Thursday, November 20, 2014

Boys Apparently DO Knit

Expected Publication:  March 24th, 2015 (Originally January 1st, 2014)
Boys Don't Knit (Boys Don't Knit #1)
By: T.S. Easton
Feiwel & Friends
ISBN-13:  9781250053312

Knitting is a man's game.

After an incident regarding a crossing guard and a bottle of Martini & Rossi (and his bonehead friends), 17-year-old worrier Ben Fletchermust develop his sense of social alignment, take up a hobby, and do some community service to avoid any further probation.

He takes a knitting class (it was that or his father's mechanic class) under the impression that it's taught by the hot teacher all the boys like.  Turns out, it's not.  Perfect.

Regardless, he sticks with it and comes to find he's a natural knitter, maybe even great.  It even helps ease his anxiety and worrying.  The only challenge now is to keep it hidden from his friends, his crush, and his soccer-obsessed father.  What a tangled web Ben has weaved...or knitted.


       Let's just lay it all out on the line: I know absolutely NOTHING about knitting!  I have a couple friends who know how, and I've always thought it would be cool to learn, but I know nothing about it.  Also, I don't read a lot of YA books with male protagonists.  Mainly because I feel like a lot of the ones I've picked up have protags that are either complete assholes or so unrealistic that they might as well be the next Disney Prince!  Yes, nice guys exist and so do awful ones.  Most REAL guys (adult, teenage and child) are some combination of the two though, rather than one extreme or another.  T.S. Easton really captures that fact with Ben Fletcher.  Not perfect by any means, 17 year old Ben allows himself to get into sticky situations by going along with his harebrained friends.  After an incident with some stolen liquor, a lollipop lady and a damaged vehicle, Ben is on probation.  He has to keep a diary to hand in to his caseworker and complete community service to show his reform.  Part of this is a college class.  Not wanting to be in his dad's mechanic class, Microsoft Office (too easy/boring), or pottery, he goes with knitting (the teacher is supposed to be a hot, younger woman).  Turns out the teachers listed were wrong and it's his crush's Mom and now Ben's stuck.  But guess what, he's a natural knitter - and he really enjoys it!
       Basically, this book is set over the course of eight months and told through Ben's diary entries.  We get to meet his soccer/car obsessed Dad, his often on tour magician Mom and his crazy little sister Molly.  Also in supporting roles are his very memorable friends (one of whom he's editing an erotic book called "Fifty Shades of Graham" for!) who get him into plenty of trouble, Mrs. Frensham i.e. the lollipop lady he practically ran over, Megan (the girl he likes), the hot teacher Miss Swallow, and the women from his knitting class.  Everyone is well characterized, and we see Ben grow from someone unsure of himself and more of a follower, to a young man who has found something he loves to do and refuses to apologize for it.  Along the way he makes friends with some unlikely people and we get to see his big heart and hilarious turn of phrase.  I laughed out loud mutliple times while reading this, especially at Ben's mounting lies and the box of "shame" he hides under the bed with his knitting stuff.  The knitting competition at the end is the stuff comedies should be made of!  All in all, I super enjoyed it.  I am beyond the high school angst and Facebook obsessing over a crush, so I did roll my eyes a little.  But I highly recommend this book, because it's so much more than that.  Can't wait to read the next one!

VERDICT:  4/5 Stars

**I reviewed this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is March 24th, 2015.**

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #22: Top Ten Sequels I Can't Wait For!

1.  The Retribution of Mara Dyer By Michelle Hodkin:  This was released a couple weeks ago, but I'm still waiting for my library hold to come in.  TWO YEARS of waiting for this one!!!  It was supposed to come out last year and I'm dying to see what happens.

2.  Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars #2) By Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham:  Kind of a cheat, since I already read it (I was NetGalley approved).  But I LOVED it so much and want my own copy!  Also, my e-galley was missing the last few pages.  It will torture me until January!!!

3.  Untitled (The Chronos Files #3)  By Rysa Walker:  There is no title or cover yet, but I can't help being excited for this one!  The way the second book left off (huge cliffhanger!), I desperately want to know what happens next.  One of the best time travel series I've ever read!

