Monday, November 22, 2010

In My Mailbox/Mailbox Monday

In My Mailbox is a book meme hosted by The Story Siren.  Mailbox Monday is a floating meme created by The Printed Page.  This month, Mailbox Monday is hosted by Knitting and Sundries.

This week, I received an ARC of The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor.  I love historical fiction and Andrew Taylor's writing has been compared to that of Edgar Allen Poe, one of my all-time favorite authors.  I can hardly wait to read his latest novel. 

Andrew Taylor is the winner of numerous awards, including the Crime Writers' Association's 2009 Cartier Diamond Dagger. This year, his novel The American Boy was named one of the best crime novels of the decade by The Times.  Check out his website.

Items described on The Muse Reviews may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book Review: Strangers At The Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Scribner
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1439166951
ISBN-13: 978-1439166956

Muse Reviews Rating: 3 laurels
Publisher's Description:

On Thanksgiving Day 2007, as the country teeters on the brink of a recession, three generations of the Olson family gather. Eleanor and Gavin worry about their daughter, a single academic, and her newly adopted Indian child, and about their son, who has been caught in the imploding real-estate bubble. While the Olsons navigate the tensions and secrets that mark their relationships, seventeen-year-old Kijo Jackson and his best friend Spider set out from the nearby housing projects on a mysterious job. A series of tragic events bring these two worlds ever closer, exposing the dangerously thin line between suburban privilege and urban poverty, and culminating in a crime that will change everyone’s life.

In Strangers At The Feast, Jennifer Vanderbes produces the tight, engaging narrative every writer dreams of creating.  From the opening line, Jennifer Vanderbes draws you in and invites you to sit down with her fictional family while they tell their story.  Vanderbes tackles weighty themes ranging from socioeconomics to eminent domain.

I struggled to craft a synopsis that would do justice to Strangers At The Feast.  Simply stating the plot doesn't cover the intricacies of Vanderbes' story.  Unfortunately, the complexity that made Strangers At The Feast appealing to me as a reader also detracted from my experience. 

Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character.  Although this formula gives the reader a feeling of immediacy and intimacy with Vanderbes' characters, they lack the distinctive voices that make the technique successful.  Jennifer Vanderbes also spends more than half of her novel in flashback, in which she treats the reader to history lessons or waxes philosophical about the "emasculation of the American warrior."  While these scenes are well-written, they drag down the book's pacing. 

When I finally reached the climax, Vanderbes rushed through it, and left a number of plot points unresolved.  I was far more interested in the subplot involving Ginny Olson's adopted Indian daughter than in Douglas Olson's marital difficulties and was disappointed that I didn't get to see more of Priya.  Despite lagging a bit in the middle, Strangers At The Feast is a quick read.  Fans of literary fiction will enjoy Jennifer Vanderbes' skill with words and appreciate the depth of her research into a wide variety of topics. 

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Monday, November 8, 2010

In My Mailbox / Mailbox Monday

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.  Mailbox Monday is a floating meme founded by The Printed Page.  This month, Mailbox Monday is hosted by Knitting and Sundries.   

Oh look, new goodies!

This week, I got books in both my email and snail mailboxes.

The hardcopy book is Moonlight Mile by Dennish Lehane.

The ebook is Cat the Vamp by Christina Martine.

My review pile is starting to take up more space than I ever anticipated.  I've got enough books to do a review a week through February of 2011.  Granted, it's nowhere near the 700+ books I've heard other bloggers have waiting for them, but it seems like a lot when I'm staring at the stack on my coffee table.

Guess I'd better get reading.

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon by DreamWorks Animation

Actors: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler
Directors: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Format: AC-3, Animated, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: DreamWorks
DVD Release Date: October 15, 2010
Run Time: 98 minutes
Special Features: Animated short film, interviews and behind-the scenes footage, deleted scenes, games

Muse Reviews Rating: 4.5 laurels

This week's review is How To Train Your Dragon, by DreamWorks Animation.  You know, the creators of the Shrek series.  If you're a parent, chances are good you've already seen this movie with your kids.  However, if you're like me, you don't want to wrangle two rowdy kids in a theater crowded with other people's unruly offspring.  Thank goodness for DVD!

