Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Garden Spells is another book I picked up on my latest library adventure. I had been wanting to read it for what seems like forever but I never actually went through with buying it, so when I saw it on the library shelf I had to scoop it up. On the surface, the story is straight forward: two sisters finding their way back into each other's lives after years apart. But Garden Spells has an underlying magical theme that takes the story from straight forward to off the beaten path in a really wonderful way.

The Waverley's are a family in Bascom, North Carolina known for their strange ways and even stranger garden. For generations the Waverley's have nurtured and tended their magical garden that grows edible flowers and herbs with the ability to affect a persons feelings when ingested and boasts a mischievous apple tree that tosses prophetic apples at the unsuspecting. Over the years, the Waverley's magical garden and strange family has made the townspeople wary of the family and over time, they've become outsiders in the town they live in.

Claire and Sydney are sisters that couldn't be any more different if they tried. While Claire embraced being a Waverley and all of the eccentricities that came with it, Sydney disliked growing up as an outsider because of her family and distanced herself from them. Sydney took off when she was eighteen and lived a life of deception, hopping from city to city and man to man. Meanwhile, Claire used her Waverley gift to open up her own catering business, making foods laced with flowers and herbs that grow in the Waverly garden. When Sydney shows back up on the Waverley doorstep with a five year old daughter in tow after being gone for ten years, both Claire and Sydney are forced to face their past together in order to stand a chance at moving toward their future.

I had a good time reading Garden Spells. It was a quick, meaningful read with an enchanting feel. Both Waverley sisters have emotional baggage left over from the actions of their flighty mother, and they have both made bad decisions based on what they believed to be true of the mother they never really knew. These preconceived notions kept Claire and Sydney from being close growing up, but with Sydney's return they are given the chance to work through those problems. At the same time, they are both dealing with the entrance and re-entrance of men into their lives. As Claire dodges her romantic interest, Sydney doesn't even realize that her childhood friend is interested in her. Reading about these two women stumble along the way to romance was both humorous, and sweet.

While Claire and Sydney's story takes center stage there are also a few other stories being told. Like that of Clair and Sydney's elderly cousin, Evanelle, whose Waverley gift shows through in the way she impulsively gives people unexpected gifts that they, without fail, will eventually need. Evanelle strikes up an unlikely friendship with the town's grocery owner, Fred, who is having a hard time dealing with his life partner moving slowly but surely out of his life. There is also a thread that deals with Sydney's first love, John Hunter and his wife, Emma, who was once Sydney's best friend, and how they deal with Sydney's return to Bascom and the effects it has on their marriage.

As a whole, Garden Spells is a very enjoyable book. The highlight of the story for me was the relationship formed between Claire and Sydney. Having a younger sister myself, their journey was one that hit close to home and made the story all the more sweeter. Garden Spells is an enchanting tale of self exploration, hope, love, and new beginnings. I closed the book with a smile on my face, and warmth in my heart. Grade A.

Visit Sarah Addison Allen's site here. Read and excerpt from Garden Spells here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Review: The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis

I picked The Borgia Bride up on a whim on my way out of the library based solely on the back cover synopsis. When I started reading, I found that the synopsis was very misleading but since the story was so interesting, I got over it. This is the story of the the Borgia family, known for their treacherous rule and incestuous ways. The story follows Sancha of Aragon, new wife to Jofre Borgia, as she discovers the horrible truths about her new family. I knew little about the history of the Borgia's before reading this book and out of constant curiosity, I stopped reading many times to look up facts about the family. They were indeed a twisted bunch, which made reading about them all the more entertaining.

Sancha, daughter of the short reigned King of Naples, Alfonso II, has lived a privileged life. She has little want for anything other than her father's affection and recognition - something that he seems incapable of giving her. Without the love of her father, Sancha clings to her younger brother Alfonso, whose kind heart keeps her from feeling so alone. When Sancha comes of marital age, she falls to the same fate of many noble women and is married off for her family's political gain. Her father gives her hand to one of the Pope's recognized sons, Jofre Borgia, as a way to gain alliance with the Roman Church.

