Monday, March 25th 2013

Giveaway, Author Interview & Review: The Taker by Alma Katsu

Title: The Taker

Author: Alma Katsu

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: March 2012

Genre: Adult Fiction

Series or Stand Alone: Series, Book One

Synopsis can be found here.

I purchased this book.

Review:

Lanore McIlvrae has been in love with one man her entire life, that of the beautiful and selfish Jonathan. But that was any many years ago, hundreds, and Lanore finds herself bloody and alone, in the cold reaches of Maine, in a hospital and wanted for murder. There, she finds Dr. Luke Findley, who listens as she tells her story of immortality, love, betrayal and hopefully, one day, redemption.

I really don’t want to give anything away.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when my friend Crystal picked this book for book club. The synopsis sounded promising. I was totally blown away by this book. Magic, immortals, evil and sin shake the pages as I read of Lanny and her adventures. It reminds me of a shorter, sexier Discovery of Witches.

It’s romance. It’s historical fiction. Lanny tells her story through flashbacks, from her friendship with Jonathan and the jealousy she feels as he’s courted by every girl in their small Maine town, to the sexual awakening and predatory adventures of her time in Boston with Adair, her immortal maker. The writing is solid and before i knew it was enjoying every twisted rabbit hole the author took me down, including Adair’s past and lies, Jonathan’s side of the story and Lanny’s struggles.

Lanny is a sharp and struggling heroine. She changes so much from the girl in Maine to the seductress in today’s world. Her own selfishness, self discovery and bad choices lead her to the hell she finds herself when the book opens. But Lanny is a sympathetic character, human and complex, making bad decisions and paying for them all.

Adair is my favorite character in this story. His tale is dark, strange and evil, and the man that emerges from that is full of rage, entitlement and ill will. And yet, Adair is like a very bright light in the story, a strong and yet menacing character who haunts every page he’s on. He’s a perfect villain, making me fearful but curious about his real intentions and past. Make no mistake, Adair is not to be liked. He is awful, horrendous, vile being, at least not now. Though I do believe his tale of redemption may come, and it will be a very long ride.

Lanny’s great love, Jonathan, is too washy for me. I feel Lanny’s heartbreak through her narration, but most of the time, I waned to slap Jonathan around. He’s beautiful, rich and wanted. And he knows it. As the book goes on I felt a little warmer towards Jonathan, but I still want to slap Lanny for her unconditional love for him.
I have very little feelings towards Luke, her Dr. savior in modern day as well.

No, the real meat of the story is told in the flashbacks, in her time in Boston, in the house in which she lived with Adair and his minions.

Seriously devoured over two days.
I ran out the next to buy the sequel, The Reckoning. I am biting my nails, waiting for Book Three.
Rating 9: Ridiculously Awesome like Cookies and Ice Cream







Interview with Alma Katsu!

Welcome Alma! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!
What inspired you to become a writer?
Being an avid reader. I was always a reader and I think at some point most readers want to see if they can write a story themselves, create something like the books that gave them so much pleasure. I started writing in earnest when I was in high school, writing chapters of some silly fantasy story in class instead of paying attention to the teacher. Then some friends of mine would read the chapters in the afternoon after school. That’s probably all it took to get me hooked as a writer: having an audience.

What sparked the idea for The Taker series?
My crazy sense of melodrama, I guess. I wanted to see if I could write a really haunting story, a book you’d read that would stay with you for days. The best stories aren’t necessarily ones where you agree with everything the character does or where you identify completed with the characters, but one that makes you think, that you can’t forget. That’s what I wanted to do with The Taker: tell a story that you couldn’t forget.

Lanny’s hometown of St. Andrew, Maine is rich and vivid. How did you create this fictional town during this time period?
I grew up near Concord, Massachusetts, which is rich in Colonial American history. I was literally surrounded by all the trapping of the time: farmhouses and taverns and inns from the 1700s, museums and historic sites. I guess it all seeped into my bones. However, I needed a location more isolated than Concord for the town of St. Andrew and so I moved it to the northern part of Maine. That required quite a bit of research, because conditions in Maine during that time were quite different from Boston. I was able to use quite a bit of that research to give those sections real flavor, I think.

Jonathan, Lanny and Adair are all deeply flawed, complex characters, each with their own strong personalities. Which one did you enjoy writing the most?
Adair. He is so bad and so different—you don’t meet people like him every day, thank god—that it was quite an experience putting myself in his mindset. And yet as forceful and powerful as he is, he becomes vulnerable when he falls in love, and so you can’t close your heart to him entirely. Jonathan is infuriating but he’s meant to be. He’s patterned after real men I have known, men who are emotionally aloof, who like to keep women guessing. We all meet a man like this at some point in our life, and some women get really hung up on them and never learn to let go—which brings us to Lanny. There are lots of heroines in literature like her—Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina—unwilling to settle for less, unable to get past their own tragic flaw.