If you haven't heard of How To Train Your Dragon - you know, because you've been living in a desert cave without an Internet connection and only migrated to civilization within the last month - here's a quick peek at the DVD trailer: 

Based on the book of the same title by Cressida Cowell, How To Train Your Dragon is the story of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the misfit son of a Viking chieftain.  Hiccup is desperate to kill one of the dragons that continually raid his island home and improve his social status enough to land a date with Astrid (America Ferrera), the prettiest and toughest girl in the village.  Impressing his father, the legendary Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), wouldn't hurt either.  Unfortunately, Hiccup is stuck in the forge where he is apprenticed to Gobber (Craig Ferguson), blacksmith and trainer of the next generation of dragon slayers, who has the onerous task of keeping Hiccup out of trouble.

During a raid, Hiccup sneaks out of the forge and uses one of his many inventions to attack a Night Fury.  These mysterious creatures are the most elusive and feared of all dragons.  To make matters worse, Hiccup's contraptions never work and usually backfire.  No one is more surprised than Hiccup when his latest invention succeeds.  Hiccup tracks the injured dragon to a secluded valley but can't bring himself to kill it.  Instead, he befriends the dragon, which he dubs "Toothless" because of its retractable teeth.  As the weeks pass, Hiccup discovers that dragons are more complex than anyone in his village realizes. 

Like the real stars of this movie - the dragons - How To Train Your Dragon is more complex than it first appears.  Beyond the obvious theme of a boy coming of age, How To Train Your Dragon explores the relationship between a father and son, demonstrates why it's always a good idea to get to know someone before judging him, touches on the abilities of the differently-abled (Gobber is missing a hand and a foot but hardly seems to notice), and even the value of animal research as Hiccup spends hours observing the Night Fury.  How To Train Your Dragon is a step up from the usual DreamWorks scripts, which rely heavily on cliches and pop-culture references.  I credit the improvement to the writing and directing team of Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who also created Disney's Lilo and Stitch.

I'm not an expert in animation techniques, but I thought How To Train Your Dragon was gorgeous.  In my opinion, it's second only to Avatar.  The flight sequences might be better.  I know my kids loved them, because my preschooler spent days "flying" around the house after watching this movie.  We rented the single-disc DVD rather than the 3D BlueRay and the effects were still superb.

The only criticism I have for How To Train Your Dragon is in the casting.  Why do the adult Vikings speak with Scottish brogues?!?!  I admit my ancient history is a bit rusty, but I'm fairly sure the Vikings were from Scandinavia, not Scotland.  Don't get me wrong, Gerard Butler is an excellent actor and I can't think of a better choice to play Stoick.  Likewise, Craig Ferguson's portrayal of Gobber is the perfect combination of humor and eccentric mentor.  I just wish DreamWorks had hired a dialogue coach to give them Nordic accents.  This small detail is the only thing keeping me from giving How To Train Your Dragon five laurels.  Maybe I'm nitpicky, but the incongruity grated on my nerves.

Overall, How To Train Your Dragon is great fun for the whole family.  It's full of quotable lines and everyone will have his or her favorites.  My personal choice comes from Hiccup during a flight sequence:

"Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile."

Jay Baruchel delivers this line with a perfect, dry wit that had me laughing as loud on the third viewing as I did on the first.  How To Train Your Dragon is definitely going on my holiday wish list. 

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: Followers

Book Blogger Hop

Part the First

This seems to be the week of thought-provoking memes.  This week, Crazy For Books asks:

"What are your feelings on losing followers? Have you ever stopped following a blog?"

I'm new enough to the Blogosphere that I don't have a ready answer to this.  If I base my answer on the number of followers I have on Twitter, the number of members on the forums I moderate, or my Facebook friends, then I'd have to say losing followers doesn't bother me much.  I've left a forum or stopped following someone because I didn't have time to keep up with the posts.  I've stopped because I didn't care for changes in content or tone and because my interest in a topic waned. 

Bearing this in mind, I can't begrudge someone for un-following me.  Unless it's an offline friend, I don't take it to heart.  Even if the lost follower is someone I know, I still try not to take it personally.  Sometimes, people just need to curtail their online activity because they lack time or because they need to focus on more important things like school, work, or family. 

Sometimes, the forum - whether it's a message board or a blog - just isn't a good fit for the other person.  If that's the case, I'd rather the person stopped following me and devoted the time to someone else.  There are plenty of options and, to paraphrase Laurell K. Hamilton (one of my favorite authors), life is too short to read anything you don't love.

