Book Review: Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1) by Gail Carriger

Without a morsel of exaggeration, its publisher describes this debut novel as "a comedy of manners set in Victorian London full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking." At the center of Soulless's "parasol protectorate" is Miss Alexia Tarabotti, a young woman who lacks not only a suitor but also a soul. And those are not her only problems: When she accidentally kills a vampire, it begins a series of events that she must set out to resolve without the help of any proper authorities. A charming mass market original.

Release Date: October 1, 2009
Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Orbit
Source: Library

I've had Soulless on my TBR list for months now, and was really excited to see that my library had an eBook available.  I've recently moved and my new library loans eBooks---yay!

I read people's reviews of Soulless, saying what a great Steampunk novel it is, and to be honest, the term Steampunk kind of turned me off to it.  When I see "Steampunk", I think of combustion engines and trains.  I decided to investigate the term, and found the Wikipedia definition here.  Now I'm going to think of Steampunk as fiction, often paranormal fiction, set in Victorian-era Britain.  Sounds like historical paranormal fiction to me, which is right up my alley.  

With that settled, let me tell you about Soulless.  It took me a while to figure this book out.  Either I spaced out at the beginning or the book doesn't give you much backstory to go on.  I had to figure out for myself what a lot of things were: dewan, claviger, and I still don't know what BUR stands for.  Despite this lack of understanding, I really enjoyed the book.  I like Alexia immensely.  She has a lot of spunk.  I loved the way she stood up for herself.  I loved that she has a curvy figure and a good appetite.  But what I liked the most about her was how honest and straightforward she is.  There's no pussyfooting around with her, and I love that in a female main character.  The romance was a nice addition to the story, and was not so heavy-handed that it detracted from the plot.  The secondary characters were very well-fleshed out, especially Lord Akeldama.

Soulless loses stars for being hard to follow in the beginning.  I have a feeling I'm going to like the next book, Changeless, even more, now that the world-building is complete.

Book Review: Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

She is pretty and talented - sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But... they are brother and sister.

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

Release Date: June 28, 2011
Age Group: Young Adult
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: Purchased

Oh my gosh.  I am just stunned.  I loved this book, just loved it.  Reading the summary, I never thought I would like this book as much as other people have.  I never expected to root for Lochan and Maya to end up together.  I mean, come on, they are brother and sister!  Gross!  Wrong!  Illegal!   It is all of those things, but I was never grossed out.  I felt for Lochan and Maya and I really didn't feel like they were wrong to love each other.

The lines of right and wrong are blurred.  Very blurred.  When you have two siblings so close in age, who are essentially playing mom and dad to their three younger siblings, things are bound to get confusing.  They have to keep the fact that their mom is an absentee parent a secret from everyone, to prevent social services from taking the children into foster care.  Lochan and Maya have only each other to confide in.  They have no one else to commiserate with, and as a result, the bond between them is very strong.

I liked Maya well enough, although she was a little dramatic and impulsive for my tastes.  I loved Lochan, though.  He struggles with social anxiety, and is painfully shy.  He has no friends and cannot speak in class due to nerves.  Lochan is really smart and a great student, but is crippled by shyness.  His only friend in the world is Maya, and she is the only person who really knows or understands him.  Maya and Lochan are best friends, and have been best friends their entire lives. 

There were a couple of things that bothered me about this book.  I could never work out how to properly pronounce Lochan's name.  I ended up looking it up on my Nook, but by then, I had gotten used to saying his name wrong.  So, every time I saw "Lochan" or "Lochie" I stumbled over it, first pronouncing it my way (sort of like Logan) and then pronouncing it the right way (Laa-ken).  The book did get a little melodramatic.  I guess it was the back and forth between Lochan and Maya's point of view, but experiencing the same thing through both points of view made it feel melodramatic.  Overall, though, these were small issues in light of how much I enjoyed the book. 

And the ending.  Oh my gosh, the ending.  I figured something like that would happen, but I had no idea I would be so affected by it.  I rarely cry while reading.  I may get misty-eyed over a really poignant love story or happily ever after, but I almost never go into a full cry.  I did here, though.  I cried, and all day long, was so sad I could barely focus on anything.  Even now, days later, I am still affected by the emotions Suzuma evoked in me with her writing. 

This book is not for people who are closed-minded.  You have to go into it with an open mind.  I was also surprised that it is YA.  I really thought it was more of an adult read, with regards to the romantic scenes and the premise.  If you want a book that will make you think, something that will really punch you in the gut, this one's for you.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of you!  Natalie and I hope you all have a great holiday filled with love and laughter.  

I had to include my little girl's first Christmas picture.  Here is Kaitlyn at 8 months old.  Isn't she so sweet?

Book Review: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen


Ruby knows that the game is up. For the past few months, she's been on her own in the yellow house, managing somehow, knowing that her mother will probably never return.

