Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Laydown Lowdown

It's the last Tuesday of 2014!  Definitely check out the latest releases to close out the year.

Rizoli & Isles are back on the case in "Die Again," the newest entry in Tess Gerritsen's best-selling series.  Other new releases in Mystery/Thriller include
"Rain on the Dead," by Jack Higgins, "Fifty Mice," by Daniel Pyne, and "No Fortunate Son," by Brad Taylor.

Over in Romance you'll want to "Say Yes to the Marquess," by Tessa Dare or "Hush," by Karen Robards.

Star Trek fans will want to beam up a copy of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Missing," by Una McCormack.  "The Shadow's Heart," by K.J. Taylor and "Low Midnight," by Carrie Vaughn are also available in Science Fiction/Fantasy today.

"Ignite Me" by Tahereh Mafi is released in paperback today along with "Awaken," by Meg Cabot in Young Adult.

Will any of these books make your "to-read" list? Share with us!  Happy Reading and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Laydown Lowdown

There are just two shopping days left before Christmas!  If you're still looking for great gifts, you can't go wrong with a book.  Check out this week's latest releases to finish up your shopping or treat yourself to a well-deserved break from the hustle and bustle.

James Patterson's "NYPD Red 2" is now in paperback for a great stocking stuffer along with "Chilled to the Bone," by Quentin Bates and "Buckingham Palace Blues," by James Craig in Mystery/Thriller.

Over in Romance you'll find "It's a Wonderful Fireman," by Jennifer Bernard, "Hungers of the Heart," by Jenna Black, and "Bad Romeo," by Leisa Rayven.

Finally, "This Shattered World," by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner is available in Young Adult.

If you need even more gift inspiration, check out Rebecca's recent post.

Merry Christmas!  Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

10 Books I Loved This Year (or Your Last Minute Book Gift Guide)

Instead of my standard "10 Things" post I thought I would offer up a list of some of my favorite reads of this year. I've broken them up by age/format/genre (kind of) in an attempt to get a wide variety of books out here. And for some of the categories I simply couldn't pick just one, so I've offered a couple of options for your consideration.

1.  Picture Book: Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen - I've been a fan of Jon Klassen for a while and so I keep an eye out for anything new he's done. He's one of those illustrators who writes brilliant picture books on his own (I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat) but also collaborates well with other writers. This book follows the adventures of Sam and Dave (and their faithful four legged companion) as they dig for treasure in all the wrong places. The sight gags are what make this book so go pick up a copy and dig in.

2. Early Reader:
A. Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm - This series is so much fun. They are graphic novels in predominantly pink, white, and black and they are sure to be a hit with many young (and not so young) readers. Babymouse tries so hard and life doesn't always go her way, but she's always trying and learning. Her wild imagination sweep her away in outrageously fun ways and her conversations with the narrator add the right touch of self-awareness that make the book enjoyable to a wide audience. (Queen of the World is the first in the series, but my personal favorite is Babymouse the Musical)
B. The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale - Shannon Hale is another one of my favorite authors. I enjoy pretty much anything she does. This book came about (according to her) when her daughter said that princesses don't wear black, And so began the story of Princess Magnolia who is a princess with flouncy dresses and tea parties but who also has a secret identity as the Princess in Black. A fun story with the gentle message reminding us that we don't have to be defined by common perceptions or ideas of what we should be.

3. Middle Grade:
A. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood - These books are a rollicking good time with mystery, adventure, and three adorable children who have a tendency to revert to their wolf-ish upbringings. See my 10 Things post about this series for more details.
B. Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff - I love a good fairy tale retelling (no, really? You never would have guessed!) and I particularly love the way this one turns the tale on its head and makes the "villain" the hero. See my 10 Things post about this book for more details.

