Format: Paperback

Murder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau (Review & Giveaway)

Posted July 5, 2012 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Book Review / 14 Comments

Murder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau (Review & Giveaway)Muder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau
Series: Glee Club #1
Published by Berkley on July 3, 2012
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher (Mail)
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3 Stars

Even as a struggling opera singer, Paige Marshall has never seen anything like the cutthroat competition of the Prospect Glen High School show choir. Coaching these championship-hungry students may be her toughest gig yet...

Especially when her best young male singer is suspected of killing the arrogant coach of Prospect Glen's fiercest rival. To clear his name, Paige will have to sort through a chorus of suspects, and go note-for-note with a killer who wants her out of the spotlight for good.

Welcome to today’s stop on the JKS Communications virtual book tour for Joelle Charbonneau’s newest book, Murder for Choir, a cozy mystery filled with singing, dancing, competition, and intrigue. I’m so glad you stopped by!

Seeing as how I was a show choir girl all through high school and college, I was incredibly excited to find a mystery novel that centered around such a fun time in my life. It was also nice to step away from the young adult books for a little while and read about people closer to my age. As always my main points are bolded. :)

1. I think the idea for this book was fun and unique. You can do a lot with a show choir, and there are a lot of story elements you can tackle. I’ve never watched the TV show Glee, but a blurb on the cover said, “Imagine if Stephanie Plum joined the cast of Glee…” I’ve also never read a Stephanie Plum novel! Haha. So, I can’t agree or disagree. Perhaps this will give you an idea, though, of what the book is like. :)

2. Paige Marshall is one of those characters that you want to either scream at or be best friends with. On the one hand, she’s always getting herself into trouble. She’s that heroine in the movies who walks out in the dark in her socks because she thinks she heard someone out there. You want to yell at her, “GET INSIDE, DUMMY!” I feel like she was lacking in basic, common sense. It got her in trouble. On the other hand, though, she’s sweet and is doing all of this to save a teenage boy who was accused of murder. She had good intentions, so I guess I can look past that. Haha. She’s also pretty funny.

3. Paige’s three co-workers: Devlyn (my favorite), Larry, and Felicia, were great characters. They were all very different from one another, with dynamic personalities, which was really nice. Sometimes supporting characters are boring and kind of mush together. I really liked them, though, except for officer Mike. I did not like him at all. Throughout the entire book he seemed aloof and unorganized. Plus, he seemed to be a total playboy. Paige’s Aunt Millie was a little over the top for me. She kind of reminds me of Richard’s mother in the TV show, Castle, if you’re familiar with that: tacky clothes, money, a Mark Kay pink Cadillac, and a pushy personality. Both women love their families, though, which is why I can let the tackiness slide and adore them both. And I must admit, Millie was hilarious. Her taxidermy pets and pink platform shoes were heartwarming.

4. The mystery was very intriguing, but not entirely realistic to me. Paige, a teacher, took the police investigation on herself and ended up getting into a lot of trouble. She should have been arrested so many times for interfering with a police investigation, but she never did. If you can look past the fact that this all would most likely never happen, and just enjoy the story for what it is you’ll be fine. :) I had to keep reminding myself of this throughout the book. I guess I watch too much CIS/NCIS/Castle/Blue Bloods. I just wasn’t buying it.

5. Regardless of my former point, I was kept guessing on who did it until about the last quarter of the book. I actually figured it out before Paige did, which made me really proud of myself! Usually the ending is a surprise to me.

6. Maybe I was just lucky, but my show choir experiences were not this cut throat and ruthless. Directors did not have to sleep with adjudicators in order to get higher scores or placements. Students did not wish someone dead or threaten people in the hopes of winning a competition or getting ahead. We all just liked each other and enjoyed the music we made together. So to me, this also felt unrealistic. But the author is a major musician and performer, so maybe she saw this kind of thing happen in her choral experiences. I was just surprised. Haha.

Overall, this is a fun little mystery. I enjoyed the characters and the basic plot line. Joelle is a great storyteller, and I enjoyed her writing style. While I found things to be a little unrealistic, once I looked past that and just focused on the story I began to enjoy it more. Was it my favorite book? No. But I would recommend it to people who love mysteries, a little romance, a little suspense, and choral singing.

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Head on over to the other stops on this tour for more reviews, author interviews and guest posts, and more giveaways!

3 Stars

Sound of the Heart by Genevieve Graham (Review & Guest Post)

Posted May 22, 2012 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Book Review, Guest Post / 3 Comments

Sound of the Heart by Genevieve Graham (Review & Guest Post)Sound of the Heart by Genevieve Graham
Series: The MacDonnells #2
Published by Berkley on May 1, 2012
Genres: Historical Romance, Romance
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Author
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4 Stars

Dougal MacDonnell, a fierce warrior from the Highlands of Scotland, is able to hear the thoughts of other men and dream how the future will unfold. Devastated by the loss of his family during the Battle of Culloden in 1746, he fosters a deep hatred for the English. But when Glenna, the love of his life and a Scottish outlaw, is captured and shipped overseas, Dougal is forced to join an English army made of vanquished Scots. Now fighting on the side of his sworn enemies, he embarks on a journey that will take him across the seas to the colonies. There he will risk everything for the chance to find his true love.

