Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Things Are Not What They Appear

 
Published:  May 14th, 2013
The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil #1)
By: Soman Chainani
HarperCollins
ISBN-13:  9780062104892
 
“The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.”

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?
 
Review
 
     Sophie and Agatha aren't really even friends.  Sophie has taken Agatha on as her charity case, a good deed to make herself look better.  Because Sophie is expecting to be kidnapped by the schoolmaster, for the mysterious School for Good.  Agatha doesn't believe that the schoolmaster really exists or the School for Good and it's brother, the School for Evil.  Until they both get taken away that is.  And even more shocking, Agatha is sent to Good and Sophie is sent to Evil!  Trying to figure out what went wrong, Sophie hates Agatha for betraying her and does everything she can to scheme her way into School for Good.  But Agatha begins to wonder if she doesn't really belong at Good and if things are always as easy as what they appear to be.  Can the girls figure out who they are, their places in each other's lives and manage to not entirely destroy the structure of fairy tales in the process?
     I really enjoyed the concept of this book.  Two separate schools, one for good and one for evil, that train the heroes and villains from fairy tales.  Two girls, one inherently good and one with great capacity for evil.  But which one is which?  I liked the focus on friendship, but at the same time I felt like there wasn't much of a friendship to base things on.  Sophie is using Agatha, and she knows it.  So it felt really messed up when Agatha refused to let go of Sophie and insisted on acting like her friend, even when Sophie completely blames her for them being at the "wrong" schools.  And when the Prince starts paying attention to Agatha, all Hell breaks loose.  I guess in a classic fairy tale sense, it does seem like the right plot twist to have Agatha refuse to let go of the 'friendship' (due to her goodness and purity of spirit, etc.),.  It definitely doesn't make the characters much more than one-dimensional though or give them real room to grow out of their stereotypes. 
     The respective schools are full of the normal witches, hunchbacks, princes, princesses and lackeys of both good and evil persuasions.  We get to know witches in training, Anadil and Hester, and on the other side Prince Tedros, who Sophie becomes obsessed with.  There are others, but none that really distinguished themselves.  My main complaint about this book would be that it takes a really long time for anything to actually happen.  Once stuff does start happening, I feel like the author rushes through it sloppily.  At almost five hundred pages long, it definitely could have been paced better and Sophie's complete descent into evil could have taken longer and been more realistically written.  She goes from being somewhat stupid, airheaded and obsessed with manipulating her way into Good, to an evil mastermind and the most powerful witch ever.  Even the teachers are terrified of her!  The ending was abrupt and the simplicity of the characters, holes in the plot and overall youngness of a lot of it make this an awkward splice of YA and Middle Grade.  Overall I enjoyed myself, and I'm not going to say much more because I don't want to spoil it.  There were some issues with it though and I do think it's more appropriate for middle school and early high school readers than older teens and adults. 
 
VERDICT:  3.5/5  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.**

Monday, October 28, 2013

A War for Something More

 
 
Published:  August 1st, 1986 (first published March 12, 1974)
The Chocolate War
By: Robert Cormier
Laurel Leaf
ISBN-13:  9780440944591
 
Stunned by his mother's recent death and appalled by the way his father sleepwalks through life, Jerry Renault, a New England high school student, ponders the poster in his locker - Do I dare disturb the universe?

Part of his universe is Archie Costello, leader of a secret school societ-the Virgils-and master of intimidation.  Archie himself is intimidated by a cool, ambitious teacher into having the Virgils spearhead the annual fund-raising event-a chocolate sale.  When Jerry refuses to be bullied into selling chocolates, he becomes a hero, but his defiance is a threat to Archie, the Virgils, and the school.  In the inevitable showdown, Archie's skill at intimidation turns Jerry from hero to outcast, to victim, leaving him alone and terribly vulnerable.
 
 Review
 
     Jerry is going to the best boys day-school in his hometown, dealing with the loss of his Mother and the growing distance between himself and his Father.  So when he is given a task by the school's secret society, The Vigils, he decides to just complete it without making any waves.  He is supposed to refuse to sell chocolates in the school sale until Archie, the leader of the Vigils, tells him to say 'yes.'  Jerry decides to keep saying 'no' and defy The Vigils, Archie and Brother Leon, the semi-sadistic Monk teacher in charge of the sale.  But challenging the authority of the Vigils (and in effect Archie) turns Jerry first into a hero, and then an outcast when the tables are turned once more, in a showdown that could mean lasting damage both physically and mentally to Jerry.  Is it important to do the right thing, regardless of self-preservation?  And when is it time to say 'enough'?
     Unlike a lot of middle and high school students, I was never assigned to read this book in school.  I have always wondered about it since then, and as I am trying to read classic YA and children's lit that I missed as a kid/teen, I figured that I would give this one a shot.  It was definitely interesting and still surprisingly relevant for a book that was written and published in the 70s.  My only complaint would be that it's pretty moralistic for a book that's so short on character depth or development on the 'good' focus character of the novel (Jerry) and heavy on it for the 'evil' focus characters, Archie and Obie (Archie's lackey at first, something outside that later).  The point of the book itself was whether or not doing the right thing is worth it, even if you get the shit kicked out of you for it and nothing changes anyways.  Can it still be considered making a difference if no one is better off from you taking a stand, and you yourself are only worse off?  Or as Jerry would phrase it with his quote from T.S. Eliot, "Dare I disturb the universe?"  Also, the destruction of Jerry's friend Goober into a shaky, neurotic mess by the Vigils and their tasks was pretty heartbreaking.  But was he a good guy, once he decided not to take a stand anymore and to run away instead?  What exactly makes you a 'good guy' or a 'bad guy'?  Questions for the ages people.
     Overall, it was a pretty harsh look at the evils of the world and the fact that good doesn't always win out.  That sometimes evil kicks good's ass and prospers from its pain.  It was a difficult book to read and watching Archie's descent from schoolyard bully into clear-cut psychopath was just plain scary and uncomfortable as a human being with normal emotional reactions.  A book worth reading, if only to look at the development of YA and to study the psychology of human beings with teenagers, on their own terms.  Not necessarily the most well-written book I've ever read, but definitely a thinker and the content/execution is impressive for its small stature and the time period it was published in.  And as a reader I can totally respect that.
 
