Night School

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Name of the Book: Night School (A Blood Coven Vampire Novel)

By: Mari Mancusi 

Published by: Berkley

Copyright: 2011

Number of Pages: 244

Source: Half-Price Books

Reason for Reading: I won lunch in a silent auction with Mari at a recent writer’s conference. She was so fun and delightful and gave me some great advice for my own YA novel that I wanted to check her books out.

Rating: A

So typical me, I happened to grab a book that is right in the middle of the series. It was on the discount rack okay! Fortunately it is written in a way that everything made sense without having any previous knowledge of what’s been going on.

I came into knowing it is about vampires (Says so on the cover) and the cover is dark, most of it black even, so I expected the writing to be dark and teenaged vampire antsy. Far from it. It is hilarious and witty.

The books follow twin sisters Rayne and Sunny. Rayne has already been turned into a vampire at this point, while Sunny is destined to become the next Queen of the Fairies against her will, because, yeah, their parents just announced to them that they are also fairies on top of everything else.

Sunny is the sweet cautious sister, who yearns to be normal, even though she has a vampire boyfriend, while Rayne embraces everything supernatural. Throughout the book, she jumps headlong into situations—most of them she causes—but it’s her love and devotion to her sister that eventually sees her way through it with laugh out loud humor such as:

Mom stands her ground, shoulders back, a fierce mama-bear expression taking hold of her usually serene, hippie-chick face. A trill of pride spins down my spine as I watch her stare the big, bad invaders down, ready to protect her cubs at all costs.

Yeah, take that, fairy man. My mom’s no shrinking violet.

“Princess Shrinking Violet?” the fairy addresses her.

Uh… Well, you know what I mean.  

I thoroughly enjoyed Night School. It was a fast light and fun read, poking fun at other vampire novels, admiring Buffy, and even taking on the sacredness that is Disney.

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Anita Blake: Necromancer, Shapeshifter, Vampire(ish) Seductress

Book Title: Kiss the Dead

Author: Laurell K. Hamilton

Publisher: Penguin Audio

Copyright Date: June 5, 2012

Number of discs: 10

Narrated by: Kimberly Alexis

Genre: Horror/Urban Fantasy

Book Rating:  Do I have to?  Bah.  Fine.  D.  Minus.

Audio Performance Rating: A, but only because she does a great job rising above the material.

The Gist:

From the publisher: Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton returns with another exciting, thrilling and addictive adventure for her vampire hunting heroine Anita Blake. I knew without doubt that if any more of the vampires tried to attack us I’d kill them, too, regardless of apparent age, race, sex, or religious affiliations. I was an equal-opportunity executioner; I killed everybody. My name is Anita Blake and I am a vampire hunter and necromancer, as well as a US Marshal. So when a fifteen-year-old girl is abducted by vampires, it’s up to me to find her. And when I do, I’m faced with something I’ve never seen before: a terrifyingly ordinary group of people – kids, grandparents, soccer moms – all recently turned and willing to die to avoid serving their vampire master. And where there’s one martyr, I know there will be more…But even vampires have monsters that they’re afraid of. And I’m one of them…

My Thoughts:

I tried, ya’ll.  I really did.  I read, and mostly enjoyed, the first two books in the Anita Blake series and I’ve even read the graphic novel adaptation of her first book, Guilty Pleasures.  It was a different take on the genre and I found it engrossing.  I was in college when I first discovered the series and to be honest I really didn’t have time to read for fun.  So it had been a while since the last time I picked up an Anita Blake book.  Things have changed.  A lot.

This is less horror/urban fantasy and more soft-core porn.  SPOILER ALERT (seriously, if you have any plans on reading this book and you have not read it yet, stop reading now), this book is about 50% violence and 50% graphic and unapologetic sex.  Literally, one of the characters dies because he was screwed to death.  I’m not kidding.  That’s not a weird typo, it actually happened.  Anita Black is polyamorous (she loves more than one person at a time and has no objection to group sex) and apparently suffers from a condition called “The Ardeur.”  Which basically means she feeds off the essence of sex.  So she has lots of sex.  Bunches of it.

