October 29, 2012

Book Tour: The Chupacabra by Stephen Randel

 He was known as El Barquero, "The Ferryman," because of the particular delivery service he provided for a Mexican drug cartel. In Mexico, drugs and money were easy enough to procure, but guns were more difficult. This was his specialty, supplying the firearms that made the violence possible. (Randel, 9)
-from The Chupacabra: A Borderline Crazy Tale of Coyotes, Cash &Cartels by Stephen Randel

Publisher's synopsis: He is called El Barquero. He makes his trade along the border, smuggling guns and killing without remorse. As he faces his one last mission, his perfect plan is unwittingly foiled by Avery, a paranoid loner obsessed with global conspiracy theories who spends most of his time crafting absurd and threatening letters to anyone who offends him. That means pretty much everyone. 

What unfolds is a laugh out loud dark comedy of madcap adventure stretching from Austin to the West Texas border featuring a lunatic band of civilian border militia, a group of bingo-crazed elderly ladies (one packing a pistol nearly as long as her arm),  a murderous and double-crossing cartel boss, a burned-out hippie, and a crotchety retired doctor and his pugnacious French bulldog. Read it to believe it.

About the Author: Stephen Randel, CFA, was born in Houston, Texas. He is a graduate of Texas Christian University. Steve now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and their two rescue dogs.

Review: Stephen Randel's novel The Chupacabra is an adventurous comedy that illustrates Randel's impressive talent for storytelling as he weaves together an extensive cast of diverse characters that all intersect at the end. At first I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of characters I needed to get a grasp on to get immersed in this book, but it really didn't take long for the story to pull me under. The story is constantly changing between its ensemble cast member's perspectives, so it's important that the reader stay on their toes; however each character is so memorable that it's impossible not to gain interest quickly. 

The backbone of the novel is El Barquero, a murderous weapons smuggler working for the Mexican cartels. Through El Barquero, Randel impressed me when I found myself rooting for the "bad guy" much more often than not. Although El Barquero is capable of killing people without much consideration, somehow the author still gives him enough humanity that I found myself wanting him to succeed in his final operation. 

On the other side of the coin is Avery, one of the most hilarious literary character I've read in a long time. Avery is a chubby, nerdy, loner with more than just a screw loose. He is obsessed with conspiracy theories and his interaction with others, including the insane letters he writes to corporations, are reason alone to read this book. Avery takes himself so seriously and is so self absorbed, that he has no real understanding of the precarious situations in which he puts himself. 

El Barquero and Avery are just two of the many colorful characters that drive this book and have made it one of my favorites of the year. The intensity of characters like El Barquero and the cartel boss are more easily digested by foils like Avery or General X Ray of STRAC-BOM, a 7 man civilian militia, who proves that there actually are characters even more clueless to dangerous situations than Avery. These characters help the scenes switch quickly between intense and comedic very efficiently. 

While The Chupacabra is an entertaining novel, it also has enough depth to make the reader consider things beyond its pages, an indicator of any great and memorable book. Through characters like El Barquero, Avery, and General X-Ray, the reader might consider what drives someone to go to great lengths for what they believe in and how much of what they believe in is a result of their ego. I also learned by the end of the novel not to underestimate or overestimate certain characters; they all have their own strengths and weaknesses that help or harm them in very realistic ways come the climax of the novel.

I would really love to see this book turned into a movie with a blockbuster Hollywood ensemble cast led by Zach Galifianakis as Avery. I mean, the Mexican drug cartels have already become somewhat glamorized in Breaking Bad. Come on, Hollywood, when are you going to start listening to my blog? ;)

Bottom Line: If you want a laugh-out-loud adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat, read this book right away! 4½/5 stars.

I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

October 25, 2012

Gabriel's Inferno by Sylvain Reynard

Dressed as he was and brooding, he looked very much like a character out of one of the Bronte's novels. As Julia approached him, she silently prayed to Charlotte that Gabriel would be one of her ilk and not of her sister Emily's.
-from Gabriel's Inferno by Sylvain Reynard

 {buy here}

If there's anything to be said about 50 Shades of Grey mania, it's that the series has proven it's easy to succumb to the seduction of a mindless romantic read. As I admitted last week (with more than a little guilt), I devoured the 50 Shades trilogy behind the privacy of my Kindle over the course of a week. When I was done with the series I looked to Amazon to recommend something that would fill the void and it led me to Gabriel's Inferno. The main difference between the two books is that 50 Shades of Grey is missing the mental stimulation to balance all of the physical stimulation, something Gabriel's Inferno manages to provide consistently.