(Even though this is a companion novel, it can be read as a stand-alone. The first book is Dougal’s brother’s story.)

I read Genevieve’s Under the Same Sky and reviewed it over at The Broke and the Bookish last month, so I was excited when Genevieve contacted me and asked if I was interested in reading this companion novel. Under the Same Sky was a tricky read for me, as some of the subject matter was highly distressing, and my tender heart had a hard time reading the recounting of certain historical happenings, including rape, abuse, and war. I wrote to Genevieve about my struggles, and we began discussing history and how women were treated during the times this book covers. Genevieve is here today to talk about what she and I discussed (how researching opens up so many unknown truths), and you can find her guest post beneath my review of Sound of the Heart. Now, on to my review (which I will try to keep brief so this post does not turn into a HUGE read!)! I fear my review will be vague, as there are so many ways to include spoilery… but I will do my best to not spoil anything! As always, my main points are bolded. :)

1. I went into this book expecting a darker read, like Under the Same Sky. The covers of both books are rather deceptive, so don’t assume you’ll be getting a light, fluffy romance when you pick them up. Sound of the Heart is much lighter than Under the Same Sky, and I actually ended up liking it even more than I liked the first one. I rarely like sequels or companions as much as the first book, so I was pleasantly surprised at my reaction to this one.

2. Now, we’re still dealing with some heavy subject matter, it’s just spread more thinly throughout the book, plus there’s much less violence towards women, which is what I struggled with in book 1.

  • The bulk of the first part of the book tells us all about Dougal’s time being imprisoned as a POW after he survives the Battle of Culloden (which is actually told in great detail in Under the Same Sky). The struggles of life in prison during this time are told in great detail, and I felt so badly for Dougal and all the others with him. There was a lot of violence, and prisoners were killed or beaten for the smallest reasons.
  • Women were treated very poorly and we read some instances of rape and abuse. It’s much tamer and less detailed than in Under the Same Sky.

3. I really liked Dougal. You don’t learn much about him in the first book, but I liked him just as much as I liked his brother, Andrew in Under the Same Sky. We’re given another sexy Scottish Highlander with a cute accent and a sweet demeanor. He befriends and watches over two younger boys who are imprisoned with him, and I loved the tender bond the three formed. He sort of adopts them as his own brothers after his family died in the battle. The loyalty to his family was very touching. I love family guys. I also really liked his friend Joseph, who had a lot of personality and a sense of humor that lightened the mood during the dark times of the story.

4. Glenna is a very dynamic character, with a lot of secrets. I won’t tell you how she falls into Dougal’s life, because that’s a spoiler, but I really liked her. I appreciate the fact that Genevieve writes strong female characters. So many historical romances make women look like submissive, meek little chickens with no backbones or common sense. Glenna was SO strong, just like Maggie was in Under the Same Sky. She was thrown some major curve balls in life, but she’s still a sweet character with a lot of street smarts.

She is captured from her humble home with Dougal and shipped overseas, where she is sold into slavery. Hello? I had no idea white slavery existed during this time, nor did I know that Scottish men and women were essentially kidnapped and shipped to the Americas to serve as slaves or fight for the English Army. Her life as a servant starts out better than most, but then things go wrong and she is placed into a terrifying situation. She fights back, though, and I kept saying, “Yes! You go girl!” all throughout the book. I loved watching her grow. She also runs across some wonderful friends, and I enjoyed reading their stories as well. They all had such sweet personalities, even though their lives were far from pleasant.

5. The romance was really wonderful. Glenna and Dougal are adorable together! Sadly, a lot of this book is them trying to get back to one another once they are separated, but you can feel the longing they share. Their love keeps them alive, and I really enjoyed reading about a love with that kind of power.

6. Again, Genevieve does not disappoint with her writing style. It’s gorgeous. She has a way of packing you up and taking you to the settings in the book. She also has the power to make you feel what the characters are feeling. I know that’s why I struggled so much with Under the Same Sky, and why I ended up really enjoying both books. It’s because her writing is so powerful that it feels real. You’re sent on this roller coaster of emotions and feelings, and when the ride is over you’re as in love with the characters as they are with each other.

Overall, I’m so glad I read this book. I loved reading about Dougal and Glenna’s love story, and I enjoyed learning more about the history during this time in Scotland, England, and the American Colonies. I would recommend this to lovers of historical romance and historical fiction. Genevieve has a book 3 in the making, and I KNOW I want to read it! It tells the story of Adelaide, Maggie’s sister in Under the Same Sky. SO exciting! Hopefully Penguin picks it up, as I know it’ll be nothing short of amazing.

 

Genevieve Graham graduated from the University of Toronto in 1986 with a Bachelor of Music in Performance (playing the oboe). While on a ski vacation in Alberta, she met her future husband in a chairlift lineup and subsequently moved to Calgary to be with him. They have recently settled in a small, peaceful town in Nova Scotia with their two beautiful daughters. Writing became an essential part of Genevieve’s life a few years ago, when she began to write her debut novel, Under the Same Sky. The companion novel, Sound of the Heart, will be in stores May 1, 2012.