4.  The Wicked Will Rise  By Danielle Paige:  Eagerly awaited sequel to one of the more entertaining and well built novels I read this past year.  I will be interested to see what happens to Amy Gumm and the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked!  *I am somewhat torn on even reading this, due to the whole Kathleen Hale business and Paige's support of her on Twitter.  Not okay.

5.  The Winner's Crime  By Marie Rutkowski:  Arin and Kestrel's further adventures are of immediate interest to me!  The first book was so different and odd, but really well written.  I'm curious to see how Rutkowski expands on her original world/culture and what she does to her characters.  Especially Kestrel, whose life is a MESS.

6.  Untitled (Starbound #3)  By Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner:  Even though I didn't like This Shattered World as much as the first book in the series, I'm curious to see if Kaufman & Spooner choose yet another two new characters to write about, or revisit their past ones.  Either way, it'll be an intriguing read.

7.  Every Last Breath  By Jennifer L. Armentrout:  OMG!  Zayne or Roth???!!!  I don't know anymore and I will be satisfied AND crushed by the end of this trilogy, no doubt.  The power of JLA, I'm tellin' ya!

8.  Oblivion (Nevermore #3)  By Kelly Creagh:  This book was originally slated for 2013 - its current release date is July 28th, 2015!  TWO YEARS!!!  'Nuff said.

9.  Dearest  By Alethea Kontis:  I kind of loved Friday in the last two books and I'm super glad she's getting her own story.  The fact that it's a semi-retelling of the Wild Swans fairy tale is just a bonus!

10.  Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke  By Anne Blankman:  I haven't even read the first one yet.  But I have it on my Kindle and I have an overwhelming feeling I'm going to love it, the way I didn't exactly love "Code Name Verity."  I will be chomping at the bit for the second one!!! :D

Friday, November 14, 2014

Aquaman, Vol. 1: The Trench

Published:  September 11th, 2012
Aquaman, Vol. 1: The Trench (Aquaman Vol. VII #1)
By: Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis (Illustrator), & Joe Prado (Illustrator)
DC Comics
ISBN-13:  9781401235512

The King of the Seven Seas Aquaman returns to his very own ongoing series for the first time in years at the hands of DC Entertainment Chief Creative Office Geoff Johns, who reteams with Green Lantern collaborator artist Ivan Reis!  Between proving himself to a world that sees him as a joke, Aquaman and his bride Mera face off against a long buried terror from the depths of the ocean!


       So, before this I had never read an Aquaman comic book.  My only real big or small screen interaction with him was when A.C. Curry showed up in a couple episodes of "Smallville."  He seemed fairly likeable, if a little too obsessed with being kind to the environment (i.e. the ocean).  I did know that to most people Aquaman is a gigantic joke.  People like to dismiss him, because most of his powers are only usable in the Ocean/water.  They think he's useless when on land.  This comic book, a part of the New 52 relaunch of DC from a couple years ago, doesn't so much reboot the legend of Aquaman as it does revamp him a little bit.  We get to see the struggle of being a superhero and wanting to use your powers to help people, when they don't want you around.  The people Aquaman helps ridicule him, even after he saves their lives.  They don't appreciate his honor or his impressive powers.  Nothing he does is good enough to get rid of the stigma he faces with overwhelming public scorn geared towards him.
       The story, with the unknown sea monsters (they looked kind of like piranhas and were found to be some kind of ancient, weird offshoot of them) attacking Arthur's town, opened his situation to the reader and allowed me to jump in with ease.  We're also introduced to Mera, an Atlantean mermaid who was sent to kill Aquaman by Atlanteans who distrusted him, and fell in love with him instead.  Mera is a serious bad-ass, with the power to control ALL water (fire hydrants, water under the ground, in people's bodies, etc.).  Not to mention, she doesn't have quite the fondness for humans that Arthur does, at least not yet.  There is a great episode with her going out to buy a can of dog food and ending up arrested and causing havoc.  This volume leaves off on a cliffhanger of a greater mystery: why did Atlantis retreat underwater?  I liked the artwork, the story was really fun, and I'm interested in reading the next volume to see what's going to happen with the whole Atlantis thing.  I count this one as a win, especially since I'm sure a lot of these New 52 titles are going to be a hit or miss proposition.