Gabriel's Inferno by Sylvain Reynard is a romance novel so it is not without it's eye-rolling cheesiness, it's over-the-top romance and more than a few scenes that might make you say, "Yeah. Right. That was too perfect" (of course the dude is rich and the girl is beautiful, duh.). That said, the characters are flawed in ways unlike many other romance novels and the author explores these flaws with more depth and range than is usually given in such stories. Without giving too much away, Gabriel's Inferno is the carefully woven story of Gabriel, a young college professor, and Julia, a graduate student. Initially I was a bit weary trying to piece together what was going on because the author slowly develops how Gabriel and Julia are connected, but once I was able to see the basis of their story, I could not put the book down. The connection between Gabriel and Julia is very much like that between Christian and Ana in 50 Shades of Grey; if you liked being both infatuated and annoyed by Christian then you will probably enjoy Gabriel as well.

The book is replete with literary references and if you aren't familiar with at least Dante's Inferno then you might not get as much out of the book as someone who is. I enjoyed the literary depth, although I must admit at times it got a little annoying, like the author was as pretentious as Gabriel (perhaps she wanted the reader to feel how Julia felt at his literary snobbery?). But that's also the stimulating part of the book: it keeps your brain muscle working and you have to think back to the novels you read in college and use that knowledge to fully appreciate the story. I was very impressed that a romance novel would require so much effort from my brain, it was very refreshing.

Bottom Line: If you're looking for an intelligent romance novel that won't leave your brain feeling like mush, this is the perfect story for you. If you're coming off the 50 Shades wagon and are sad to say goodbye to Christian and Anastasia, Gabriel and Julia will have you just as smitten because they are slightly more realistic (despite their impeccable and unrealistic knowledge of practically everything). Just a word of warning to the hardcore Christian Grey fans: Not nearly as much sex in this one, just a whole lot of sexual tension (It's awfully ironic that between all of the books I review this week, this one has the raciest cover and least amount of "adult content" haha). ★★★/5

October 22, 2012

Four of a Kind by Valerie Frankel

You had to check, fold, call, or raise each hand based on limited information, previous experience, and gut intuition, and accept the consequences of your bet, regardless of the outcome. Play smart and bold, no matter how many chips you hold. Leave nothing on the table
-from Four of a Kind by Valerie Frankel

Four of a Kind by Valerie Frankel is a poker themed novel about how four unlikely friendships blossom in an unconventional way.  Bess, Alicia, Carla and Robin are four very different women on the diversity committee at their children's private school. Bess is an insanely rich, beautiful, blonde housewife married to a gorgeous professional who loves her very much; Alicia is a hardworking copywriter in a sexless marriage whose son is attending the private school on a scholarship; Carla is a driven and serious black doctor at a local clinic who dreams of one day opening up her own practice; Robin is a formerly-obese single-mother who isn't afraid to speak her mind on everything except the identity of her daughter's father. In order to get to know each other, the four women begin playing poker; instead of betting money they bet their own secrets. Through their poker meetings, friendships begin to blossom and their diversity pushes them beyond their comfort zones, helping them face fears and make changes they never could have done alone.

This book is a great example of something I didn't particularly love but might end up being your favorite book. Overall the novel was well-written and there wasn't much to complain about, I just wasn't entertained enough by the women and their stories to love it. Each chapter alternates its focus on each of the four women, and I think this made it too difficult to connect to deeply with all of them. Every time I felt a connection, the chapter would end and it would be too long before I heard much from that character again.

The individual stories were interesting and each of the characters blended well with each other. I enjoyed reading about Bess most, but it felt like there was more time spent on her (I could be wrong). Because the individual stories were enjoyable and complemented each other but felt too abbreviated by alternating chapters, I think this book would have done better as a series.