This move takes Sancha away from her beloved brother and into a world where evil reigns supreme. Sancha ends up in Rome at the request of her lecherous father-in-law, Pope Alexander VI, who has heard tales of Sancha's beauty and wishes to see her for himself. Once in Rome, Sancha must fend off the Pope's unwanted advances, try to convince his jealous daughter, Lucrezia, that she does not have designs on the Pope, and attempt to remain faithful to her husband as she is losing her heart to his handsome brother, Cesare.

Sancha soon finds out that the family she has married into is capable of the worst sins and that even Cesare, who she has fallen in love with, has not been saved from the twisted Borgia curse. When Sancha's brother Alfonso arrives in Rome to marry Lucrezia, Sancha does what she can to protect him from his new family, but all of her precautions can not save either herself or Alfonso from the curse of the sinister Borgia's. Knowing too much, they both become prisoners in the Borgia household. In order to survive, Sancha must use her cunning to outwit the Borgia's before she loses her life at their hands.

The Borgia Bride was a quick read for me despite it 500 plus pages. The story starts out a little slow, as the backdrop and foundation of the story are set, but then quickly picks up pace some 20 pages in. It is told from Sancha's first person perspective and works well because it still leaves an air of mystery around the Borgia's since the motivation and mind frame of the Borgia's is not ever truly known and they remain cloaked in question. Though The Borgia Bride is historical fiction, it is based heavily on factual truth's and occurrences. Ms. Kalogridis does a really good job of filling in the historical blanks with fascinating fiction that help round out the better known historical events.

The book does not paint the Roman Catholic Church in a favorable light as depicted through Pope Alexander VI and his promiscuous nature, the incest that appears common place, rape, and the cold blooded murder committed for political gain. There are some scenes that are very dark, and one in particular that made me uncomfortable and I'm not easily disturbed. Still, these events are factual and served to make the story more realistic. Overall, The Borgia Bride was an entertaining, angst filled, drama ridden, and seductive read - and I say seductive because with each page I was further enticed to read on and go deeper into the dysfunctional life of the Borgia's - even when I wanted to look away. For historical fiction lovers, like myself, I would definitely recommend reading this one. Grade A-

Visit Jeanne Kalogridis' site here. Read the first chapter of The Borgia Bride here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready

Ciara Griffin is a con artist gone straight. She has left her checkered past behind in hopes of living a more upstanding life. The first step in her new life includes her getting a job that will pay the bills in place of scamming people out of their money. She's offered a job at a local radio station where the late night radio hosts specialize in music that is era authentic - from the 40's right up to the 90's. Ciara takes the job, but soon finds out just why the music is so on point for the each specific era. It is because the late night shows are hosted by vampires, all stuck in their Life Time, better known as the era's that they were turned.

Upon first learning this she is disbelieving, but after a very close encounter, Ciara is not only believing, but reluctant to stay with the station. Then she finds out that the local station is on the verge of corporate buyout that will lead to all of the DJ's losing their jobs, thus giving them no connection to their era's and sending them on their way to fading. Ciara sees this as her chance to help someone else after her many years of conning people and she comes up with a gimmick to help the vampire DJ's, and that is hiding them in plain sight by announcing to the listeners that they are all vampires. The plan is working well, that is until a group of older vampires find out about it and take the ultimate offence.

There is a lot of competition in the Urban Fantasy market, and in order to stand out from the crowd, a book has to have a fresh perspective - this is something that Wicked Game brings to the table. The vampires in this story have many of the normal rules, like death by sunlight, fire and stake through the heart, but they also have their quirks, like the OCD that they all suffer some form of. Which is displayed the best in a scene where Ciara slows down vampire DJ, Regina's attack by throwing a box of pencils on the floor, thwarting Regina by causing her to stop, count, and pick up each and every pencil before she can return to her regularly scheduled attack.

The idea of Life Time, that all vampires must remain rooted to their era or they fade, makes for an interesting twist on common vampire lore. It also gives more story to work with, shown in Ciara's attempts to help hottie vampire, Shane, see that he can move past his era and learn about the new generation he is living in. Speaking of Shane, there is a budding romance in the book between Ciara and Shane. I did like the slow build of their relationship, though there were times when I wished that Ciara would get it together and stop being so jittery about Shane. He had shown her that he was worthy of her trust, but there were times where she threw all his effort back in his face. If I had a major gripe, that would be it.

