Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas is knocking at the door!

I bet most of you have heard of the motto "Winter is coming" from Game of Thrones right? Well forget that. This week, in Montreal, winter has arrived LOL. And with such a bang that it's here to stay ^_^;

So, how have everyone been? I bet everyone is busy, especially with the holidays coming up. I know I was! I started a review last Friday, but didn't have time to finish it. I was hoping to complete it this week, but just no time! In addition of curling, I had appointments to physio and family doctor (just regular check-up). I was supposed to have a work thing today and it was stressing me big time, but at the last minute, it got cancelled. Yay! Because this week-end is definitively not slowing down. We're having a Christmas Cafe Cheer tonight at the curling club, an in-house tournament tomorrow and Sunday, I'm hosting our annual gift exchange. Tired yet? LOL. Oh and the snowstorm we had this week definitively didn't help.

Anyway, I just wanted to share some Christmas spirit with you all :) We put up the tree last week-end and my sister has been in a baking mood. We were able to squeeze in writing some Christmas cards - still not done though, but at least, the ones outside of Canada are written. Hopefully, I'll mail them tonight. Also, tonight is pot luck, so I made some panna cotta. I'll post an image of the final result :) This week-end, I'm going to try to make green tea panna cotta with black sesame brittle. We'll see how it works out ;)

So hopefully, after this week-end, I'll be to finish my review. Want to take a guess at which book it is? And what about you? Are you in a Christmas mood? :)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Radio silence...

Hi everyone!

Yes, I'm alive... I really have no excuse for not blogging other than I lost my blogging mojo ^_^; And quite frankly, I don't know if it's back. I don't even know if I miss blogging. That's kind of sad :( I miss the people, that's for sure. I miss discussions about books... but the pressure of putting up posts, of coming up with ideas, of hoping for comments. Not really. At the same time, I'm not ready to close the blog and call it quit. I guess we'll have to see where this goes.

So, what have I been up to? Well in my defense, back in September, I was really busy. After the shopping trip, I went to the States again at the end of the month. We had a family celebration - 70th wedding anniversary/95th birthday. Pretty awesome isn't it? It was a great week-end... Gorgeous weather, happy event and family. I haven't realized how much I missed that side of the family. Oh, and I totally made up my lack of shopping loot LOL.

Not long after we came back from Boston, I received some bad news from Hilcia. Her husband, John, was gravely ill. I love my blogger friends :) I've met quite a few of you while traveling :) However, aside from Ames, Hils is probably the blogger friend I know best because I've visited her quite a few times and stayed with her on those occasions. And every time, John opened his arms wide and welcomed us. He was an awesome man. So when we got the news, my sister and I wanted to see him and we made the drive on the Canadian Thanksgiving week-end. And I'm soooo happy we did it when we did, I'm so happy we got the chance to see John one last time before the disease took him away T_T

After we came back, well curling started up for me. Once again, I'm playing in three leagues this year. The difference though is that I play on Mondays instead of Sundays... and well that takes a toll on my sleep ^_^; The beginning of the season was kind of rough, but I think we started getting it together on all three of my teams and are now starting to play better and get some wins :) The only set-back was last week-end. There was a special tournament among the curling clubs in Montreal. My debutante team (5 years and under) entered it together and well, I got injured ^_^; Slipped, fell and landed on my shoulder. Got lucky that I didn't hurt myself too badly... However, I did injure my rotator cuff. Went to physio last week and have another appointment this week. It's still sore, but at least, hurt less... Seriously, from now on, I'll have to mark off November on my calendar. Something always seems to happen in November. Sigh.

Aside from curling, I've been crocheting a bit. I made a scarf for myself :) I hope to do a hat and
handwarmers that will match that scarf. There's another twisted cowl on my project list - I'm actually excited to start that one!! And my dad has just expressed interested in an infinity scarf in the past week. That's cool because it's right on time for Christmas!! So my sister and I will team up... My sister is going to knit the infinity scarf and I'll crochet a matching hat... Anyone has pattern suggestions? LOL. We went out and bought the yarn this afternoon. Hopefully, we'll be done in time. Speaking of Christmas, parties have already started! Our annual gift exchange is in two weeks... I'm hosting. And then, V decided to spoil us this year and we're having a Turducken on the 23rd :) Yum yum. Can't wait for the holiday season!!

And last, but not least, I have been reading :) Actually, my reading is going really well this year. I'm on track to hit my target this year which is 175 books. I've read some really good books too... so I'm hoping my blogging muse comes back so I can share with you all my thoughts :)

That's it from me for now :) Hopefully, more to come very soon!!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

September's shopping sprees

Hi everyone!