My biggest complaint about the whole book is that there is a poker guide appendix -- at the end!! I am not a poker player but know enough about card games that I figured the book would make enough sense without doing any research. However, I think better knowledge of poker would have made this book much more entertaining. My copy {Kindle Edition} had an appendix at the very end that gave instructions on how to play poker and I about fell out of my seat when I saw it. This would have made a WHOLE lot more sense at the beginning of the book! If you're going to read this, please check that out first if you don't know poker!

Bottom Line: I wouldn't recommend this book but I wouldn't warn you about it either. I'm completely lukewarm about it but can understand if someone else were to love it. If you're considering reading it, I would read other reviews to get a better sense if it's for you or not. 3/5 Stars.

I think the most fun part of this book was mentally casting it {big surprise coming from me, right?}. My cast is 5-10 years younger than the characters, but in Hollywood they would just alter the script. :)

I would cast January Jones as Bess, Emmy Rossum as Alicia, Gabrielle Union as Carla and Isla Fisher as Robin!

P.S. Happy birthday Zac Hanson. lol. /random

October 18, 2012

50 Shades of Grey Trilogy by E.L. James

"Discipline. There's a very fine line between pleasure and pain Anastasia. They are two sides of the same coin, one not existing without the other. I can show you how pleasurable pain can be. You don't believe me now, but this is what I mean about trust." (Christian Grey)
-from 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure you've at least heard about 50 Shades of Grey, the three-part series by E.L. James about Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele; what kind of mainly contemporary book review blog would I be if I didn't review this? You've also probably already decided if you're interested or not because of the strong sexual content and subject matter. I want to emphasize that if this series is not your cup o' tea and you feel strongly about not reading it, I totally respect that. It's definitely not for everyone. Having read romance novels {not erotica} in middle school, I'm open to books like 50 Shades of Grey but the genre is not necessarily a favorite or something I would insist somebody read. I agree with many opinions that this series is not necessarily "good" for your real life relationships and respect a lot of the debates regarding this book. However, I did read it and it was a cute book and addicting love story, but important to not take too seriously.

In case you didn't know, 50 Shades of Grey is the story about how innocent but smart Anastasia Steele meets gajillionaire Christian Grey, an emotionally and sexually damaged man who experiences pleasure through BDSM with contracted submissives. When Christian meets Ana he pursues her to be his latest submissive, and while Ana is intrigued by the idea and enamored by Christian, she wants more in a relationship. Through each of the books in the series, more of the many shades of Christian are revealed and both become more challenged in their unconventional relationship with each other. 

I read the trilogy in about a week back in March and I'm very torn with promoting it and tearing it apart. On the one hand, the series consists of three books when it very easily could have been condensed into one. There is so much repetition and so little conflict that coupled with amateur writing makes me feel guilty for admitting I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and story {seriously, my inner goddess is hiding in shame right now}. That doesn't even cover the fact that Christian Grey is a selfish, arrogant, controlling sex addict and to this day I question my sanity loving his character so much. While it's important to note that 50 Shades of Grey completely promotes monogamy and safe sex, it's also a book that might make a woman think, "Why can't my husband be more like Christian Grey?" in the same way a man might wonder why his wife doesn't look like Kate Upton. For all of these reasons I truly feel awkward for enjoying this series.

On the other hand, James creates a story with a superficial sounding synopsis, but the development of the characters and the way they approach their relationship so unconventionally paints a relatable picture of ever-changing humanity. Through Anastasia the reader can experience venturing into the unknown without any past to hold her back; through Christian the reader can experience venturing into his fear because of his past. Despite Christian's controlling demeanor, his love for Ana trumps all as he maneuvers through his fear with compromise and honesty. I think what makes 50 Shades of Grey so powerful is how transparent and vulnerable both Christian and Ana are with each other which makes them more concrete to the reader.

Bottom Line: The characters and content are addicting, but I've seen a lot of bloggers with better writing. Read this if you want to get swept away by romance because you will definitely get wrapped up in the world of Christian Grey. ★★★/5

And for the record, since everyone is casting this one for fun, my choice actor to play Christian Grey is and always will be Ian Somerhalder. I had to become addicted to The Vampire Diaries a few months ago to make that choice, but I really think Ian would be the perfect guy for the role!


