Friday, June 29, 2012

Book Review: The Queen's Vow by C. W. Gortner

The Queen's Vow by C. W. Gortner
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Publisher: Random House 
Pages: 400
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley and finished review copy from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

No one believed I was destined for greatness.
So begins Isabella’s story, in this evocative, vividly imagined novel about one of history’s most famous and controversial queens—the warrior who united a fractured country, the champion of the faith whose reign gave rise to the Inquisition, and the visionary who sent Columbus to discover a New World. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner envisages the turbulent early years of a woman whose mythic rise to power would go on to transform a monarchy, a nation, and the world.

...From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen’s Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile.


The best kind of historical fiction!

I love history, but I'm such a slacker. I don't really have the patience for a lot of non-fiction books, so I usually turn to historical fiction to learn through entertainment. And, of course, this is usually a tricky approach because it is historical fiction after all, and authors have license to stretch the truth or not even really focus on the real historical figures much.

But The Queen's Vow is the absolute PERFECT type of historical fiction! And this is why...

It's like reading a story, but with a smarty pants hat on

The Queen's Vow is Historical fiction with a capital H and you can totally use it as a cheat sheet for learning about Isabella of Castile (don't know her? Yes you do. Think things like Columbus and the Spanish Inquisition).

While there are a few tweaks made with the timeline of events and there's a made up character here and there, by and large the book is accurate enough to quote facts to your friends and family (just remember, there's a lot of controversy about what actually went down at the time, and C. W. Gortner explores a few of the very possible but more sensationalist theories).

And oh boy will you learn a TON of trivia! Schools mostly gloss over Isabella as that lady who sent Columbus to the new world, but my gosh, she was so much more. Isabella had her hands in SO many crazy things. Her life was one giant hopscotch game of war, more war, new wars, old wars, lots of mad dashes in the night, inquisitions, scheming, bribes, and a whole lot of praying.

Not to mention scandal. Do you like gossip? Then you're going to love the scenes with Isabella's odious sister in law.

The best part is that all of this moved along at a pretty quick pace. I was never bored or bogged down with tedious descriptions or long drawn out stuff that I don't care about. C. W. Gortner knows how to prioritize a story and keep things interesting so that I happily read along oblivious to the high page count. I would have even gladly read a few hundred more pages (I'll have to satisfy myself with Gortner's previous work The Last Queen about Isabella's daughter). 

The characters come alive

Ok, I have to get this off my chest first. Isabella is SO lame.

This is maybe a tiny bit spoilery: There's this one point where the evil queen is forcing her to marry this absolutely horrible old man and then right before he's scheduled to pick her up, he DIES! Beatriz, Isabella's incredibly awesome totally getting a sleepover invite maid is all, "Score! Lady, God is totally looking out for you!" and Isabella is all, "Oh no, I am but a mere speck of bland piousness and surely the lord does not even consider me. Plus, I would never wish ill upon another for my own sake." And Beatriz and I are standing there with our jaws to the floor sputtering, "Honey, ding dong the witch is dead! Can we please hold off on the Hail Marys for just a sec and do a happy dance??"

So yeah, Isabella = 0, Beatriz = 500000000000xinfinity. (And this is only a tiny fraction of the awesome points Beatriz earns throughout the book.)

But that was young Isabella. Give her a hundred pages or so and she grows up. She becomes a lot more ruthless and her piousness borders on the crazy dangerous side of things (she thinks she's so innocent, but watch out!). Which, as far as becoming best friends is concerned, Isabella gets a big HECK NO from me (I'm a little afraid of her), but as far as reading about a fascinating woman? Yup, Isabella definitely scores highly in that regard.

She may be irritatingly righteous, rash, and SO judgy, but she's also tenacious and determined to get her way, which is kinda admirable in its own way. And scary. And a heck of a lot of fun to read about. It was so easy to get swept up in the story and Isabella's cause that I was totally fist-pumping and cheering her on, even when I wasn't actually 100% on board with what she was doing. She seems like the type of queen who could inspire lemming-like sacrifices on the strength of her personal conviction alone.

The best part is C. W. Gortner's presentation of her. The whole book is narrated by Isabella, so automatically I was inclined to want to sympathize with her. But, C. W. Gortner doesn't make excuses for her either. Isabella is presented as a woman with hopes and fears and motivations that are left to the reader to decide whether or not she was on the right side of things.

It was almost like, hm, well, have you ever read one of those books that tells things from the villain's point of view and you find yourself coming around to their side of things and hoping the pretty princess eats the poisoned apple? That's what this book felt like to me. I'm not sure I objectively like Isabella (though I can respect a lot about her), and I think she definitely dons the crazy hat at times, but I feel for her.


The Queen's Vow is adult fiction, and while nothing is super graphic, it IS described and Isabella and her husband enjoy one another deeply. Think on the level of Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile, which are billed as YA/Adult crossovers. Readers will have to decide for themselves whether that's too "adult" for them or not, but outside of that, YA historical fiction fans can find much to like in The Queen's Vow.

Bottom line

I've found myself a new historical fiction author to read! And lucky for me, he has already published three other books to keep me occupied until his next release. I have ordered a copy for my library, but mostly I'll be handing it around to adult readers and a few mature YA readers.

This is (regrettably) a standalone.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Queen's Vow that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Add it on Goodreads
Buy it on Amazon

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: Scary School by Derek the Ghost

Scary School by Derek the Ghost
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 237
Received: Review copy from author 
Rating: N/A
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

You think your school's scary?
Get a load of these teachers:
"Ms. Fang," an 850-year-old vampire
"Dr. Dragonbreath," who just might eat you before recess
"Mr. Snakeskin"--science class is so much more fun when it's taught by someone who's half zombie
"Mrs. T"--break the rules and spend your detention with a hungry "Tyrannosaurus rex"
Gargoyles, goblins, and Frankenstein's monster on the loose
The world's most frighteningly delicious school lunch
The narrator's an eleven-year-old ghost
Join Charles "New Kid" Nukid as he makes some very Scary friends--including Petunia, Johnny, and Peter the Wolf--and figures out that Scary School can be just as funny as it is spooky.