The Trouble with Research…
is that you find out stuff.

I write Historical Fiction, so that means there’s going to be a certain amount of research involved. When I started writing, I had no experience with researching, other than what I did eons ago in school, but I was excited about starting. My first book, “Under the Same Sky”, takes place in the 1700’s, a time of which I had no knowledge, other than what I had read in well-written historical fiction, like the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon, and the “Into the Wilderness” series by Sara Donati. The time period sounded gritty and exciting and full of adventure. A perfect setting!

When I realized my hero’s name was Andrew MacDonnell, I enthusiastically went online and researched the MacDonnell clan tartan. When I got past all the advertisements (and pried my eyes off pictures of models and movie stars in kilts), I ran headlong into a discovery that made me shake my head with confusion. Did you know … It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that clans began to claim their own tartan? Until that time, the variation in tartans was a regional thing. The striped patterns were based on the dyes available in the region. Oh, and in the beginning I had no idea that the words ‘plaid’ and ‘tartan’ weren’t technically interchangeable. Maybe in North America they are, but in Scotland, a ‘plaid’ is a wool tartan blanket which the people slung over their shoulder.

For that first book, I also studied the Cherokee and other Native American tribes and absolutely loved researching them. I dug in deep, exploring the seven different clans within tribes, the animal totems, the beliefs after death, hunting rituals … and I ended up with about 50,000 extra words that had nothing to do with the story. They were pretty fascinating reading, but took the story completely off track. So I cut them and stored those chapters away for another time.

I’ve come to believe deeply in the importance of revealing truths in historical fiction. While I’m no expert, I know a lot of things now that I never knew before. For example, I was aware that it was tough to be a woman back then, but I had no idea just how bad it was. One in three women died in childbirth. One in three! Was every one of those babies fathered by a husband? No. Rape was a fairly common occurrence back then and since women had little protection and no rights, it was practically impossible to punish the perpetrator. Unwanted pregnancies were occasionally terminated by herbal concoctions or more brutal methods, but the mother rarely survived. If she did, it would be a miracle if she ever managed to bear another baby.

“Sound of the Heart” gives the reader a taste of prison life for battle captives in 1746. When the defeated Scottish warriors arrived at the prison, after walking three hours, were they fed? No. They were locked up for two days with no food and no medical aid. Did men die easily on the battlefield, succumbing to wounds with a final loving word whispered to their loves? Since pain relief was barely used and loved ones were often miles away, I’d say no.

Some authors research political aspects, society rules, formal issues. All are valid, important facts within historical fiction. I have chosen to follow a grittier path. My characters are every-man and every-woman, commoners who have never seen silk or pearls. Often, though, they have a little something “extra” (like psychic powers). I throw them into scenes they might not survive if it weren’t for their strength of character or something changing in the situation that frees them. Like my characters, I don’t know anything about the “regency” side of history. I only know about the often agonizingly painful realities of life back then.

“Sound of the Heart” also introduces readers to an ugly aspect of history that many of us (including me) otherwise wouldn’t know about: white slavery. Beginning in the 1600’s, hundreds of thousands of white slaves were taken to the colonies. They were treated as badly as their black counterparts, and often worse. They were usually less expensive, because they were constantly being replaced. After all, the colonies were a hot climate compared to overseas. Working plantation fields was far too much for them, and many died.

I know some people are put off by violence in historical fiction, and I’m sorry when my stories upset them. I salute those readers who battle through the difficult parts so they can get to the end. I was once accused of using rape as something of a plot vehicle, which actually left me slack-jawed. The thing is, just because I include these things in the stories doesn’t mean I make them up. I don’t. These are real situations. And just like white slavery today, it is important that we stop looking the other way. I refuse to sugar coat the truth, and I don’t pull punches. At the same time, I stay away from gratuitousness.

Okay. Hopping off my soapbox now.

I guess the moral for today is you never know what you’ll find when you start researching the past. But chances are, if you persevere and keep digging, you’ll come away with treasure.

4 Stars

Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter (Book Review)

Posted May 3, 2012 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Book Review / 3 Comments

Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter (Book Review)Me and Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter
Published by Ballantine Books on June 12, 2007
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Romance
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Source: Gift
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3 Stars

After a string of disastrous dates, Emily Albright decides she’s had it with modern-day love and would much rather curl up with Pride and Prejudice and spend her time with Mr. Darcy, the dashing, honorable, and passionate hero of Jane Austen’s classic. So when her best friend suggests a wild week of margaritas and men in Mexico with the girls, Emily abruptly flees to England on a guided tour of Jane Austen country instead. Far from inspiring romance, the company aboard the bus consists of a gaggle of little old ladies and one single man, Spike Hargreaves, a foul-tempered journalist writing an article on why the fictional Mr. Darcy has earned the title of Man Most Women Would Love to Date.

The last thing Emily expects to find on her excursion is a broodingly handsome man striding across a field, his damp shirt clinging to his chest. But that’s exactly what happens when she comes face-to-face with none other than Mr. Darcy himself. Suddenly, every woman’s fantasy becomes one woman’s reality. . . .