Part the Second

In a new twist, Jennifer offers Blog Hoppers a challenge:

"BLOG HOP CHALLENGE:  With this in mind, I have a challenge for you.  This challenge will take some dedication on your part this week.  I want you to find ONE blog in the Hop list that you genuinely WANT to follow (try to find a new blog, if you can!) and make at least 5 comments on their blog this week on 5 different posts.  Get to know this blogger and what they post about.  Next week, as part of your Hop post, I want you to post about your experience with this challenge.  Just tell us what you thought of the challenge, who you found to follow and link to the posts that you commented on." 

Oy vey.  Like many who participate in the Blog Hop, I'm a mother, so my time is seriously limited.  I also work from home as a freelance writer.  I confess I'm behind on the books I should be reviewing because deadlines wait for no one and The Muse Reviews is a hobby at this point.  I'd like it to be more than a hobby one day, but I'm not there yet.  However, I'm determined to participate in this challenge.  I'm going to take a slightly different approach, though. 

Rather than click through 200+ blogs on the link list, hoping to find someone I want to follow, I'm going to focus my attention on the people who leave comments on this post.  Those blogs will take precedence over the others.  I hope to uncover some gems.
Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Good or Bad Writing

This week's Booking Through Thursday question is:

I’ve seen many bloggers say that what draws them to certain books or authors is good writing, and what causes them to stop reading a certain book or author is bad writing. What constitutes good writing and bad writing to you?

For me, this question is difficult to answer because so many things factor into "good" and "bad" writing and some of them are easy to recognize but hard to describe.  I don't think I can name them all, but I'll offer up a few highlights. 

Good writing - believable characters and situations; even if the characters are vampires or elves or the situation involves life on alien planets, the author still has to make me believe what is happening could happen or should happen given the character's personality.

Bad writing - the writer hasn't done enough research, whether it's in psychology or genetics, to make the world feel real; if I, as a layperson, can find the flaw in a character with a fear of fire so severe that striking a match sends her into a panic suddenly overcoming her phobia to rescue a stray cat from a burning barn, there's a problem. 

Good writing - tight sentence structure, active verbs, detailed description

Bad writing - passive verbs, vague descriptions, run-on sentences spliced together with commas or semi-colons

Good writing - close narrative distance; putting me in the middle of the action or inside the character's head, creating sympathy for the characters

Bad writing - narration is too distant or passive, head-hopping, flat or boring characters

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What I'm Reading: Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn

I just started Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn. Ms. Vaughn is the New York Times bestselling author of the Kitty Norville books. She's also a contributer to the Wildcard Series, edited by George R. R. Martin.

Once upon a time, an ex compared me to the golden apple. Not sure how he made the connection, but I've had a fascination with that myth ever since. I'm intrigued by the concept for Discord's Apple and can't wait to see what Carrie Vaughn has in store.

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Birthday, Lupa!

Natality felicitations to Lupa, my friend and author of A Field Guide to Otherkin, DIY Totemism, Skin Spirits, and Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic.  Lupa is an environmental activist who practices therioshamanism, reviews books at The Green Wolf, and an artist who creates ritual tools such as antler runes, fur pouches, and sacred jewelry.  Check out her Etsy page.

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: Bookish Wish

Book Blogger Hop

Welcome to the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Crazy For Books.

This week's question is: "What is the one bookish thing you would love to have, no matter the cost?"

For me, this one is easy.  As a child, I lived in a house that had a library in the basement.  Half the room was finished with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and every inch was filled.  I spent hours down there, climbing up the shelves to see the books at the top or laying on the floor with a book in hand.  Ah, memories!

Someday, I want a house big enough to devote an entire room to my library.  As it stands, I have to stack my mass-market paperbacks two deep because I don't have enough room.  If you look at my book cases, the shelves are bowing under the weight.  I want a real library, complete with fireplace and comfy chairs, and enough shelf space for my entire collection.

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: Favorite Reading Place

Book Blogger Hop

I had so much fun last week, I'm participating in the Crazy For Books Book Blogger Hop again this week. 

Today's question is: 

"Where is your favorite place to read? Curled up on the sofa, in bed, in the garden?"

My answer:

Anywhere I can.  I typically read on the love seat in the living room so I can keep an eye on the kids. Actually, I do just about everything on there - work, eat, pay bills, etc. - because I can see most of the house from my vantage point and make sure Thing One and Thing Two aren't getting into too much trouble.