You know how sometimes MG books are written in a way that makes them great for adults to read, too? Well, Scary School was not one of those MG books for me. As an adult, I struggled to get through the book. I found the humor not to my taste and the repetitive phrases grated after a while.

But, I am far from the target audience, and as far as they're concerned Scary School should be a big hit. Narrated by a ghost (though it reads more like the omniscient third-person), the story loosely follows Charles Nukid (who is also the new kid in school, haha) as he makes his way through his first year and participates in the Ghoul Games.

I say loosely because most of the book focuses on vignettes introducing the various characters and providing humorous backstories for each. Though there is a touch of Alice in Wonderland-esque nonsense to many of the characters, their stories are memorable and will likely all hit the mark with young readers.

Scary School breaks the mold and is a breath of fresh air in a genre riddled with typical paranormal creatures described in typical ways. Everything from witches and vampires to the unexpected dress-wearing tyrannosaurus rex and unconventional dodo birds make an appearance, but even the more mundane creatures are given new life through the author's creative descriptions.

But who exactly is the target audience? I'd say elementary school girls AND boys who are able to handle a longer chapter book. While this is a MG book, it is definitely on the younger side of the spectrum.

Though called "scary" there isn't much tension or peril to frighten sensitive readers. I would hand Scary School to my library kids who are a little too timid to try something like Goosebumps but want something more like the Bunnicula-type "horror." (Warning though, characters drop dead left and right, and even though most come back to life in some way or another, this might trouble some extra-sensitive readers.)

Kids able to appreciate deadpan humor, puns, and nonsensical humor will likely eat this up. Also, reluctant readers may appreciate the almost short story nature of the vignettes. The book is also peppered with fabulous illustrations kids will likely enjoy.

I am not rating this book due to the clash between my personal level of enjoyment and the fact that the target audience should enjoy it a lot more than I did. 

Do you have any questions about Scary School that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends 
Pages: 294
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong.

In Emmy Laybourne’s action-packed debut novel, six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids trapped together in a chain superstore build a refuge for themselves inside. While outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapons spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.


Is that a guy or a girl??

What an awkward question, right? But there's no sense in denying that with some people, you really can't be sure with just a glance. That's what it was like for me with the narrator, and I'm sorry to say their characterization was a weak point of the book for me.   

Monument 14 started out exactly how I want books to start, with a ton of edge-of-your-seat suspense, action, and gore. The narrator's description of events was totally evocative and I felt every drop of fear, tension, and stunned stupor they were going through. Except nagging at the back of my mind throughout this whole beginning part was the question, "Should I be picturing a guy or a girl??"

So I will tell you: You should picture a guy. A guy named Dean. There, now you can enjoy the mayhem without gender uncertainty.

No points for you!

I'm a character girl, so I automatically had to take off a few points for Dean's wishy-washy voice, but the other characters didn't help much. For as ambiguous as Dean is, the other characters were all pretty stock cardboard cutouts. It was like The Breakfast Club: The Post-Apocalyptic Years.

When I read post-apocalyptic books, my brain automatically starts sifting characters into "Useless" or "Awesome" categories. Unfortunately, the former category was filled to the brim, but thankfully there were two characters in the Awesome column! (Usually there are none, so Monument 14 gets tons of points for this.)

The Useless characters were all focused on stupid stuff like boob grabbing, love triangles, boozing, and doing similar boring stuff. I guess it was interesting to see how they totally unraveled when thrown into the crazy situation, but it was mostly just frustrating. I spent a good part of the book mentally yelling at them to buckle down and properly inventory their supplies (which they don't do. Idiots).

And then there were kids. A lot of kids. And kids, I'm sorry to say, are a big no-no for me in post-apocalyptic books. Why? Because kids can't do much. If the author is realistic, then the kids will spend most of the time whining, crying, being annoying, doing stupid stuff, and being a liability. If the author isn't realistic, well, the kids can be cool then, but I have a hard time believing them.

Mostly Emmy Laybourne's kids were of the realistic but super duper annoying variety, which kinda sucked to read. Most "survival energies" and page time were directed toward managing the kids and making them feel happy and deluded.

But death rained down around them and destroyed life as we know it in a blizzard of natural disasters and chemical-induced psychoses, boils, and murderous rampages! And we couldn't talk about that because it would upset the kids. I was totally gypped in jaw-dropping end of the world descriptions.

Instead I got lisping kids and tantrums. Oh yay.

Though, to be fair, the kids were kinda cute sometimes and I did laugh out loud once or twice. It also was interesting from a psych standpoint to see how they managed the kids.

Tons of points for you!

Most of the book focuses on the Useless characters and their various interpersonal dramas, which sucked, BUT, in the background were two totally awesome characters.

Dean's younger brother is a science whiz/genius and while I had to stretch my imagination a little to believe his character, he was so cool I don't care. He was down to earth, calm, and he KNEW what needed to be done. He pushed aside his feelings of panic because, hey, the world is ending, and instead focused on how to make do with the supplies they had on hand. Thankfully it sounds like he's going to be a narrator in the next book, because this kid is made of win.

The other character I loved is Niko. Niko is one of the teens, a former boy scout, and he is also getting an invite to my post-apocalyptic survival bunker. The guy wanted them to inventory! He had a Plan of Action. He had strong protective instincts. Swoon!