Adair has a very long and shady past, making him my favorite character that I love to hate, and hate to love. Will we see more of his past in The Reckoning and The Descent?
I’m glad you said that, because Adair really took over the story. It’s because of him that we have a series! The Taker was supposed to be a standalone but I saw a way to continue the story and in many ways, it’s Adair’s story as much as it is Lanny’s. It’s the two of them who grow and change, and learn to be deserving of love.

What is your favorite thing about Lanny?
I like that she’s real, and she’s real because she’s flawed. She can be headstrong and stubborn. I wouldn’t say that she’s selfish but she’s going to go for what she wants. She’s forced to deal with her fears—the greatest one being the fear of being alone—but she learns that she can live without Jonathan. After everything she goes through to win him, then save him and herself, she loses him and has to go on for decades without him. She becomes a stronger and wiser (if not exactly happier) person for it. Some people—many people—won’t face their greatest fear in their lifetime.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing your novels?
The biggest problem is that, because these books aren’t a specific genre, it’s hard to find the right audience. Readers expect to be able to judge a book right away—yes, by it’s cover but also by the blurbs (are they from authors you know and like?) and which shelf it sits on in the bookstore. Many reviewers have said that the books would please just about any reader (we had a great review in the Barnes & Noble book club about this) but that’s made it really hard to market.

How do you like your potato?
Just about any way except raw :)

Do you have a favorite literary character?
I think my favorite characters come and go. Also, I like characters not for themselves but if they’re well-written and fully realized. I don’t care if a character is “likeable” or not, if they’re someone whose actions I agree with or someone I’d want to know in real life. I tend to appreciate characters who are complex but whom the author has expressed well.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
Working. I’m a researcher for a think tank and my field is emerging technology, especially communications technology. With all the changes going on right now, it requires a lot of reading to keep up!

Book three of the trilogy is coming soon! Which of the three is your favorite book? Which was the hardest to write?
The Taker, the first book, took 10 years to write but in some ways it’s been the easiest, probably because I had turned the story over and over in my mind and knew exactly what I wanted it to say. The prize for the hardest is now a toss-up between books two and three!

And what is the one question you always wish someone would ask you, but haven’t yet? (Answer too please!)
What kind of car do you drive?
A John Cooper Works 2009 MINI in White Pepper. The John Cooper Works are the factory tuner (read: race car) version of the MINI and I absolutely love it! I wouldn’t mind track racing it one day when it’s no longer my daily driver.


Thanks for stopping by Alma! Can’t wait for the final book!
You can learn more about Alma at her website here or follow her on Twitter @AlmaKatsu

And you can start reading this amazing series too!
Alma has so graciously donated a mass market paperback copy of the The Taker.
Fill out the rafflecopter below!
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US residents only please
Must be 18 years old or older to enter.
Thanks for stopping by and Happy Reading!


Friday, February 1st 2013

Review: Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder

Title: Scent of Magic

Author: Maria V. Snyder

Publisher: Harlequin Mira

Publication Date: December 2012

Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Fantasy

Series or Stand Alone: Series, Book Two

Synopsis can be found here.
NetGalley review.

Review:

This review will contain spoilers from book one so be warned!


On the run, and happily under the radar, Avry has a new mission. She must find her sister Noelle, help save the kingdoms from Tohon and place herself in greater danger than she’s ever known.

I don’t want to give away too much but let’s just say it’s such a great read.

Full of twists and turns, I followed Avry and Kerrick closely, each on their own path. No one is safe and our main characters face dangers like they have never seen, including Tohon’s army of walking dead, and the threat that he will make everyone into them.

The book moves fast, even faster than book one. So much so I had to re-read certain parts. There’s pain, grief, love and betrayal. The ending is full of surprises, good and bad. And what a cliffhanger!

My only nudge was the constant back and forth between Kerrick and Avry. Avry’s story is still in first person narrative, and Kerrick’s storyline is told in third person. It was a bit jarring going back and forth. I understand why we saw both story lines, and Kerrick and Avry are apart for most of the book, but every time we jumped back, it took me out of the story. I would have liked maybe third person through the whole book, just to even out the flow? That’s my only real gripe.

I wanted to call in sick to work so bad! The days were longer and I couldn’t wait to get home and read.
A solid addition to this series. I can’t wait until Book Three.