4. Young Adult: This was seriously the hardest category for me because I read so many fantastic young adult books this year. SO MANY. Trying to narrow it down was pretty much the hardest thing I have had to do today.
A. All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry - Historical fiction with a beautiful and unique voice. This book blew me away and knocked Julie Berry even higher up my list of favorite authors. See my 10 Things post about this book for more details.
B. Mind Games & Perfect Lies by Kiersten White - This duology also included a unique voice. I love the way that Kiersten uses the syntax so brilliantly to illustrate Annie and Fia's mental state as well as their personalities. Annie and Fia are sisters who have been trapped by a company who said they wanted to help them, but is ultimately using them as weapons. The two books trace their battle to save each other (and others like them) without losing themselves along the way.
C. The Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi - I really debated about including these, but a top 10 list for me wouldn't be complete without Tahereh on it. And since Ignite Me, the conclusion to the trilogy came out this year, I had to include it. Shatter Me, Destroy Me, Unravel Me, Fracture Me, and Ignite Me (3 novels and 2 novellas) make up this dystopian trilogy that has been described as Hunger Games meets X-Men. But it's so much more. This is another series (I'm sensing a pattern) with a unique voice. Juliet is introduced as a broken, shattered girl who has grown up under the stigma of "monster." Her touch is lethal and she has been locked up to protect everyone from her. As she is first released from her physical prison, she also has to break through the mental and emotional prisons that have locked her in for so many years. You can see our book club review of Shatter Me or view my 10 Things post about Ignite Me (though spoilers for the first 2 books, obviously).

5. New Adult: Rainbow Rowell rocked this category for me and I'm including 2 of her books here. The first is Fangirl which our book club read and I thoroughly enjoyed. I love that college and early adulthood experiences are finally being explored in a more explicit way and Cath's story sucked me in. You can read our book club review for more details.
The second book is Attachments. Some people might not consider this to be a new adult book, but since it deals with early career/20-somethings I'm putting it here. I loved this book. So much. In this contemporary story, Lincoln's job is to check any e-mails that have been flagged with potentially inappropriate content. Best friends Beth and Jennifer's e-mails keep getting sent to him, but he gets caught up in their humor and their lives and before he realizes it he thinks he might also be in love. A really fantastic, funny, quirky story. I want to read it again right now, just from talking about it!

6. Adult: My reading list was a little thin here, but I have a couple of recommendations.
A. Honor Among Orcs by Amalia Dillin. This self-published fantasy is probably one of my favorite books of the year. I loved every single second of it and I'm so glad that Amalia found a way to get this into readers' hands. You can read a mini interview with Amalia and get a little taste of the book in my 10 Things post.
B. William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher - This book was brilliant. I can't even begin to express how impressed I was by Doescher's blending of Star Wars and Shakespeare. I would actually pay money to see this performed. I highly recommend this.

7. Manga: I've just recently jumped into this world, but I've had a lot of fun dabbling in it. One of, if not the first ones I picked up was the xxxHolic series by CLAMP. The series follows Watanuki, a teen who sees ghosts and spirits, as he tries to figure out how to use his gifts, and not be destroyed by them with the help of the mysterious Yuko, the annoying Domeki, and his crush Himawari. For those just jumping into the world of Manga I found this to be fairly easy to follow (though getting used to the right to left took a little time :) and an intriguing story grappling with the danger of wishing without thinking, fate, choice, friendship, and identity.

8. Novellas: Taming Fate by Amalia Dillin - This short novella is part of the Fate of the Gods trilogy. It provides a fascinating look at one of Eve's previous lives which is alluded to quite heavily throughout the series. I loved getting to see the characters a bit more. If you haven't read at least the first book it might not be the best place to start, but I highly recommend the trilogy and this additional installment, which is technically slated between the 2nd and 3rd books.

9. Audiobooks: Split by Swati Avasthi - I picked this up on a whim from the library. It is a young adult contemporary novel about sixteen-year-old Jace. The novel opens with him showing up on his older brother's doorstep having run away from home. As he and his brother try to reconnect and move forward they both find that they have to deal with the past first and the secret they've hidden for so long has to be faced if either of them can truly live their lives. This book is such an important one and it deals with a lot of issues people don't want to talk about, even in this day and age. And it handles it in a non-dismissive way, acknowledging the pain and difficulty while not making excuses or encouraging a sense of hopelessness as a victim. A fantastic read.

10. Non-Fiction: Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones - This was one of the most fascinating books I've ever read. I actually got this one on audio as well and the narrator was phenomenal. But whether you're listening or reading you're going to discover that Jim Henson was so much more than just "that Muppet guy" and if you're a fan of the Muppets, you're going to get a lot of behind the scenes trivia. Either way, I guarantee you'll be inspired to go watch (or rewatch) every movie or tv show Jim Henson was a part of. You can read our book club review for a little more information.

