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.