Rating: 8 Cookie Worthy

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Thursday, January 10th 2013

Review: The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

Title: The Vanishing Act

Author: Mette Jakobsen

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Publication Date: September 2012

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone

Synopsis can be found here.
This book was given to me by the publisher for free in exchange for an honest review.

Review:

Twelve year old Minou lives on a remote island with her father, Boxman who is a magician, a priest and a dog called No-Name. One day, the body of a boy washes ashore and they take care of his remains for three days until the boat can come and take him away. In these three days, Minou relives the time she shared with her mother, who disappeared off the island.

I had such high hopes for this story, a mere 218 pages. But for me the story falls short, never reaching it’s full potential. Minou is a strong voice, for a twelve year old, narrating events she doesn’t fully understand. Stuck on this island with her philosopher father, who treats his daughter more like an accomplice than a child, she recalls the events leading up to her mother’s disappearance. While Minou’s character is strongly influenced by her father, logical thinking, her creative and whimsical mother tries to lure Minou to use her imagination more and through this coaxing, we see Minou’s trapped mother and content father.

There are some wonderfully vivid scenes in the story, especially dealing with Minou and her mother once her mother is gone as Minou begins to explore this new world she creates. But overall, I found the story lacking heart. Minou’s voice fails to express the loneliness and sadness around her. She calls the priest Priest, and her dog No-Name, and the former magician Boxman because he makes boxes that he sells overseas, taking everything at face value. Just that, the lack of curiosity or view of depth made me question Minou’s voice. In other parts of the story, she is alive with realistic insights and observations. I’m torn between who Minou in the story is and who I wished she could have been.

As for the plot and story itself, it moves slowly which isn’t a bad thing. The isolation and quietness of the island is another character in the book. Jackobsen does a great job creating the setting and drawing the reader in, so much so that even after I have read the story, the island comes back to me. The mother’s umbrella and peacock, her shoes and bag. I just wish there was something else happening on the island.

And then it ends, and I’m not satisfied. Not all of my questions are answered. Minou’s secret is less than surprising and it leaves me unsettled.

Rating 4 Not My Cup Of Tea

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Thursday, July 12th 2012

Book Review: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Title: Shadow of Night

Author: Deborah Harkness

Publisher: Penguin/Viking

Publication Date: July 2012

Genre: Adult Fiction

Series or Stand Alone: Series, Book Two


Synopsis can be found here.
NetGalley review.

Review:

This second installment picks up where A Discover of Witches left off- Matthew and Diana, having to escape some very dangerous witches in the present, travel back in time. Not only are they trying to find the elusive book they are after, but they also hope this will give them a little space for Diana to hone her skills as a witch. At least, that is what they hope. But what they find for them in Elizabethan England may be just as dangerous as the dangers in modern times.

I don’t want to give too much away as most of the drama and urgency in this book is based on everything we learned about in the first.
So if you haven’t read the first book, go buy it right now. It is exquisite.

That said, Shadow of Night is a solid and moving sequel. The plot flows slowly, developing rich characters and deep histories. Remember, Matthew did exist in this world, and his former self is now not in Elizabethan England. Instead, current day Matthew has replaced him. And of course, that will change certain things about the present. I loved how Harkness devoted one chapter at the end of every section to the time travel changes that were popping up as Diana and Matthew moved through time.

If Discovery of Witches is Diana’s book, then here is Matthew’s story. His many faces, loyalties and masks are all there for Diana to figure out. Adding another layer to Matthew isn’t easy, as he could be taken as a very possessive and haunting vampire. But Harkness explores Matthew’s human side, his fears and desires making Matthew even more the romantic hero. And that doesn’t bother me at all!

The book is on the longer side, coming in just shy of 600 pages. And while a part of me says it could have been shortened, the same part of me says that it would have lost all that beautiful description and secondary character development. And that would have taken away the magic of Harkness’s writing and world. At the beginning it did take me a bit to get back into it, but the book really picks up and then I couldn’t put it down.


Get a cup of tea, and settle down for the night.

I am only sad now I have to wait til 2013 for the last book.

Rating 8 Cookie Worthy

Monday, May 28th 2012

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: September 2011

Genre: Adult Fiction

Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone

Synopsis can be found here.

Review:

“The circus arrives without warning…” These are the words that Jim Dale read to me on the audio version of The Night Circus, transporting me to a world of magic, danger and a lot of caramel.

The Night Circus is no simple circus. Oh, no. The Night Circus is a stage, a very public stage, where two competing wizards have molded their mentees to duel until the game is won. And what that means, only they can say.