How are you doing? Sorry for dropping off the face of the earth like that ^_^; It wasn't my intention, but you know how it happens :(

It all started with a girls' shopping trip :) My sister and I have been planning to go to the States for some shopping for a while. Actually, we were supposed to go last year around Canada's Thanksgiving with Ames, but then, I got appendicitis. Consequently, the trip was postponed. We found out that some of my friends were interested. We didn't make it during the summer, so finally, set the date for September. Initially, we were 4... then 5, then 6 and finally, 7 :) Can you imagine how much damage 7 girls can do during a week-end's shopping spree? And boy, was it intense!! Two outlet malls (Merrimack and Wrentham), 1 regular mall, Walmart, Target, DSW, Bed Bath and Beyond, Barnes and Noble, Costco and Trader's Joe... all in 3 days!! Many of us needed a new pair of feet at the end of it all LOL.


We chose NH because there was no sale tax comparatively to 15% here in Quebec province. We also went to MA for one of the outlet mall and seriously, it was worth it all. The shopping, but also the fun we had!! Because we were 7 and none of us owned a van, we went in two cars... but we were prepared. Had GPS, paper routes from Google maps and walkie talkies. Those walkies came in soooo handy! Not only to communicate between cars, but also when we split up. It sounds a bit extreme to be walking around with walkie talkies, but when you can't use your cell phones...

In the end, I was the one who bought the least. I think part of it though is I was too busy taking pictures and videos. Still, my loot was not bad. Also, it helped some of my friends that went crazy LOL.

Not bad right? In addition to that, I have a top from DNKY... but it's all wrinkly right now ^_^; Seriously, it took me a week to recover from that week-end away :) But I would do it again in a heart beat :)

Not too long ago, we got news that one of the bookstores in downtown Montreal, Chapters, was closing on October 4th. While it saddened me a lot, it was kind of predictable. First, there's only really one bookstore chain of books in Canada and that's Chapters/Indigo... and in downtown Montreal, there's a Chapters and an Indigo on the same street, 3 blocks apart ^_^; With the way the industry is going, I think it is a good decision. Still sad though. Anyway, a few years ago, one of their other bookstores closed and there wasn't any sale of any kind... So I didn't expect Chapters to have a closing sale... but boy, was I wrong. It was 50% off on everything in store!! It started last Monday, but crap, I only found out on Wednesday! Still, Wednesday was enough to make enough damage LOL.

The first picture was actually what I bought on Wednesday night - in 20 minutes. And because I only had 20 minutes to browse on Wednesday, I told myself I had to go back on Thursday... Just in case I missed anything. Really, I didn't need to go back. I don't need more books... but 50% off!!! It NEVER happens. Never! Just couldn't help myself ^_^;

So there you have it. My shopping sprees for September... If that was all I spent money on, I'd be lucky... but nope. Curling season is coming up and open house is next week-end. And September is far from over. My poor wallet. Can you hear it moan and whimper? LOL.

What about you? How is September treating you?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Slipped Through the Cracks Review: Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

A review, yay! LOL, I'm looking forward to a time when I won't be celebrating every time I put up a review anymore ^_^; Hopefully, that time will come soon :)

As you can see from the title of the post, I'm trying a new feature. I realized that because of my blogging blues, I didn't review a lot of books from my favorite series and authors, books that I really wanted to review. So I'm going to try to play catch up a little bit. I'm still trying to think up of a fun format, so it's different from my usual reviews... if you have any suggestion, feel free! For now though, here's what I came up with :)

Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews
published by Berkley (Ace) in July 2013
Atlanta is a city plagued by magical problems. Kate Daniels will fight to solve them—no matter the cost.

Mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate, Curran, the Beast Lord, are struggling to solve a heartbreaking crisis. Unable to control their beasts, many of the Pack’s shapeshifting children fail to survive to adulthood. While there is a medicine that can help, the secret to its making is closely guarded by the European packs, and there’s little available in Atlanta.

Kate can’t bear to watch innocents suffer, but the solution she and Curran have found threatens to be even more painful. The European shapeshifters who once outmaneuvered the Beast Lord have asked him to arbitrate a dispute—and they’ll pay him in medicine. With the young people’s survival and the Pack’s future at stake, Kate and Curran know they must accept the offer—but they have little doubt that they’re heading straight into a trap…
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Kate Daniels, Book #6

If you didn't know yet...

... panacea is a herbal mixture produced by European shapeshifters that can reduce chances of loupism          at birth and reverse midtransformation in 1/3 of teenagers, thus saving Pack children.