VERDICT:  4/5 Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jazz Is All That's Between Your Ears

Published:  October 22nd, 2014
Jazz Baby
By: Tea Cooper
Escape Publishing
ISBN-13: 9780857991928

Sydney is no place for the fainthearted -- five shillings for a twist of snow, a woman for not much more, and a bullet if you look sideways at the wrong person.

Dolly Bowman is ready and willing to take on the brash, bustling city has to offer.  After all it is the 1920s, a time for a girl to become a woman and fulfil her dreams.  Turning her back on her childhood, she takes up a position working as a housemaid while she searches for her future.

World War I flying ace Jack Dalton knows he's luckier than most.  He's survived the war with barely a scratch, a couple of astute business decisions have paid off, and he's set for the high life.

But a glimpse of a girl that he had forgotten, from a place he's trying to escape suddenly set all his plans awry.  Try as he might he can't shake the past, and money isn't enough to pay the debts he's incurred.


       I do not normally branch out past the USA for my contemporary authors (classics are a different story), but occasionally I'll find myself testing out an Australian, Canadian or British author because the book synopsis appeals to me too much to ignore.  This was one such case.  I know next to nothing about Australia in the 1920s Jazz Era, but I've loved learning about America during that time.  This book promises a strong, independent heroine and a somewhat emotionally scarred hero with a past romantic connection (at least it alludes to it in the blurb I read).  How can you loose with a brash, ex-WWI pilot and a gutsy jazz singer falling in love?  Well, apparently it's a possible outcome as I found out from this particular read.
       Dolly IS NOT who the blurb makes her out to be.  She only left home so she wouldn't have to get married, as that's all that was left for her at home after her father died and her brother never came home from the War.  She is timid, lets people talk to her like she's a doormat and is extremely naive about the real world.  Upon getting a job at a "boardinghouse" it takes her almost two days to realize that it's really a high-class brothel!!!  She spends a lot of time fighting the fact that the Madam of the house wants her to sing for entertainment and at first has almost crippling stage fright.  Jack Dalton is the boy next door, who served in the Air Corps with her brother, Ted, who was killed in action.  He sees Dolly at the brothel in Sydney and immediately tries to control her life on behalf of her dead brother.  He tells himself it's out of guilt, because he was unable to save Ted.  But he spends an awful lot of time staring at Dolly, basically drooling over her, for that to be true.
       There are a lot of plot "twists" in this short romance, each of them more eye-rollingly predictable than the last one.  Who the owner of the "boardinghouse" actually is, the identity of the mysterious boxer that Jack runs into, whether or not Cynthia (Jack's prostitute friend and occasional bed-mate from what I understood) could manage to keep Jack and Dolly apart.  It ended the way I thought it would and fact of how short it is and just how much is supposed to have happened in only a couple of days, is another thing that makes me unable to suspend my disbelief.  Plus, there is a whole thing at the end with another madam and some drug runners that is caused by Dolly's absolute inability to think that was ridiculous.

VERDICT:  1/5 Stars (Only because I finished it and it was pretty readable)

* received this book from Escape Publishing, on NetGalley.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  The expected publication date is October 22nd, 2014.*

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

Published:  October 14th, 2014
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
By: William J. Mann
Harper Collins
ISBN-13:  9780062242167

By the 1920s, the movies had suddenly become America's new favorite pastime, and one of the nation's largest industries.  Never before had a medium posessed such power to influence.  Yet Hollywood's glittering ascendency was threatened by a string of headline-grabbing tragedies -- including the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Director's Association, a legendary crime that has remained unsolved until now.