So there you have it! A nice categorized list to help you find those last gifts for that special someone. Or yourself :)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Once Upon a Time - Heroes and Villains

4.11 "Heroes and Villains"

So tonight is the last episode before the hiatus (I refuse to call it the mid-season finale because I despise that term - but that's another post and not for here) and everything's falling apart.

Fittingly titled, this episode leads us to a place where I think we've been heading for a long time. I'm still not sure what I think about dropping Ursula, Cruella, and Maleficent in like this, but it really does make sense.

Even here on this blog I've talked almost every week about this hero/villain dichotomy. And I think the most interesting thing we're going to see in the second half of the season is with the characters that now fall in a grey area. Namely Regina and Hook. Though I would really and truly love to see Ruby get in on this action. I mean, come on. She's the big bad wolf AND little red riding hood. *sigh*


Regina sacrificed her own happiness in order to save Marian. Basically every decision she has made in this season has been the choice of a hero. (Except for the whole magic mirror thing - what happened with that anyway?) And yet, she is without her true love. She's lost him. Forever. She may still have Henry and Emma and the Charmings, et al, but the chances of her finding another soul mate in Storeybrook are pretty slim. So what happens if the villains rise up to take their happy endings? Which side will she end up on?

The moment when Regina watches Robin cross that line and then slowly and deliberately tears up the picture and walks away was absolutely heart wrenching. It made me cry. I haven't always been the biggest Robin fan (never disliked, just never loved) but I wanted Regina to have what would make her happy. But then that raises the question - would Robin have made her happy? I guess we'll never know. But I do have to wonder what it will be like with Robin and Marian. She is going to have to look at him every day and know that he's only with her by default - that his love is with someone else?

And Hook seems like he's actually living in his happy ending. He has Emma. She loves him and fights for him. So why do I have a feeling he's going to totally screw it all up?

As for Rumple. Well, I will say that I've been saying this all season. He lost Belle so long ago. It just took her a while to wake up to that fact. He always has and, by all signs, always will choose power over her. She may be important to him, but he cannot have a happy ending as long as he chooses anything over her. And storming back to take a happy ending by force is not going to work because he will always have lost Belle.

In the flashback he tells Belle, "I could be much worse," and she responds, "But you're not."
This is true. But "not as bad" is not the same as "good."

More thoughts on the episode:

Was I the only one hoping Elsa would make sure that snow disappeared and didn't melt. Can you imagine the flood if that ice wall had simply melted away?

I can't even handle Henry calling Belle "Grandma" and apparently Belle couldn't either. I love when the writers poke a little fun at the bizarre and convoluted family relationships on this show.

I love that Emma knew that something was wrong with Killian. I just wanted her to follow him - to pursue it. But they did have a few things on their mind I suppose. But what would he have done for you? Hm?

Elsa and Emma saying goodbye was a lot more touching than I would have expected. It was so sweet.

The casting on Elsa was pretty spectacular. Especially with her hair up like that she looks exactly like the ball scene in the movie. And I loved the little "chocolate" moment. So nice to see them getting a happy ending.

I love that Granny's serves shots.

And that's about all I have for today. It was an interesting episode that sets things up for what could be a fascinating second half of the season. I just hope they don't leave threads hanging all over the place and focus on the characters. This is where the good work of the show is and they've been neglecting it. Here's to it's return!

So what did you think? Are you looking forward to next season or are you a little scared about the villain squad's arrival?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Laydown Lowdown

There is just about two weeks left to finish your Christmas shopping!  Don't fret, books make great gifts.  Check out the latest releases perfect for holiday gifting.

Mystery/Thriller fans will enjoy "Five," by Ursula Archer, "Perfect Sins," by Jo Bannister, "You Know Who Killed Me," by Loren D. Estleman, "The Convert's Song," by Sebastian Rotella, and "The Iris Fan," by Laura Joh Rowland.

Get "Ripped,"  in Romance by Katy Evans, "Christmas in Transylvania," by Sandra Hill, "The Wishing Season," by Denise Hunter, and "Intrusion," by Charlotte Stein.

Swing by Science Fiction/Fantasy for "Station Eleven," by Emily St. John Mandel and "Dresden Files: War Cry," by Jim Butcher.