Straight up, I stopped listening when she killed the dude by feeding her ardeur during crazy, monkey sex in the shower.  It was just so over the top and none of the sex scenes were titillating.  It’s possible I’m a prude-I mean didn’t exactly jump all over the mommy-porn bandwagon (I’m looking at you 50 Shades…), but on the other hand, I have certainly read plenty of smut in my time.  I’m just not feelin’ it, Laurell K. Hamilton.  You are a very good writer in technical terms.  I wasn’t cringing over bad grammar or anything.  But I could not get invested in the story.  At all.  I didn’t care that Anita sex-killed one of her honeys.  The only reaction I had was similar to my reaction at the ending of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.  And my reaction to that was less enthused and more “agggghhhhhh!!! Two hours of my life goooooonnnnnnneeee!!!!!!”  So that’s probably a bad thing that you didn’t make me care.

In fairness, I’m clearly not her audience.  Just puttin’ that out there… Perhaps, this series needs to be classified under Erotica as well.  I’m not judging Erotica, so if you love reading that particular genre, please don’t think I’m trying to shame you.  I’m not and I fully believe you should read what you love.  I’m just pointing out that it would help first-time readers know what to expect.

The Audio Performance:

Kimberly Alexis needs an award, stat.  She spewed the most ridiculous lines of dialogue with perfect conviction.  She’s a great actor reading bad material.

Bottom Line: No.  Just…no.

Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Penguin Audio.  I received no compensation for this review, and the thoughts/opinions expressed are entirely my own.  Kiss the Dead is available in stores now in book and electronic book format, as well as audio.

Posted in Fiction, paranormal, Posts by Izzy, thriller | 1 Comment

Shanna Swendson is Back or YAY for eBooks!!!

About a year ago, I came across a book called “Don’t Hex With Texas.”  I am a Texan, so the title amused me.  I also tend to enjoy paranormal, so it was a pretty easy sell.  I reviewed it on my personal blog.  Here’s an excerpt:

…Small Texas towns have a certain flavor to them, and Swendson is terrific at evoking the atmosphere of Cobb.  She is equally deft at drawing the lines of Katie’s wacky family without descending into campy comedy.  The story unfolds in a wholly organic way, and though the identity of the mystery wizard isn’t exactly an enormous shock, the reveal is hugely entertaining.  If you must read the series in order, start with Enchanted, Inc., Once Upon Stilettos, and then Damsel Under Stress.  But if you aren’t able to read them in order, that’s okay.  If Don’t Hex with Texas is any indication, each book works fine as a stand-alone.

I was super disappointed when I found out that the series wouldn’t be continued.  Swendson left this advice to her readers on her website: “The best thing you can do to help make book 5 happen is to make sure all those people you got hooked on the series have moved on to the last two books. You can also keep spreading the word about the whole series and request the books at your local library (libraries will often pay attention to patron requests for books to purchase).”

So last week, I was doing my monthly “what new books are coming out” search on B&N and noticed a new Shanna Swendson.  Wha-what??!!  WoooHoooooo!!!!!  So the book has been purchased for my Nook (yay!!) and happiness ensued.  I thought I’d share…

Posted in Fiction, paranormal, Posts by Izzy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

WINNERS!

Last month, we offered you some free loot from the Etsy site Book Fiend.  A sticker of your choice from the Book Fiend Collection.  We didn’t forget you!!  The unofficial (by unofficial, I mean totally, totally official) mascot of Quirky Girls Read took some time out of his busy Halloween Day to choose our winners.  Under the close supervision of Tedy the Cat, our young man pulled some winners.  But first, photos.  Because our Mascot, not to mention Tedy the Cat, is adorbs.

No really.  Tell me you wouldn’t have emptied out your ENTIRE candy bowl for the Quirky Girls Mascot.  You so would have.

What do those numbers mean, you ask?  They mean winners!! (Please note, we did not allow any of our Quirky Girl contributors to enter.)

The winners are:

  1. Emma (#5)
  2. Brittany (#3)
  3. Angela (#9)
  4. Mary M. (#8)

If you are any of these four lucky winners, CONGRATULATIONS! Please email me directly at elizabeth.a.webb@gmail.com and I’ll tell you how to claim your prize.