I love Jane Austen spin-offs. I think we’ve all figured this out by now. Because I love them so much, they can easily disappoint me at the same time, which is what happened here. This was on of those “meh” books, and actually the book that inspired my 3-Star rating explanation over on my sidebar. Sometimes that’s really the only word I can come up with when someone asks me how I liked a book.

1. It was a slow, basic, fluffy plot that was perfect for a leisurely day of summer reading. There was not a lot to it, and I got through it pretty quickly. This is not always a bad thing, as I enjoy having a lighter book to just enjoy every once in a while!

2. Emily’s gaggle of old lady friends were hilariously dramatic as they toured the English countryside.  Some of these women were fun to read about, and some of them bothered me a little. Some were just downright laugh-out-loud funny. They formed a pretty strong bond with Emily in the short amount of time they had, though, so I got to know and like them at about the same pace that Emily did. They were always concerned about her, and treated her like a granddaughter, which I thought was cute.

3. Mr. Darcy does make an appearance in the book a few times, but I didn’t like it very much. I’m not sure if it was a cut in the fabric of time, Emily’s mindless daydreams, or visions from a higher power, but the two of them had innocent encounters throughout the course of the book. Nobody saw him but Emily, so she was viewed as being a bit crazy whenever she mentioned seeing him. Seriously, why would you continue talking about meeting Mr. Darcy if nobody else saw him? I mean, does she want to come off as crazy?4. Mr. Darcy bugged me. He was not my Mr. Darcy, and came off as selfish and cocky. I think that’s why this book left me feeling “meh”. I love this guy, and I think the author of this book decided that people like him too much. I don’t have skewed views about men because of Mr. Darcy, but I do appreciate him and enjoy thinking about finding someone similar (thank you, BBC).  I left this book not liking Mr. Darcy, and I was not happy about that.

4. The writing was done well, and the story idea was cute. I was just not extremely fond of the execution or the characterization.

I recommend this to readers who enjoy Jane Austenesque novels, but don’t mind if Mr. Darcy is thrown under the bus a little!

3 Stars

Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble (Mini Book Review)

Posted April 12, 2012 by Jana in Book Review, Young Adult Fiction / 7 Comments

Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble (Mini Book Review)Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble
Series: Dreaming Anastasia #1
Published by Sourcebooks on September 1, 2009
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Pages: 310
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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2 Stars

What really happened to Anastasia Romanov?

Anastasia Romanov thought she would never feel more alone than when the gunfire started and her family began to fall around her. Surely the bullets would come for her next. But they didn't. Instead, two gnarled old hands reached for her. When she wakes up she discovers that she is in the ancient hut of the witch Baba Yaga, and that some things are worse than being dead.

In modern-day Chicago, Anne doesn't know much about Russian history. She is more concerned about getting into a good college--until the dreams start. She is somewhere else. She is someone else. And she is sharing a small room with a very old woman. The vivid dreams startle her, but not until a handsome stranger offers to explain them does she realize her life is going to change forever. She is the only one who can save Anastasia. But, Anastasia is having her own dreams...

I love history and legends, and this book sounded very unique and exciting to me. The history of the Romanov family has always intrigued me ever since I watched the animated movie when I was a little girl. Dreaming Anastasia’s storyline is quite strong. It did not live up to its potential, though. I feel like the entire book was building up to an anti-climactic ending. I mean, the book is quite a page-turner but then it just ends. I wasn’t really satisfied. Some of the character relationships had no closure. Yes, there’s a sequel, but you need to be given enough information to want to continue with the next book. I was left confused, but at the same time I had no motivation to stick with the series. It’s for this reason that I just don’t have much to say about it. Haha.

And maybe it’s the graphic designer in me, but I could not stand the font that was used for the text of Anastasia’s letters to her family. My eyes hurt by the end of every letter and I counted the pages to see how long my agony would last. If you’re going to use a script font for 6 pages, at least pick one that’s easy to read. Anyway, this wasn’t for me. And I’m SO sad, because I was really looking forward to an awesome Anastasia retelling. Oh well!

Have you read any Anastasia/Russian spin-offs that you like? I love the time period and the rich culture and history, but there’s not many books out there that tackle this subject matter.

2 Stars

The Crystal Princess by Kimberly Norton (Book Review)

Posted April 4, 2012 by Jana in Book Review, Young Adult Fiction / 7 Comments

The Crystal Princess by Kimberly Norton (Book Review)The Crystal Princess by Kimberly Norton
Published by Tate Publishing & Enterprises on February 9, 2010
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 124
Format: Paperback
Source: Won
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1 Stars

Kelly lives the life of a typical teen in the suburbs of Southern California with her football star boyfriend and loyal best friend. It’s her senior year, and she’s looking forward to her eighteenth birthday. But her life totally changes when she’s abducted by her birth family, a family she didn’t even know existed. Meeting her mother and two sisters for the first time is almost too much for her to handle. Kelly learns she is a witch born from a coven of witches with special powers. She’s called back to help her family fight the evil, power-hungry witch, Victoria, and the Wizard Council, who want to destroy all that Kelly’s family holds dear before the Immortality Ceremony, a ceremony that will seal the girls’ fate and powers for all eternity.