However, I've been known to read in bed, at the kitchen table, in the bath, in the car, at the park, at the coffee shop, and sitting in the hallway outside my university classrooms while waiting for my professors to arrive.  The only place I have not managed to read is while sitting on my woefully underused exercise machine and only because I need both hands to use it.  As soon as I figure out how to compensate for that, guess what I'll be doing...

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Top Ten Tuesday: Fictional Crushes

I'm not usually a meme sheep.  I can count the memes I've done in my lifetime on one hand.  However, I discovered this little gem on The Broke and the Bookish and couldn't resist.  This Tuesday, Broke and Bookish asks "who are your top ten fictional crushes?"  Although I'm sure they intended the list to be characters from books (do comic books count?), if I'm honest, many of my character crushes originally appeared in movies or on television before they made it to the printed page.  With this in mind, I decided not to limit myself exclusively to literary characters.

My fictional crushes are, in no particular order:

1. Jean-Claude (Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton) - He's gorgeous, he's French, he's lust incarnate, he's a vampire.  Does any more need to be said? 

2. Doyle (Merry Gentry series by Laurell K. Hamilton) - Besides being one of the most powerful sidhe warriors of all time, he's also noble, sensitive, and loyal to his family.  I can't wait to see him as a father.

3. Mr. Spock (original Star Trek series) - Yeah, I'm a geek, sue me.  When other girls ripped posters of teen heartthrobs out of their Tiger Beat magazines and plastered them on their bedroom walls, I had a poster of Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock on mine. 

4. Commander Data (Star Trek: The Next Generation) - I crushed on Data (Brent Spiner) for many of the same reasons as Spock.  Both personified the "other" trying to fit in with the predominant culture, often with mixed success.  Spock had his Vulcan heritage to cling to, but Data was even more isolated because he had no family and no history, at least in the early episodes.  He was the ultimate outsider and still managed to find acceptance.  My introverted, awkward teen self identified with and took inspiration from this character.

5. Wesley (The Princess Bride, by William Goldman) - A man who starts the relationship by saying nothing but "as you wish" as he obeys the woman's every command and then proceeds to become a swashbuckling pirate who rides to the rescue of his lady fair.  Does it get any hotter than this?  If he looks like Cary Elwes, it might!

6. Catwoman (DC Comics) - I remember watching reruns of The Adventures of Batman and Robin with Julie Newmar as Catwoman.  This gorgeous, devious sex kitten often had Batman tied up in knots - literally!  I wanted to be her when I grew up.  Hmm...that might explain a lot.

7. Morgaine (The Morgaine Cycle, by C. J. Cherryh) - this alien warrior is as deadly as she is beautiful.  She travels across centuries and galaxies in her eternal quest to destroy the tech of a lost race that's destroying the fabric of reality and kicks much ass along the way.  What's not to love?

8. Evil Witch Willow (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) - Cute little Alyson Hannigan turns into a super badass in Season 6 of the television series.  It was great to see this character's progression from vapid, fluffy white lighter to the embodiment of the Dark Goddess.  Even after she turned back to the light, Willow carried herself with more maturity and poise as a result of her stint as Evil Willow.

9. Daenerys Targaryen (A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R. R. Martin) - I've loved watching Dany grow from a frightened child into a queen who is capable of everything from military tactics to dispensing justice to her people.  I just wish Mr. Martin would write this series faster.  Fans have been waiting five years for the next installment.  Don't leave us hanging, George!

10. Melisande Shahrizai (Kushiel's Legacy series, by Jacqueline Carey) - Ruthless, beautiful, and the consumate sadist, Melisande is the ultimate Bad Girl.  Another example of "I want to be her when I grow up."

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Review: Once Wicked Always Dead by T. Marie Benchley

Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: MMWE Publishing House (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0984478701
ISBN-13: 978-0984478705
List Price: $24.95

Muse Reviews Rating: 1 Laurel

Publisher's Description

Molly Madison is unaware of the Sociopath who is on the loose, creating havoc with a sense of their own justice. Her life is shattered by the sudden death of her beloved parents and the revelation of her husband Phillip's affair - with another man - Molly leaves the life of Country Clubs and the luxury of city life in Florida and heads west to Montana, resolved to run the family ranch, and to move on with her life. Her attraction to Clayton Leatherbe, the ranch foreman, is instant, but before a romance can blossom, the ranch falls prey to sabotage by wealthy land developers determined to drive Molly out, and Clayton learns of a family secret and collides with the Sociopath that could put the ranch - and Molly's life - in jeopardy.