In a fiendishly involving narrative, bestselling Hollywood chronicler William J. Mann draws on a rich host of sources, including recently released FBI files, to unpack the story of the enigmatic Taylor and the diverse cast that surrounded him -- including three beautiful, ambitious actresses; a grasping stage mother; a devoted valet; and a gang of two-bit thugs, any of whom might have fired the fatal bullet.  And overseeing this entire landscape of intrigue was Adolph Zukor, the brilliant and ruthless founder of Paramount, locked in a struggle for control of the industry and desperate to conceal the truth about the crime.  Along the way, Mann brings to life Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties: a sparkling yet schizophrenic town filled with party girls, drug dealers, religious zealots, newly-minted legends and starlets already past their prime -- a dangerous place where the powerful could run afoul of the desperate.

A true story recreated with the suspense of a novel, Tinseltown is the work of a storyteller at the peak of his powers -- and the solution to a crime that has stumped detectives and historians for nearly a century.


       As someone who loves film history, and has more than a passing interest in the Silent Film Era, some of the names in this book weren't unfamiliar to me (Adolph Zukor, Mabel Normand, Marcus Loew, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Will Hays) - others I had never heard of until this book (William Desmond Taylor, Mary Miles Minter, Margaret "Gibby" Gibson).  Considering I had never even heard of this murder/scandal except in passing when watching Kevin Brownlow's excellent documentary, "Hollywood: Pioneers," it sounded fascinating to me personally.  It reads just like I want my non-fiction to: like a novel instead of a textbook.  The scene is well set, with Mann traveling sixteen months back in time, to the events preceding the murder in the lives of those involved, and the other major players in Hollywood either affected by scandal (movie stars) or trying to avoid it (moguls).  There is some especially interesting stuff about the pursuits of Adolph Zukor, the co-head of Famous Players-Lasky who eventually founded Paramount Pictures, to monopolize the profits of the industry.  The view into the "boy's club" of the moguls, who were in competition often and didn't even like each other really, and the way they banded together against the censorship of the women's church groups and temperance unions was especially interesting to read about.  The power plays to avoid the collapse of the movies based on censorship (and their considerable fortunes) eventually led to the moguls hiring government official Will Hays to be the voice of morality in the movies (really their way of circumventing the govt. actually)! 
     The chain of events leading to the murder leaves us with a few scenarios.  Did teenaged actress Mary Miles Minter, practically delusional in her affections, kill Taylor?  Or was it her raging stage mother, Charlotte Shelby, who had threatened Taylor on a few occasions, and who was known to become violently angry?  Also in the pool of suspects, a former valet who had played fast and loose with Taylor's property and knew some of his secrets (including a secret family and possible male lover), another actress Mabel Normand (although not so much her as her former cocaine dealers), and Margaret "Gibby" Gibson, a former colleague of Taylor's who had fallen on hard times after an arrest in a brothel ruined her career, and in with a group of low-life, petty "bunco" thieves.  We are given plenty of background on everyone, their interactions with Taylor, the evidence the police were going on, and all of them had reasons to committ the murder.  But the investigation was doomed from the start.  Before the house was even declared a crime scene, the body had been moved around, studio people had stolen all of Taylor's personal papers from upstairs and the D.A., a possible lover of Shelby's, protected her & Mary from questioning, tampered with the evidence in lockup (lots of it disappearing).  Shelby's mother disposed of her gun, possibly a murder weapon, before the police could get ahold of it.  None of the people in this book led happy lives, most of them being semi-tragic to completely tragic figures of film history.
       I will not spoil the conclusion that Mann comes to, suffice it to say that I think it is kind of a convenient leap, but at the same time it makes sense.  Also, the deathbed "confession" would make no sense as a false one.  The person had absolutely NOTHING to gain from it at that point in time!  All the connections are there, whereas the evidence for the popular favorite suspect doesn't quite add up the way it should, if it were the correct answer to the question (at least the way the evidence is presented).  I will agree with other readers that the over-stressing of Zukor's short stature, megalomania, and absolute base lack of any human emotion (according to Mann anyway, from what I can tell) did get overused and annoying.  It did diminish my enjoyment of the narrative at several points.  It became redundant.  Althought the juxtaposition of Zukor with his rival Loew, and even Will Hays when it came to dealing with the scandals, Arbuckle's ongoing trials especially, was an intriguing piece of psychology.  I also think that Desmond Taylor could have been more fleshed out, even if that meant sacrificing some of the side-narrative.  I didn't feel like I really knew him, even by the time the end of the book rolled around.  All in all, a highly enjoyable read that will not necessarily leave you with the answers promised in the blurb.  But I had such a darn interesting time I didn't really care.  Besides with all the tampering and how many years have passed, it's probably unsolvable at this point, at least with true evidentiary certainty of any kind.  On a side note, now I want to read more from Mann and at least one biography on Mabel Normand and one on Fatty Arbuckle!  I also need to get ahold of a non-review copy of this to look at the pictures!  Recommended for fellow lovers of true crime and the REAL Old Hollywood (before the talkies).  :D