To make things even more complicated, Kelly falls in love with an Indian named Max White Bear. But because of a longstanding tradition, their relationship is a hard sell to the chief of the Indian tribe.

With the war between good and evil looming, Kelly must find the strength to harness her magical powers and summon The Crystal Princess inside her.

I was very excited to win this book! The cover is gorgeous, and the story sounded very exciting and unique. I just never really got into the story, though, and I’m so disappointed about it. As always, my main points are bolded. :)

*sigh*

1. The sentences did not flow together, but were rather blunt, choppy, and sometimes very short, basic bits of text haphazardly strung together. This occurred throughout the entire book, but the most frustrating times were when the author was describing something to us. I found myself running out of breath while I read. I think this main complaint is actually related to every other complaint of mine, so let me give you a few examples of the writing style.

  • “She opened the door, and out drifted the smell of lilies. The walls were light purple, and the bed was white wrought iron. A handmade quilt lay on the bed as a spread. Two large windows let light in from both sides of the room. Lacy curtains framed the windows. A dresser sat next to the window.”

See? The room sounds like it could be lovely, and I bet if the words and sentence structures were arranged and/or chosen differently, I would have enjoyed reading it and savored the image. Instead, I felt like I was being shoved through the description like a tour guide might rush you from one painting to the next at the Louvre.

  • “Hands and faces appeared in the mirrors. The room began to shake. Moans coming from the spirits filled the air. A crystal ball sat in the center of the table. The black velvet cloth covering the crystal ball flew off. A grey mist filled the crystal ball.”

I can think of so many ways I could have rewritten that passage to make it more flowy, eerie, and exciting. Instead, it is just one detail after another again. I mean, three sentences in a row mention the “crystal ball.” Why not add some commas, some more descriptive words, and less use of the word “the”? The black cloth over the crystal ball is not even mentioned until it “flew off”. How did anyone even know there was a crystal ball there, if it was covered by a black cloth? There’s just no continuity or creativity.

2. There was no real storytelling. The events were like a grocery list, with no real continuity between each event. We flew from one thing to the next, with no explanation or elaboration. I guess this relates to my last complaint: that the sentences did not flow together. First this happened. Then this. Then this. Then we had a seance. By the way, you’re a witch. Then she went to sleep. Then she had a dream. Then she woke up. Then her dog talked to her.

3. We were given no room to imagine. Everything was described to the point where no detail was left for me to fill in on my own.

4. The characters were flat and emotionless. I mean, Kelly did not even mourn the loss of her family! She was just like, “Oh, ok! I have a new family now. Let’s forget my beloved family of 18 years. Who cares that I will never see them again?” Really? There was no depth, no development, no feeling, and no real reason given for me to like any of them. I finished the book not even remembering their names, even though every sentence of dialogue either began or ended with the person’s name the comment was directed at. Once or twice would be fine, but it happens very frequently.

  • Example: “Mrs. May, where’s your TA today?”
    “He had a tribal thing. He’ll be back next week. Did you need to ask him about something?”
    “No, Mrs. May, thanks.”

5. This is the biggest instance of insta-love I’ve ever seen. Nothing develops! One conversation is had, and it’s love.

6. The editing was very poorly done. Paragraph breaks are supposed to happen when one person is done talking, and before another one starts. I kept finding lines of text from two different people in the same paragraph, which was very confusing. It happened all. the. time. And then I’d come across too many paragraph breaks, making it look like two different people were talking, when it was really only one person. Also very confusing. There were also many missing words and punctuation marks (where did all the commas go? Seriously.). I’m wondering if any editing was done at all.

  • Example: “What’s your poison? French toast or pancakes asked Isabella?” < That’s a basic editing mistakeone that should easily be found by a good editor. Maybe spellcheck was all the editing this book received, but Tate Publishing lists 31 employees on their editing staff on their website. So… I’m not sure what happened.

7. Everything was very cliché: séances, spells, protective spells, crystal balls, witches on brooms. I felt like the subject matter lacked creativity, and would have better suited a picture book for young children.

Overall, the idea of the story was ok, but it was poorly executed and poorly presented. The writing seemed very basic, choppy, and juvenilelike a child could have written it. It was also way too big a storyline to be the size of a novella. I’m not sure if there was a page limit, or what, but the entire story was rushed and unbelievable. I also needed my inhaler by the end. It just wasn’t enjoyable to read, and I feel so bad to admit this. I wanted to love it, and I wanted to help this incredibly nice author promote her book. Sadly, I would not recommend it to anyone.

1 Stars

Dracula, My Love by Syrie James (Book Review)

Posted March 7, 2012 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Book Review / 2 Comments

Dracula, My Love by Syrie James (Book Review)Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker by Syrie James
Published by Avon on July 20, 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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5 Stars

Many have read and loved Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But questions remain. What is the true story of Dracula’s origin? What if Mina could not bring herself to record the true story of their scandalous affair—until now?

In Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker, Syrie James explores these questions and more. A vibrant dramatization, told from Mina’s point of view, brings to life the crucial parts of Stoker’s story while showcasing Mina’s sexual awakening and evolution as a woman, and revealing a secret that could destroy her life. Torn between two men—a loving husband and a dangerous lover—Mina struggles to hang on to the deep love she’s found within her marriage, even as she is inexorably drawn to Dracula himself—the vampire that everyone she knows is determined to destroy.