The only thing that sucked about Niko, is apparently he's also a total weenie when it comes to interpersonal stuff. He's the only person there who has any clue what they should be doing to survive THE END OF THE WORLD and they're not listening to him because he's not cool (?!). So what does he do?

He goes to the sporting goods section of the superstore, grabs a weapon he knows full well how to use, flexes his muscles, and lays down the law because this is survival time baby, and we don't have time for silly high school games.

Oh wait, no, that's what I wanted to happen. What actually happened was Niko rolled over like a puppy, piddled on the floor a little, made an awkward and lame bid for Survival Class President, skulked in the background, and blushed because he's got a crush and that's totally more important. It was painful to read. 

So much potential

The set up for Monument 14 is pretty much a dream come true for me. Ok, I could maybe do without the megatsunamis, death, and destruction, but the idea of getting locked in a superstore? Totally awesome! I like setting things up and survival stories offer tons of opportunities to obsessively plan out how supplies can be used in creative ways and organized to last a long time. I know that might sound kind of boring, but for me, it's like the opportunity to color code my notes: the Stuff Dreams Are Made Of.

So I was pretty disappointed when I didn't get to spend much time on the survival aspects. Dean's brother and Niko handled that stuff, and they did it all pretty much off the page, so I didn't get to tag along. Mostly though, the situation was looked at through the eyes of the dumb teens who figured they had a ton of food and toys so they could kick back and enjoy without much thought. My inner-organizer was aghast at their lack of care.

Still, I was *IN* a superstore in a post-apocalyptic survival situation, and despite whatever problems I might have had with it, it was still pretty awesome.

My eyes were glued to the pages

I know I'm complaining a lot, and as much as I'm a character girl and I was disappointed with the characters, I could NOT stop reading. The situation was tense, and even if most of the action was focusing on the dramas inside the superstore, it was impossible to forget what was going on outside the store. The destruction and chemical-induced CRAZY Emmy Laybourne created was utterly chilling.

I kept flipping the pages wondering what was going to happen next. Even though the pacing wasn't very fast after the initial Big Event, I was fascinated with the day to day events as the kids dealt with their new situation. I may not have liked most of the characters, but I was invested in all of them.This is mostly where my stars are coming from.

Bottom line

The ending is a total cliffhanger, so heads up on that. Nothing is resolved and I will definitely read the sequel to find out what happens next. Though the sequel had better have the characters using their brains a little more, or at least deferring to the characters WITH brains, because I don't think my patience can last as long in the new setting (new setting? Yes, you'll have to read the book).

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Monument 14 that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Add it on Goodreads
Buy it on Amazon

Looking for another book like this?
You might like:

 Click on the pictures to go to my reviews.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Books I got this week (2)

It's been established so clearly that I can't even lie about it: I have no self-control when it comes to books. I acquire them at a much faster rate than I can actually read and review them, but hopefully these posts will help those books get some exposure NOW instead of waiting until I actually manage to find time to, you know, read them.

This post is for the past two weeks.

For Review

(Legacy of Tril #1)
by Heather Brewer

Release Date: June 19, 2012
Publisher: Dial
Pages: 304
Goodreads Page

Love triangles, paranormal beasts, boarding school, girl training to fight in secret, epic wars looming. Yeah, this has all the ingredients of a mixed bag for me, and that's pretty much what I thought of the book, too. There were a lot of things I was kinda eh about, but overall I enjoyed myself and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Hard copy. Showed up unexpectedly on my doorstep, but I think that was because of something I entered through Shelf Awareness.

The Queen's Vow
by C. W. Gortner

Release Date: June 12, 2012
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 400
Goodreads Page

I was reading this through NetGalley but at 400 pages I was struggling trying to find time to finish it on my computer before the expiration date. I requested a hard copy because, holy cow, this book was fantastic!

If you're looking for gripping historical fiction that reads like a novel but still serves as an awesome cheat-sheet for learning about history, then you definitely need this book in your life.

Hard copy. Requested and received from the publisher.

Something Strange and Deadly
by Susan Dennard

Release Date: July 24, 2012
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 400
Goodreads Page

Steampunk + zombies is a pretty good mix, but what makes this book totally awesome is the roguish romantic lead, thoroughly likable heroine, and Kiersten White-ish vibes I'm getting. I'm reading it now and loving it!

Hard copy. I don't know how I got this book. I put in a request months ago and I interviewed Susan during the Historical Fantasy Jubilee AND I filled out a request through Shelf Awareness, so I'm not sure which reason got me the book, but I'm super happy either way.

Griffin's Fire
by Darby Karchut

Release Date: April 15, 2012
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Pages: 200
Goodreads Page

I enjoyed the first book Griffin Rising and requested this sequel because, wow, after that ending, I need to find out what happens to Griffin next! Darby sent this copy out super fast and I can't wait to dive in. She also included a signed bookmark of her upcoming new series Finn Finnegan, which sounds like it will have a lot of fantastic banter (I love banter!)

by Ann Aguirre

Release Date: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Pages: 336
Goodreads Page

Enclave gave me a ton of zombie slaying action and two characters I almost instantly fell in love with. I can't wait to see what happens to Deuce and Fade in this sequel!

Hard copy. Requested and received from the publisher.


by Lisa T. Bergren

Release Date: June 8, 2012
Publisher: Bergren Creative Group
Pages 163
Goodreads Page

Doesn't Luca look nice on that cover? He's my favorite, so I'm hoping there's a lot of Lia and Luca in this book. But if not, it's not like I'd be disappointed by a lot of Gabi and Marcello. Or Greco and...