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

* received this book from Harper Collinson Edelweiss.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book was published on October 14th, 2014.*

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1 (Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year One Series)

Published:  November 19th, 2013
Injustice: Gods Among Us, Vol. 1 (Injustice: Gods Among Us, Year One Series)
By: Tom Taylor, Jheremy Raapack (Illustrations), Various (Illustrations)
DC Comics
ISBN-13:  9781401245009

From the makers of Mortal Kombat comes the critically acclaimed prequel comic to the smash hit fighting game, Injustice: Gods Among Us!

Things in the DC Universe have changed after Superman is tricked into destroying the one thing he loves the most.  Now unwilling to let crime go unpunished, the heroes of our world must choose if they are with Superman or against him.  But not every country will submit to his new world order and neither will Superman's greatest threat -- Batman!

Collects #s 1-6 of Injustice.


       So, I am more of a casual comic nerd than anything else.  I have my favorites, just like anyone who gets drawn in by comics.  In general, I make it a point to read off the wall rando stuff like Panthaa or Vampirella just for the hell of it.  But my must-reads are Hellboy (Dark Horse comics) and Green Arrow (DC Comics), usually.  The rest of the DC Comics characters I could usually do without, although I have a casual interest in them.  I had been curious about the game (I'm a fan of the original Sega Genesis Mortal Kombat games - yes, I'm old!) and finally played some single-battle mode with my brother.  I'll stick to my Genesis gaming-wise, as there are too many damn buttons for an X-Box 360 fighting game.  The story still intrigued me though as a fan of anything to do with alternate universes, so when I was in Comic City the other day I bought this Volume to see what the hype is about.  I definitely understand now!
       God, what can I say about the artwork and the story that hasn't already been said?  It starts with Superman finding out he's going to be a father and asking Batman to be the baby's Godfather.  Than the Joker targets Superman (wanting to win for a change, instead of losing to Bats again) and basically tricks him into killing Lois (and the unborn baby) and blowing up the entire city of Metropolis.  So Supes loses his city, his wife and his child all in one fell swoop.  Mad with grief, he decides that the superheroes in the world should use their powers to force the humans to stop their wars - an enforcement of peace on earth and all that jazz.  So he goes out and starts enforcing.  Batman is against Superman's tactics (which veer into "violence for the greater good").  He manages to convince some of the other heroes to join with him and oppose Superman.  But who can really oppose a man with godlike powers, with others that are the same backing him up?
       It's got questions of morality, and focuses a lot on making the right decisions, i.e. when to interfere and when not to.  Batman understands that even without the fighting/weapons, the conflicts still exist and aren't truly resolved.  It surprised me to see Wonder Woman (aka Diana) as Superman's right-hand man and top enforcer.  The Amazons sent her there as an emissary of peace and she's fighting bloody battles.  I particularly like the interactions between her and Ares, God of War, who she impales and taunts harshly.  The scenes with Aquaman and Arkham Asylum reiterate the fact that no one is safe from Superman's self-imposed reign of peace/terror (depending on your views).  Batman protecting the villains wasn't surprising in and of itself, as he doesn't believe in being judge/jury/executioner like Supes does.  It creates some scenes of comic gold, especially between Harley Quinn and Green Arrow, who are thrown together when he agrees to protect her from death via Superman.  The artwork is absolutely gorgeous, with every one of the characters coming across as flawed and human.  I especially liked the sequence with The Flash, where he's running on that Australian road, thinking about a kid that was playing superhero that got paralyzed because of Superman's tactics/orders - and his compliance.  It's an amazing moment of self-introspection and probably one the things that stayed with me most after I finished reading.
       There are three main character deaths in this (four if you count Jimmy Olsen) and they definitely won't be the last if it continues the way it started.  And I really hope that it does.  It's a brave new world, with Superman as the antagonist (which doesn't necessarily translate to "bad guy") and Batman as the protagonist.  There is particularly interesting, if albeit a little preachy, scene with Catwoman and Batman visitng the President and telling him that he has to do better, for the people that voted him in.  I think that's something that speaks to the general feelings of the American public, in our actual world we live in right now.  The cliffhanger left me reeling, but hopeful for another truly interesting comic volume.  One that makes me think, gives my eyes beautiful artwork to feast upon, has beautiful and funny dialogue and it just plain fun.  I highly recommend this to people who love comics, a good story, and just long for something different! :D