Over in Young Adult, you can find "Demon's Heart," by Emily Bates, "No Place to Fall," by Jay Robin Brown, "Top Ten Clues You're Clueless," by Liz Czukas, and "Gathering Darkness," by Morgan Rhodes.

Will any of these books make your "to-read" list?  Share with us! Happy Reading and remember to support your local bookstores whenever possible.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Once Upon a Time - Shattered Sight

4.10 "Shattered Sight"

Tonight Emma and Elsa set out to stop the spell of shattered sight, even if it means taking out the Dairy Queen once and for all. Anna tries to play peacemaker to a sheriff's station full of snarky fairy tale creatures. Rumple and Hook get sidelined with just enough action to be utterly frustrating, and we finally get the missing pieces of Ingrid's back story.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. It's the most I've laughed over an episode for a while - so many laugh out loud moments for me. But at the same time there were a couple of things that were so annoying to me that they're almost ruining my overall enjoyment. But let's talk some specifics.

First can I just say how much I hate Snow in that sweater. Can she wear not dowdy clothes for once? I get that she just had a baby, but the clothes she wears recently are so unflattering to her. Gah. However, she was one snarky minx this episode and I loved that. I hate milqtoast Snow. I want sassy Snow!

However, Regina's commentary on her cloths was hilarious. After she looked in the mirror in the beginning and scoffed, "What the hell am I wearing?" I was begging for a bookend comment after the curse lifted and the writers so graciously gave it to me.

And thank you to the writers as well for giving Kristoff the line, "I'm beginning to think this haircut wasn't my only bad idea." Thank you for acknowledging that the haircut was one of the worst things you could have done to this character.

Honestly, they could have spent the entire episode in the sheriff's station with Kristoff, Snow, David, and Regina and I probably would have been happy.

More bits of dialogue I loved:

Snow: Someone slip me a poison apple and put me out of my misery."

Snow's confession to Anna: "I killed the evil queen's mommy. I said I was sorry. But I didn't mean it." HA!

Snow: You think the spell is making me angry? Do not wake my baby!"

Regina: "You said you could keep a secret."
Snow: "I was ten!"

Elsa: "Emma, you're a bit prickly, but you're certainly not hate-able."
Emma: "Tell that to Regina...I'm prickly?"

And Emma doing magic will never not make me laugh.

The last line that made me laugh, if only at its cheesiness was Hook to Henry's calling him a "dirty pirate" - "Dirty? I bathe quite frequently thank you." And the way he just knocked Will Scarlet down cracked me up.

Which brings me to the biggest frustration of the episode for me - let me get this out of the way and then I will muse on the villain thoughts I'm having.

I think they are just trying to have too many threads running at once. The thread of Hook and Rumple did not get enough screen time to make it satisfying. Instead it was just maddening. There was one good line - honestly, anytime they get Hook and Henry together I'm happy - but then *poof* that's it. Somehow Henry evades Hook who just gives up (yes, yes his "heart" wasn't in it) and goes back to Rumple. But it all seemed completely pointless. Empty screen time that took away from the other story without really furthering that story at all. It needed to have a greater purpose or, get put on hold so the episode could focus on the Shattered Sight curse. (of course, then you risk having people complain that there was nothing going on with the Rumple/Hook story line in this episode). I think the one thing OUaT has never been able to do well is run multiple story lines at the same time. They are very ambitious, but are afraid to let one story line sit out an episode while they focus on another - or they'll let them just fall. If the show is going to continue they need to find a better way of handling multiple story lines or do a better job of finding one complex story line that the others all weave into (the Peter Pan story line did this fairy well, imo, because the smaller things going on were all bound up in the larger arc of rescuing Henry).


More villain/hero talk (of course) this episode and I really liked the way they ended Ingrid's story. But it does raise another important question. So Ingrid says she gets her happy ending, but really it's only through destroying herself. Is this the dilemma then? For a villain to get a happy ending you have to destroy everyone else or yourself? But if Ingrid hadn't been so focused on her evil plan, she wouldn't have cast the spell of Shattered Sight and so wouldn't have had to sacrifice herself.

We saw this at the end of the Peter Pan arc with Rumple as well. He sacrificed himself so everyone he loved would be saved.