That's how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn't seen in ten years, and Cora's husband Jamie, whose down-to-earth demeanor makes it hard for Ruby to believe he founded the most popular networking Web site around. A luxurious house, fancy private school, a new wardrobe, the promise of college and a future; it's a dream come true. So why is Ruby such a reluctant Cinderella, wary and defensive? And why is Nate, the genial boy next door with some secrets of his own, unable to accept the help that Ruby is just learning to give?

Best-selling author Sarah Dessen explores the heart of a gutsy, complex girl dealing with unforeseen circumstances and learning to trust again.

Release Date: April 22, 2008
Age Group: Young Adult
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Source: Library

I've read only one Sarah Dessen book, but liked it enough to seek more of her work out.  I'm glad that I didn't read Lock and Key first, because it would have turned me off to Dessen.  This one just wasn't for me.  I didn't like Ruby, I thought she made terribly immature decisions.  I really didn't like her personality at all.  I did like Jamie and Cora, and thought they were so sweet together.  I didn't like the open ending, which felt more like an ending suited to a series novel.  And, most troubling, I found Lock and Key to be slow.  So slow.  The story just took forever to go anywhere!  I really don't have much more to say, other than it's not a bad book, it just didn't click for me.  

Book Review: Return to Paradise (Leaving Paradise #2) by Simone Elkeles

Caleb Becker left Paradise eight months ago, taking with him the secret he promised to take to his grave. If the truth got out, it would ruin everything.

Maggie Armstrong tried to be strong after Caleb broke her heart and disappeared. Somehow, she managed to move on. She's determined to make a new life for herself.

But then Caleb and Maggie are forced together on a summer trip. They try ignoring their passion for each other, but buried feelings resurface. Caleb must face the truth about the night of Maggie's accident, or the secret that destroyed their relationship will forever stand between them.

Release Date: September 1, 2010
Age Group: Young Adult
Publisher:  Flux
Source: Library

I loved Leaving Paradise and started Return to Paradise the instant I finished Leaving Paradise.  The cliffhanger ending really left me no choice: I HAD to know if Caleb and Maggie ended up together.  And while I liked Return to Paradise and thought it was a very good conclusion to the story, I liked Leaving Paradise a lot better.

Maggie and Caleb go back-and-forth, back-and-forth in this book.  Will they end up together or won't they?  That is the question that takes a loooong time to be answered.  I got a little tired of the will they or won't they issue. This book lacked the intensity and emotional punches of book one.

What I did like about Return to Paradise was the character growth.  It was great to see both Maggie and Caleb grow and change for the better.  I loved that Caleb helped other people, especially other troubled young men.  I liked that both Caleb and Maggie mature emotionally and learn to let each other in.

I would definitely recommend Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise to fans of contemporary YA.  I am really enjoying Simone Elkeles!

Book Review: Leaving Paradise (Leaving Paradise #1) by Simone Elkeles

Nothing has been the same since Caleb Becker left a party drunk, got behind the wheel, and hit Maggie Armstrong. Even after months of painful physical therapy, Maggie walks with a limp. Her social life is nil and a scholarship to study abroad—her chance to escape everyone and their pitying stares—has been canceled.

After a year in juvenile jail, Caleb’s free . . . if freedom means endless nagging from a transition coach and the prying eyes of the entire town. Coming home should feel good, but his family and ex-girlfriend seem like strangers. 

Caleb and Maggie are outsiders, pigeon-holed as "criminal" and "freak." Then the truth emerges about what really happened the night of the accident and, once again, everything changes. It’s a bleak and tortuous journey for Caleb and Maggie, yet they end up finding comfort and strength from a surprising source: each other.

Release Date: April 1, 2007
Age Group: Young Adult
Publisher: Flux
Source: Library

Oooh, this was such a good book!  I loved it right from the first line.  I have heard so many good things about Simone Elkeles but have never read her before.  I'm so glad I started with Leaving Paradise because I thought it was excellent.

Leaving Paradise was so intense: Maggie's's Caleb's fault!  Now he's out of jail and their paths cross.  Neither one of them have any one to confide in.  Maggie lost her best friend, Caleb's sister, after the accident.  Caleb is labeled as a criminal and no longer fits in with his old friends.  Bit by bit, they become friends, all the while fighting their attraction to each other.

The one thing I didn't like about this book was the cliffhanger ending, but luckily, I had the sequel already so I didn't have to wait to find out what happened to Caleb and Maggie.

Simone Elkeles writes with an alternating narrative.  I love that---I love getting the story from both main characters' points of view.  It makes for a more meaningful story, in my opinion.  Leaving Paradise was such an intense read, I could not put it down.  I read it in just about one sitting and was left dying for more.  The message regarding drinking and driving was handled well, it could have been "preachy" but it wasn't.  I liked that a lot.