Syrie did something amazing with this book. She made me want to read another book. That’s what books should do, in my opinion. It convinced me that I needed to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This book gave me Mina’s point of view, and so obviously, I had to read the original. I was kind of scared to purchase Dracula, My Love, because it’s a little out of my usual comfort zone, but I am SO glad that I did. As always, my main points are bolded. :)

1. The writing style is breathtakingly beautiful. Syrie’s descriptions are notoriously amazing, in my opinion. The writing is done in old-fashioned English, which I found very refreshing. It really added to the story. I have a hard time when historical genres are written in contemporary language. This felt very authentic and seemed very real as a result.

2. The characters are so well developed. Each person has their own voice and their own opinions. Dracula is strong, sexy, deceptive, evil, manipulative, and extremely romantic! Mina is also very strong, rebellious, and thinks for herself during a time when women are supposed to be meek and submissive. She grows up a lot over the course of the book and learns a lot about herself. Mina’s husband is the typical male from the time period. He’s controlling, demanding, protective, and all about saving Mina from this evil man who so desires her. Of course, he never catches on to the fact that Mina is a willing participant in her rendezvous with Dracula.

3. The mannerisms of each character are believable. I love the contrast between the chaste, ladylike behavior Mina displays around her husband and friends and the, for lack of a better word, lustful thoughts and actions she exhibits with Dracula. It’s like he has her under some spell that amplifies her desires and emotions when she’s with him.

4. In all actuality, though, this book is not all about lust and carnal desires. Her time spent with him is always spent in long discussions about life and literature. They have so much in common. Her greatest desire is to be with him. The book is really very clean, except for one steamy “dream” she has about him.

5. You get to jump into Mina’s mind and hear her thoughts. You will begin to understand her wants, fears, and desires. You number yourself lucky for not being in her shoes, but care too much to stop hoping that she figures everything out. She has a difficult situation at hand. She goes from being the plain, simple girl who never gets any romantic attention (even from her husband), to being obsessed over and stalked by a mysterious and sexy bad boy. You’d think that would be terrifying, but she is so captivated by him that she dreams of him and longs for him when most women would flee in fear. This mortifies her. She’s a married woman, but can’t help herself. She can’t keep away from him. And on top of all of these conflicting emotions, she has to keep all of this a secret or else jeopardize Dracula’s life, as well as her own. You will be glued to every page and travel through every emotion with her.

6. It was spooky, suspenseful, exciting, and filled with deception, mystery, and romance. While Mina’s husband and his accomplices (including Van Helsing, a former boyfriend, and the widower of her best friend) came up with an intricate plot to murder Dracula, she appeared to be helping them, but in reality was leading them on a wild goose chase formulated by Dracula himself. She kept swinging back and forth between the two, doing her best to keep everyone in the “loop”. She hoped for both sides to win, because she cared so much about everyone involved. I’d go insane (or have a nervous breakdown) if I were her.

7. This book did not change the original story of Dracula. It is more of a companion to Stoker’s novel, rather than a retelling. I loved the the author stayed so true to the original. You really are seeing everything that happened, but from a different point of view.

8. In addition, reading Mina’s side of the story made me understand and appreciate Dracula so much more. In my opinion, the classic novel is kind of hard to understand. Perhaps I feel that way since I am just beginning to read the classics, and am not used to the old writing styles yet. Because it was so true to the original, I understood what was happening in the original more than I would have otherwise. Plus, I saw a tender, romantic side of Dracula and found myself falling for him right along with Mina. I think that’s part of the reason I loved this book so much. I think a little part of everyone is curious about the forbidden. It’s only human nature.

All in all, you should definitely read this book. I’m glad I gave this book a chance, because it is a truly beautiful story of love, deception, obsession, survival, and sacrifice. I was riveted, and could not put it down! I went out and bought every other novel by Syrie James, and she has yet to disappoint me thus far!

5 Stars

The Intern by Jess C. Scott (Book Review)

Posted February 28, 2012 by Jana in Book Review, Young Adult Fiction / 5 Comments

The Intern by Jess C. Scott (Book Review)The Intern by Jess C. Scott
Published by Self on August 17, 2012
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Format: Paperback
Source: Author
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0.5 Stars

17-year-old Suzie Q, smart kid and closet dance enthusiast, travels with a classmate to a world-class city for an internship program. She finds herself undeniably attracted to the suave hip-hop instructor, Jo.Zee, who recruits her into a dance fitness DVD he is producing. When Suzie sees (or thinks she sees) the real Jo.Zee, she must decide if she will trust him...or her instincts.

1. I’ve got extremely mixed feelings about this book. While I liked the idea, the execution was poor. The grammar was bad, the editing needed to be more precise, and the style bothered me. I found a ton of typos… It was written in first person, which takes talent that this author does not really have…

2. The details were too specific, especially regarding feelings. Nothing was left to the imagination. Jess spelled out every single emotion so you couldn’t put yourself in the character’s place.