I bought this through Amazon when it was only 99 cents! (at least, I'm pretty sure that's what it was). Total steal, but it's still a bargain now at $2.99, and even though it's technically a novella, 163 pages is a pretty hefty novella!

Eternal Spring
by Various Authors

Release Date: April 2012
Pages: 284
Goodreads Page

This book was free! You can download it now through Amazon (and probably Barnes and Noble, though I'm not positive) and as soon as I heard Stephanie Dray had a story in it I snatched that puppy up. I love Stephanie Dray's writing. Finding out there's a Diana Peterfreund of killer unicorns fame story in there definitely sweetened the already sweet deal.

What did you get this week? Are you interested in reading any of these books? What did you think of them if you've read them already?

In future posts, do you have a preference between stock pictures or photographs of the actual books?


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Audio Book Review: The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, read by Bronson Pinchot
Release Date: May 2012
Publisher: Harper Audio
Hours: 9 hours 5 minutes, unabridged
Received: Audio copy from publisher


This is a review of the AUDIO version

If you are interested in my review of the book, check out my review. This is only a review of the reader in the audiobook format.

I should preface this review by confessing that I am not much of an audiobook listener. I try every now and then to listen to an audiobook because I feel like I should do something productive and entertaining while doing boring things like walking on the treadmill or folding laundry. But, embarrassingly, my mind wanders.Try as I might, audiobooks are often a struggle for me.

So that is why it is especially notable when I say,

This is the bestest audiobook in the ENTIRE WORLD!

At this point you're probably sick of me gushing about The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom because I've mentioned it, oh, maybe once or twice before...but that's because I'm so gosh darn in love with it. I didn't think my love could grow any larger than it already was, but then I listened to the audiobook...

...and dare I say it, but I think I'm even more in love with the audio version than I am with the print version. It was like taking all of the best traits of movies and all of the best features of books and smushing them together into a package of awesome.
The voices!

Bronson Pinchot doesn't just read the book. He becomes the book. He gives every character their own unique voice and channels all of their character traits perfectly.

You know how in a book the author needs to include things like "X character said" or whatever so you know who is actually speaking? I didn't need that at all here because Bronson Pinchot made all of the voices so distinct that it was as if I were listening to different people talk.

Even the girl characters sounded good, which is a pretty big feat considering Bronson Pinchot is not actually a girl (in case you couldn't tell).

Also of note is that each character has a different accent. Yes, accents! And they totally make sense for the characters. I don't remember the book specifying things like "said Liam with an Irish lilt" but somehow each accent Bronson Pinchot chose seemed like the exact right choice for each character and made me love them even more than I already did.

It's the little things like this that I think really made this reading. It's clear he took the time and effort needed to truly get the book and embody the characters. He did such a good job I almost want him to be the voice actor for every single character in the upcoming movie version (even though I'm sure they'll get, you know, real women and stuff like that).

It's like he took perfect chocolate, and then somehow made it better

Bronson Pinchot managed to avoid one of my biggest pet peeves with audiobooks, namely, I don't like it when the characters don't sound like they do in my head. Erm, I mean, when I read a book I imagine a character's voice sounds a certain way and audiobook readers usually sound NOTHING like how I imagine the character would sound (I cringe every time a woman reader does the "deep manly voice" for the hot hero).

It's like, ok, anyone read the Mortal Instruments series and totally NOT picture that tiny strange-eyed little guy they horribly miscast as Jace? Totally wrong, right?? Any tiny bit of desire I might have had to see that movie shriveled up and died when I saw that casting (especially after holding out hope for Mr. Hot Abs. I mean, Alex Pettyfer).

That's pretty much akin to the crushing, gnawing disappointment I experience with most audiobook voices.

But now think of the joy you experience every time you flip on The Vampire Diaries and see the smoking perfection of Ian Somerhalder not only capturing but enhancing all of the gorgeous goodness (and badness!) of Damon Salvatore (what, please tell me I'm not alone here??).

THAT is what I'm talking about. I mean, no, of course there are no shirtless men in the audio version of The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (or any version, for that matter. It's MG, ladies! Sheesh). But what I do mean to say is that Bronson Pinchot's voice acting was the absolute beyond-my-wildest-dreams perfect "casting" for The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. Every time he opened his mouth I basked in the sweet sounds of exactly what an audiobook should be.

Bottom line

I was thoroughly entertained and my mind didn't wander once while listening.

I doubled my workout times so I could listen to just one more chapter, and just one more (don't worry, I made up for it by eating extra ice cream).

I contemplated dropping my freshly laundered clothing into the dirt just so I would have to spend more time re-washing and folding so I could have an excuse to continue listening.

I think I'm going to go now and listen to it again.

I will now and forever compare all audiobook readers on the scale of 1 to Bronson Pinchot.

So, yeah, I recommend it.

Add it to Goodreads!
Buy it on Amazon!

Do you have any questions about the audiobook version of The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom that I haven't addressed? 
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Have you ever listened to an audiobook that had a beyond amazing reader? (My workout routine could seriously use your recommendations!)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tips & Tricks: More design features to keep in mind

A few weeks ago we talked about some tips to keep in mind when designing your blog. This is part 2 of that discussion.

This post is a little more technical, but don't worry! I've tried to break everything down to the basics. The goal of this post is to give you a starting off point and introduce you to some technical concepts, why they're important, and what they mean for your blog.

I've also included a little advice on how you can apply these concepts to your own blog. If you are trying to make your blog accessible to as many people as possible, then it would be a good idea to follow these tips.

BUT, please keep in mind that your blog is YOUR blog, and ultimately you should do what makes YOU happy.

Browser compatibility

What is it? Browsers include (but are not limited to): Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari, and Opera. There are also older and newer versions of each browser. For our purposes, think of browsers as the interpreter in the conversation between your blog and your readers.