VERDICT:  3.75/5  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.**

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sweet Hitchhiker

The Beautiful and the Damned
 
Published:  October 1st, 2013
The Beautiful and the Damned
By: Jessica Verday
Simon Pulse
ISBN-13:  9781442488359
 
Cyn’s blackouts have deadly consequences in this sexy, suspenseful spinoff to the New York Times bestselling Hollow series.Cyn and Avian are far from a perfect match. She’s a witch who casts spells on men so she can steal their cars. He spends his time being judge, jury, and executioner to the truly evil in the supernatural realm.

When the blackouts Cyn’s been having ever since her time in Sleepy Hollow start escalating, she finds herself unable to remember where she’s been or what she’s been doing. Frightened, she seeks guidance at a local church, and it’s there she meets Avian.

The unlikely pair soon discovers that her blackouts are a side effect of what she truly is—an Echo—a conduit for souls of the dead. The only way to prevent Cyn from losing complete control is to return to Sleepy Hollow and vanquish the source of her power—but she may not survive the process. And if she does? She won’t ever be the same...
 
Review
 
     Cyn is on the run from her life right now, starting over with a new identity.  If only she wasn't blacking out and losing chunks of time where someone else has control of her body, using it to do horrifying things.  What is sharing Cyn's body?  And did it cause her to kill her boyfriend Hunter, the love of her life?  Maybe with the help of Avian, also known as Thirteen, who is a Revenant and belongs in neither Heaven or Hell.  Half angel and half demon, Avian no longer wants to get mixed up with Echoes (people possessed with souls of the deceased, sharing their bodies) and at first avoids Cyn at all costs.  But when Father Montgomery, the priest helping them both, is murdered and Cyn gets in over her head he decides to try and bail her out.  Is it too late, or can Cyn be saved from the monsters within?
     I originally was a pretty large fan of the initial Hollow trilogy.  At least until the third book, when I feel like the series completely fell apart.  I don't even know why I decided to read this one, seeing as I honestly didn't enjoy numbers 2 or 3 in the last series and its a companion novel.  I was intrigued though, so I decided to read it anyways.  I was not very impressed to say the least.  I felt like while the action kept the plot moving along fairly well, that the world-building didn't allow for newcomers to really understand everything that was happening.  I enjoyed the cameo with Abbey and Caspian near the end of the book, when Cyn and Avian head back to Sleepy Hollow but I felt like it was kind of cheesy all the same. 
     I am not a very big fan of undying, clichéd romantic relationships so I wasn't all that invested in Cyn and Avian's slow burn for each other.  I did like that they weren't involved with one another right away though, as insta-love would have been ten times worse.  The coolest part of this book was the mystery behind whether or not Cyn was being possessed and what it meant to be an Echo sharing a body with the soul of a Revenant, especially since the Revenant was trying to kill her.  I did like Cyn for the most part, but I felt like I didn't get to know her all that well either.  This book was kind of short for any in depth character development, or real backstory on what makes her tick.  And the conclusion about Avian's dead girlfriend's soul made me roll my eyes.  I found myself skimming pages and just trying to get finished.  So in the end, all I can really say is that this definitely was NOT the book for me personally.  Maybe the whole angel/demon thing would appeal more to someone else and make up for the pretty weak writing in this one.
 
VERDICT:  2/5  Stars
 
*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book was published October 1st, 2013.*

Thursday, October 24, 2013

In A Land Far, Far Away


Published:  June 11th, 2013
Far, Far Away
By: Tom McNeal
Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13:  9780375849725


It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since.

After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm.

Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion.

And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings...

Review
 
     Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives in the small town of Never Better.  But things have definitely been better for him, with only his agoraphobic Dad left to take care of him and a Mom that ran off years ago.  Oh, and there's also the fact that he can hear ghosts.  Jeremy's constant companion is Jacob Grimm, one of the famous Brothers Grimm, who didn't pass on when he died.  Instead he's spent all the time since then looking for his brother Wilhelm.  But there is evil lurking in the town of Never Better, the kind only thought to exist in fairy tales.  With the help of Ginger, the girl Jeremy likes, and Jacob Grimm, can Jeremy find a way to defeat evil, win the money to save his family's bookstore and their house - all while staying alive?
     As a bit of a slow starter, I wasn't really all that invested in things at first.  I felt like it took forever for anything to actually happen.  But when it did, it was definitely an interesting ride!  I do like the narrator being Jacob Grimm.  It gave the story an interesting, somewhat outside perspective from Jeremy, Ginger and the other main characters of the novel.  That said, when a story isn't being told in a first person perspective of the main character (for whom you're supposed to be feeling everything and getting attached to) or in third-person omniscient (which allows you to get the emotions in many characters heads, with an overall deeper view) it can cause a serious disconnect from the outcome of what will happen to the characters in the end.  And unfortunately I felt that to a pretty large extent while reading this book.  One of the things that saved it for me was probably that I kept hearing Jim Dale's voice in my head when Grimm was narrating.  The whole quirky, small town with secrets thing drew a Pushing Daisies comparison - in a really awesome way!
     Jeremy to me was the basic, run of the mill, everyman or the stock orphan character.  I did like the fact that he could talk to ghosts and further into the novel I did feel like I got to know him better.  But I still feel like he was a pretty bland character in general.  Ginger was more interesting, because she made her own fun, pulling pranks and overall running amuck through the town.  She reminded me more of a normal teen than Jeremy but she was still fairly clichéd as a character type.  I would say just for lack of character depth or development that this book belongs as a middle grade novel.  But the main plot and the identity of the evil person in Never Better alone make this far too dark to be middle grade.  It definitely falls into YA territory when it comes to that!  All I will say is that while the MCs are starving to death in a hidden room of the person's house, I was still getting over their identity.  Looking back there was foreshadowing, but I kind of passed right over it.  That twist is what made this that much more like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
     Overall, I enjoyed reading this book.  I liked what McNeal tried to do with the concept and I feel like he succeeded pretty well.  I can even get past the detached narration, because it makes sense when you think of Jacob Grimm being the ultimate storyteller who is detached himself.  At least until the very end, when he realizes what Jeremy means to him personally and his own journey.  Recommended for younger teens, late middle school or early high school aged.  Or anyone who just likes twisted fairy tales for that matter!
 