WARNING: This review contains spoilers and discusses graphic material which may not be suitable for general audiences.

Once Wicked, Always Dead is T. Marie Benchley's debut novel and, if her second manuscript is anything like the first, it may be her last.  According to Benchley's public bio on, she has graduate degrees in journalism and marketing.  No matter how good she looks on paper, T. Marie Benchley is an amateur writer.  Although the concept for Once Wicked, Always Dead had the potential to result in a gripping thriller, Benchley tries too hard for sophistication and comes across as ponderous instead.    

Once Wicked, Always Dead is the convoluted story of a Florida socialite who, after the death of her parents and learning of her husband's homosexual affair with his assistant, retreats to her family's cattle ranch in Montana to lick her wounds.  Once there, she proceeds to fall in love with the ranch foreman.  As Molly is coping with the fallout from her divorce and the death of her father, she is being stalked by a rival rancher, her husband's jilted ex-lover, and a serial murderer who is killing anyone the murderer sees as a "pervert" - including the jilted lover.  In a plot twist Benchley probably intended to be clever, but which comes across as trite, the female serial killer is connected to Molly via an illicit affair Molly's father had with the woman's alcoholic mother.

From the first page, until I finally gave up on this novel right after the gratuitous bestiality scene in chapter forty-four (there are 56 chapters plus a prologue and epilogue), the mantra tattooing itself on my brain was "show, don't tell."  I have a degree in creative writing and spent six months as an editorial intern at a literary publishing house.  Once Wicked, Always Dead reads like some of the rough drafts I critiqued in my first-year writing class.  I can't imagine my writing professors - let alone a professional editor - letting anyone get away with so much passive narration.  I wanted to scream at Benchley to go take a freakin' writing class already! 

I really wanted to like this book but the writing is just awful.  If the vague descriptions of critical scenes such as when Clayton, the ranch foreman, first hears of the death of a man he considers a second father were not enough to turn me off, the head-hopping, artificial dialogue, and ineffective characterization are.  In one scene, Benchly shows Molly needing her husband Phillip's help to walk because she is grief-stricken over her father's death.  A paragraph later, she's admiring Clayton's ass and checking out his "package."  Not. Bloody. Likely.  Later, Molly shakes off the trauma of hearing her husband has been carrying on a homosexual affair with his assistant by trading in her luxury car for a red pickup, packing her bags, and taking a week-long road trip.  Say what?

What ticked me off more than anything was the character of Sloan, Phillip's gay lover.  I realize this cliched character is meant to be an antagonist, but Benchley's depiction of Sloan's self-absorption and lack of morality demonstrates flagrant ignorance of and insensitivity toward the gay community.  Sloan embodies every degrading stereotype of the homosexual man and lacks a single redeeming quality.  I got the impression Benchley took her inspiration for him from an episode of Jerry Springer.  When Sloan engages in bestiality with a calf on Molly's ranch, I threw the waste of paper that is Once Wicked, Always Dead across the room and called it done.  Although Benchley tries to make up for Sloan by pairing Phillip with a more respectable partner after he and Sloan end their relationship, her overall portrayal of the gay community is unforgivably offensive.

I recommend readers avoid Once Wicked, Always Dead like the proverbial plague.  Even the fact that T. Marie Benchley is donating a portion of the money from book sales to the Shriners Hospitals isn't enough to save this book.

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: Giving Up On A Book

I read.  A lot.  (Really, Syl?  Who would have guessed?)

I don't just read books; I read forums, websites, Twitter links, and blogs.  I'm always on the look-out for more avenues to feed my reading addiction.  I also search for the top review blogs and analyze them to help improve my reviwing skills.  I created an account on Technorati and started combing through their lists of top blogs by category. 

Recently, I've become a fan of Crazy For Books, brainchild of Jennifer, a thirty-something blogger from New York state.  Jennifer is the creator of the Book Blogger Hop.  Similar to Follow Fridays on Twitter, the Blogger Hop runs from Friday to Monday and offers book bloggers a chance to connect with each other. 

One of the features of the Blogger Hop is a weekly question related to books and/or blogging.  This week, the question is: "When you read a book that you just can't get into, do you stick it out and keep reading or move to your next title?"

This is a timely question for me, since I'm in the process of writing a review for a book I loathed.  I forced myself to read the majority of the book but, when I got to an especially graphic, offensive, and gratuitous scene, I finally gave up and skipped to the end of the book to see if the primary antagonist was who I thought it would be.  (She was.) 