October 15, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Then she smiled, and in that instant, if such a thing were possible, Pasquale fell in love, and he would remain in love for the rest of his life- not so much with the woman, whom he didn't even know, but with the moment.
-from Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

{buy here}

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is a novel that artistically layers a variety of narratives to illustrate the complexities behind what we love, what we want and how we choose to live our lives. The book begins in Italy in 1962 where Pasquale, a young innkeeper of a small barely-known village, meets Dee, a beautiful, young actress staying at his hotel, and instantly falls in love. The second chapter transports the reader to present-day Hollywood where Pasquale, now an old man, is in search of Dee fifty years later. Each chapter defies chronology by showing the reader different glimpses into Pasquale and Dee's story over the past fifty years. The book also integrates the effects Pasquale and Dee have on other people by artfully weaving together a collage of different stories to illustrate the impact the characters have on each other and to emphasize how each life is connected to another.

There is so much to say about Beautiful Ruins; so much to explicate that this is another novel I wish I had read in college so I could write a full term paper on it! Jess Walter successfully creates a myriad of stories with an impressive cast of characters that aren't confusing or competitive. I think this works because he dedicates entire chapters narrated in third-person omniscient with a focus to a specific character's experience. This gives us a better understanding of each character's motivations and feelings while getting time to "bond" with them and grow to like or dislike them.

Understanding and forming opinions of each character's motivations is central to understanding one of the major themes of the book. At one point, Pasquale's mother tells him, "The smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be." This is a concept that every character in the book struggles with and Walter proves through each strand in his book that this happiness is not simple nor easily achieved. Each character wants what they want, be it fame, successful career, drugs, love or happiness, but they all struggle to find a balance between that and their responsibilities.

Aside from the interesting themes and analyses, I enjoyed Walter's writing, especially the witty and realistic dialogue. Like a good movie, every image Walter conjures in his book has a purpose and he brings poignant focus on even the most remote characters in the story. The only complaint I have is that while I enjoyed the mode of storytelling, some characters I cared about less than others and I would grow frustrated having to read a whole chapter about them. In the end this frustration was worth the effort and all of the information given was important for the final product at the end of the book.

Bottom Line: Jess Walter is an excellent storyteller and this book is jam-packed with things that will make you think about you and those you affect most. Read this if you like a good story backed by complex reality and a good moral. ★★★★/5

October 11, 2012

Ordinary World by Elisa Lorello


For what purpose did we have to be together this time? There was nothing left to teach, nothing to trade, and nothing to negotiate. This time, we had to be ourselves, and the only thing we really shared was a past-life incarnation. 
-from Ordinary World by Elisa Lorello

Ordinary World by Elisa Lorello is the sequel to her novel Faking It. I'm going to warn you one more time that this book review contains spoilers for Faking It, so if you have not read Faking It {and I highly recommend it if you love chick-lit! Read my review of it here}, don't keep reading this book review!! 

I really didn't think that Faking It needed a sequel; for once I actually appreciated the way an author tied up a book so well that I didn't need more, no matter how much I loved the characters. The ending was not what I had been expecting, but it was very grown-up and realistic which impressed me more than the average chick-lit/girl-gets-the-guy-of-her-dreams book. But I'm not going to lie: when I found out there was a sequel I felt like it was like Christmas morning! That's how much I love the characters Elisa Lorello has created.

Ordinary World starts off shocking and tragic: on Sam and Andi's fifth wedding anniversary, Sam steps out to buy some sparkling cider and is killed by a drunk driver. Months into her grieving, Andi discovers her anniversary gift from Sam - plane tickets to Italy. She decides to take the trip in an attempt to rediscover herself {again} and coincidentally runs into Devin, the male-escort-turned-art-dealer. They rekindle their friendship and find that they still have things to teach each other: more lessons in love, loss, friendship, grief, and identity.

If you read Ordinary World as a stand-alone novel, it's exactly what you'd expect in this genre: there are some very convenient coincidences, a predictable plot, and a lot of repetition. However, if you read and loved Faking It you're much more forgiving of these flaws because you've grown to love the characters so much that they can do no wrong {that's my story, anyway!}. I've read a lot of books about loss and grief lately {not on purpose! - Chasing Rainbows, Paint It Black, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close...} but none have affected me as much as Ordinary World. I cried practically through the whole darn book; I think I missed Sam as much as Andi did! That is what I love about Elisa Lorello's writing, she makes her characters so easy to care about that I'm much more forgiving if the content isn't absolutely perfect.
That is not to say the content is less than enjoyable in Ordinary World. Lorello's way of capturing Andi's grief and response to her husband's death is so realistic it will have you crying for Andi while being frustrated with her at the same time. Andi shuffles back and forth with being sad and angry and optimistic so much so that it does get daunting at times and I feel that the book could have been condensed a little bit. But in the end Andi's journey is so inspiring, hopeful and heartwarming that your perseverance as a reader is rewarded. 