VERDICT:  3.5/5  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.**

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lucifer (Sons of Old Trilogy #1) - Review & Blog Tour, Plus Giveaway!!!

Lucifer (Sons of Old Trilogy, #1)
 
Published:  January 31st, 2013
Lucifer (Sons of Old Trilogy #1)
By: Annabell Cadiz
Self Published
 
Have you ever wondered what could be hiding in the shadows?

Well, for eighteen-year-old Zahara Faraday, she doesn’t have to wonder. You see she comes from a lineage of Light Witches, those who have chosen to help protect and serve between the supernatural world and the human world. The only problem is Zahara, like her father Solomon, is as human as a human being can be whereas her mother, Mia, and her Aunt Catalina, were born as Light Witches. As a family they hunt down rogue supernaturals—creatures who harm humans or who have committed an act against their kingdom.

Zahara’s hunting skills are usually kept dormant since her parents would prefer she live life as a normal human girl without knowledge of the supernatural world. She plans on doing just that—except when she finds a couple being attacked by fairies, she has no choice but to step in. Before she can return to pretending to be blissfully ignorant, Zahara encounters a problem she isn’t the least equip to handle: Bryan Hamilton, the good looking new co-worker she has to help train. In a heartbeat, her best friend, Becca King, has set her up on a double date with herself and her new crush, Rekesh Saint-Louis, who happens to be the most powerful leader of the biggest Imago Coven in South Florida –supernatural creatures with the ability to control water . . . and suck out human souls.

Zahara has no time to focus on how she’s going to explain her double date with her best friend and the enemy they have a tentative truce with to her parents because soon one of the members of Mia and Catalina’s coven is found murdered with a strange tattoo of a snake with wings carved into his arm.

Zahara is then thrown into a whirlwind battle with an angel determined to have revenge against God, an Imago coven she doesn’t think they should trust, and slew of dream-eating fairies and powerful Nephilims, hybrid children of angels and humans, more than happy to rip her to shreds.

Normal just got a deadlier definition.
 
Review
 
     The book opened up with almost immediate action, so I started out intrigued and wanted to know more.  As I kept reading, I really did enjoy myself for the most part.  Zahara is an interesting girl, with a smart mouth and some kick-ass loyalty to her friends and family.  Even if that does lead to her jumping into dangerous situations without always thinking it through.  Her friend Becca is loud, sassy and unafraid to say it straight (even if what she's saying might be somewhat embarrassing).  But she also has a huge heart and jumps right in beside Zahara to fight against the supernatural creatures she has to stop from hurting ordinary people.  It was truly nice to see a new adult novel that wasn't all sex and angst as well.  Zahara and Becca are 18, which places them in between NA and YA technically but I would classify this as a New Adult book myself.  I was impressed by the in-depth creation of new supernatural mythologies and the Imago (which I had never heard of before) was definitely an interesting creature to encounter for the first time.  Especially with the contrast of the Imagoes attacking people and Becca's love interest/leader Imago, Rekesh. 
     Speaking of the romance, both the relationships between Bryan and Zahara & Rekesh and Becca were interesting to read about.  I personally preferred the 'opposites attract' phenomenon of Rekesh and Becca over the 'bad boy syndrome' phenomenon of Bryan and Zahara.  It kind of left me rolling my eyes, even if he ultimately was a really nice guy.  Solomon (Zahara's Dad) was actually one of the better parents I've read in YA or NA in quite some time.  He was actually there, trying to protect his daughter from everything and be her parent.  He didn't let her walk all over him and actually punished her when she broke the rules.  Plus, Solomon was just plain funny as well.  His first interaction with Bryan absolutely cracked me up. 
     I have to say though (and I'm not the only one from other reviews that I've seen) that the gratuitous and constant descriptions of what everyone was wearing almost completely ruined this for me as a reader.  They got extremely annoying, interrupted scenes where they didn't belong and overall made me irritated.  Yes, they were good descriptions.  But did they move along the plot or make the book better?  No, they did not.  If anything they made it worse.  Also, the book needs to be re-edited.  There were some sentences missing words and it could have compromised the reading had it been worse.  I understand that this is self-published.  So if you can't afford an editor, have a really English-minded friend do it please!  I can get over the predictable nature of the villain and the ending that I saw coming.  But no more clothing descriptions please!  Overall it was a pretty good first novel and I did enjoy the supernatural aspects of it.  I don't know if I'll be reading the next one though.  It reminded me of The Mortal Instruments a little bit, and I'm not really a fan of that series either.
 