I've been debating whether or not to publish this review, which is why it's taking so long for the review to appear here.  When I started The Muse Reviews, I made a promise to myself - and my readers - to read all the books, see all the movies, and use all the products I review so I could give an informed opinion.  I didn't want to be one of those reviewers that bases a review on reading a press release or visiting a website that discusses the product.  If I didn't finish the book, how can I say I kept that promise? 

I'm still figuring out how to cope.  I don't imagine I will love ever book, movie, or product I review, but I the decisions I make now will affect The Muse Reviews in the future.  One of the stipulations of participating in the Blogger Hop is to visit other blogs and network.  I think I'll see how my fellow bloggers have handled this situation. 

Book Blogger Hop

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Book Review: The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June by Robin Benaway

Reading level: Young Adult

Hardcover: 281 pages
Publisher: Razorbill (August 3, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 159514286X
ISBN-13: 978-1595142863

Muse Reviews Rating: 3.5 laurels

Publisher's Description

Three sisters share a magical, unshakeable bond in this witty, high-concept novel from the critically acclaimed author of Audrey, Wait!

Is there anything more disconcerting for a teenaged girl than enduring her parents' divorce only to move out of her childhood home, away from her friends, and have to learn her way around a new house, a new town, and a new school?  April, May, and June Stephenson would say "yes."  If typical adolescent angst weren't enough, each of these sisters has a new psychic ability she must learn to control while maintaining the appearance of a normal life.  Talk about pressure! 

April is the studious, responsible, and family-oriented oldest sister who can see the future.  It's perfect for helping keep her sisters out of trouble.  May, the middle sister, is the angst-ridden teen who feels overlooked in her family and life in general.  It's no surprise when her gift turns out to be the ability to turn invisible in more than a metaphoric sense.  June is determined to be everything her sisters are not - fashionable, popular, and "cool."  The power to read the minds of those around her is June's dream come true.  Now she will know exactly what people think about her style and adjust as needed to fit in with the kids who rule the school. 

Robin Benway's The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June is clever and fun, packed with laugh-out-loud funny moments.  Each chapter is from the perspective of a different sister and Benway has succeeded in giving each girl a distinct voice.  The major drawback of the book is that the characters are too typical.  Throughout the book, I kept wanting to slap the vapid, superficial June and tell her to grow up and get over herself.  Likewise, May makes the gloomiest emo kid seem bright and shiny as a new iPod full of Justin Bieber tunes, and April is so invested in the role of mother hen I felt like she was going to lay an egg any minute. 

Despite the occasional flatness of the main characters, I enjoyed The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June enough to forget I was reading a Young Adult novel.  The only other criticism I had was the use of adult language.  Extraordinary Secrets is billed as suitable for readers age 12 and up but, as a mother, I'm not sure I want my kids reading so much swearing.  Maybe I'm old-fashioned to think young teens are exposed to enough cursing at school and on the street; they don't need to be innundated with it in media too.  This book seems better suited to readers 15 and up.

Robin Benway attempts to set The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June within the ranks of (and poke a bit of fun at) paranormal young adult genre powerhouses by having her characters draw comparisons between themselves and predecessors such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter.  While I don't foresee Benway's book rising to the juggernaut status of Joss Whedon's or J. K. Rowling's creations, Extraordinary Secrets is still a worthy read.

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In For Review: The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June by Robin Benway

I requested and received an ARC (advance review copy) of The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June through a giveaway link in Shelf Awareness e-zine.  When my copy of The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June arrived in the mail, I experienced a moment of shock that segued into "Squeee!"  This is officially the first ARC I've received in my budding career as a review blogger.  Excited doesn't begin to describe my feelings.  This book officially hit shelves on August 3 but, as I mentioned in an earlier post, July was a bizarre and hectic month for me.  I'm still sorting things out. 

At any rate, I'm delighted to have the opportunity to review The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June.  What I didn't realize when I requested it is that the book is designed for Young Adult readers.  I guess that'll teach me to pay more attention when I'm madly clicking request links.  It's okay though.  I love to read and, like most mothers, I feel responsible for screening what my kids read or watch on television.  I'm happy to review YA books and give other busy moms the benefit of an impartial opinion. 

Let's see what happens.