Posted in Award Winners, Posts by Izzy | 1 Comment

Review: My Life as a Furry Red Monster


Title: My Life as a Furry Red Monster – What Being Elmo Has Taught Me About Life, Love, and Laughing Out Loud
Author: Kevin Clash with Gary Brozek
Original Publication Date: 2006
Edition Read:
2006, Broadway Books
Total Pages:
210
Genre:
Memoir
Reason Read:
Elmo’s World is now my world – I needed to know how this little dude took over
Rating:
3 out of 5 Stars

“When children tell Elmo that they love him, they all have different styles of expressing their emotion. Some of the more demonstrative kids throw their arms around his neck, snuggle their faces against his, and with an eyes-closed, sigh-heaving, hand-me-my-Tony-Award gesture that projects to the very last row of the theater’s balcony, they proclaim their undying devotion to Elmo in prose as purple as Telly Monster. ‘Oh, Elmo, I love you more than chocolate ice cream! More than I love the new baby! Please come and live in my house forever!”

“Older kids are a little more matter-of-fact, as if they’ve been married for twenty years and they’re picking up their keys and their bag and heading out the door with an affectionate but perfunctory ‘Love you.’ Still others are more shy and reserved, like the bashful and nervous teen letting his or her feelings be known to their crush for the first time. I often wonder how these children will express their love as adults and how many of them will remain demonstrative and unembarrassed, or if they’ll naturally pull back into more conservative styles as they grow older. It would be ridiculous if we all greeted each other the way the more enthusiastic kids greet Elmo – imagine how long it would take to get that first cup of coffee at the office with all the morning greetings in full swing! – but still, doesn’t imagining a love-filled world like that put a smile on your face?” – Pages 16-17

Elmo puts a smile on my face. Because he puts a slow-growing, massive, bright smile across my 15 month old son, Sam’s, face whenever he catches his first glimpse of Elmo on Sesame Street, on a DVD, in a book, or in passing a toy store display. My friend Stacy informed me a while back that there is a certain age when the Elmo switch goes off in the toddler world. For Sammy, that age was about 14 1/2 months. Without his buddy Elmo’s musical DVD I discovered at the library, I would never get a shower in the morning. This normally distracted toddler with the attention span of a flea will sit and play quietly with his books and a few toys for 45 minutes straight as long as Elmo is singing to him. My prior experience with Elmo was that obnoxious laugh on the Tickle Me Elmo doll decades ago. Now? I am oddly drawn to that laugh, his presence and magnetism. I became infatuated with learning as much as possible about this furry little dude.

And so I recalled the title of a memoir written by the person who performs Elmo that I learned of through a Goodreads friend many years before. Through their review of this book, I discovered that Elmo was performed by a very tall, black guy with a deep voice. I don’t know who I thought gave life to Elmo, but that certainly wasn’t my first guess. Kevin Clash was more obsessed with puppets and TV as a young child than I was. I love love love puppets. I can totally relate to how Kevin used them to overcome his shyness as a boy. They provide a perfect front for everything you want to express but are afraid to otherwise. However, Kevin didn’t drop his interest when he grew older and was an easy target as the weirdo who played with dolls. He lived for puppets and the art of performance. He studied people and artists. He experimented with his mother’s daycare kid audiences. He created puppets out of discarded materials. He was destined to be Elmo. And his family’s never-wavering support of his dream propelled it into reality.

When my son Sam’s Elmo switch was turned on, I sat and hung out with Elmo too. I needed to know how muppeteer Kevin Clash experienced Elmo’s world. This memoir tells a very nice tale of Kevin’s supportive childhood and determined rise to the pinnacle of puppetry – Sesame Street. There aren’t any ghosts in this closet. No troubled past to overcome. No addictions – other than to puppets. A good man has been rewarded by having the ability to be Elmo on a daily basis. It is rewarding to him not because of the financial gain or critical acclaim. It is rewarding to him because Elmo gives him a vehicle to experience what I do whenever Sammy sees Elmo again. Pure love, delight and devotion. I cannot fathom how amazing it would be to get to be the reason behind that each day when encountering children from around the world.

Maybe I shouldn’t have shied away from my puppet love. Because the moments that Kevin shares of Elmo’s encounters with his fans to highlight the various tenants of Elmo’s World (love, joy, creativity, tolerance, courage, friendship, cooperation, learning and optimism) made me all mushy inside. He parallels these interactions with tales from his own life lessons and how they shaped his beliefs and eventually became a part of Elmo’s performance.