VERDICT:  3/5  Stars
 
*I received an E-book Copy from the author.  No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book was published January 31st, 2013.*
 
 Excerpt
 
     Is that blood?” Zahara asked eyeing the ground a few steps in front of them.
Becca looked down toward the ground and moved closer to the gloopy stain of red. She bent down and tilted her head to the side. “Looks like blood.”
Zahara kneeled down beside the blood and looked down the hall on the left, which led outside to where all the dumpsters where found. “There’s more down that way,” she directed with a thrust of her chin.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Becca said grabbing onto Zahara’s arm.
“Becks, we have to check out what it is; someone could be hurt.”
Becca was already shaking her head no. “Are you stupid? Follow the path of blood down the dark hallway into the back alley where there can possibly be a body and some killer. It’s too cliché horror movie for my taste. We are not those stupid girls. Let’s go get your parents.” She yanked Zahara back toward the food court, but Zahara pulled her back.
“By the time we get to my parents, explain what we found and they come to investigate, the person in the back alley could be dead and it’ll be our fault for not helping when we could.” Zahara turned around and started walking down the hallway, taking out the dagger from her back pocket. She unclipped the can of pepper spray from the keychain clipped to her pants and tossed it to Becca. “You coming or am I going in alone?”
“Stupid best friend is gonna follow the stupid trail of blood down the stupid hallway with a stupid can of pepper spray and a stupid dagger and she expects us not to get killed,” Becca mumbled through tight teeth as she followed Zahara.
They walked slowly, sticking to the wall so as not to step on the blood. The door leading out to the dumpsters was shut. Zahara leaned back against it and looked at Becca. Becca swallowed hard and gave her a quick nod, shaking the can of pepper spray. Zahara threw the door open and twisted around on her heel as fast as she could. Becca ran outside with the can of pepper spray held high, but they found nothing more than blood on the ground.
Zahara tiptoed around the drops of blood on the ground, walking farther back into the alleyway and stopped as she heard voices.
“Tell us where you’ve hidden it!” a man snapped. Skin slapped against skin and another man cried out.
“I told you, we do not have it!”
Zahara felt her heart bang against her ribcage. She recognized that voice. She moved closer, staying beside one of the dumpsters, and knelt. Becca knelt beside her and took a deep breath.
“That sounds like Eric,” Becca whispered.
“You have one last chance to tell us where you’ve hidden the arrow, Jacobson,” the same male voice threatened.
Zahara had no doubt he meant what he said. She knew she would probably regret this later, but she jumped up and ran around the dumpster, hearing Becca’s faint curse as she did. Three sets of eyes turned to look at her. Eric, one of the members of Mia and Catalina’s coven, was on his knees, arms bound by the grip of another man standing behind him.
He was tall and slender, enough muscle to show he wasn’t lazy, but he didn’t look strong enough to be able to hold down Eric’s six-foot, four-inch frame, which was nothing but toned, hard muscle. Eric, on the other hand, looked to be in pain. He had slices across his face and his bottom lip was split open. Blood slithered from the open wounds onto the ground.
“Let him go, now!” Zahara demanded. She gripped the dagger handle more tightly, holding it pressed against her thigh.
 
 
REVIEWER GIVEAWAY! 


Listen up fans and readers a-like! Make sure to show love to your favorite blogger/reviewer by leaving a comment on the Lucifer Blog Tour Post! The reviewer with the most comments will win a $20 Barnes and Noble Giftcard!!

**NOTE: Reviewers MAKE SURE to send the DIRECT LINK to your LIVE post from the LUCIFER BLOG TOUR to Dianne at tomakunisnumberone(at)gmail(dot)com! If you don’t, you do not qualify to win the giftcard.**
 
 
FAN GIVEAWAY: Lucifer Inspired Swag Pack

**Must be 13 or older to enter**
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**Winner has 24 HOURS to respond before new winner is chosen**
 
Swag Pack Includes:
 
–An e-copy of Lucifer (Sons of Old Trilogy, #1) by Annabell Cadiz
–Lucifer Inspired Keychain
–Lucifer Inspired Button
–Beautiful Day Lotion and Body Spray
–Notebook
–Bookmark
 

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One of These Nights


Published:  October 22, 2013
Last Night At The Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind
By: Gavin Edwards
It Books
ISBN-13:  9780062273154

Hollywood was built on beautiful and complicated matinee idols: James Dean and Marlon Brando are classic examples, but in the 1990s, the actor who embodied that archetype was River Phoenix. As the brightly colored 1980s wound down, a new crew of leading men began to appear on movie screens. Hailed for their acting prowess and admired for choosing meaty roles, actors such as Johnny Depp, Nicolas Cage, Keanu Reeves, and Brad Pitt were soon rocketing toward stardom while an unknown Leonardo DiCaprio prepared to make his acting debut. River Phoenix, however, stood in front of the pack. Blessed with natural talent and fueled by integrity, Phoenix was admired by his peers and adored by his fans. More than just a pinup on teenage girls' walls, Phoenix was also a fervent defender of the environment and a vocal proponent of a vegan lifestyle--well on his way to becoming a symbol of his generation. At age eighteen, he received his first Oscar nomination. But behind his beautiful public face, there was a young man who had been raised in a cult by nonconformist parents, who was burdened with supporting his family from a young age, and who eventually succumbed to addiction, escaping into a maelstrom of drink and drugs.

And then he was gone. After a dozen films, including Stand by Me and My Own Private Idaho, and with a seemingly limitless future, River Phoenix died of a drug overdose. He was twenty-three years old.

