of Jacob is…

Plot – 2 ½ bookmarks
Character development – 2 ½ bookmarks
Love story – 3 bookmarks
Paranormal elements/world – 4 bookmarks (I think this is what kept me reading)
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – a young Liz Taylor (Bella), Manu Bennett (Jacob)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: 'Perfect Chemistry' by Simone Elkeles

On the surface, this teen romance novel screams cliche--perfect blond cheerleader meets boy from the wrong side of the tracks and they fall in love.  But Perfect Chemistry is so much more than that.  Its realistic characters, serious social issues and conversational writing style turn this tale from a stereotype to a gripping read. 
Alex Fuentes is a member of the Latino Blood gang.  While he accepted that he had to join to save his family the the gang's persecution, there remains a spark in his heart that longs for a better future for himself.  Brittany is the cool and controlled popular girl.  She works hard to create a perfect image at school in order to hide the dysfunction of her home life.  Naturally, the two hate each other.  But when their chemistry teacher assigns them as lab partners for whole senior year, the pair are forced to work together. 
While at it's heart, Perfect Chemistry is a love story, the growth of these characters really takes center stage in the plot.  Simone Elkeles doesn't shy away from the grittier aspects of gang life, nor does she attempt to white-wash the characters as perfect kids in bad situations.  They are flawed and damaged and struggling to make their way in the world.  Alex carries a gun, gets high and frequently gets in trouble.  Brittany can be snobbish and cold.  But the two have similarities as well.  Both are protective of their siblings; Alex in order to keep his brothers out of the gang, and Brittany to keep her handicapped sister out of a home.  They both want a better life for themselves, one that means escaping the molds they were born into. 
The only thing I really didn't like about this book was the epilogue.  I wish Elkeles would have left it off completely.  It added a level of cheesiness that wasn't present anywhere else in the book.  Readers might want to skip this part to keep it from ruining their perceptions of the book.
Overall, I give Perfect Chemistry...
Plot - 4 bookmarks
Character Development - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Realism - 5 bookmarks (Love books where teens behave like teens and not as the politically correct police want them to.)
Love Story - 4 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) -  Alyson Michalka (Brittany), Ed Speelers (Colin), Roberto Urbina (Alex)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: 'Ultraviolet' by R.J. Anderson

Lets just say straight up, Ultraviolet has some of the most beautiful writing I've ever seen in young adult literature.  I'm not exaggerating.  With each turn of the page, my jealousy grew over the brilliance of R. J. Anderson's prose.  The main character, Allison, has a condition called Synesthesia which mixes up the way she perceives the information coming to her through her five senses.  For example, she can see the color of sounds, feel personalities in words and taste when someone is lying.  The descriptions showing the world from Allison's perspective are fascinating.  Here's the twist, what is metaphor to the reader is real to the character.  Brilliant!

Okay, before you get the idea that this book is nothing but description, I should discuss the plot.  After Allison witnesses a freakish event, the police, her parents and her doctors all believe that she holds the key to her rival, Tori's, disappearance.  But when Allison tries to tell them the truth, that Tori disintegrated in front of her while they were fighting, she is committed to a mental hospital.  Allison has struggled with her perceptions of the world her whole life.  While she desperately wants to go home, even she can't be sure that she is not a danger to others.  Her only hope comes from a young researcher, Dr. Faraday, who is the only person who believes she is innocent in Tori’s disappearance. 
Ultraviolet strikes at the heart of the most frightening things a person can imagine--being trapped in a mental hospital, having your family and friends turn against you, self-doubt, isolation and whether or not you are capable of being a killer.  The book also mixes the genres of paranormal, sci-fi, suspense and romance.  There is truly something for all readers in this book.  Even though the protagonist is female, teen boys will enjoy this book just as much as the girls. 
Be on the lookout for this one!  Ultraviolet releases in the U.K. on 2 June 2011, and September for the U.S. 
Overall, I give Ultraviolet...
Plot - 5 bookmarks
Character Development - 5 bookmarks
Sci-Fi Elements - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Love Story - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Kay Panabaker (Allison), Penn Badgley (Sebastian Faraday), Leven Rambin (Tori), Logan Lerman (Kirk), Igbal Theba (Dr. Minta)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: 'Lover Unleashed' by J.R. Ward