... the Pack is offered panacea if Curran is willing to arbitrate a dispute between three European packs. Basically, Desandra is the daughter of a powerful Alpha who used her as a pawn and married her to two different men of different packs. She is currently pregnant with twins from different fathers - her husband and ex-husband. Desandra's father has once promised a profitable mountain pass to his first grandchild, but now wants to renegade on the deal. Curran's job is to protect Desandra's life and witness the birth of the firstborn. Things get interesting and complicated when one of the babies appear to be more than just a wolf shapeshifter.

... knowing it's a trap, Curran and Kate still agree to go because 1) they need the panacea and 2) ever since the events of Magic Strikes and Magic Bleeds, Kate has tipped her hand and thus, revealed her true identity to some. As such, it wouldn't hurt to take a leave of absence from Atlanta for a while. Going with them are 11 other shapeshifters and Saiman who is providing transportation.

... the person Kate wanted to avoid most by leaving Atlanta was Hugh. Of course, that won't be happening as he turns out to be their host.

... and conflict arises between the Beast Lord and his Consort as both are being courted: Curran by the daughter of an Alaskan pack Alpha and Kate, Hugh.

My Two Cents...

When I picked up Magic Rises, I really had high expectations. First, because the series has been going strong for me ever since Magic Strikes and second, the two-year gap between Magic Slays and Magic Rises. And while I did enjoy Magic Rises a lot... it wasn't the wowzer I wanted it to be :(

I thought the setting and premise of the book were really interesting, especially since it promised everything I enjoy in this series: good storyline, lots of action and politics with the bonus of seeing more of the world Ms Andrews has created. I really liked the idea of getting away from Atlanta as it added a wave of freshness to the series. It was also fun to see how Curran and Kate handled themselves, knowing they were walking in a trap... Hugh being their host was such a good twist too! LOL. Not only because it was ironic since he was the person Kate wanted to avoid, but it showed that no matter how prepared you are, you can't be ready for everything :) His presence also offered some balance in the storyline in the sense that it turned out not to be only a shapeshifter matter, but involved Kate more in the storyline. The political aspect of Magic Rises was also really well-executed. I always find the Pack's politics interesting because it's quite unique. To me, it has a different kind of intricacy because the shapeshifter world Ms Andrews has created involves more savagery. So to see this on a larger scale was interesting :) The whole mythology aspect of the story also worked for me. It just fit and added a layer of complexity to the storyline :) Oh and as usual, the action was top-notched :)

Few things that worked, but didn't  at the same time for me. Overall, I thought the pacing of Magic Rises was good... but in the last third of the book, it got a bit uneven. Personally, I thought the reprieve Curran and Kate got was a bit weird. I know it served a purpose, several actually, but the transitioning was off and that part of the story simply seemed to not fit and be a bit illogical. I mean, Kate disappears and the only person going after her is Curran? And when she shows up with Curran,  nobody seems to have been concerned? Also, the final scene for me was rushed. I don't know if there was another way out, but everything escalated too fast. By the way, what happened to the other packs? Did they all die? Finally, there was Chris, the new, utlra-intriguing character that Kate has taken under her wing. I liked that in Magic Rises, there were some casualties and ones that we, as fans of the series, feel deeply. It's never easy when it happens and I understand that we don't want those losses to be for nothing... but it was too convenient to have Chris save the day. Again, was there another option?

While I had some issues, most of them were minor and I could have ignored them easily. What really knocked down my enjoyment of Magic Rises though was the whole conflict between Curran and Kate involving Lorelei. Curran justifies it, but to me, it doesn't fly. I really hated that part of the storyline because I felt it was sooo unnecessary. Although I admit it did fit Curran's high-handedness - to take on the problem on his own without consulting Kate - the resulting behavior was annoying and I really despised it. To me, it was a blatant display of lack of trust :( Also, Kate has been working so hard to fit, to be Pack and he undermined everything. Sure, the shapeshipfters were all close friends to Kate, but still unacceptable with me. Apparently, Mr. Andrews is going to write Curran's POV of this Lorelei episode and all I feel is meh. I think the worst as well was that Kate couldn't have a showdown with Lorelei and be vindicated.

Final Say... B. All in all, I did enjoy Magic Rises; however, the expectations were soooo high  ^_^; Add in the relationship issue between Curran and Kate, and I feel Magic Rises fell a bit flat.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What's in a name?

All right... Still not a review, but this is a post I've been meaning to write for a while. The subject? Authors' names and pen names. But first, a little disclaimer: I didn't do any thorough research or anything. This is a feeling/opinion I've had for a while and wanted to voice. Just wondered if it was just me who had this feeling or if it was shared.