Told in Cira's first person present perspective, Wicked Game is a witty, humorous, and and fast paced story. Getting to know the characters through Ciara's eyes and her interactions with them was easy as they are all well rounded and have unique personalities. This book is definitely a different take on vampire paranormal, but a refreshing one. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well written Urban Fantasy with a strong, street wise, female protagonist who has just the right amount of self-deprecating humor to endear her to the reader. Wicked Game is a really good start to what I hope will be a great series. Grade B+

Visit Jeri Smith-Ready here. Read the first chapter of Wicked Game here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I'm With the DIK Ladies Today!

Hi peeps!

I'm guest blogging today at Desert Island Keepers and I'm all about the angst. Stop by and say hello to me!

Also, I just finished reading The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan and should have a review up tomorrow. Right now, I'm reading Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready. It's really good! I can't wait to talk about it here.

Happy reading!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Review: All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear

All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear
Sci-Fi /Fantasy
Reviewed by: Hilcia

“At the closure of the slaughter, there remained upon the strand
One who fled, one who lived, one who chose not to attend…

So the Children singing came all to the slaughter
Stars and shining suns, sons and shining daughters…
And all the windwracked stars are lost and torn upon the night
Like candleflames they flicker, and fail to cast a light.

To begin with there was darkness, darkness, Light, and Will
And in the end there’s darkness, darkness sure and still.”

There is something about a post-apocalyptic/apocalyptic, Sci-Fi Fantasy story that does it for me – mix in some Norse mythology and it’s a win-win situation. Elizabeth Bear’s All the Windwracked Stars has all of the above and more. She uses mythology loosely to construct her world and if you are familiar with Odin’s crew of Gods and immortals, you will recognize their integration into Bear’s world, her characters and usage of language.

Our fantasy adventure begins with the end. It’s the end for the Children of Light and
their world – survived only by Muire, a waelcyrge (valkyrie), and Kasimir, a valraven
(two-headed, winged, war-steed). Muire, who thinks of herself as the “least” of all her sisters, is not a warrior; instead she is a poet, historian and artist. She survives by fleeing that final battle where all her sisters and brothers –the einherjar or immortal warriors -- die. That single act of cowardice, the guilt and shame Muire carries with her, become the driving force behind her actions throughout this story.

Fast forward twenty three hundred years later and the world is again dying. This time, surprise, surprise it is a world of men, who after rising and inventing medicine, philosophy, space flight and metallurgy now live in an era known as the Desolation, under the Defile – a contaminated earth full of deserts and bleached bones, un-breathable air and a dead sea killed by bio-weapons and never ending wars. Only one city remains, Eiledon.

When Muire finds a truman dying in the shadows of darkness, with no traces of blood or bodily harm, she recognizes the manner of death and knows the killer. An old, powerful evil from long ago has returned and she must hunt it and kill it, or die trying.

The gloom and doom that permeate the world Bear constructs makes this a tough read
through the first third of the book. Muire’s self-recrimination, guilt and sense of
worthlessness, while understandable, were tough to deal with at times. Thank goodness
for Kasimir who serves as her conscience and represents the hope and promise of a
possible future. He has the faith in Muire that she doesn’t have in herself, and recognizes the courage and Light she possesses. Although Muire is the main character, and a strong one at that, once Bear’s well-developed and fascinating secondary characters start to emerge, I became immersed in her world. They were the ones that made this story work for me.

Thjierry Thorvaldsdottir, Technomancer of Eiledon, is known as the savior of the dying city. A combination techie/witch, she reigns supreme in the Tower, a floating bubble-like city she created – a city above a city -- adored by her students and guarded by loyal servants, the moreau or unmen -- animals with human-like abilities. Thjierry and Muire might be the only hope left for Eiledon. The unmen play a small, if key, part in the story. Selene, the cat girl with her claws, whip and smarts, is the most memorable of the unmen characters. I was touched by her toughness, vulnerability and courage – a definite reminder of H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”

Mingan, the Grey Wolf is a tarnished predator, traitor to all, but most of all to himself. He is a dark, fascinating character that took hold of my imagination and didn’t let go, even after the book was finished. Possibly my favorite in this book, his is the character that brings us the closest to the tragedy and duality that we often find in Norse mythology. Based on a cross between Fenrir the Wolf and Hati, the sun-eater, Mingan, together with Cathoair, a young male prostitute and bar fighter, take over the page whenever they appear. Theirs is a complex relationship --Mingan hunts Cathoair, whom he both loves and hates and in turn, Cathoair haunts Mingan. Cathoair is both more and less than he appears to be. By becoming important to both Muire and the Grey Wolf, he also becomes a catalyst and central to this story.