In Last Night at the Viper Room, bestselling author and journalist Gavin Edwards toggles between the tragic events at the Viper Room in West Hollywood on Halloween 1993 and the story of an extraordinary life. Last Night at the Viper Room is part biography, part cultural history of the 1990s, and part celebration of River Phoenix, a Hollywood icon gone too soon. Full of interviews from his fellow actors, directors, friends, and family, Last Night at the Viper Room shows the role he played in creating the place of the actor in our modern culture and the impact his work still makes today.

Review

     I honestly can't say I was a fan of River when he was still alive - mostly because I was only three years old when he overdosed.  But no matter if you follow someone's career in real time or after the fact, there are some artists, actors, musicians, writers, etc. that just managed to captivate you no matter what.  The first time I saw River Phoenix was at the age of eleven when I saw Stand By Me.  His performance (the whole movie, really) was so entirely honest that I was hooked on watching him.  The air of mystery that shrouded him has only intrigued me even more as an adult.  So when I saw that there was going to be a biography published about him, I knew I absolutely had to read it.  I had to learn more about River than the almost tangible nothing that I already 'knew.'
     Gavin Edwards manages to do something extremely interesting with this book.  He strikes a very nearly perfect balance of pop culture biography and personal biography.  This book is just as much about River and his troubled youth/death as it also manages to be about his entire generation of fellow actors.  Edwards gives us interesting facts about the ways River not dying would have affected the movie industry.  Young Leonardo DiCaprio wouldn't have been in Basketball Diaries or The Man In The Iron Mask.  Christian Slater wouldn't have been the interviewer in Interview With a Vampire.  Would his brother Joaquin still be as famous as he is today?  There are definitely some interesting what-ifs that this book presents to the readers.
     All of the information about River's nomadic childhood, the sexual abuse he suffered and how he was the family's sole means of support for quite some time was heartbreaking.  Add in the slow decline of becoming addicted to drugs, self-sabotage and unhappiness and things become that much worse.  Edwards managed to describe the drug abuse without in any way AT ALL romanticizing it and actually managed to make reading about it cause me to feel sick to my stomach.  The interviews with friends, family, girlfriends and even just people who barely knew who he was (like Johnny Depp, who only saw him at the club the night of the overdose) all lend to the bigger picture of the book, but also give us detailed information about River himself.  We got to learn about his vegan lifestyle, the awkwardness of who he was in general.  River wasn't even sure if he wanted to act anymore, actually being more interested in a band that he formed with some friends and one of his sisters, called Aleka's Attic.  He was also good friends with lots of musicians (including Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers).  This read very personal, almost like a story instead of straight, cold hard non-fiction.  I was happy about that, because it's how I prefer my biographies/autobiographies to read.  I like feeling like I'm being told something with some feeling behind it.
      Overall, this book gives us as readers a good window into the life of one interesting young man, full of potential that was wasted by an early death.  Also, it gives us insight into an entire generation of young Hollywood and the way it developed into what we're familiar with today.  I did like that while River's drug abuse/addiction wasn't romanticized it also wasn't the book's focus.  Instead we got to focus on the life leading up to it and the fact that no one even knew he was in that downward spiral.  I will always wonder 'what if' he had lived, grown older and made more movies.  What would he look like, what career choices would he have made?  Obscurity, TV Star or film, movies or music?  I guess we'll never really know.

VERDICT:  4.5/5  Stars

*I received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, and imprint of Harper Collins, via Edelweiss.  No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book was published October 22nd, 2013.*

Friday, October 18, 2013

When The Lights Go Out

 
Published:  September 24th, 2013
Sleep With The Lights On (Brown and De Luca #1)
By: Maggie Shayne
Harlequin MIRA
ISBN-13:  9780778315544
 
Through the eyes of a killer

Rachel de Luca has found incredible success writing self-help books. But her own blindness and the fact that her troubled brother has gone missing have convinced her that positive thinking is nothing but bull. Her cynicism wavers when a cornea transplant restores her sight. The new eyes seem to give her new life, until they prove too good to be true and she starts seeing terrifying visions of brutal murders crimes she soon learns are all too real.

Detective Mason Brown's own brother recently died, leaving behind a horrific secret. In atonement, Mason donated his brother's organs, though he's kept the fact quiet. Now he wants to help Rachel find her brother, but when he discovers the shocking connection between her visions and his own brother, he suddenly has to do everything in his power to save her from a predator who is somehow still hunting from beyond the grave.
 