Who here checks the copyright page of their books and the name next to "Copyright @"? I don't systematically do it, but from time to time, I'll stumble across it... and it's always fun to find out the true name of authors :) It's also surprisingly easy when you think about it!

Just for fun, try to guess who are the following authors: Linda Howington, Loretta Chekani, Susan Macias Redmond, Julie Koca, Jodi Koumalats, P.F. Besley, Cheryl Griffin and Katherine Smith.

It's no secret that many authors choose to go with a pen name and there are many reasons to do so. On top of my head, there's privacy... but also clearly, marketing. Making your name sound more American/generic, choosing a pen name to fit a genre specifically, hiding your gender... Also, how many authors we've heard of who write multiple fiction genres or sub-genres and therefore need different pen names: Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb, J.R. Ward and Jessica Bird, Sylvia Day and S.J. Day and Livia Dare. Or authors who need a start fresh?

For whatever reasons the authors do it, it's valid and all very interesting :) And I bet a lot of thoughts go into it choosing a pen name... So what's my issue? Why am I writing this post? Well... Is it me or recently, there's been a lot of similar names popping up? It's as if new authors are purposely choosing pen names that are similar to established authors to confuse the readers :( I'll see posts on blogs and forums and be like: "Oh, I didn't know this author had a new book out" and turns out I read the author's names too quickly. I'm sure that for some authors, they want to use as close as their real name as possible... so I'm not ranting at all the Jennifers or Susans since I know they are popular names. But in some case, I wonder. For example, this morning, I came across Holly Kinsella. Of course, it reminded me of Sophie Kinsella. Was that the purpose? If you had the chance to choose your pen name, wouldn't you try to pick something as unique as possible? It's already hard to keep titles and covers straight, but now, authors' names too?! And it seems more prominent because of all the self-publishing going on...

Perhaps I'm making a big deal out of nothing, but it's something I noticed lately and it's been on my mind. So I thought I'd share and see what were your thoughts :) Agree, disagree, no opinion? How do you feel about that?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Slowly, but surely, I'm getting back in :) I have a buddy review up over at Breezing Through with Rowena :) Speaking of buddy reviews, I'm going to try to update my sidebar and Goodreads as frequently as possible... If you see any books you'd be interested to discuss, you know where to find me! I'm in to buddy review any books :) Anyway, back on the subject. The buddy review is for Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson and you can click here to find it :)

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson
published by Simon & Schuster in May 2014
It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just...disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night?
Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn?
Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger?

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she'll find?

Go skinny-dipping?
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Series: None

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Busy week-end!

Hi everyone!

Wassup? As usual, I had plans to blog... but you know what happens to plans :) Out the window, most of the time ^_^: I knew I had a busy week-end, which is why I took Friday and Monday off... but it turned out a lot busier than I expected. Anyway, since I don't have any reviews, I thought I'd share some pictures :)

Saturday was the annual BBQ. You know which one I'm taking about :) Before one can BBQ though, one must buy food, drinks and stuff. And that's how I spent my Friday. I kid you not, I was grocery shopping the whole day on Friday... and I wasn't even in charge of the meat! Had some bad luck, but eventually pulled it off :)

As usual, we had lots of food and lots of leftovers :) But I prefer that than running out of something. The weather was also perfect for a BBQ and we had lots of fun! One tiny little issue was wasps. I noticed last week that we had a lot of wasps under the awning... After inspection, turns out that we had a hidden nest! Not a bit one, but nobody wants to mess with wasps. Especially after what happened to our mayor :( Last month, our mayor died after being attacked by wasps after she had stepped on their nest! So that's why instead of being on the patio, we were in the yard. It was good though since we were in the shade and there was a lot more space! :) I think that's where we'll be from now on... Unless it rains.

In case you're wondering about the wasps, we called an exterminator on Monday. We had a nest in the attic when I was in high school... It started poking holes in the walls and was coming in my parents' room. Back then, my dad took care of it, but got stung several times... So my sister and I called the exterminator because we were not taking any chance. Hopefully, it's all taken care of now... The only issue is that it's a hidden nest, so they couldn't remove it. We'll keep an eye on it for now.

On Sunday, a friend organized a pontoon boat party. I wasn't sure if I wanted to be on a boat because of my vertigo, but it turned out to be a lot of fun! It was a very long day though because we were at Mont Tremblant and that's 1.5 hour drive... and had to be there for 10am. We had the boat from 11am to 3pm and the weather was gorgeous. Really looking forward to the next time :)

One of our friends has recently bought a selfie stick and she had the chance to test it out :)

 I'd say it was a success ;)

So really, on Monday, I was pooped and so happy I had the day off!! And now, hopefully, back to blogging :)

How was your week-end?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Review: For the Longest Time by Kendra Leigh Castle

Hi everyone!