J.R. Ward has another bestseller on her hands with the latest installment of her Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Lover Unleashed, otherwise known to fans as the Payne and Manny book.  However, Payne and Manny are not the stars of this book, nor is their storyline the main plot of the novel.  It is widely known that fans were upset with the ending of Viscious and Jane's story in Lover Unbound.  This book is Ward's attempt to solidify V and Jane as a couple by working through many of the problems fans had with their first book.  (Namely that V is still too f'ed up to live happily ever after, and Jane is a ghost.)  V is half-crazed with worry when his twin sister is brought into the clinic with a potentially paralyzing spinal cord injury.  He reluctantly lets Jane bring in her old boss Dr. Manny Manello, even though he hates the guy.  V's story progresses with him finally battling out these demons of his past in order to finally give himself over to Jane completely.  There is a very touching scene between him and Butch toward the end which is quite well done.  Overall, there is a feeling of satisfaction in V and Jane's storyline that Lover Unbound missed.
It's pretty obvious that Manny and Payne have locked onto each other from the beginning.  Even though Manny is a human, he gets all "mine" with her and starts spouting off vampire scent.  While both characters are likeable enough, there just isn't a lot of drama involved with their love story.  The virgin-heroine-having-to-be-taught-sexual-love-from-the-experienced-man thing is rather annoying.  It was cool when Marissa was inexperienced because her crazy marriage to Wrath provided an interesting twist, but with Payne, it comes across as cliche. And the way that Manny “cured” Payne’s spinal cords injury?  It was so ridiculous that I almost laughed out loud.
There is a new group of male vamps introduced in this book also.  In a painfully written flashback, we see Payne killing her father, The Bloodletter, for his abuses against V.  (More on the "painfully written" part in a minute.)  This sets the scene for Xcor, the Bloodletter's son, to want to avenge his father's death by finding the mysterious woman who killed him.  In the present, Xcor and his gang act as a rogue band of brothers, killing lessors and other horrible humans in the old country.  Now that the lessors have relocated to the New York to go after the Black Dagger Brotherhood, Xcor and his buddies have no one else to hunt.  They decide to travel to the U.S., and Xcor has his sights on Wrath's kingship.  I suspect this will be a major story line in the next book. 
A couple of storylines were conspicuously missing.  Tohment, Lassier and Murder do not show up in this book at all.  Several other characters including Xhex, John Matthew, Revenge, Phury and Zsadist get barely more than a mention.  Even the lessors had only a tiny part in this book.  The Quinn/Blay storyline which has been building now over several books doesn't progress much (to my incredible disappointment); although, we are given a clue that Layla will play a significant part in their tale. 
Now, about that painfully written flashback... Let me just say that one of things I love about Ward's writing is her modern vernacular.  The brothers all speak with cool street slang which lends toughness to their characters.  That being said, the dialog in her flashbacks and the way Xcor and Payne speak in the present made me want to throw the book across the room.  Tossing in a "mayhap" or a "verily" every other sentence does not make historical dialog.  The only thing it does is give the reader a headache.  And why is Xcor still talking like this?  He is the same age as the rest of the brothers.  How come their speech has evolved while his hasn't?  I get it that he has been living in England, but they don't talk like this either!  Ward seriously needs to do something about this horrible dialog in her next book or her readers will mutiny.
Overall, I give 'Lover Unleashed'...
Plot –3 1/2 bookmarks (The V and Jane stuff was great, but the resolution of Xcor’s vendetta against Payne was stupid.)
Character Development- 4 bookmarks (Again, mostly do to V and Jane. Payne is still pretty cardboard to me yet.)
Love Story- 3 bookmarks (Again, the V and Jane story developed nicely, but the Payne and Manny story was boring.)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading)  - I see Wrath almost as a cartoon or comic book figure.  Not a real person.  Rachel Weisz (Beth), Carrie-Anne Moss (Xhex), Chad-Michael Murray (John Matthew), Tom Felton (Lash), Kirk MacLeod (Phury), a bald Kirk MacLeod (Zsadist), Orlando Bloom (Rhevenge), Kevin Alejandro (Vishious), Brad Pitt (Rhage), Megan Fox (Bella), Mark Wahlberg (Butch), Marion Cotillard (Payne), Joe Manganiello (Manny)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: 'Dead Reckoning' by Charlaine Harris