The book has the assist of writer Gary Brozek to better convey Kevin’s thoughts, but I still found them to be a bit simple and choppy in structure. The book shines brightest when covering Elmo’s reach rather than Kevin’s past. But I appreciate learning about both. Because Elmo isn’t Elmo without Kevin. And now Kevin is really just along for Elmo’s ride – laughing all the way at the joy introduced as a result. I know this for sure. Sammy would love to wrap his arms around that furry red monster and burrow his laughing face in for a long hug. So would I.

Posted in Memoir, Nonfiction, Posts by Molly | Tagged | 3 Comments

Book Review: The Secret River

Author: Kate Grenville

Publisher: Canongate, 2006

Genre: Historical Literature

Awards: Winner of The Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

My Rating: A

I know only an outline of the history of Australia. But, for me, all history is best learned while looking at the lives of the people involved. Such was the case with The Secret River by Kate Grenville. Although the people in the novel are fictional, they are based on people and events that actually happened.

The author spent five years researching the subject. Her original plan had been to tell the story of her own family’s saga in Australia. But Kate Grenville switched to fiction because she thought it would be a more powerful way to tell the story. And powerful it is.

The story centers around William Thornhill and his wife Sal. William was born in London in the late 1700s. His early life was spent fighting for a scrap of food. Not until he went to work as a waterman on the Thames River did his life seem to have any hope. But life was always on the edge for this young man, and when it comes to making ethical choices he often chooses the wrong ones. When he’s caught in a theft, he is condemned to death.

Just before he’s scheduled to hang, the government gives William Thornhill a choice: he and his wife can be transported to Australia. The king of England has decided it’s a good idea to empty the prisons by sending all convicts to colonize what they believe is an empty continent.

Life for the convicts was incredibly tough. After nine months in the hold of a ship they were thrown onto the new land with nothing but the clothes on their backs. William was actually luckier than others because he had his wife Sal and two children on the ship (kept in a different area on the ship). They built tents out of tree bark and scrounged for everything.

William Thornhill’s break came when he got a job taking a boat up a river delivering supplies to settlers. And then he saw a piece of land, 100 acres, and the idea of being a landowner takes root inside him. Although Sal’s goal is to go back to England as soon as they have enough money to do so, William sees himself as a mighty landowner with people working for him.

There are loads of ethical situations in this story which, in my opinion, made it so enjoyable. William is not a squeaky clean character. He’s real and flawed. The biggest conflict was between the new conflict settlers and the Aboriginal natives. It’s very similar to the conflict in America between settlers and our natives. Violence alert: It’s very graphic.

My husband and I listened to this audiobook on our recent cross-country road-trip. The language and violence was quite graphic. It didn’t bother my husband. It did me, but not enough to sing high praise for this novel. I strongly recommend it.

Posted in Award Winners, Fiction, historical, Posts by Margot | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Review: Travels With Charley: In Search of America


Title: Travels With Charley: In Search of America
Author: John Steinbeck
Original Publication Date: 1962
Edition Read:
2007, Library of America (a collection of Steinbeck novels, including the non-fiction Travels With Charley)
Total Pages:
184
Genre:
Classic Travel, Memoir
Reason Read:
Skimpy on my Steinbeck exposure. Thought a short, travel focused memoir would be a good place to begin.
Rating:
4 out of 5 Stars

“To find not only that this bedlam of color was true but that the pictures were pale and inaccurate translations, was to me startling. I can’t even imagine the forest colors when I am not seeing them. I wondered whether constant association could cause inattention, and asked a native New Hampshire woman about it. She said the autumn never failed to amaze her; to elate. ‘It’s a glory,’ she said, ‘and can’t be remembered, so that it always comes as a surprise.'” – Pages 789-790