Review
 
      I haven't been reading thrillers/mysteries on a regular basis for years now.  It seems like they are all the same after awhile and nothing fresh is left to be surprised by.  This book didn't necessarily have the freshest premise ever, but it just might have helped rejuvenate my interest in thrillers!  Shayne's whole backbone to the book is the idea that evil can live on once its host is dead, through a process like organ donation.  The story is about Rachel de Luca who has been blind since she was a pre-teen and has made a fortune selling self-help books with a philosophy she thinks is complete crap.  Detective Mason Brown has a chance encounter with Rachel, shortly after which he witnesses his own brother's suicide.  Turns out Mason's brother had been hiding a secret from his family - he was a serial killer and the guilt was no longer bearable.  Mason covers it up and donates his brother's organs to make up for it.  Rachel receives corneal tissue belonging to him and starts to have visions of murders and a strange connection to a killer.  Searching for her own brother who has disappeared, can Rachel and Mason come together to find out the truth behind how the murders are continuing - when the killer is already dead?  And will they both make it out alive?
      Rachel is a sassy, sarcastic and mostly downright rude ball-buster.  She doesn't take anyone's crap, does what she wants and has no filter for what she says to people.  Mason was just an average cop, with a slightly screwed up family history until he was forced to keep his brother's twisted secrets.  They clash almost immediately and spend the entire book circling around one another, each unsure of the other's motives until almost the end of the novel.  I liked the usage of an old idea (seeing visions of murder through eyes donated by a killer), with the twist that the evil was hosted in the body and transplanted along with the organs.  It needed to find a receptive host to survive.  It didn't completely discount the fact that the people it took over were evil in there own ways.  But it did give way to the notion that there are different types and degrees of evil.  I loved Rachel as a character, especially a heroine.  She made me laugh a lot and still feel sorry for her when her past was given to the readers, including the loss of her sight.  My favorite thing was when she adopted an old, blind bulldog named Myrtle.  It just about broke my heart, because Rachel did it so Myrtle could live and not be put down at the pound.  But soon enough she was buying driving goggles and matching scarves for Myrtle and taking her everywhere. 
      The way the murder plot wrapped up wasn't all that unpredictable, but I still appreciated the resolution.  And the way Shayne developed the organ-killer/host idea and the amount of organs donated as a setup for further novels was pretty ingenious.  Overall I really enjoyed this novel, and the characters took it up a notch from the thriller with paranormal leanings that could easily fit in with the rest of the pack.  They made it distinguishable and unique and I'd recommend it for that alone.
 
VERDICT:  4/5  Stars
 
*I received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley.  No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book was published September 24th, 2013.*

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

You've Got Mail


Expected Publication:  December 24th, 2013
Roomies
By: Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13:  9780316217491

It's time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge.  That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex.  With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by the change, it suddenly seems the only people that Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives...and each other.  Even though they've never met.

Review

     Elizabeth (called EB by her friends) is really excited to finally be leaving for college in just a couple short months.  So when she gets her roommate assignment, EB shoots of an e-mail to figure out who's bringing what.  Lauren on the other hand is less than thrilled with having a roommate, as she had originally requested a single.  Coming from a home with five younger brothers and sisters, all Lauren wants is to go to Berkeley and get some peace, quiet and freedom.  When EB contacts her Lauren is busy working, being babysitter to her siblings and trying to keep her friendships afloat even though she doesn't have time to be involved with all the technology her friends use as a lifeline - especially her best friend Zoe.  At first the girls get off on the wrong foot, but when they really start responding to each other both EB and Lauren come to rely on one another as sounding boards - and friends.  With complicated guy and family situations can EB and Lauren make the right decisions and manage to become the people they need to be?
     I really enjoyed reading this book!  I went into it expecting it to be a pretty good read, but braced for disappointment.  It takes a really great writer to work with a partner and not come up with a mediocre book.  It's all about the flow and style of the narrative being smooth, while still having distinctive characters, etc. so that not everything sounds exactly the same.  EB is an only child who lives with her Mom, after her Dad walked out on them when she was five.  Turns out he was gay and didn't want to pretend anymore.  Not that her Mom is perfect either, having affairs with married men and always being gone from the apartment.  Everything is changing with E.B.'s friends too, who are all staying close by for college.  She breaks up with her boyfriend who is pressuring her for sex, only to find herself attracted to a landscaping client's son.  Lauren is the opposite, trying to figure out her romantic feelings for her co-worker Keyon, searching Goodwill for antiques they can flip, babysitting her five siblings and working for money she's going to need at college.  I could appreciate EB's inability to admit how she felt, her mixed feelings towards her Mom (who she loves, even if she is distant and doing the morally wrong thing more often than not).  I identified with Lauren's struggle to separate her identity from her place in the family.  Both girls were written extremely real.
     That old saying that it's easier to talk to a stranger is really well demonstrated in this book.  Neither girl really knows how to connect at first, but they can't talk about their problems with anyone else.  So they unload on each other.  But both of them are conflicted about becoming friends that way, before they've ever even met each other.  They still kind of resent each other as well, for being so involved.  EB even retaliates when Lauren looks up her estranged Dad's art gallery in San Francisco and finds out something hurtful.  Lauren decides to tell EB anyway and the anger gets focused on her instead.  The romantic relationship between Lauren and Keyon was very 'first love' in it's hesitation and shy newness.  It was nice to have such an innocent relationship in a YA book.  I did like EB's relationship with Mark, but it felt really whirlwind and insta-love to me.  Yes, his character was awesome.  But I felt like the "I love you" mentality was way unrealistic.  Overall, this is a book about friendships (old and new), family, romance and learning how to balance them all while dealing with the change of growing up.  I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it, whether you're already a fan of Zarr or Altebrando, or both even.

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is December 24th, 2013.*

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday #12 - Top Ten Books I Was Forced to Read!!!


     Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly event hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, which allows bloggers to share lists of some of our favorite (and not-so favorite) things.  This week we’ll be highlighting the top ten books we've been forced to read over the years!  I know that usually when a teacher, parent or someone else tells you that you MUST read a certain book, all it really does is make you want to avoid it and drops your interest level to zero.  I can't wait to see what books pleasantly surprised you and share my own required reading favorites!  Happy Tuesday and have fun everyone!  Without further adieu, the books! :)


Top Ten Books I Was Forced to Read


As someone who was bullied a lot as a kid (because of how 'different', i.e. poor and uncool, I was) this book meant so much to me.  Somehow even with the depressing ending, it was still a pretty large beacon of hope and I'll always be grateful to my 7th grad English teacher for having this as required reading!  Not sure if it entirely counts though, as I had first read it 2 years previously on my own...


This is a book that I initially did NOT want to read.  And while I may have hated the teacher's tendencies for over-analyzing and the obsession she held with symbolism, I ended up truly being made to think by this book.  What would the world be like without books?  Knowledge is not easy and firemen burn instead of stopping the burn.  It is a truly scary book!  Especially for a spoiled high-school kid.