Why is it important? Some browsers can interpret every language you can think of, but others are pretty poor interpreters and only speak a few languages. If your readers' browser can't speak your blog's language, then your reader won't be able to see and use your blog properly, if at all.

The great Jim Davis

What should you do? Simple is your friend, again. Stick to the basics of HTML and CSS and you should be better off. Try to avoid using other languages as much as possible. Especially avoid extensions specific to Internet Explorer (IE likes creating elements that chat in their own special language that no one else can understand. Yay!).

Um, but what do you DO? Look at your blog using the most popular browsers (Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, especially). If you can, try to check using the most recent version and the version or two before that.

Can you see and use everything as intended? If not, then you might want to remove or reconfigure those elements. If you use Internet Explorer, this advice applies doubly. I know some blogs I read are putting pictures in their posts, but they're using frames specific to IE and, since I use Firefox, I can't see their pictures as a result.

Load speeds

What is it? This is how fast your blog displays on your readers' screens.

Why is it important? Odds are, if your blog takes forever and a day to display, people are going to leave before your blog even finishes loading.

Savage Chickens

What should you do? Avoid doing things that slow down your blog, of course! Most modern internet connections, computers, and browsers are able to load pages very quickly, even if your blog is a bloated mess. Still, it's a good idea to trim the fat when you can.

Um, but what do you DO? These are some things that will bring your blog's load time to a crawl:

Excessive pictures- Obviously I ignore this bit of advice. Most high speed internet connections can handle pictures just fine, and most readers like pictures. I'm a visual person (and shallow) and I'm unlikely to stick around if a blog doesn't give me some kind of eye candy. Blog design is all about compromises (or stubbornly stomping your foot and saying BUT I WANT IT! which is fine too).

Competing backgrounds- This is a good one to trim. What's happening here is you probably added a new background without deleting your old background from your code. So your blog loads the original background first, and then quickly loads the second background on top of the first. This is sloppy code, slows down your blog's load speed, and makes it look amateurish. Delete the old code.

Superfluous code- Blogger LOVES inserting empty code. You won't see this empty code unless you go into HTML editor, but your readers will see the effects through slightly slower load times and, more importantly, strange spacing in your blog posts. Go through your HTML editor and delete all the empty code. Or, better yet, don't create your blog posts in Blogger. (More on this later)

Pretty font- I know, it looks nice. It also slows down your blog's load time, a lot. If you must have pretty font, it's better to keep it in your headers and not on every single letter across your entire blog.

Sidebar widgets- Are your sidebars filled with a million blinking widgets? Forget crawling. Your blog's standing still.

But, again, these are just tips! 
Your blog is YOUR blog and you can do whatever you'd like with it.

Click here to read previous Tips & Tricks Posts 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

DNF: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

Did Not Finish Explanation

Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Read pages: 154 of 485

I didn't dislike this book, I just didn't like it enough to read 485 pages on my computer. I also didn't like it enough to rush out and get a hard copy ASAP. I probably will finish it at some point, but it will be through the library and whenever I eventually get around to it.

Allie is NOT welcome in my post-apocalyptic survival posse

Oh, Allie. She just doesn't make sense to me. I don't see how a person like her would develop from the world and situation the author created for her.

Allie is very much a girl from our world. She is sensitive. She's a defender of the weak, even if her actions endanger the strong. You know that meme "First world problems" where frustrations and complaints experienced by people who only experience the luxuries of first world countries are highlighted? Allie is like that. She's a "First world emotional reactions" kinda girl, but she's been raised in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It doesn't make sense, and I couldn't get over that logical clash.

She's also impulsive, stubborn, and, in my opinion, has a knack for making dumb decisions. I didn't hate her, though. She's definitely not getting an invite to any kind of sleepover party, but I don't think I'd kick her out at my lunch table.

I wanted to baste him and serve him up at a vampire buffet

Maybe I'm heartless. The thing is, if I were raised in a post-apocalyptic vampire dystopia where my entire species is treated as little more than cattle and I had been living on the outskirts trying to eke out an existence, I don't think I'd have much sympathy for a useless deadweight character. As unsettling as it was to see Gene from Andrew Fukuda's The Hunt, easily sacrifice heper children, it was a heck of a lot more believable.

And that character! His name is Stick and HE is who I really can't stand and why, through her sympathy, I ended up totally disgusted with Allie. He's like an overgrown child—completely incapable of taking care of himself in even the most basic ways. Curling up in a fetal position and freezing in terror like a dumb deer in the headlights are his two main modes of operation. He is useless and had zero qualities that redeemed himself in my eyes.

Even worse, his uselessness was a gigantic liability for Allie and her group. Occasionally she would snap at him to get his butt in gear, but she doted far too much for her minor slips of the tongue to really count.

To put it bluntly, he needed to die. Not just because I didn't like him, but because it made no logical sense that a person that weak would have ever survived in the brutal world Julie Kagawa was trying so hard to make me believe in. You can't tell me the world is super deadly and scary and then toss in a character like that and expect me to still quake in my boots. Sorry, but the existence of that character and his continued survival automatically reduces the danger of the world to Sesame Street levels.

I closed my computer in disgust and finally decided to DNF when I found out that character had unbelievably managed to survive yet another situation he should have died in AND Allie decided to do something incredibly stupid because she missed her stupid friend. That was the end of the road for me.

Why I might actually pick it up again

The world-building suffered from the same problems as the world-building in Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series, that is, it was basically a mash up of a bits and pieces from a bunch of other books and movies. At first I was delighted at the apparent uniqueness of a vampire post-apocalyptic dystopia, but then I realized it was pretty much Amelia Atwater-Rhodes combined with I am Legend and a few other similar books.