As I said, here I am! LOL. I'm jumping straight in with a review. It's been a while and I'm a bit rusty, so hopefully, the review isn't awful ^_^; I'm still trying to figure out things and there's a chance some stuff will change... but for now, here we go :)

For the Longest Time by Kendra Leigh Castle
published by New American Library (Signet) in July 2014
For Samantha Henry, it took a ten-year absence to appreciate the close-knit New England town with an appeal all its own...

After a perfect storm of events leaves Sam high, dry, and jobless, she has to head home to Harvest Cove to regroup. Growing up, she was the town misfit, and a brief high school romance that resulted in heartbreak made her realize she was never going to fit in. But now with the support of her mother and an unexpected circle of allies, Sam starts to wonder if she’s misjudged the town all these years.

Life’s been good to Jake Smith. He transitioned from popular jock to town veterinarian without any trouble. But Sam’s homecoming makes him question his choices. The sharp-tongued beauty was never a good fit for the small community, but he’s never forgotten her—or how good they were together. While she makes it clear she’s not about to repeat the past, Jake’s determined to convince her to give him—and Harvest Cove—a second chance.
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Harvest Cove, Book #1

The Story: I don't think I can do a better job than the blurb as it is pretty accurate. All I'm going to add is: 1) Sam is an artist and 2) what Sam and Jake had in high school wasn't really a romance. It was definitively the start of something until Jake denied his acquaintance with Sam in front of his friends from the popular clique.

My Opinion: In the past year, I've complained a lot about small-town romances and how I'm tired and over them. Yet, I keep picking them up, especially new authors and series ^_^; For the Longest Time is the perfect example of why... because every time, I hope this one will be different, that it'll wow me. And that's exactly what happened with For the Longest Time :)

At first glance, the premises of For the Longest Time is not so different from most small-town romances. You have a heroine who is down on her luck, coming back to her hometown. The first person she runs into is of course the last one she wants to see: the guy who broke her heart in high school. She hasn't been able to erase him from her memory and he's attracted to her and wants to reconnect... However, the way Ms Castle executed it made For the Longest Time very refreshing :) First, the story was focused on Sam and Jake and their romance. Even though this was the first book in the series, there was no information dump, no introduction of a funny cast of characters and very little sequel baiting. Instead, almost everything in the story was relevant to Sam, Jake and their romance. Of course, it's a bit plus that Sam and Jake were very likable and enjoyable characters. They were simply regular people, but I have to say very mature... and that's what made this book for me. They were able to see things with an open mind... For example, Sam left Harvest Cove because she didn't fit in. It was nice to see the woman Sam grew into and it's really no wonder Jake was attracted. Anyway, Sam gave Harvest Cove a chance and once She realized she liked it, she didn't get stubborn about leaving like so many other heroes/heroines. It's little things, but those made the differences when comparing For the Longest Time with other small-town contemporary romances.

The most refreshing part of For the Longest Time for me was that Jake, who had stayed in Harvest Cove, is the one who grew the most, who had a revelation. Usually, it's the other way around... the person who returns has the big revelation which makes it convenient to change his/her mind and settle down. I liked seeing Jake realized that his life was lacking and that his group of friends was insular. I don't want to give too much details, but it was nice. Usually, these books are all about old friendships, reconnecting with old friends and how good it is. But For the Longest Time shows us the other side of the coin which is as true and realistic. It was a bit sad and made me a bit uncomfortable because it hit a bit close to home for me, but in the end, it was nice to see Jake grow. It's also comforting to know that he still has good friends there for him.

Another part I enjoyed a lot was the atmosphere of the story. It was relaxed and quiet. There was no pressure, no obsession... Sam's goal wasn't to get out of Harvest Cove ASAP by any means possible. Instead, it was really the perfect place for Sam to go and re-assess her life. There were no stressful relationships either. I actually loved that Sam had a good relationship with her family. It was nice to see a normal mother-daughter relationship... but more importantly, it was good to see a loving and understandable mother that let her daughter figures things out by herself and in her own times. I enjoyed Sam rediscovering her town and the new friendships she made. I actually liked Sam's new boss, Zoe, a lot and am looking forward to her book.