3. There’s a lot of long descriptions of dance routines, which were so hard to follow. I could never picture in my mind the dances that the character(s) were doing. You have to be a Korean-Pop/Hip-Hop dancer to really understand, in my opinion. Maybe that’s not a big deal, but there’s a lot of it and I would have skimmed over those more if I were not planning to review this book.

4. Now, I really liked the story… and the idea. And I did find myself reading further to see what happened next. However, I found myself being confused by critical story elements, which is not normal for me. I don’t get confused by what I read… lol. Not to sound pretentious, but I’m a reading teacher, so my comprehension was not the problem. It was the writing. I had to read entire passages a second time to try and figure out what was going on.

I dunno. I liked the story, but the grammar and writing was sub-par. It all boils down to two things: it screams of being self-edited, and it screams of being self-published. I did not get the feeling that this was written by a professional, but more like someone who thought it might be a fun endeavor.

0.5 Stars

Caribbean Crusing by Rachel Hawthorne (Mini Book Review)

Posted February 11, 2012 by Jana in Book Review, Young Adult Fiction / 5 Comments

Caribbean Crusing by Rachel Hawthorne (Mini Book Review)Caribbean Crusing by Rachel Hawthorne
Published by HarperTEEN on April 15, 2004
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Romance
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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0.5 Stars

The perfect summer story of a girl, several boys, and a cruise ship full of possibilities.

Lindsay has never been on a cruise, but she knows exactly what she wants to do now that she is: climb a waterfall, snorkel, meet lots of cute guys, and look for one perfect guy for a summer fling.

But her to-do list isn't going according to plan, especially when she discovers that it's impossible to have a fling-when you're actually falling in love.

About a week before I was leaving on a cruise, I ran into the bookstore hoping to find cruise books. I love reading books that sync with a vacation I’m on. I found this in the young adult section, and thought it sounded like a cute read for my upcoming week of floating around in the Caribbean.

However… I was annoyed by this storyline. This girl is on an amazing trip, and do you want to know what she’s most concerned with? Losing her virginity. Yes. That’s her main focus. Does anyone else agree that this is poor subject matter to center a book around? There was no plot other than Lindsay’s frustration with being a virgin. Still. Because at 18, surely she should have slept with numerous guys, right? That’s what high schoolers do, right? Every guy she meets makes her think, “Oh! I could sleep with him… Better be nice!” And I can’t tell you how many “hot body” descriptions I read. I was nauseated. I find it rather frustrating that such a book was written, and then placed in the young adult section. This is where 12-year-olds are instructed to buy books from. Is this seriously a lesson they should be taught? And not only was she looking for sex, she was looking for it with no strings attached. A fling. Seriously? Shallow! And of course she couldn’t see a love interest if he smacked her over the head. So she was shallow and dumb. Lovely. I see no reason why she should be someone a teenage girl should look up to.

When I wasn’t downright annoyed at this book, I was bored. I’ve been on cruises. MANY. There is SO much more to write about than this. I can list countless numbers of interesting cruise ship plots. This one just made me want to throw it overboard. Since I don’t litter I didn’t, plus I would have hated for a cute sea creature to suffer as a result of my frustration. I really can’t say I’d recommend this to anyone.

0.5 Stars

Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll (Book Review)

Posted February 7, 2012 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Book Review / 8 Comments

Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll (Book Review)Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll
Series: Black Swan Rising #1
Published by Tor Books on August 3, 2010
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 396
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher (Netgalley)
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5 Stars

When New York City jewelry designer Garet James stumbles into a strange antiques shop in her neighborhood, her life is about to be turned upside down. John Dee, the enigmatic shopkeeper, commissions her to open a vintage silver box for a generous sum of money. Oddly, the symbol of a swan on the box exactly matches the ring given to her by her deceased mother. Garet can’t believe her luck and this eerie coincidence until she opens the box and otherworldly things start happening. . . .

That evening, the precious silver box is stolen. When Garet begins to investigate, she learns that she has been pulled into a prophecy that is hundreds of years old, and opening the box has unleashed an evil force onto the streets of Manhattan and the world at large. Gradually, Garet pieces together her true identity—one that her deceased mother desperately tried to protect her from. Generations of women in Garet’s family, including her beloved mother, suffered and died at the hands of this prevailing evil. Does Garet possess the power to reclaim the box and defeat this devastating force?

On her journey, she will meet the fey folk who walk unnoticed among humans and a sexy vampire who also happens to be a hedge fund manager that she can’t stop thinking about. But the fairies reveal a desire to overpower mere humans and the seductive vampire has the power to steal the life from her body. Whom can Garet trust to guide her? Using her newfound powers and sharp wit, Garet will muster everything she’s got to shut down the evil taking over her friends, family, New York City, and the world.

This book was rich with beautiful literary writing, dynamic characters, and a complex plot. “Lee Carroll” is a collaboration between award-winning mystery novelist Carol Goodman and her poet and hedge fund manager husband, Lee Slominsky. I loved the integration of mystery, intrigue, poetic writing, and exquisite descriptions. These two make an awesome team, and I hope they continue to write novels together in the future.

This was right up my alley! I started reading it as soon as I could, and I was sold by the end of the first page. As I said, and will probably say again, the writing is lovely!