We are now at book eleven in The Southern Vampire Series, and the momentum seems to be winding down.  Upon last check, there are only two more novels planned for the series, and if books ten and eleven are any indication, we are headed for a slow and painful conclusion. 
In this installment, Sookie Stackhouse is on the defensive yet again.  Someone is out to get her and repeatedly attacks Merlottes Bar.  Eric is struggling under the oppressive Victor, the new Regent of Louisiana, who is antagonizing him into a fight so he has an excuse to kill him.  Pam's human lover is dying of leukemia, and she wants to turn her, but Victor refuses to give his permission.  There is something Eric is not telling Sookie which is putting distance between them. 
This book has some major developments--the blood bond changes, Sam is promoted to best friend status, Sookie learns more about her family and where her telepathy comes from, and there is a major problem with her relationship with Eric.  Unfortunately, between these major developments is a series of slow, only semi-interesting, scenes where Sookie is being victimized in one way or another.  It's all feeling a little bit repetitive at this point.  Harris should not have brought Sandra Pelt (Debbie's vengeful sister) back.  She seemed like more of a distraction than a integral part of the story.  There is a scene with Sookie hiding in Bill's hidey-hole with him that feels completely contrived.  No one cares about Bill any more!  Rather than coming across as sexy as Harris probably had intended, it seemed creepy and weird.  And don't get me started about the weird scene where Sookie comes home to find a naked Alcide sleeping in her bed for no apparent reason.
Speaking of not sexy...there was no chemistry at all between Sookie and Eric in this book, leading me to believe their relationship is ending.  In past books, the sparks between them practically set the pages on fire (book four--hello!), but this book showed no emotion between them.  When Eric finally tells Sookie the problem that he's been keeping from her, she hardly reacts at all.  We're used to Eric being the stoic one, but even he seemed to be showing more heart than she did. 

The book is also full of continuity problems.  Harris's timelines just don't add up.  She reveals that Eric and Niall have been colluding for years and Eric has been reporting to him about Sookie.  Supposedly, it was Eric's report to Niall that caused Niall to send Claudine to her.  How is that possible when Claudine showed up in book four when Eric had amnesia and he didn't know she was part fae until book seven?  There is also the fact that vamps can't be around fae without wanting to drain them, making this close working relationship between the two improbable. 
Problems with continuity generally mean the author did not have a strongly built world to begin with and is making things up as they go along.  Another sign pointing to this is that sudden appearance of the cluvial dor, a faery love charm which grants one wish.  You just know that Sookie is going to use this wish on something completely ridiculous like to make Eric human or something.  The cluvial dor makes things too easy for Sookie and too convenient for Harris as a writer.  She basically can do any implausible thing she wants now under the guise of this faery magic.   
I will continue with this series because I feel I have so much invested in it already, but I can't say that I'm counting down the days until the next book.
Overall, I give 'Dead Reckoning'...
Plot - 2 1/2 bookmarks
Character Development - 2 bookmarks
Love Story - 1 bookmark
Sex Scenes - 1 bookmark
World Building - 2 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - I can't help it.  All I see in my head anymore are the actors from the TV show.  The show has some good casting though.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Author Spotlight: Lisa Fox

Joining me today in the spotlight is romance author, Lisa Fox!    

Sculpting a Demon

Thank you for joining us, Lisa! Personal blogs and websites almost seem like a requirement for authors these days; yet, they are time consuming to keep updated and don’t bring in any direct revenue.  How important do you feel a personal blog or website is, and how much time do you spend on these projects?  What are the benefits that you have seen?

I think personal blogs and websites are tremendously important. It lets your readers get to know you and hang out with you. It can be a bit time consuming and at this point, I dedicate one or two days a week to just writing up blog posts. I don’t mind the time though because I find it so very rewarding when people enjoy my posts and comment and have fun with some of the silly stuff I think and dig up on the Web. And the benefits are immeasurable. Exposure, connections, friendships, a loyal following… What more could an author ask for?