Of course, For the Longest Time wasn't perfect. For one, I didn't get why Sam was so hard on herself when she came back home. Sam acted like she was an utter failure, as if she lost everything... and perhaps it's me who is not understanding enough, not having been in her shoes... but it felt to me, not that bad. And while the romance was very sweet and I liked Sam and Jake as a couple, I wished there's been more scenes of them together, more interactions. I also felt that the ending was a bit abrupt and fast. In the end though, these were all minor flaws that I easily disregarded because I felt the story was very refreshing :)

My Grade: B+. I was curious about Ms Castle's transition from paranormal to contemporary romance and I'm happy to say she pulled it off admirably :) For the Longest Time doesn't pack a punch, but in its quiet way, it made a way to my heart. I really enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series, Every Little Kiss. March seems too far away!

Friday, August 01, 2014

BT: New Releases - August 2014

Hi everyone!!

Sorry for the radio silence for the past month and plus... I guess I needed a break to recharge. The good news is that my reading has picked up and I had a great month of July :)

I'm working on a personal project at the moment that hopefully, I'll wrap up this week-end. As soon as it's taken care of, I'll come back to blogging. I've been itching for it the past few days, especially now that Kristie is back :P Oh the pressure on both of us LOL.

In the meantime, Ames and I have our monthly new releases post over at Breezing Through. Click here to check out what books we're looking forward to!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review: Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Finally, a review! Yay!

I've been going through a reading slump and was lamenting about it to Ames and Brie yesterday... If I don't read, I'm not doing much in the evenings and that's just sad. This morning, I finally figured what I could do: review, of course! Hopefully, I'll keep it up ^_^;

Today's review is one that I've wanted to write for a long, long time... After all, I've read this book back in February ^_^; Hopefully, it makes sense and you enjoy :)

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg
published by Scholastic Press in February 2014
For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can't be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan's friends. They are platonic and happy that way.

Eventually they realize they're best friends -- which wouldn't be so bad if they didn't keep getting in each other's way. Guys won't ask Macallan out because they think she's with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can't help but wonder... are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated?
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Series: None

The Story: I like the blurb because it sums up Better Off Friends quite well. Basically, on their first day of school of 7th grade, Macallan is asked to show Levi around. Both have apprehension starting this new school year... Macallan has recently lost her mother in a car accident and needs something to distract her from her grief. As for Levi, his family has just moved from California to Wisconsin and while everything was good in California, nobody turns down the opportunity of a fresh start. When the two discover a common love for a TV show, they quickly bond and become best friends.

What Macallan and Levi learn in the next few years is that friendship is hard to maintain, especially as you grow... and it is perhaps even harder when it's between a girl and a boy. Having love interests is challenging... but what happens when you develop feelings for your best friend?

My Opinion: I have read all of Ms Eulberg's books in order of publication... and it seems that I've developed a pattern: I enjoy one, doesn't like the next, love again the one after and so on. As a result, I was really looking forward to Better Off Friends because according to the pattern, it'd be one that I would enjoy a lot... and so far, the pattern holds true LOL.

One of the things I liked best about Better Off Friends was the writing style :) I liked the alternating POVs between Macallan and Levi, but also that the story wasn't continuous. Instead, Ms Eulberg decided to show us the important moments of Macallan and Levi's friendship throughout the five years that the book spans. In that regard, this book reminded me a lot of Take a Bow, but perhaps even better because there's only two main characters. I liked this style because we got to know Macallan and Levi really well, but also it allowed us to explore their relationship more deeply.

Speaking of relationship, I think Ms Eulberg did a great job building this one. I liked that Macallan and Levi became friends at 11 years old instead of younger... It makes the dynamic different because they don't know all of each other's secret and also, but also because they're on the verge of big changes in their lives... and it was great to see their friendship endure and blossom :) I enjoyed seeing the ups and downs our two main characters went through  and I thought it was very realistic. What added to the realistic feel is how well Ms Eulberg captured the confusion of Macallan and Levi and their maturity/immaturity.

All in all, Macallan and Levi were very likable characters :) I enjoyed reading their story and see how growth affected their friendship. I also liked seeing them falling in love with each other. So much in a romance is about timing and Better Off Friends was a good example.

My Grade: B+. I really enjoyed Better Off Friends and I think Ms Eulberg is at her best when she writes slices-of-life storylines :)

Friday, June 06, 2014

Review: Skin Game by Jim Butcher

I'm still alive :) Actually, not much is going with me except reading... so I really hope to find my muse so I can share my thoughts with you. I'm currently toying with some ideas for the blog... Hopefully, some of them will pan out :)

For now, enjoy this review!

***Warning: This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk***

Skin Game by Jim Butcher
published by New American Library (ROC) in May 2014
Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day...