That's ok though, because even if it's not totally original, it still makes for a darn good premise. Julie Kagawa included a backstory that was pretty interesting and I am curious to find out more of the details. I like how she made the vampire society almost like a fantasy kingdom with various courts, nobles, and factions. 

This is my main reason for wanting to get a copy from the library at some point. I want to dig deep into the history, culture, and current in-fighting amongst the vampires, as well as the plague history that decimated the human population, and I have a feeling Julie Kagawa will deliver on this.

Hi Ash, thanks for stopping by!

Maybe I didn't read far enough into the book, but where were the scary vampires? I kept hearing praises about how they were "Yay! No sparkling vampires!" but, um, they so were.

Ok, so they didn't actually sparkle, but they were totally the "insanely beautiful, graceful, sure-drain-all-my-blood-'cause-it's-better-than-sex" kind of vampire. Allie even gets mistaken as a human on multiple occasions and last I left her she was trying hard (and mostly succeeding) at controlling her blood lust so she could be besties with humans. And I hear her eventual love interest is a human? That is NOT what I consider a no-sparkle dangerous vampire.

But I can be cool with that (hello Damon and Stefan Salvatore!). And I was pretty cool with the Tall, Dark, and Handsome mysterious vampire mentor Allie picks up with. Though he was a little *too* "Ice Boy" ala Ash from Julie Kagawa's other series, but a touch blander.

But, I think that's mostly because he's all tortured and mysterious and I'm hoping as the story goes on he'll grow a personality beyond the Keanu Reeves emotional development level he was sporting thus far. The mental image of him IS nice. Though I hear he pulls a London and disappears for a good part of the book? That's disappointing if true.

Ok, ok, to be fair, some vampires were zombies

So, fine, some of the vampires were mutated, mindless, rotting feeding machines and those were pretty scary. The scenes I read with them were tense, exciting, and everything I was hoping this book would be. Julie Kagawa really wrote these scenes with punch and verve. These vampires were a lot like the Freaks in Ann Aguirre's Enclave, which were pretty much like hoarding zombies. If there are more scenes about fighting these vampires, then I definitely want to read them.

Bottom line

Eh, there's a lot I liked, a few things I really liked, and a few things I hated so much I don't know if I can get beyond. I'm going to try though, because I am intrigued. The whole book reads in a really easy breezy way that does make the 485 pages seem a lot more manageable (just not on a computer).

I did order a copy for my library though, because if you don't get hung up on the same things I did, then I think The Immortal Rules will be a hit among fans of Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series and fans of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review: Griffin Rising by Darby Karchut

Griffin Rising by Darby Karchut
 Release Date: June 15, 2011
Publisher: Paladin Timeless Books 
Pages: 176
Received: Review copy from author
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

For centuries, rumors have abounded of a lowly caste of supernatural beings known as the Terrae Angeli. Armed with the power to control Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water, these warriors secretly serve as guardians for mortals in danger.But for one young angel-in-training, Griffin, life is hell as a cruel master makes his apprenticeship a nightmare. On the verge of failing, a new mentor, Basil, enters his life and changes it forever.Taking on the identity of father and son, Griffin and Basil forge a special bond where honesty and trust go hand in hand to secure Griffin's destiny as a Terrae Angeli. Griffin's belief in himself and the love of a mortal girl are the perfect combination in overcoming the darkest days of his life. But will it be enough for him to succeed?For Griffin, it's time to angel up.


4 stars for the characters

I'm a character girl, and these characters were fantastic. Darby Karchut writes with a deep grasp of the complexities of human development and crafts believable characters I easily fell in love with.

Now, sure, maybe the characters were a little *too* perfectly sweet and understanding, and sure, maybe the villains were a little *too* Stock Evil Villain, but that didn't bother me much. Bottom line is I liked these characters and I enjoyed spending time with them.

The relationship between Griffin and Basil is the central focus of the book with the rest of the plot loosely filling in the gaps around them. I wish I had a Basil of my very own. He is Griffin's mentor, but really he's more like his father. Caring for Griffin with a steady, kind, and deep understanding, Basil easily wins the father of the year award. I felt enveloped in a feeling of heartwarming serenity every time he and Griffin interacted.

Griffin begins the book as a scared, abused kid who quickly blossoms into a sweet teenage boy just beginning to get swoon-worthy. His growing relationship with the girl next door was nice and enjoyable to read, but didn't make me melt. The will-they-or-won't-they romantic tension and desire to find out how Katie will react to Griffin's paranormal secret is pretty much non-existent due to the spoilerific prologue (new readers might want to skip it).

I think this mostly comes from the overwhelming parental vibe (whether from the author or Basil, I'm not exactly sure). The book did not seem like it got into the head of a teen. Darby Karchut writes with stellar insight into teenage behavior, but the book is very clearly from the perspective of a learned adult and not a developing teen. I had no problem with this, but then again I'm not a teen.

3 stars for the plot

The plot is pretty thin and were it not for the excellent characters I'm not sure how engaged I would have been. Griffin Rising really is much more of a contemporary relationship book than it is a paranormal book, and I'm more of a high-action paranormal reader than a slower contemporary relationship reader. 

The narrative shifts around all over the place in ways that I normally would not have liked, but somehow Darby Karchut managed to pull off pretty well. It shifts from chapters written in the third person to chapters written as journal entries from the perspectives of Basil, Griffin, and Katie. I appreciated getting these multiple points of view and, given how short the book is, I think it helped flesh out the characters more effectively than sticking with one narrative style would have accomplished.

Then again, lengthening the book could have also helped. The plot breezes across years, lightly touching down on important events, heartwarming exchanges, and little asides before quickly moving forward in time again. Each chapter is only a few pages long.