Steinbeck is talking about his amazement at the splendor of New England fall foliage. How stunning it is when you watch it transpire around you. The way the sunlight makes it glow. Or how the rain darkened bark makes the colors pop. How the leaves falling softly to the ground around your feet make you feel a part of the action. Making it come alive; a gorgeous death for the regeneration of leaves. But beyond his knack for painting a picture so perfectly for your mind, what he does best in this travel memoir is to engage the folks in his path so succinctly. To know the perfect question to ask, in the most appropriate way. Do New Englanders appreciate the gift that nature graces them with every single year? Or do they overlook what is right in front of their nose? Too annoyed to notice the beauty because of the work involved in clearing up the mounds of mess? Is their focus more on the piles of dead, crunchy leaves clogging up their windshields, driveways and gutters? Or do they get blindsided by the beauty in the middle of their raking tasks by looking up on a crisp, clear day? As his subject so beautifully puts it, we notice. And we forgive the extra work, due to this breathtaking display that sneaks up on us every year and distracts us from the inevitable challenge that is winter. The view out of my own window knocks the wind out of me on a daily basis right now. And by the time I remember that fall is a harbinger for the snow plow, it is too late to do anything about it. Mother Nature is clever that way. And Steinbeck is clever in reading people, engaging them and capturing their essence.

This was the last published book by Steinbeck. In health that was sketchy and with his aging Standard Poodle, Charley, by his side, he set out to visit the America he was fond of exposing through written works of fiction. I’m sure that much of his memoir here is fictionalized as well; conversations embellished, persons perhaps placed more strategically in his travel recounts. But what I felt was that he went to explore the regions of our country and to find out what linked or differentiated the regions to or from each other. I felt that the experiences he captured held legitimacy because when he described his encounters with the places I knew myself, a connection was made. Author Bill Barich has said that in Travels With Charley, Steinbeck’s “perceptions were right on the money about the death of localism, the growing homogeneity of America, the trashing of the environment. He was prescient about all that.”

My understanding is that Steinbeck’s novels cover extremely depressing or tragic times and topics. But his language and description is so piercing that it is magnetizing, above the sadness. I have yet to read anything other than The Pearl. This edition that I read contained a collection of some of his most popular fictional works. I did not have the chance to delve into them because my reading time is limited enough with Sammy the Toddler. I had to renew this book multiple times from my library just to get through this brief gem of descriptive discovery. Travels With Charley was far from unsettling. It was quite hysterical and left me laughing and reading passages aloud all along the way to whomever was near me at the moment. Steinbeck certainly espoused on his political views of the time through his dog and his encounters nationwide. He often became melancholy with memories of a different time and world. And near the end of his journey, he delved into a very dark part of our country’s history with race. His travels were more lighthearted in the beginning and became heavy-hearted nearing the end.

I admire and appreciate the courage, time and effort involved in condensing one’s cultural, physical and emotional experience with traversing this country. Though it is obvious from reading that it took place in a very specific time, it demonstrates how similar we all still are to our ways, our regions, our dreams. And it was damn fine writing from one of this country’s giants. I loved getting to know him, his quirks, his passions and his dog. That he waited until the final chapters of his life to share this journey created a stronger impact for me. And that sense of humor didn’t hurt.

“I let Charley out, and suddenly an angry streak of gray burned across the clearing in the pines and bucketed into the house. That was George. He didn’t welcome me and he particularly didn’t welcome Charley. I never did rightly see George, but his sulking presence was everywhere. For George is an old gray cat who has accumulated a hatred of people and things so intense that even hidden upstairs he communicates his prayer that you will go away. If the bomb should fall and wipe out every living thing except Miss Brace, George would be happy. That’s the way he would design a world if it were up to him. And he could never know that Charley’s interest in him was purely courteous; if he did, he would be hurt in his misanthropy, for Charley has no interest in cats whatever, even for chasing purposes.

“We didn’t give George any trouble because for two nights we stayed in Rocinante, but I am told that when guests sleep in the house George goes into the pine woods and watches from afar, grumbling his dissatisfaction and pouring out his dislike. Miss Brace admits that for the purposes of a cat, whatever they are, George is worthless. He isn’t good company, he is not sympathetic, and he has little aesthetic value.

‘Perhaps he catches mice and rats,’ I suggested helpfully.

‘Never,’ said Miss Brace. ‘Wouldn’t think of it. And do you want to know something? George is a girl.'” – Page 799

Posted in Classics, Memoir, Nonfiction, Posts by Molly | 2 Comments