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.

He doesn’t know the half of it…

Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Dresden Files, Book #15

The Story: The blurb is a good summary for the book, so there's not much for me to add. Basically, since the events of Cold Days, Harry has been living by himself on Demonreach with very little contacts with anyone. Then Mab shows up because she has a job for him... and if he's successful, she'll help remove the parasite in his head which is going to kill him in a few days.

However, when Harry learns of the job, he's ready to balk no matter the risk to his life... because not only will he be stealing for Hades, Lord of the Underworld, but he'll be working for Nicodemus Archleone. Unfortunately, Harry doesn't have a choice... and he'll do everything in his power to undermine Nicodemus' careful planning.

My Opinion: I love the Dresden Files series. It's really one of my favorite Urban Fantasy series because it has it all: solid world building, complex stories full of twists and turns, great characters and great humor. The last book, Cold Days, was epic which is why I considered it my Best Read of 2012... I was so excited when Skin Game was finally announced, especially since the blurb sounded so good! I mean, Harry having to team up with Nicodemus to steal the Holy Grail from Hades?!?! OMG! LOL. I guess all of this meant that I really had high expectations for Skin Game... and as much as I wanted to love this installment, it fell flat a little for me :(

In short, what was missing for me in Skin Game was the intensity, the "sitting on the edge of your seat" excitement. The last few Dresden Files books were pretty much non-stop action and revelations... and while there was plenty of both in Skin Game, it felt less urgent. It also seemed like there was a lot of "quiet" time. When I read the blurb of Skin Game, I thought the book was going to be about going into the Underworld, the obstacles and people they'd meet in order to succeed. An adventure! Instead, a huge part of Skin Game was about planning the break-in and involved a lot of running around. Even worst, breaking-in the vault in the Underworld and the theft turned out to be anti-climatic! ^_^; I talked to my friend about Skin Game and his words were "the pacing was weird." I think a better word would be: uneven. Skin Game started out pretty strong, but then, it slowed down too much and lost momentum. So when it was time for the grand finale, it couldn't reach the high it was supposed to :(

Another issue I had was with Harry. In Skin Game, Harry still struggles with being the Winter Knight and how the mantle can affect his personality. He's still scared to become lose his conscience and become a monster. I understand that we all want character's growth and development, especially in a series featuring the same main characters... but in the case of Harry, it just seems a bit pointless. Perhaps it's because he's so aware of the possible effect of the winter mantle and therefore, keeps worrying about it and bringing it up. To me though, all his concerns just make him wishy-washy :(  Especially since in the end, Harry still reverts back to the same old Harry that we like and want. I wish he would stop worrying and accept the consequences of the decision he made. He needed the power of the Winter Knight to save Maggie. He tried to kill himself and didn't succeed. What else can he do? Especially now that Molly is the Winter Lady, shouldn't he stand by her side? Also, I feel that Harry should have processed his feelings and thoughts already. I mean, at least a year goes by between books... doesn't he think about it? As a result, it makes this issue a bit redundant.

Despite my complaints, there were quite a bit to like about Skin Game. I liked that Mr Butcher kept the cast of Skin Game small and intimate instead of bombarding us with all of Harry's friends and allies. It allowed more focus which was a good thing in this book. It was so nice to see Michael again and to have him team up with Harry... Just nice :) The twist about the parasite was inspired LOL. I'm curious to see how it's going to turn out. All I can think though is that Bob will have company and who knows, perhaps a girlfriend in the future :P I'm also happy that some elements of the whole series are moving along. For example, Harry and Murphy's romance - finally!! I understand Murphy's fear, but it'd be sad to miss out on love because of it. Also, we have a new Knight of the Cross! Yay! It was a good surprise to see who picked up Fidelacchius... Unexpected, but good because seriously seriously, Butters rocks LOL. I'm also happy that Murphy as a possibility as a Knight of Cross has been resolved. As usual, there was also a lot of humor in Skin Game. I particularly liked the scene with Uriel's mortality... and oh, the parasite - that was priceless LOL. However, my favorite part of the book is when Harry finally meets Maggie :) She deserves a father and Harry needs her. Oh and I'm really glad that Harry will finally be back in Chicago.

My Grade: B-. I read in LazerWraith's Goodreads review that Mr Butcher considered Changes, Ghost Story and Cold Days as a three-part mid-season special episode... and they were. He attained such a high with those three books that coming back down was going to be inevitably hard. I know that I'm in the minority, but I feel that's what happened to Skin Game. It's definitively not a bad book, but the difference between it and the three other books is huge. Still, I'm looking forward to the next book! Can't wait to see what Mr Butcher and Harry have in store for us :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: Sun-Kissed by Laura Florand

Sun-Kissed by Laura Florand
self-published in May 2014
They called her the Ice Queen.