Bottom Line: If you read and loved Faking It, you've got to read this one! But please, don't read this without reading Faking It first or you will break my heart! // 4/5 stars.

Do you have a Kindle? These books are available on Amazon for only $1.99 & $2.99 [here & here]!! If you're an Amazon Prime member you can borrow them for free through the Lending Library! Get on it! 

And don't forget: Elisa Lorello's new novel, Adulation, comes out November 6!

October 10, 2012

Happy Wednesday

In case you don't follow me on Twitter, over the weekend I went camping and got my Katniss on! 

Just pretend the fishing pole is my bow and the chair is my quiver! ;) 

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

October 9, 2012

And the Winner Is . . .

The winner of the book bundle giveaway over at my personal blog is . . . 

Congratulations, girl! I can't wait to send you these goodies! 

October 8, 2012

Faking It by Elisa Lorello

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to live the life of a single New Yorker. I wanted to be a part of the city, part of a scene- coffee shops, bookstores, galleries, dating, whatever; knowing my way around, riding the subway fearlessly... All those years in New England I passed myself off as that New Yorker. But I never was. I faked it. I was just a sheltered girl from the Long Island suburbs.
-from Faking It by Elisa Lorello

{buy here}

I'm going to be honest with you: after I read Paint It Black, my brain was a little fried and I was just plain exhausted from reading that book, so I browsed the Kindle Lending Library for the most interesting of all the cheesy chick lit romance novels out there and settled on Faking It. I am not at all disappointed that I did! In fact, even though I got to read it for free I still purchased the Kindle edition for $2.99 {This month it's only $1.99! What a bargain!}.

In Faking It by Elisa Lorello, Dr. Andi Cutrone is a university writing professor who returns to her native New York after a broken wedding engagement. Determined for a fresh start that develops into reinvention, Andi barters with Devin, a male escort frequently employed by her colleagues, for lessons on how to be a better lover; in exchange, Andi tutors Devin in writing and rhetoric. Over the course of their studies they begin to teach each other more than contractually obligated; lessons in inner beauty, friendship, self-esteem, truth, and of course, love. 

At first glance the premise seems really far-fetched and more than a little predictable, however this book is so much smarter and more refreshing than I anticipated. It took a little while for the story to gain its footing, but once it did I was impressed by how much this novel was not what I expected at all. I thought I knew exactly how this story was going to play out, but when it didn't go as anticipated I loved the characters so much that I almost wished it would play out like a stereotype and everyone would get a happy ending.

What sets this novel apart from others in its genre is that, despite the premise, the characters and their actions are multifaceted and realistic. Instead of Andi being a mild-mannered klutz (a la Bella from Twilight, Anastasia from 50 Shades of Grey or [most obnoxiously notable] Claire from Weekends Required) she's an intelligent professor who has repressed so many negative experiences relating to sex and body image that they affect her social interactions and romantic relationships in ways readers can relate to. (As an aside, why do so many romance/YA/chick-lit authors think that the easiest way to flaw a heroine is to make her a klutz? I mean, really? How lazy is that, writers?!). Similarly, Devin doesn't fit into the same box as a lot of other male leads in his genre; he doesn't come in and automatically sweep Andi off her feet or instantly fall for her and demand exclusivity. He does know what women want, but he has boundaries because of his own psychological struggles that prohibit him from making emotional connections. True to life, there is no simple fix for deep rooted emotional issues (nope, not even a sparkly vampire can fix those quickly!) and Andie and Devin learn from each other how to work through and move past the things prohibiting them from living to their full potential.

Of course, because I expected so little it was easy for me to overlook the less impressive parts of this book; like how Andi's story develops a bit haphazardly, making the first quarter or so of the book feel less fluid than the rest. The slow development of information wasn't cryptic enough to make me feel like I was supposed to be solving the puzzle of her past; instead it was frustrating when I realized I didn't have a proper grasp on who Andi is as a character. Despite this rocky beginning, there was never a point when I felt like I didn't want to keep reading. In fact, I read the whole book over a 12-hour span!