This is one that a lot of people read as seniors in high school.  I actually didn't read this one until my second year of college!  I took a Comp 2 course and the teacher was obsessed with Shakespeare.  I had heard plenty of things about Hamlet and while I respect Shakespeare immensely, it just wasn't my thing.  Until I actually read it.  Now I can't keep my hands off of re-tellings and satires.  I also loved the teacher's enthusiasm and took two more classes just to be taught by him! :)


So much unnecessary angst and torturous feeling in one doomed relationship!  I wasn't into it at first, but this is yet another one that had me completely hooked by the end.  I am now addicted to it in it's various forms and have read a couple retellings.  I also somehow own THREE DIFFERENT film versions of it and really want about three or four others still for my collection.  I have issues and yes, Heathcliff is a deranged asshole.  But somehow it still moved (moves) me anyway!


Even if only for the fact that it got me to Catching Fire, one of the best second series books I've ever read, I will always be grateful for my BFF Elizabeth.  She book talked me till she was blue in the face and I finally decided to give it another chance.  Second time was a charm!


Thank you to Mrs. Locke, my 3rd Grade teacher.  This is still one of the best books about friendship, love, death, life and imagination that I have ever (or probably will ever) read.  Reading books about real kids, in real situations is ALWAYS an awesome thing.  Some of the best required reading I actually read! :)


Do we want a perfect life, with no pain and suffering - but no love, joy or friendship either?  Black and white is okay, but where are all the colors and the music?  The idea of conformity for the greater good and the loss of something even greater through it definitely strikes at you when you're a kid.  Individuality is important and so is choosing for yourself.  My teacher definitely had us imagining with horror what it would be like to have nothing just your own.  This is definitely a model for a lot of current YA dystopian novels.


A novel about the excess of America, the truths of heartbreak and the dangers of living in the past.  Not one that I was initially impressed with in the 10th grade, but recently I reread it and Fitzgerald's prose if gorgeous.  Plus you can feels the emotions in it and this is the kind of book that can leave your stomach with a melancholy pit in it for days.  Those are my favorite kinds of books!



I feel like I was guilt-tripped and forced into reading this series by the ENTIRE FREAKING WORLD.  This was at the height of LOTR fever when the movies were in theaters.  I didn't get into them until Two Towers was on DVD and ROTK was almost in theaters.  I felt guilty about seeing the movies before reading the books, so I backtracked.  Thank you world population!  The series is great (but hard to read if you already know what's going to happen via movie- the detail becomes kind of tedious) but I am most thankful for the second one.  Lots of people don't like it, but I was enchanted by Rohan and it's tough, strong people.  Eowyn was my pre-teen idol - I was a geek in training then.  So thanks for the guilt-trip! 


As someone who generally reads YA, I was very reluctant to pick this book up.  I was eighteen, but avoiding those 'depressing' adult books like the plague!  But my librarian guilted me into it, along with all the hype surrounding the series.  I am grateful I read this, because I learned that I do like thrillers and I don't mind government espionage, etc.  It just has to be well-written and interesting.  Also, it's made me more willing to try reading foreign authors.  Before I wouldn't have done that either.  This was a turning point in my adult reading life and I'm grateful it happened!

The Demon Mistress (Eva Prim #1) Blog Tour - Review, Eva's Perspective, & Giveaway!!!


What’s a girl to do when she discovers her husband, who happens to be the Master Vampire for the New England Region, has been lying to her for, oh, say a hundred and eighty years? 

Well, it all depends. If she’s accidentally released forty demons from some creepy old book, unintentionally announced the existence of vampires on The Internet, kidnapped a werewolf, enraged a lovesick vampire by stealing his approved mate, and attracted the attention of The High Commander for The Vampire Federation, not to mention gotten stoned and mastered the forbidden art of demon calling, she might be willing to call it even.

Or, she might plead her case at an Inquisition and hope like all hell, she isn’t staked before sunrise. Eh, a slightly busier night than usual, but nothing Eva Prim can’t handle.

About the Author

Jordan loves vampires. But if you know anything about Jordan, you already knew that detail. What you didn’t know was it wasn’t long ago that she began writing about them. 

A few years back Jordan received a copy of Twilight from her husband as part of her anniversary gift. By the end of that week she’d read the entire series and moved onto Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Eight weeks and eighteen vampire books later the idea for her first book, Perpetual Light came to her followed very quickly by Eva Prim. 

In October of 2013 The Demon Mistress, the first Eva Prim Novel is available along with four short stories. For continual updates on Eva please join the Snack Of The Week Club at www.evaprim.com. 

Coming November 2013 Black Magic Rose, Book One of The Alliance Series. Join Jordan’s newsletter for updates.  

Jordan is a member of the national Romance Writers of America organization and several chapters. 

When she’s not writing about one vampire or another Jordan enjoys spending time with her husband, Ken and their lovable Labrador, Dino on the beautiful beaches of New England.  