As readers of my book reviews know, I have a habit of casting real people, usually actors, in my mind as the characters when I read.  As you are writing, do you base your characters on real people? 

My heroes are always Hugh Jackman. Even when they are not Hugh Jackman, they are Hugh Jackman.

What types of books do you read?  Are there any genres or subject matters that you avoid?

I read mostly horror and ‘literally fiction’ actually.  Some of my very most absolute favorite authors are Stephen King, Joe Hill, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami and John Irving.  I also have a tremendous love for the Beats, Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski. I don’t know that there is any subject matter I really avoid, though I’m not much of a biography/autobiography fan.

I’m always a sucker for a good love story.  Who is your favorite fictional couple of all time?

Wow, that’s a really difficult question. Hmmm, if I had to choose just one out of all the really great couples I’ve come across, I’d have to say Wesley and Buttercup.

What is the scariest book you’ve ever read?  Were you able to finish it?

The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook.  I still get nightmares just thinking about.

Are you involved in any other projects aside from your novel writing? 

No, not at the moment, but I would like to be. Actually, one of my dreams is to write a video game. I think that would be AWESOME. But I have no idea how one goes about doing that. Maybe one day I’ll find out though.

Where can readers go to learn more about your work?

I can be conveniently found all over the internet. The easiest place for one-stop Lisa Fox shopping is my website: www.LisaFoxRomance.com. I’m also on Twitter and Facebook.

Tell us about your blog.  What kinds of things do you blog about?  Where can readers find it?

My blog is a wicked, naughty, happy place that usually feature all kinds of beautiful half-naked men. I also offer a free, weekly, paranormal soap opera for everyone’s reading pleasure called Moonlight and Merlot. The address is: http://lisafoxromance.wordpress.com/

Thanks so much for having me over Jesi! This interview was a total blast!!!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: 'City of Fallen Angels' by Cassandra Clare

The Mortal Instruments series is one of my favorite Young Adult series of recent years--the snappy dialog, the gut-wrenching plot twists, the magical world, etc.  Unfortunately, this book didn't hold up to the previous three books in the series.  Not to say that it was bad or anything...it just lacked that spark which made the other books so great. 
The kids are back in New York City after killing Valentine and thwarting his maniacal plans.  Clary can finally be with Jace openly, but her happiness is short lived when Jace begins to draw away from her.  In typical YA fashion, he has an explanation for his actions; but rather than talking to her about it so they can fix it, he avoids her and broods.  This is so unbelievably out of character for Jace!  Where is the arrogant and snarky hero that we've all grown to love? 
An element of the story that I really liked was the development of Simon's plot.  He's torn between wanting to live like a human or to follow his new vampire nature.  The problems he has hiding his vampire nature from his mother come to a head with him moving out.  He doesn't want to drink from humans, but the animal blood that he's making due with is not keeping him nourished. I love it that our little D&D playing nerd now has two hot girlfriends to juggle. If any other male character did this, readers would hate him, but somehow, since it is adorable Simon, he can do no wrong. 
The ending was a little strange, but it ended on a cliffhanger, ensuring that I'll continue reading the series.  I do hope though that the real Jace will come back to us soon.
Overall, I give City of Fallen Angels...
Plot - 4 bookmarks
Character Development - 3 1/2 bookmarks (points given for Simon and deducted for Jace)
World Building - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Love Story - 2 1/2 bookmarks (hoping that Jace & Clary will get more engaging in the next book)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Rachel Hurd-Wood (Clary), Alex Pettyfer (Jace), Luke Pasqualino (Simon), Zac Efron (Alec), Christopher Backus (Magnus Bane), Christian Serratos (Isabelle) 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review: ‘Everlost’ by Neal Shusterman