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Book Review: Bullet by Laurell K. Hamilton

• Hardcover: 368 pages
• Publisher: Berkley Hardcover (June 1, 2010)
• Language: English
• ISBN-13: 978-0425234334
• Genre: Paranormal Thriller/Horror

Muse Reviews Rating: 3.5 Laurels

Publisher Description: Anita Blake is back in St. Louis and trying to live a normal life-as normal as possible for someone who is a legal vampire executioner and a U. S. Marshal. There are lovers, friends and their children, school programs to attend. In the midst of all the ordinary happiness a vampire from Anita's past reaches out. She was supposed to be dead, killed in an explosion, but the Mother of All Darkness is the first vampire, their dark creator. It's hard to kill a god. This dark goddess has reached out to her here-in St. Louis, home of everyone Anita loves most. The Mother of All Darkness has decided she has to act now or never, to control Anita, and all the vampires in America.

Bullet is not a plot-driven book; it’s a character-driven book. In some ways, Bullet has more in common with literary fiction than genre fiction. Laurell K. Hamilton’s books have become less about what the characters are doing than who they are becoming. In Bullet, readers will not find the larger-than-life conflicts and flashy climaxes of early Anita Blake novels. If you like fast-paced action, you’re going to be dissatisfied when the majority of a book focuses on the internal workings of the characters’ minds.

Inside Anita’s mind is exactly where the majority of Bullet takes place. This is a fine thing, but readers who long for the days when Anita rushed from one life-or-death emergency to the next will be frustrated. If you like heavy doses of carnal lust (or at least don’t mind them), then you’ll be rewarded with some interesting character development happening in the midst of, because of, or in spite of the sex. Take your pick.

That being said, sex, while abundant and one of the driving forces of Bullet, is not the focus. Bullet is almost exclusively focused on Anita’s private struggles. The conflict is about Anita working her internal issues and the external forces feel like little more than scaffolding raised to hold together the architecture of a novel.

Major plot points were glossed over in favor of a quick and tidy ending. Throughout the whole book, I kept waiting for Anita to tap into her magical abilities and throw down, metaphysically speaking, with the antagonistic characters in her life. Anita has worked her relationship issues and sexual hang-ups enough. I’m ready to see her genuinely embrace her necromancy. I have yet to see her treat it as anything more than a job, at best, and a temporary bandage for metaphysical boo-boo at worst.

As powerful a necromancer as Anita is supposed to be, it seems like she should have a lot more to say about whether vampires like Belle Morte or Marmee Noire can take over her mind and body. Where is the Anita who raised small army of vampires as zombies during daylight hours? When do we get to see Anita say enough and use her power – hers, not power borrowed from the men around her – to fight back? As much as I like the character development in Bullet, I miss watching Anita kick ass and take names.

On the plus side, fans will be happy to see Richard finally get a grip, pull his head out of his bum, and start holding up his end of the triumvirate. The turn-around is a relief, but I’m not sure I’m ready to trust it. Richard is notorious for taking a baby step forward only to let his emotional baggage come crashing down on everyone’s head. I hope Bullet is a set-up for a new story arc that will demonstrate how powerful Anita’s triumvirate with Jean-Claude and Richard can be. It certainly felt like a lead-in to something bigger. I eagerly await the next installment in the series.

Items on this site may have been provided free of charge in exchange for an impartial review. Please refer to the Disclaimer for details.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Welcome To The Muse Reviews

Welcome to The Muse Reviews. I'm Sylvere, and this blog is dedicated to my opinions about STUFF!(TM).

I love to write and I enjoy sharing my experiences with a wide variety of books, movies, food, and gadgets. If it strikes my fancy, I'll try it, then talk about it on The Muse Reviews. If you're interested in the opinion of one 30-something wife and mom, then you've come to the right place.

If you're wondering "hey, why should I read your review blog," then I'm not sure I can give you a concrete answer.  I can tell you that my articles and academic essays have been consistently given high ratings.  I've been told my writing style is down-to-earth, occasionally humorous, and always informative.  I strive to write with integrity.  You will never see a review on this site for a book, movie, or anything else unless I have evaluated it personally and as thoroughly as possible. 

You will always see my impartial opinion and, while I make every effort to find and showcase positive qualities in any product I review, I will never be less than honest.  If I don't like something, I'll say so but I'll also try to point out the features I enjoyed.  I want my audience to use my reviews to make informed choices.  While a particular item may be a poor fit for me, it might be perfect for you.

In the interests of full disclosure (because the FTC has Teh Dumb and thinks blogging = endorsement), I'll point you to my Disclaimer page.

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