As the story unfolded, defining the Dark and the Light became difficult, gray areas
expanded and I found myself reading slower, savoring every moment, not wanting the
book to end. And as I concluded my journey with Muire and her ragtag group of friends
and foes, after experiencing depths of despair and selfishness, the power of friendship and love, I found that in the end, this book was mostly about redemption and self-sacrifice.

There is potential in this world for other great adventures. Hopefully, Elizabeth Bear will give us more. If you like Fantasy, Sci-Fi and mythology, this book is certainly for you.

Solid B

Visit Elizabeth Bear's site here. Read an excerpt from All The Windwracked Stars here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Site Announcement!

Hello Readers,

I'm sure many of you noticed that last month I was absent from the blog. Well, that was because life jumped up and bit me in many ways at one time and something had to be back-burned, unfourtunately, blog updates went first. That said, I'm back now and hope that I can stay on track with my updates in the future.

During my absence, I was able to do a lot of thinking and I decided that I would really like it if I had someone else here posting every now and then to help keep the blog going even when I slow down. I put a lot of thought into it and came up with someone who I think is just great when it comes to putting her thoughts down about the book she reads. This person's name is Hilcia, and I asked her if she would like to post reviews from time to time on the site and she graciously accepted.

Hilcia will be joining me on Musings of a Bibliophile, posting reviews from time to time, and maybe doing a little more in the months to come. Since I really enjoy her reviews, I think that you all will too. As a way to introduce Hilcia to everyone, I thought I would do a mini Q&A. I asked her a few questions about her reading and she answered below.

Hi Hilcia, welcome. First question: What types of genre's do you enjoy reading?

Hello Brie. I’m an eclectic reader. I grew up reading both Literature and Romance, and within those two categories there are not too many genres I don’t enjoy. In Romance, I enjoy reading contemporary, historical, PNR, romance/suspense, erotica, M/M and classic romance. I love Science Fiction and Fantasy, as well as Mythology and Mysteries. I love the traditional style English Literature has to offer and the Real/Magic of Latin American Literature.

Who are your top three favorite authors?

This is a tough question to answer – but if I must, in Romance, at the moment my favorite authors are, Jane Austin, Mary Balogh and Nora Roberts. Jane never changes, the other might.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I’m reading three books at the moment:
Animal Attractions 2 -- an M/M Anthology that I chose to read for the M/M Romance Challenge
The Secret Wedding by Jo Beverly -- her latest release
Angel Island by Inez Haynes Gillmore -- a 1914 feminist fantasy adventure.

What book or author (or both) have you recommended most over the years?

The authors that I have recommended the most throughout the years have to be Jane Austin and Nora Roberts.

Do you enjoy series reading? If so, what is your favorite series to date.

I do enjoy series reading, although I don’t follow many. I can’t really claim to have ONE favorite series to date. I have favorites within different genres – Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changling in PNR; Dock 5 series by Linnea Sinclair in Sci/Fi Romance are two examples.

What is your favorite book of all time?

I’m still searching for it and doing my best to find it. ☺

This is just a snippet to give everyone a little insight into Hilcia's love of reading. I'm hoping that through her reviews and presence on Musings of a Bibliophile, everyone will get to know her better and enjoy her reviews as much as I do. We happen share a like of some the same genre's, but Hilcia will also be bringing to the blog some genre's that I don't normally read but wouldn't mind trying in the future, like M/M. Anyway, I think I've said enough for now. So, I would like everyone to help me welcome Hilcia to this blog and to the world of blogging.

Welcome Hils!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Review: The Sharing Knife: Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold

Passage picks up where Legacy left off. Dag and Fawn have just arrived at Bluefield Farm after leaving Dag's home place of Hickory Lake. Their time at Hickory Lake was less than welcoming and it concluded with the ousting of Dag and Fawn from the camp. They hope to spend a short time with Fawn's family on Bluefield Farm and then set off on their next journey in which Dag wants to show Fawn the sea and also find a way to bridge the huge gap between Farmer's and Lakewalker's along the way.