The greatest thing I learned from this book is that some stories sound cliche, but if the writer is as talented as Elisa Lorello, they can still use a cliche to send a powerful message about self discovery. I really enjoyed Lorello's writing, especially that there was more symbolism than I would expect from a book in this genre. I can't wait to read more of her work!

Bottom Line: Read this book if you want a relaxing read that won't make you feel guilty for gushing like a girl because it's smarter than your average chick-lit romance novel. Just be prepared to want to devour every book Lorello has written (I'm anxiously awaiting Adulation!) // 4/5 stars as a general novel, but 5/5 stars in the chick lit romance genre.

If Faking It were to be made into a movie {AND IT SHOULD BE!}, there's sure to be a music montage of Andi and Devin's "lessons"; I think Hanson's "Give A Little" would be a great song to play in the background of that montage! And don't judge me on Hanson! ;)

P.S. I was so excited to find out that this book has a sequel, Ordinary World, which I'll be reviewing later this week. Read Faking It now because the next review will contain spoilers for this book (don't worry, I'll warn you again!).

October 4, 2012

Paint it Black by Janet Fitch

 He made you feel . . . worth. That was his greatest gift, to see something more and believe it into being. But what happened when you were someone's idea, when the person thinking you up checked out? What happened to a dream without a dreamer?
-from Paint It Black by Janet Fitch

One of my favorite books of all time is Janet Fitch's White Oleander, so I have been anxiously anticipating Paint It Black (The book has been out for years, but I finally found the time and frugally made my way through the library's long e-book waiting list.). Unfortunately I am disappointed to report that Paint It Black pales in comparison to Fitch's breakout freshman novel.

Paint it Black is the story of Josie Tyrell, a white trash 20-year old artist's model in the 80s LA punk rock scene, and how she grieves after her affluent, tortured, artist boyfriend, Michael, commits suicide. Michael also leaves behind his famous pianist mother, Meredith. Both Josie and Meredith are essentially left alone in the world after Michael's suicide and work together and independently to try to reconcile what his death means for their respective futures.

While I was disappointed by the novel overall, let me begin by saying that Fitch does not disappoint in delivering beautiful language and poetic prose that impress me the same way today as 10 years ago when I first read her work. However, Paint it Black was exhausting in its repetition of experiences, ideas, and words. I feel that I could have skipped chapters 5 through 22 altogether and had a better experience reading this book. While a lot of the novel reflects on Josie's memories of Michael, it lacks action and dialogue, which made me feel bored and lethargic as a reader*. The only reason why I continued reading was because I loved White Oleander so much that I had faith that this novel would eventually stun me the same way. 

Another area of complaint is the character development; with as much time spent storytelling through the first half of the book, I didn't find any of the characters likable or multidimensional. It took reading almost the entire book before I felt something strong enough for Josie to care about her experience; each time Josie became somewhat likable, her own self-deprecation made me dislike her all over again. Michael is not likable because he is a liar; he has created a false perception of himself to everyone in his life making every "fact" about him questionable. His suicide only cements the fact that nobody will ever know who he was, not even the reader. The only character I enjoyed throughout was Meredith but it was because she reminded me so much of Ingrid from White Oleander. Both are strong-willed and fierce women on the outside, but psychologically damaged beyond measure inside. I enjoyed Meredith's outward cool composure and elitism knowing underneath the surface she was walking a tight-rope between control and insanity.

As I mentioned, skipping chapters 5 through 22 may have made reading Paint It Black a more enjoyable experience for me. Once I got to chapter 23, the action of the story really began to develop and I found that Fitch delivered more in the conclusion than I was expecting. Family secrets and indicators of psychological discord are uncovered, Josie's repressed memories of her last days with Michael are revealed, and we finally get a more honest look into Michael's point of view. Overall, I'm glad I finished reading Paint It Black, but I was more satisfied that it was over than fulfilled by the conclusion.

Bottom Line: If you really like long, repetitive, beautiful prose, by all means - give it a go! But if you're expecting all the action, characterization and emotional development of White Oleander, you may be disappointed. // 3/5 stars.