Nick and Allie were complete strangers until their parent’s cars collided, killing them both.  On their way into the light, they bumped into each other, knocking them off course and into Everlost, a parallel dimension on earth where spirits end up when they can’t get “where they are going.”  The world of Everlost is filled with new rules that Nick and Allie must learn to live by.  No one in Everlost is over the age of sixteen, if they step off of land that hasn’t crossed over, they will sink like quicksand to the middle of the Earth and fortune cookies always come true. 
The first friend they meet in Everlost is a boy whom they name Leaf, because he lives in a forest.  Together, the three of them set off to Nick and Allie’s homes so they can see whether their families survived the accident.  Along the way, they get attacked by bullies, meet Mary Hightower (dubbed Mary Queen of Snots) who rules over hundreds of kids from her perch at the top of the World Trade Center and get captured by the evil creature, the McGill. 
The world of Everlost is fascinating.  Objects and buildings that were well loved in life cross into Everlost when they are destroyed.  Because of this, the kids hang out in places like the Twin towers, old Penn Station and take rides on the Hindenburg (minus the Nazi emblems on the tail, of course).  Their physical appearances are determined by their memories of themselves, which fade or distort over time.  For this reason, some of the children look a little goofy with too many teeth in their mouths, giant hands on the ends of skinny arms and one boy whose head was too small for his body. 
Schusterman sprinkles the book with humor and adventure.  The villains are as multi-dimensional as the heroes, giving the reader a dilemma on who to root for.  The excepts from books written by Mary and later Allie frame the chapters nicely.  
Overall, I give Everlost
Plot - 4 bookmarks
Character development - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Fantasy elements - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Villains - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Humor - 4 bookmarks
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Elle Fanning (Allie), BooBoo Stewart (Nick), Ivana Baquero (Mary Hightower), Miles Heizer (The McGill), Chandler Canterbury (Leaf)

Review: ‘Lost Boys’ by Orson Scott Card

Set in the early 1980’s recession, Step Fletcher and his wife Deanne are forced to move their family to North Carolina for Step’s new job.  They soon realize that the job is awful.  Step has to bide his time until he can find a way to quit, while Deanne struggles to balance the kids and her church duties while pregnant.  In the background of the story, there are young boys going missing in the town, causing the Fletchers to be weary and safety conscious and at times, overly-protective of their kids. 
Their oldest son, eight year old Stevie, doesn’t adjust to the new town well.  He has difficulties with his teacher and kids at school and begins to accumulate imaginary friends.  Terrified that their son is going crazy, Step and Deanne work together to help him, eventually finding out that his imaginary friends are not as imaginary as they had thought at all. 
Usually after reading a book, I take a glance at the Amazon reviews to gauge how others reacted to the book.  While some might agree with me and some might disagree, I like to see how others think about what they’ve read.  I can honestly say that I’ve never seen Amazon reviews which are as “all over the board” as Lost Boys.  Some liked it.  And even though many didn’t, they disliked it for many different reasons. 
Probably the biggest complaint was that people felt the book was a commercial for Mormonism.  It’s true that the Fletchers are Mormons and their religion plays a prominent role in the book, but I found this to be more interesting than distraction.  Religion can add a certain depth to a character, providing them with a belief system and a place in the order of their world.  I’ve read many books with characters from many religions and haven’t encountered this much negativity from readers as this book generated.  It makes me wonder if the fact that the characters are Mormon and not Catholic or Baptist or Jewish that is the real reason why people have a problem with it.  I found the insight into Mormon life fascinating, and it adds to the plot nicely.
One complaint that others had that I agree with is that the book tended to drag a bit.  There is a lot of day-to-day life and issues that these characters go through that frankly should have been cut down to about half.  Some explanation for daily activities is fine, but I found myself wanting to skip ahead several times. 
Step’s issues with his employer played a prominent role in the first part of the book, but as things went on, this all became subplot.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  On one hand, anyone who has suffered through a boring job with a nasty boss will relate to Step, and might even get a chuckle or two out of it.  On the other hand, there was a point when the job issues wrapped up and weren’t mentioned much again.  I felt the pacing of this subplot could have been timed to better coincide with the novel’s conclusion, giving a more climatic feel. 
In the end, I enjoyed this book and am glad to have read it.  This is the first Orson Scott Card novel that I’ve read.  I will definitely be checking out Enders Game in the near future.
Overall, I give Lost Boys
Plot - 3 1/2 bookmarks
Character development -4 1/2 bookmarks
Fantasy elements -3 1/2 bookmarks
Creepiness -4 1/2 bookmarks
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) -Billy Burke (Step), Gretchen Mol (Deanne)