Find Jordan on her website at www.jordankrose.com




Review

     So can I say in all honesty that if the synopsis hadn't convinced me to read this book, the website that accompanied definitely would have.  Eva Prim has her own Snack of the Week Club online, courtesy of Jordan K. Rose!  Anyone who knows me at all realizes how much I love to laugh and how important a good sense of humor is to me in a book.  When I started reading this it was a bit of a slow starter.  I thought Eva was a pushover, with bubbles for brains who was going to wear on my last nerve.  Boy was I WRONG!  Once the book picked up, I couldn't put it down!  Eva is actually an alias for Chrysanthemum "Chrissie" Mildred Papadapoulos, who is the wife of a Master Vampire in the New England region.  And since they got together almost 200 years ago, she's done nothing but cause trouble!  The last time Chrissie tried to 'help' she set 40 demons free from a forbidden book.  Now being shut in the house and lonely, she starts an advice blog for vampires under the alias Eva Prim - and she ends up outing vampires on the Internet, accidentally stealing another vamp's mate, become a demon master, eaten a stoner and managed to get called before the Inquisitor.  Can Chrissie work her way out of this one, or will she really be executed this time?  And just what secrets has her husband Stefan been keeping from her all this time?
     I loved that I was thrown into this book, but that I could actually follow what was happening.  I never got confused as to who was who and how they were all intertwined in the main plot.  The whole mess starts because Chrissie wants some friends and isn't allowed to leave the house.  So of course, when demented vampire Cletus is on the loose causing havoc and one of her blog friends is hiding from his advances, Chrissie just has to rescue her!  All the encounters with the other commenters on the blog were making me laugh so hard!  When they all team up with a couple of the demons from the book, Cynthia and Jackson, to rescue Goldenrae from Cletus things only got even funnier.  Add in a stoner who works at the burger restaurant and goes from quick snack to friend really fast, plus all the complications with Stefan (who was something else before he was a vamp), and the High Commander's bounty on Eva for exposing them and it's almost like reading a supernaturally infused version of Pineapple Express - only it's actually funny!  I'm probably not doing a super great job explaining this book, but I don't want to give too much away.  Let's just say Chrissie/Eva's balance of personal growth and constancy throughout the book were very well written.  I feel like all the characters had well fleshed out personalities and the end of the book left things open for more Eva Prim craziness, of which I hope there is lots.  Thanks to Jordan for requesting a review!  So glad I read this one and I highly recommend it to anyone who'd like to be pleasantly surprised and has a sense of humor.

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*I received an E-book Copy from the author.  No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book was published October 1st, 2013.*

Favorite Quotes:

 1)    "She's pressing a cold apple cider compress to my head and you're wondering if it's helping?"  I sit up.  Either I just received two of the dumbest demons on the planet or the world's assessement of demons as evil, terrifying monsters is completely wrong.  They're morons.
     "It works on humans," Cynthia says.  "Pressing apple cider to a human's head works for what?"
"It makes them feel better," she answers.  "Apple cider?"  I'm so confused.  I don't know what she's talking about.  

2)  "I don't like the hat," she calls as I run back to the desk to get Goldenrae's address.  "And I don't want to wear a coat," Jack complains.
      "This must be what motherhood is like."  I grab my car keys from the table and slide them into my jacket.

3)  She's right.  Cletus will need an army to defeat Stefan.  A Cletus-Loving-Army-of-Peons.  The CLAP.  Just what I need.

Eva's Perspective (with Intro from Jordan)

It’s so nice to be at Diamonds & Coal book Reviews. Thank you Anna for hosting Eva and me. On this blog tour Eva, who loves to blog has taken over. (It’s been a bumpy ride, but fun just the same!) Today she’ll blog about her perspective on demons. This ought to be good!

Demons

Anna, thanks for having me. As you and your readers may or may not know I accidentally set loose a few demons. It was unintentional, of course. I mean who in her right mind sets loose a bunch of demons? Uh, no one.
Anyway, 40 got out. 28 were recaptured.
2 were given to me as friends. 1 came back when I called him. And 9 are still on the run. So that brings you up to speed on my demon issue. However, what you don’t realize is that demons aren’t what you’d expect.
Um, well, so far they’re not really scary. At least, not to me. And maybe being a vampire makes a difference seeing as I can’t be possessed. I mean they do scare the werewolves. You know the possession thing is freaky. 
But other than that, demons aren’t so scary. They’re…sort of…well…I’m going to first, say I don’t mean to insult any of my demons or any other demons thinking of coming around or any demons who might somehow become insulted and then act out. So lets just hold off on any responses to what I’m about to say. Agreed? I’ll take demon silence as a yes.
So demons are sort of like dumbasses. They take everything literally. They never know when to keep a secret. They just basically can’t be trusted. They’re physically exhausting. Some are very nice or they try to be.
Hey, demons, don’t get agitated. They say knowing is half the battle. If more demons accepted their shortcomings, they’d be better equipped to handle life, er death or whatever it’s called.
You see…I…wait…what was that?
Ah, well, great. Just great. My demons have left the building. Big babies.
Have you ever noticed how some people just can’t handle the truth?

Today’s US prize on the blog hop is a little something to relax everyone. A teacup, some tea and some Vampire’s Kiss Truffles from the www.cocoashak.com. Sometimes you just need a little alone time to sip tea and eat a truffle. For international  winners the prize will be a $10 Amazon gift certificate. Get some tea, maybe some biscuits, something to relax those jumpy nerves. Leave a comment. Maybe win a prize. 
For updates on my books, me, my short stories and loads of other valuable items join my Snack of the Week Club at http://evaprim.com/snackofWeek.html. I’d love to have you! (in the club, not just as a snack.)


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October Madness Giveaway!!!


     So you guys, it's the middle of October and I promised you the chance at a giveaway!  It's not gigantic, but it's stuff that I know you guys will like and it makes me feel better about not having a giveaway for my blogoversary.  I haven't been posting as much as I've wanted to so far this month, and am planning on stepping it up (with my first craft post on Wednesday, pictures and all!).  Hopefully y'all are fans of Hocus Pocus and you're enjoying our Read-Along of Something Wicked This Way Comes.  So without further adieu, here is the giveaway (open to U.S. RESIDENTS ONLY)!  Good luck and please read the terms and conditions before entering.


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