On one hand, I'm an impatient reader so I really appreciated how this approach helped keep the plot moving along at a good pace. Scenes were kept short and sweet and then moved forward before they became unnecessarily stretched to the point of dullness. It also made for a very fast read.

But, this snapshot approach also made the book feel even less plot-focused. I have an excellent grasp of the characters, but I never felt engaged in the actual events. I feel like I went to Baskin Robbins and only got to try a few flavors with that tiny sample spoon they give you, but what I really want is to actually get a two scoop bowl of ice cream. So, tasty and good, but unsatisfying and leaving me wanting more.

Though, I have to say, I didn't expect that ending at all. It was like a slap in the face and I'm still reeling. Well done!

Wait a minute, isn't this self/indie published?

Usually I don't accept review requests for books that are self or indie published, mostly because the vast majority of them aren't very well-written and my TBR is too large to spend time wading through them. But, there are occasionally rare gems in the self/indie publishing world and Griffin Rising is definitely one of them.

Griffin Rising is one of those books that is probably self/indie published because of the subject matter and NOT because of the writing skills (or lack thereof) of the author. Darby Karchut's writing is perfectly fine and should not be painted with the Self/Indie Bad Grammar brush. The subject matter I'd say is only because it is less of a conventional "sure thing" because of its father/son focus than because there is anything wrong with it.

If you're hesitating because of the self/indie stigma, then I wouldn't let that worry you.

Bottom line

The ending of Griffin Rising is not a cliffhanger because the main hurdle is resolved, but the way it is resolved definitely has some MAJOR implications for the next book.

I enjoyed reading Griffin Rising so much that I have added both the sequel Griffin's Fire and Darby Karchut's new series Finn Finnegan to my TBR. Whatever issues I may have with the plot development, I'm a character girl and Darby Karchut is a great character writer.

Recommended for fans of touching interpersonal stories, particularly with a focus on father-son relationships. 

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Griffin Rising that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Add it on Goodreads
Buy it on Amazon

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 Click on the pictures to go to Goodreads.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

WoW (42): Patrice Kindl, Moira Moore

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where we all feature upcoming books we're eagerly anticipating.

I've altered things a little to include one book that hasn't come out yet and one that has already been published but I still haven't gotten around to reading yet.

From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Althea is the sole support of her widowed mother, young half-brother, and two stepsisters—and she must maintain Crawley Hall. Althea, in short, must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors—or suitors of any kind—in their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then Lord Boring comes to stay with his aunt and uncle. Althea sets her cap to become Lady Boring. There’s only one problem; his friend and business manager Mr. Fredericks keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has set his own cap.

Why I want to read it: 

A comedy of manners set in a big Named Mansion (you always know you're in for a good time if the house is named). I've heard talk that the main character is a sassy piece of work who offers up a lot of funny asides, which sounds great to me. I read Patrice Kindl's fractured fairy tale Goose Chase and I loved the snarky humor there. I am also very curious to meet this Mr. Fredericks. 

(February 28, 2006)

From Goodreads:

In a realm beset by natural disasters, only the bonded Pairs—Source and Shield—make the land habitable and keep the citizenry safe. But can Dunleavy Mallorough and Lord Shintaro Karish put aside their differences to defeat something even more unnatural than their reluctant affections for each other?

Why I want to read it: 

Court fantasy with a hate-turned-love romance, so this one pretty much has my name written all over it! I've even heard it recommended to fans of Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel, so I KNOW I have to get my hands on a copy. Only problem? I can't find it in any library. Not in NY, and now not in Texas. *sigh* Someday.

Have any of you read either of these books? Would you recommend them? 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Giveaway: The Lifeguard by Deborah Blumenthal (INT)

The Lifeguard by Deborah Blumenthal 

It's an unsettled summer for Sirena. Back in Texas, her family's splitting apart, but here in Rhode Island, at the cottage of her aunt, it's a different world. There are long days at the beach and intriguing encounters with Pilot, the lifeguard with shamanic skills. Sirena explores her obsession with Pilot and discovers his mysterious--almost magical--gifts.


Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished e-copy of The Lifeguard by Deborah Blumenthal
  • E-book format available from Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Vox
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is international
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on June 30th 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Books I got this week (1)

See my new creative title for these posts? Yep, I really taxed my brain coming up with that little bit of genius. No, seriously, I did. And that's really the best I could come up with. I think there's a reason Behaviorism appeals to me so much. When they wanted to come up with a name for something that reinforces behavior, know what they called it? A reinforcer. Yes, that's pretty much on par with my level of creativity.

But, moving on.

It's been established so clearly that I can't even lie about it: I have no self-control when it comes to books. I acquire them at a much faster rate than I can actually read and review them, but hopefully these posts will help those books get some exposure NOW instead of waiting until I actually manage to find time to, you know, read them.

This post is for the past month or so. You'd think since I moved that I would have shown a little more discipline, but no, I did not. Self-control is for suckers!

For Review

Throne of Glass
by Sarah J. Maas

Release Date: August 7, 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's
Pages: 416
Goodreads Page

I've been a long time reader of Sarah J. Maas's blog and I can't wait to read this book! Pirates, assassins, competition, romance, fantasy, fairy tale retelling-ish! This is one of my most highly anticipated books this year!

Requested and received via NetGalley.

Tiger Lily
by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Release Date: July 3, 2012
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 292
Goodreads Page

A Peter Pan retelling focusing on Tiger Lily and narrated by Tinker Bell. Interesting. I'm reading this now and I'm enjoying it a lot. But it feels dark and I'm not so sure there will be a happy ending...

Received from Goodreads First Reads.