VERDICT:  5/5 Stars

One Of My Favorite Scenes

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

Friday, October 31, 2014

Another Murder, Another Day...

Published:  August 12th, 2013
Sleepy Hollow
By: Dax Varley
ISBN-13:  9781499785999

Katrina is still haunted by her encounter with the Headless Horseman -- the night he beckoned to her.  Now he has risen again, slashing heads and terrorizing the quiet countryside.  Her only joy during this dismal darkness comes when Ichabod Crane, a gorgeous young man from Connecticut, moves to Sleepy Hollow and their attraction turns to romance.  When the Horseman marks Ichabod as his next victim, Katrina, despite dangerous efforts to save him, sees no other choice than for them to flee.  But the Horseman awaits.  Now it's up to her to sever the horror and alter the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.


       Another retelling of the original Washington Irving story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  I went into this excited, but wary, because as a retelling from the female perspective (Katrina) it was a bit of a dicey concept.  You're talking about a girl from the late 1700s.  Just how interesting could she be, without the author making her too modern for the novel to work in the context it's meant to be in?  And that kind of turned out to be the biggest problem for this particular book.  In making Katrina a strong, independent girl, with dreams that extended beyond her life in the Hollow, the author also made her home life a bit unbelievable.  She and her friend Elise are entirely unchaperoned and allowed to chase after young men like there's no tomorrow.  Elise's obsession with Ichabod and the way she is all up on him is decidedly inappropriate for the late 1700s - it would have been absolutely disgraceful in real life.
       Also, the mystery of the Headless Horseman riding again, the murders and his motive for them, was very boring once it was revealed.  You spend the entire book trying to figure out how everything ties together and then in the last few pages finding out the identity of the "Horseman" really didn't make any sense and the reason for his haunting was stupid.  It had no connection to Katrina, so it really was weird why he haunted her - he had no reason to, as she wasn't part of his revenge.  And the hinting at the original Horseman haunting her was never followed up on, which was also disappointing.  The killing of Brom Bones disappointed me too, especially after Katrina seemed to realize that he was the better choice, over Ichabod Crane anyways.  He rescues Katrina from an impossible situation and almost certain death (while Ichabod just sits back and watches it all happen!) and then oops; Sorry, he's beheaded too!  He spent most of the book seeming like an asshole, then in his last few pages he became someone I cared about.  Brom also had hella more personality than Ichabod (even if it was mostly annoyingness and sexism).
     The romance between Ichabod and Katrina was very lackluster, insta-love type stuff and his behavior is very rakish towards her for the time period.  The way they carried on was absolutely scandalous.  And no one does anything about it!  All in all, it did have some wit to it and was amusing to read at certain points.  But mostly this book was boring, with characters who acted averse to their historical time period and a badly thought-out mystery.  I would recommend that if you're looking for a Hollow retelling, that you read Crane by Stacey Rourke instead!

VERDICT:  2.5/5  Stars

* received this book from CreateSpace, on NetGalley.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book was published on August 12th, 2013.*