Meet the characters of The Night Circus. There is Celia, daughter of Prospero the Magician, a natural born talent whose magical abilities seem to be the only thing her selfish father is interested in her for. Meet Marco, a studios orphan who is adopted and taught the ways of magic, gently manipulating the world of the circus to challenge and meet Celia’s abilities.
Meet the Man in the Grey Suit, Prospero’s opponent and a mastermind behind the challenge.
Meet the twins Poppet and Widget, who are the only ones in the mysterious circus who seem to grow any older.
There are many, many other beautifully crafted and complex characters who float in and out of the circus. I loved them all.

The timeline takes a bit of time to get used to. You jump back and forth, from the beginning of the challenge to the point in time when everything changes. You don’t know what has happened to make this change, you don’t know what will happen to the circus. But you are propelled forward anyway, hanging on, trying to pick up clues to what will happen because magic is there after all. Anything can happen.

The Night Circus is one of those books with so much beautiful description, you can float in and out of the scenes easily, even when nothing truly important is going on. It is dense, and while I agree the over use of description can be distracting and tiresome, it didn’t bother me. I enjoyed the shadows and smells of caramel and sugar just like I was there. It does seem a bit longer than it had to be, and at certain times during the story was a bit slow. But I was so enthralled in the writing and setting, I did not mind.

I enjoyed Celia and Marco and their journey together. (I love Jim Dale, but his Marco sounded a bit whiny for me and I don’t think Marco is supposed to be whiny.) I loved Celia’s relationship to her father and his relationship to the Man in the Grey Suit. Most of all, I loved the magic. The whimsical magic created by Celia and Marco in this contest is breathtaking. I would love to wander into any of their tents, and I won’t give anything away when I saw the Wishing Tree or the Snow/Ice Garden are my favorites.

All the gears turning, the story unfolds delicately like a flower, and if you’re patient, you will enjoy it. It is not a fast, furious fight. It is not an overpowering love story.

It is a tale of magic, that starts slow and sucks you in and before you know it, you’re totally invested in this world, these characters and what happens to them and to the circus.

“The circus arrives without warning…”


Paperback comes out July 3, 2012 in the US.
Both Paperback and Hardcover cover art is stunning. 

Rating 9 Awesome like Cookies and Ice Cream

Monday, May 7th 2012

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Title: A Discovery of Witches

Author: Deborah Harkness

Publisher: Viking

Publication Date: February 2011

Genre: Adult Fiction

Series or Stand Alone: Series, Book One

Synopsis can be found here.

Review:

To read A Discovery of Witches is to block out real life and all other ffiction and immerse yourself in a world filled with science, magic and romance. Yes, science and magic.

Diana, an American in Oxford, calls upon a long lost book one day in the library. Knowing it’s magical, but not understanding what it exactly is, she returns it to the stacks. Suddenly, an array of different creatures become interested in her, including a dark scholarly vampire named Matthew. This mysterious book has been lost for centuries and the fact that Diana called it out and opened it, makes all other magical creatures anxious, for varying reasons.

Witches, daemons and vampires all want a look at this book and will do anything to get it.

I had been meaning to read this book since it came out. I’m so glad I waited too because book two is released in July so I only have three months to wait instead of a year! Because I cannot wait for book two.

Well written, good pacing and pure magic is held within A Discovery of Witches. The revelations and twists are expertly planned, building on this long and complicated story of family history and political motives. Diana is a strong woman, and while she has been hiding from her magic, she realizes she cannot hide from herself any longer. She is a witch, a powerful one at that, and needs to learn how to control her magic. I liked Diana’s bravery and struggles.

And there’s Matthew. Now don’t get me wrong. I love a good brooding romantic vampire any day of the week. But Matthew is so much more. He’s scholarly, very old, and has much more class and depth to him than so many others I’ve read about. I love his dark warm clothes, his taste for wine, his love of history and science. Harkness does a wonderful job of making Matthew into a real character through his belongings. Not only the wines, but his castle where his mother lives. The artifacts, books, architecture add to the setting, but mostly they create a warmness to Matthew that other vampires in literature are lacking. He’s still possessive, fierce and a killer, but hey, we can’t all be perfect.

All of the supporting characters ranged from loved to hated (and by hated, I mean scared to death by them.) Ysabeau and Marthe were my favorites, well thought out and wonderful contrasts to Matthew and Diana. Hamish and Marcus were also fantastic characters and I hope to see them more in the future. The bad guys were bad, evil and simply scary. I won’t go into events in the book, but Harkness is not afraid to hurt her characters.

So what are you waiting for?
Don’t you want some magic in your life?

An additional comment: The hardcover edition is gorgeous. The artwork, jacket and inside are all beautifully done. I read my copy on Kindle, but I’m not ashamed to say I did wind up buying the hardcover for my library. Matthew and Diana would approve.

Rating 10 One of The Best