Pushing the Limits
by Katie McGarry

Release Date: July 31, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 384
Goodreads Page

Contemporary. Sorta-maybe an issues book. So what in the world am I doing requesting it?! Well, there's also the whole "forbidden love" angle, and what can I say, I'm a sucker for the mysterious guy in a leather jacket.

There's also secrets and a mystery I'm looking forward to uncovering. But honestly, I'm mostly hoping for some smoking tension-filled Jennifer Echols Going Too Far-style romance.

Requested and received via NetGalley.

The Queen's Vow
by C. W. Gortner

Release Date: June 12, 2012
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Pages: 400
Goodreads Page

This is adult historical fiction, but I'm reading it now and so far it seems a lot like YA historical fiction (which is not a bad thing). The protagonist is only 13 though, so that may change when she gets older.

It was a little slow in the beginning (and that wasn't helped by the fact that I'm not really a fan of the MC), but now WAR and intrigue and all kinds of cool stuff has started and I'm hooked. I swear, history can rival even the most outlandish soap operas.
Requested and received via NetGalley.

by Heather Anastasiu

Release Date: August 7, 2012
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 320
Goodreads Page

Sci-fi dystopia with what sounds like a dash of X-Men-style superpowers and a love triangle. Could be fantastic. Could be meh. But I'm more than willing to find out!

Requested and received via NetGalley.

The Haunting of Apartment 101
by Megan Atwood

Release Date: October 28, 2012
Publisher: Lerner Publishing

Goodreads Page

There isn't much info about this one out there so I'm not sure what to think. But there's a haunting, so how bad could it be?

Requested and received via NetGalley.

by S. R. Johannes

Release Date: May 21, 2012
Publisher: Coleman and Stott
Pages: 30
Goodreads Page

Another sci-fi dystopia with some mystery. I'm cautiously embracing this new genre meld. It has so much potential, but it could so easily crash and burn. I like the idea of a mini-novella series, but I'm still not 100% sold on the idea so I'm looking forward to seeing how Suffocate handles the format.

Pitched and received from the author.

by Mike and Rachel Grinti

Release Date: September 1, 2012
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Pages: 256
Goodreads Page

In my experience, if a cat starts talking to you and making deals, well, you're either losing your marbles or you're in for one heck of an adventure! (See Hocus Pocus, Plain Kate, or A Well-Timed Enchantment and many others for proof).

Requested and received from NetGalley.

The Darkest Minds
by Alexandra Bracken

Release Date: December 18, 2012
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Pages: 496
Goodreads Page

ALEXANDRA BRACKEN!!! She totally wow-ed me with her debut Brightly Woven (Special Shelf!) and I'm hoping her sophomore offering is just as good. Granted, it isn't high fantasy (*sob*) but it does sound like an exciting paranormal with X-Men type powers, running from the government, and a romantic lead I'm hoping will be able to stack up against the swoony Wayland North (from Brightly Woven).

Requested and received from publisher.

The Assassin's Curse
by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Release Date: October 2, 2012
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Pages: 416
Goodreads Page

An assassin, pirates, magic, a curse, questing--oh be still my heart! I'm in love already, but what really had me jumping for joy when I opened the envelope is the fact that this book has hate-turned-love romance! Yay! I am also in love with this cover. All this combined makes The Assassin's Curse another one of my most highly anticipated books this year.

(I'm reading it right now and, oh my, I'm getting the Special Shelf tingling...)

Requested and received from publisher.

by Sean Cummings

Release Date: October 2012
Publisher: Strange Chemistry

Goodreads Page

I'm pretty stoked about this one too. It has witches! And a curse! Those two almost always make for a fun combo. Add in a "race against time" and I'm totally game.

Received from publisher.

by Gwenda Bond

Release Date: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Pages: 416
Goodreads Page

Roanoke! This sounds so exciting: Dodging federal agents and long-dead alchemists, hearing dead people, unraveling the mystery of Roanoke, and romance! I'm really curious to find out if and how the snake on the cover ties into the story.
Pitched and received from publisher.

by Kim Curran

Release Date: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Pages: 416
Goodreads Page

Have you ever played solitaire and you get a situation where you have two cards and they could both go on the same spot but you can only move one. And you're not sure which one would be the better card to move?

Well, I'm the kind of person who moves one, sees what card it uncovers, then clicks "undo" and tries moving the other card to see if that move is a better one. What can I say, I like seeing all my options (that or I'm a big o'l cheater).

So the premise of Shift is right up my alley. If I could undo every decision I made and basically do a mini "go back in time" like Scott can, you'd better believe I'd obsessively "redo" everything. And I don't think finding out that there are "terrible unforeseen consequences" to doing that would really curb my compulsion.

Pitched and received from publisher.


by Lisa T. Bergren

Release Date: September 1, 2011
Publisher: David C. Cook
Pages: 388
Goodreads Page

Sadly, I left my copy with my sister when I moved (I know, what was I thinking?! I actually had to leave a bunch of books with her FOR NOW). I was planning on buying another copy, but lucky for me I was the winner of Lisa's monthly newsletter contest!

The Time-Traveling Fashionista:
On Board the Titanic
by Bianca Turetsky

Release Date: April 11, 2011
Publisher: Poppy
Pages: 262
Goodreads Page

This book looks adorable! Historical fiction, time travel, the Titanic, fashion, and full color illustrations! I know I'm an adult and I shouldn't need any pictures in my books, but who am I kidding? I love pictures in my books! Plus, the cover has all these pretty pink sparkles on it, so really, how bad can it be?

Won from Jana at Milk and Cookies: Comfort Reading. Thank you!

What did you get this week? Are you interested in reading any of these books? What did you think of them if you've read them already?

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