The story takes place in present-day NYC with elements of history, the arts, and Shakespeare. I really liked the main character, Garet, which stands for Margaret (named after her mother Marguerite—which is an important detail). She’s courageous, spunky, and has a good head on her shoulders. She has to go through a lot in this book, seeing as how evil is slowly escaping and seeping into everyday life. At the very beginning of the book, her father gets shot and some valuable artwork is stolen from their business. An investigator comes and believes her father staged the whole robbery and shot himself. This storyline is an underlying part of the entire rest of the story, and has Garet deeply troubled. The evil influences, which come in the form of fog and feelings, weigh heavily on her friends and her father… even the world around her. The evil actually coaxes someone into trying to commit suicide. Garet is the only one who knows why all of this is happening, but she doesn’t sit and complain about it like some heroines do. Instead, she follows in the footsteps of the women she descended from, in order to try and defeat this evil. Through it all, she has this wonderful sense of humor! It helps that she has sidekicks along the way, particularly a small fairy and a sexy vampire. Boy, does this book make him sound amazing! He swoops in and protects her when she needs him (even though he’s forbidden), which makes you want a vampire of your very own.

The authors put a totally different spin on vampires, and it’s really a tiny, tiny part of the story. Even though this vampire is a romantic interest, the romance is almost non-existent. The main focus is on Garet’s discovery of this new world, and what she plans to do about it. Along with the fey and the vampire, she encounters an alchemist, a dragon, a water goddess, and some other interesting people that are not who they appear to be. She experiences so many different things, goes through every emotion, and flip-flops between who to trust and who to steer clear of. It’s a crazy web of events and feelings, but it was written in a way that was not at all confusing.

I really love that we are kept guessing throughout the entire book. I didn’t know what was going on until Garet did. I found myself questioning every character right along with her. Is this guy on my side? Should I be worried about this? What’s going to happen next? I had no idea how the ending would work out. I was shocked every time she was. I trusted the same people she did. It’s like I was doing the thinking for her. That was refreshing, as many mysteries can be easily solved before the book is over.

The only complaint I had was that Garet’s father and close friends slowly slipped into the background. I guess when you’re one woman fighting off the evils of the world, while being sought out by Mr. Evil himself, and befriending a romantic vampire you don’t have much time for family! However… the characters were likeable, so I wish I got to learn more about them.

If you love a good urban fantasy, a strong heroine, a little mystery, evil lurking around every corner, amazing and beautiful writing (see, I told you I’d mention it again), detailed descriptions, a smidge of romance, a dash of action, and a hint of Shakespeare, then I think you’ll love this book! I’m really excited to start on the sequel, The Watchtower.

5 Stars

My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by B. Wilhite (Book Review)

Posted January 13, 2012 by Jana in Book Review, Young Adult Fiction / 3 Comments

My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by B. Wilhite (Book Review)My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by Becca Wilhite
Published by Shadow Mountain on March 3, 2010
Genres: Contemporary Romance, Romance
Pages: 181
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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4 Stars

Sarah Howard's first year at the university is everything and nothing she expected especially when a very cute boy named Ben in her Art History class starts to show interest in her.

Sarah feels like she's an average, normal, everyday girl. So, when Ben (to whom she secretly refers as Adonis because she thinks he could be a Greek god) begins to take interest in her, Sarah is in denial. For one thing, last year she was deeply crushed and humiliated by Jesse James a guy who she thought liked her.

She's determined not to get burned again. But in her heart of hearts, what she really wants is a Jane Austen kind of romance. Ridiculous, right? That kind of romance doesn t exist anymore . . . or does it? Sarah is smart and fun to be around and even pretty, despite her Medusa-like red curls. She even plays the guitar. (So does Ben!) Yes, Sarah is everything Ben has wanted. He's crazy for her, but Sarah is just not getting it. She's playing hard to get, and if she s not careful, she s going to lose a real hot gentleman -- her 21st-century Mr. Darcy.

So, this is kind of a mini book review! It’s a REALLY cute story. This is the kind of story that will instantly improve your mood and make you smile. I was actually laughing out loud and then reading parts of it to a co-worker. I never laugh out loud when I read, especially while I’m at work!

Sarah compares her life to a romance novel. I do that a lot too! I read a ton of romance books or books with romantic overtones, and always find myself looking for a novel romance in my own life. I identified with her a lot for this reason. And even though she reads a lot of these novels, she’s not very good at handling her own romances! I love her internal dialogue and her flip-out sessions over the latest conundrum. My only complaint is that she was SO clueless about how this guy felt about her. Her best friends were drilling it into her head that he liked her. He was moping right in front of her face when she called him a “good friend.” College freshman girls are not THAT clueless, especially if they are romance novel junkies. I just wanted to shake her! Almost the last half of the book was a total miscommunication, when all I really wanted was more cute romance and conversations between the two of them. I’ll admit, though, the miscommunication was pretty funny and kept me turning the pages to see what happened next.

My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions is a quick read that will only take you an hour or two to get through, but will leave you smiling. It’s definitely a book I needed in order to pull myself out of the dark supernatural/dystopian rut I was in. I absolutely love YA contemporary, and this one is one of my favorites!

4 Stars