Their stay with Fawn's family is just what they need after a long and wearing travel from Hickory Lake. Things go well and they end up leaving with a new companion, Fawn's aggravating brother, Whit, much to Fawn's discontent. The three begin their journey toward the sea, stopping here and there. They meet new people and Dag is called upon to perform ground work on some Farmer's, all the while he attempts to explain to them that what he's doing is not magic and that there is no reason for farmer's to be fearful of Lakewalker's.

Along the way the three pick up a few more companions, both farmer and Lakewalker. Their journey takes them to a boat with a female captain, Boss Berry. Berry is setting out to find her father's missing ship. Fawn secures herself, Dag and Whit's place on the boat in exchange for them working their way. Fawn and Berry strike up a friendship and Whit becomes enamored with Berry. Dag is able to take the opportunity aboard Berry's boat to share and explain Lakewalker ground work to even more farmers. He also learns more about his newly discovered medical maker abilities, both surprising and scaring himself, and worrying Fawn.

Dag's quest to bring Farmers and Lakewalker's together is a hard one. Lakewalker's do not want Farmer's to know their secrets and would rather they remain ignorant to Lakewalker customs. And Farmers are hard to get through to due to their disbelieving nature and fear of Lakewalkers. As they make their way closer to sea, trouble arises. The shocking truth behind a deadly game puts everyone onboard in danger and tests Dag's maker abilities, leaving him to question if his ability is a gift or a curse.

Passage was a great follow up to both Beguilement and Legacy. Dag and Fawn's journey is entertaining and eye opening. The world building is nothing short of awesome. The Lakewalker mythology, while very intricate, is completely understandable and the writing is simply enchanting. The relationship between Dag and Fawn continues to evolve as they settle into married life, though much of the romance is put on the backburner in this story and it focuses more on Farmer/Lakewalker relations. Prejudices and superstitions are addressed as Dag tries to find a way to unite the two peoples.

Overall, Passage was a thought provoking book. Like the first two in the series, it moves at a moderate pace, paying close attention to the characters and their interactions and struggles. The Sharing Knife series has fast become one of my favorite Fantasy series to date. I've written before about how I like my fantasy to have strong female protagonists, understandable mythology, a little romance, some action, and a good writing. I find all that and more in this series. I'm looking forward to reading the conclusion of Dag and Fawn's story in the final book, Horizon. For this one, grade A-.

Read an excerpt here. Visit Lois McMaster Bulold's site here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Numbers Game

For something different, I’m borrowing a question from … here! One of the very first questions ever at Booking Through Thursday. Back from 2005 when Laura owned the blog but, because it was so new, it didn’t get as many responses as it does now … so, why not revisit?

Here’s the question:

Some people read one book at a time. Some people have a number of them on the go at any given time, perhaps a reading in bed book, a breakfast table book, a bathroom book, and so on, which leads me to…

1. Are you currently reading more than one book?
2. If so, how many books are you currently reading?
3. Is this normal for you?
4. Where do you keep your current reads?

This BBT is a little convenient being that I had just taken pictures of my night stand (where I keep my current reads) to share here before reading it. Now on to my answers.

Yes, I am currently reading more than one book. In fact I'm juggling about 8-10 books at the moment. This is the norm for me. I tend to have a very short attention span when it comes to reading and unless a book absolutely grabs me and refuses to let go, I constantly alternate between quite a few at a time. I keep my current reads on my night table. They used to be kept on my dresser but the hubby complained about them taking over entire thing so he bought be a night stand to get them out of his way and closer to me.

Here are a couple of pictures of the books on my night stand.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Leather. Motorcycle. Bare Chested Male.

Here is the cover for Covet, the first book in J.R. Ward's upcoming Fallen Angel's series about Harley riding Angels. Since I've fallen out of love with the BDB series, I'm hoping that this new series will be able to get be back on the J.R. Ward bandwagon.

From my understanding, the series will be Paranormal Romance based. The release date is set for Sep 29, 2009. What do you think of the cover?