For Fun: If this book were to be adapted into a movie (which I heard is happening eventually), I would cast Neon Trees front man Tyler Glenn as Michael and use the Neon Trees song "Our War" as the lead song in the movie. I would cast Michelle Pfieffer as Meredith but mostly because she was flawless as Ingrid in the White Oleander movie (I admit my huge bias).
via / via

When you read a book, do you find yourself mentally casting with relevant celebrities? What books have been turned into movies that you thought the casting was particularly exceptional/terrible? 

(I am addicted to casting books in my head! It makes me wish I would have studied to be a casting director!)

 *I think it's important for me to note that there was a variety of other works that informed this novel; works in literature, music, art, etc. Perhaps I would have appreciated the book more had I familiarized myself with everything related to the story/characters. I found this list on Janet Fitch's website after I finished reading that you might find helpful.

Don't forget, Sunday is your last chance to enter my Fun Book Bundle giveaway over at daniellesque! All you have to do is be a follower of this blog to enter! :) 

October 3, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Adulation by Elisa Lorello

  Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Title: Adulation
Author: Elisa Lorello
Release Date: November 6, 2012
Publisher: Amazon
Pre-order Here

Amazon's synopsis:
Celebrity screenwriter Danny Masters has the world at his feet. He’s dating a movie-star bombshell and his latest screenplay is a shoe-in for an Oscar. But he’s empty.

With few accomplishments to her credit, longtime bookstore employee Sunny Smith celebrates her fortieth birthday by setting forty goals for herself. Sleeping with her writing idol, Danny Masters, makes the list.

At the premiere of Danny’s new film, the two have a brief but enchanting exchange outside the theater. And after Danny insults the audience during the post-screening Q&A session, he’s thrilled to see Sunny in his autograph line. But as he gently takes her hand, Sunny spits Danny’s insults back at him.

The next day, to her horror, Sunny discovers a video of her tirade has gone viral. Instead of being angry, Danny is more determined than ever to find Sunny—and apologize. And once their lives intersect again, there’ll be no turning back. 

My thoughts: Elisa Lorello has quickly and easily become one of my favorite contemporary romance/chick-lit authors this year. I've read all three of her other novels {which I'll be reviewing here next week}, and she has a special way of giving depth to her stories that may not be expected. Her characters are always flawed but likable, so I look forward to reading about Danny masters and Sunny Smith! 

Did you enter my fun book bundle giveaway on my personal blog yet? Just follow The Book Barn and enter over at daniellesque!

October 1, 2012

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

She wouldn't kill, not if she didn't have to. A killing couldn't be undone and she'd killed enough. Mostly for her uncle. King Randa thought her useful. When border ruffians were stirring up trouble, why send an army if you could send a single representative? It was much more economical
-from Graceling by Kristin Cashore

{buy here}

Let's start this blog off with a bang, shall we? I have read a lot of books this year, but not since I read The Hunger Games Trilogy back in March have I been captivated by characters, themes and an entire world as much as while reading Graceling. Funny enough, I almost did not read this book; I checked it out from the library but the daunting 481 pages made me weary to begin, especially with other lighter reads to occupy my time. However, I am so glad that I invested the time to read what is now one of my favorite books!

Graceling is a fantasy novel where certain individuals (Gracelings) are "graced" with supernatural abilities that set them apart from regular people. A Graceling is distinguishable by two different colored eyes and are often ostracized for being different. Protagonist Katsa, the 18-year old orphaned niece of tyrant King Randa, is graced with the ability to fight, making her more powerful than any stronger or better trained adversary. King Randa takes advantage of his niece's grace by making her his powerful weapon against anyone who crosses him in even the smallest way. Troubled by her uncle's abuse of power, Katsa has created a Council to help bring justice to people in her kingdom and the six surrounding kingdoms so she is able to use her grace for good. During a rescue for the Council to find the kidnapped father of the Lienid King, Katsa meets Prince Po of Lienid, who is also graced and he becomes one of her few dear friends. Together Katsa and Po learn how to develop and control their graces as they embark on a whirlwind journey to uncover the mystery of Po's grandfather's kidnapping.