Anne Winters. Self-made billionaire. Household name. Divorced single mom. Convicted felon. She didn’t let anyone or anything get to her. No one was allowed to breach the walls around her heart except for her own son. She had only one trusted friend: her vacation house neighbor. They’d been walking the beach together for twenty years. Not that this gave him access to her heart, of course…

They called him a man who got what he wanted.

Mack Corey. Self-made billionaire. Dominant world player. Widowed father of the bride. No felony convictions yet, although his daughters had come close. He’d transformed his family company into one of the top 500 by the age of thirty. He’d raised two daughters who dumped him for idiot arrogant French chocolatiers and went off to live in Paris. Hell, he even managed to tolerate his dad. But that Ice Queen act Anne Winters had going was really starting to get to him…

They’d been friends for twenty years. Could they become lovers?

Could a frozen heart be kissed by the sun?
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: Connected to Snow-Kissed and Amour & Chocolat series

The Story: For a change, Sun-Kissed takes place in the States :) Jaime and Dominique are celebrating their wedding and all of their families and close friends are there with them. Recently released from prison, Anne  Winters needs something to occupy herself and has thrown all her energy into organizing the wedding.

Basically, for Anne Winters, think Martha Stewart, without the warmth ^_^; Anne Winters made her fortune by showing to people how to create homes through recipes, crafts and so on. She is known as the Ice Queen with a "fuck you" attitude which didn't endear her to the jury when she was accused of insider trade.

Mack Corey is also a self-made billionaire, king of chocolate in America. He's been Anne's neighbor for 20 years during which they've become confident. He has developed feelings for her, but never acted on it for fear of ruining their friendship... But after Anne has spent six months in prison, he knows it's time to let her know how he feels.

My Opinion: I've never been a fan of "older" main characters ^_^; Oh, as secondary characters, no problem... but as main characters? Not my cup of tea. Mostly because I don't connect with them since a lot of what they've lived, I haven't experienced :( Therefore, I had my doubts about Sun-Kissed when I found out that the main characters were Anne Winters and Mack Corey, both single parents in their 50s. However, Ms Florand proved me wrong and convinced me that I should branch out in my reading a little :)

One of reasons why I enjoyed Ms Florand's books so much is the intensity. She just has a way to communicate this intensity through her characters. You know that they're involved and in so many instance, the power of their feelings is just palpable. And it's not only good feelings like love and passion, but a lot of time, doubts and incertitude... I often feel that books are missing some oomph, but in the case of Ms Florand, the intensity is the oomph I'm looking for and therefore, she has it to spare. And with Sun-Kissed, Ms Florand showed me that young people don't have the monopoly on intensity :) It was quite interesting because Mack and Anne deal with their feelings quite differently. Mack is very expressive and is a man of action while Anne is known as the Ice Queen. Having gone through a number of miscarriages has turned into an introvert. Keeping her feelings to herself has been the way she has survived... However, it doesn't mean she feels less. I think her emotions and the intensity she felt them was as fierce as Mack, perhaps even deeper, and overall, it afforded a nice contrast in the story.

I mentioned above that I don't like reading about older characters because I don't connect with them... but in this case, it worked out so well because it was so refreshing! Mack dealing with an empty nest now that his second daughter is married as well. Also, facing the fact that both his daughters decided to live on a different continent. Anne's feelings about her son having married a woman that's the complete opposite of her. These are feelings that parents must feel, but that are rarely mentioned in romance... and it totally worked for me :)

Speaking of romance, I enjoyed Mack and Anne's. It happened quite fast, but given a 20-year-long friendship, it worked. Plus, there was a catalyst for Mack's finally revealing his feelings for Anne, it didn't come out of the blues. Mack felt helpless when Anne went to jail. Such a powerful man, but unable to help his friend. It also showed him how anything can happen and how they shouldn't waste their time. So yes, something else that worked for me :)

Personally, I don't know how well Sun-Kissed works as a stand-alone since I've read all the books it is connected to. However, for maximum enjoyment of the book, I do think that you need to read the other books. Otherwise, you'll miss the details that make you go "squeee" because a secondary character has appeared or did something :P I know I had fun reading Sun-Kissed for all the secondary characters :) In the very least, read The Chocolate Thief, The Chocolate Touch and Snow-Kissed.

My Grade: B. I hope Ms Florand is going to continue writing novellas/short stories because most of them are winners for me :)