By being a villain at all, does that set that person on a path where this will have to be their ultimate decision?

And when Rumple tells Hook that he'll be the hero by saving Belle and Henry, he doesn't really believe it. He still sees himself as the villain and by his actions confirms it. He wants to be called the hero, but he doesn't want to make the right and difficult decisions to actually be the hero. Is it going to come down to that choice again? To either destroy everyone else or sacrifice himself?

Going back to Ingrid (2nd point of annoyance for me) - why did she feel she had to turn the entire town against each other? I really don't get how that helped her in any way. If anything it just made Emma more determined to defeat her? Stupid.

HOWEVER. I loved the flashbacks. I loved that we got a chance to see Ingrid in a different light and the positive impact she could have had on Emma if she'd been more patient and less selfish was absolutely heartbreaking.

Plus we got a little nod to Graham and got to see S1 Emma, which was totally fun.

But I felt like there was such a big jump in her character from "I'm going to be the best big sister you've ever had" to "let me turn an entire town on itself to prove to you we belong together" it just didn't jive for me. I honestly feel like this should have been slated for an entire season arc with more character development and more time spent on each individual story line. There was so much more that could have been done. And there was so much time spent dithering with nothing happening when there was a lot of meat to play with here. I liked the Frozen story line overall, but I haven't been thrilled with the way the story itself has been planned out. Quite pushing us from one big thing to the other and get back to these great conversations and snarky interchanges and character work that make us keep watching even when the stories make us want to jump out a window.


As for the ending, the letter was a bit deus ex machina but it was effective in bringing closure to Ingrid's story without forcing anyone to kill her.

Is it wrong that through that whole final scene with her and Anna and the letter all I could think was:
Also, watching David, Snow, and Regina come out of the spell and start laughing together was so adorable. That Regina could see the humor in what had just happened speaks volumes. She, of all the "villains" is the only one who is now consistently making "good" choices even if they are hard or are breaking her heart. Here's hoping there's one villain who gets her happy ending.

And speaking of villains - I guess we're just going to throw them all in at the same time? And wasn't the sea witch actually Regina? Of course, she wasn't technically "Ursula" so... I don't know what I think about this. It feels...forced. We shall see what the next half of the season brings.

So what did you think? What are you looking forward to in next week's episode?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Owning Violet by Monica Murphy

"Owning Violet," by Monica Murphy is the first book in Murphy's new "Fowler Sisters" sisters.  In "Owning Violet," we meet the titular sister, who at the novel's onset is a niave doormat who remains true to her cheating boyfriend despite her intellect and savy business sense in running campaigns for her family's company, Fleur Cosmetics.  Unbeknownst to Violet, she's about to become a pawn in her fellow co-worker Ryder's masterplan.  Ryder is a cocky self assured man who is determined to leave his sordid past behind and make a name for himself in the Fleur Cosmetic empire. On a dare from Pilar, his devious friend with benefits, he agrees to seduce Violet in devastate her and use it as leverage to advance himself in the company.  However, unbeknownst to Ryder, he's about to fall head over heels for Violet...

Should you own "Owning Violet," by Monica Murphy?  If you love steamy erotic novels then definitely. What I enjoyed about this novel was that it was told from both Ryder and Violet's alternating points of view.  This gives the reader a dimensional view of the characters as to how they view themselves contrasted with how they view each other.  I love how Ryder and Violet grew together as a couple and separately.  You're also introduced to Violet's sisters Lily and Rose who will each get stories of their own in the subsequent books in the series.  I can't wait to read Lily's story. She may only appear briefly in "Owning Violet," but I can tell her story will be really interesting.

One thing I disliked about "Owning Violet," was Ryder's excessive need to drop the "f-bomb."  Yes this is a novel for adults with graphic descriptions of intimate scenes where such language would be necessary.  However, even in his mundane and non-sexual thoughts in the book, Ryder dropped the "f-bomb," to what I found to be an excessive and distracting degree. I swear he used the "f-bomb," more times than used in "The Wolf of Wall Street." LOL  However, it's worth overlooking in exchange for this entertaining story.

For more on "Owning Violet," and Monica Murphy's books, please visit her website. You can find "Owning Violet," at your local bookstore or online ebook retailer.

Special thanks to NetGalley and the author's publicist for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.