I don't usually pursue fantasy/adventure, which is funny because most of the books in this genre that I read have easily become my favorites {Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Princess Bride}. I think it has something to do with having to alter my perception of "normal" and the effort it takes to understand the world the author has created. I usually like to read to relax {I spent enough time in college reading books that made me work too hard!}, so putting in this extra effort sometimes seems like it's not worth the pay out {this is exactly why I keep dodging reading Game of Thrones, despite everyone telling me that it's necessary}. Well, let me say that Graceling is well worth the initial effort expended for the story Cashore delivers.

Written for ages 14 and up, the prose is very easy to understand despite the complexities of the world Cashore creates. Despite being a childrens/young adult book, Cashore includes some very mature content including graphic violence and sexual encounters. However, these scenes are where Cashore's writing really shines; her ability to vividly articulate the fights that take place between Katsa, Po and others makes you feel like you are watching a movie. I generally don't care for action books because they can be difficult to follow; this is not the case with Graceling. Similarly and yet conversely, the sexual scenes are so beautifully crafted that they are the furthest thing from inappropriate, even for a 14-year old audience. They aren't nearly as abundant as the fight scenes, but Cashore has a way of using words to outline exactly what she wants you to see and color in exactly how she wants you to feel. 

More impressive than her prose are the characters and themes Cashore develops in Graceling. Katsa can best be described as a typical, emotional 18-year old girl with a passion for justice in an environment that wishes to use her for evil. Initially Katsa is somewhat resigned to her role as a "monster", only fighting for justice in secret. It isn't until she meets Po that he gives her the courage to publicly fight back against evil and the acceptance to explore her grace and tame it for good. The friendship of Katsa and Po presents the theme of depending on other people, namely your friends, for support and positive affirmation. Before Katsa meets Po she is afraid of trusting others for fear they will try to control her similar to King Randa. In beautiful literary symmetry, Katsa also teaches Po to depend on her later in their friendship. 

Graceling addresses the traditional theme of good versus evil; however, it approaches this deeper by  exploring how individuals choose to use their talents for good or evil. By introducing the concept of Gracelings, Cashore invites the reader to pay closer attention to how their graces are used, the effects of their choices magnified. For example, King Randa chooses to use Katsa's grace for evil whereas Katsa chooses to use her grace for good. Katsa is able to make the choice of whether or not she is a monster or not and Cashore does a great job articulating Katsa's experience. There are many other examples of how Gracelings choose to use their graces, but I don't want to spoil the story!

I could honestly continue explicating this novel for days and wish I had read it in college so I would have had the opportunity to write more in depth about the characters and themes {honestly, not all my book reviews will be this long, just the ones I love the most!}. The only thing I can say at this point is go read this book, you won't regret it!! My only complaint is that there are two companion novels which I mistook for sequels, I really wish I could keep reading about the same characters!

Bottom Line: A great action/adventure fantasy with memorable characters and a powerful message. Well-written and exciting to read, I would recommend this book to anyone! If you loved The Hunger Games, I think you will love Graceling

I leave you with what I think should be Katsa and Po's song, Florence and the Machine's Kiss with a Fist ;)

Don't forget to enter my Fun Book Bundle Giveaway over at daniellesque! All you have to do to enter is be a follower of this blog! :)

Welcome to The Book Barn!

Welcome to The Book Barn where I would pull up a bale of hay for you to sit on if I could! I'm excited to start this blog after my book review posts were taking over my personal blog, daniellesque. While I love documenting my life, I'm excited that this new blog is more focused and simple. I plan to post 1-2 book reviews a week on Mondays and Thursdays.

If you want to swap ads, please let me know! I am offering guest posts/features to the first few swappers since my blog is so new! Also, if you have a blog and think I would be a good sponsor, let me know and I'll check it out!

I really hope to make new friends who also love to read, so let's get to know each other! Answer at least one of the following questions in a comment so I can come visit your blog and learn more about you!

What is your favorite book? 

Who is your favorite literary character?

Who is your favorite author?

What is your favorite genre to read? 

 Right now I'm hosting a book bundle giveaway on my personal blog, daniellesque, and all you have to do to enter is follow The Book Barn on GFC or BlogLovin! Click on over for your chance to win!

I really appreciate you checking out my blog and I'm even more grateful if you choose to follow! I guarantee lots of good books, giveaways and maybe even a blog book club in the future! Stay tuned for a lot of fun!

xx Danielle