Leaving Paradise was an excellent read that I would recommend to anyone.

Book Review: The Guardian Duke: A Forgotton Castles Novel by Jamie Carie

The Guardian Duke is award-winning novelist Jamie Carie’s most exciting story yet, a uniquely arranged Regency-era romantic adventure where hero and heroine know each other through written letters but have yet to meet.
Gabriel, the Duke of St. Easton, is ordered by the King to take guardianship over Lady Alexandria Featherstone whose parents are presumed dead after failing to return from a high profile treasure hunt. But Alexandria ignores this royal reassignment, believing her parents are still alive and duly following clues that may lead to their whereabouts. Gabriel, pressured by what are actually the King’s ulterior motives, pursues her across windswept England and the rolling green hills of Ireland but is always one step behind.
When they do meet, the search for earthly treasure will pale in comparison to what God has planned for both of them.

Alexandra looks like Little Red Riding Hood
Release Date: February 1, 2012
Age Group: Young Adult
Publisher:  B&H Publishing Group
Source: NetGalley

The Guardian Duke was such a unique read.  I am not usually a fan of epistolary novels; however, the letters were just a part of the book, not the entire book.

Alex is a young girl who has absentee parents (apparently this phenomenon is not limited to contemporary or paranormal YA).  She has practically raised herself and is living in dire straits, with no money to maintain her parents' crumbling castle.

Gabriel is a young duke who has recently suddenly lost his hearing.  He struggles with his condition and feels that no one around him understands.  When Alex's parents are assumed dead after they fail to return from one of their treasure-hunting trips, the King assigns Gabriel with guardianship of Alex.  They start to communicate via letter and a grudging friendship ensues.

Alex decides to set off to find her parents, never believing that they are dead.  Gabriel sets off to visit Alex and help her repair the castle and her parents' estate.  He finds her gone and tries to find her.  Alex runs into trouble during her journey and meets two friends along the way.

What I really liked about this book was the subtle faith and the development of the relationship between Alex and Gabriel.  I loved that they fall in love with each other solely based on their letters.  The inclusion of the letters at the beginning of each chapter was a nice addition to the story and I got a lot of enjoyment out of them.

What bothered me about this book was the lack of closure.  I thought the story cut off rather abruptly, even more so than most cliffhanger endings in series novels.  It definitely left me excited for the second book in the series, but I was also frustrated at the very open ending.

Overall, I would recommend The Guardian Duke, especially for fans of Christian fiction and historical fiction.  While I wait for The Forgiven Duke (book two) I am going to read more of Jamie Carie's work.

Book Review: Confessions of a Shopaholic (Shopaholic #1) by Sophie Kinsella

Becky Bloomwood has what most twenty-five-year-olds only dream of: a flat in London's trendiest neighborhood, a troupe of glamorous socialite friends, and a closet brimming with the season's must-haves. The only trouble is, she can't actually afford it --- not any of it. Her job writing at Successful Saving magazine not only bores her to tears, it doesn't pay much at all. Still, how can she resist that perfect pair of shoes? Or the divine silk blouse in the window of that ultra-trendy boutique? But lately Becky's been chased by dismal letters from Visa and the Endwich Bank --- letters with large red sums she can't bear to read --- and they're getting ever harder to ignore. She tries cutting back; she even tries making more money. But none of her efforts succeeds. Her only consolation is to buy herself something ... just a little something ...

Finally, a story arises that Becky actually cares about, and her front-page article catalyzes a chain of events that will transform her life --- and the lives of those around her --- forever.
Release Date:  February 6, 2001
Age Group:  Adult
Publisher: Dell
Source: Library

I have recently discovered Sophie Kinsella, and along with it, the realization that I like chick lit.  I like it a lot, actually.  I never thought it would be for me: I thought it was too superficial, too light, lacking in depth and substance.  But it's not.  Chick lit is perfect for when I need a fast, fun, read.  It's perfect for when I'm not feeling up to reading a book that makes me think too much.

I always shied away from the Shopaholic series because I thought it was "beneath me," so to speak (see the above reasons why I have not read chick lit in the past).  After reading and loving Sophie Kinsella's Remember Me and Can You Keep a Secret? I decided to start the Shopaholic series.

I love shopping, so I really identified with Becky.  I have never shopped to the point to where I am in debt, but I can totally understand how easy it would be to get to that point.  I have Mr. I'd So Rather Be Reading to keep me in line there.  Anyway, Becky is in debt but can't stop shopping.  She is, of all things, a financial journalist, but is not interested or invested in her job.  She basically just wants to wear pretty clothes and have a good time.  She decides she has to start either cutting back or making more money to get out of debt.  Cutting back is an epic fail, and making more money is not going well either.  Until things start to change.

What I loved about this book was Becky's quirky personality.  She continually surprised me.  Just when I thought she was hopeless, she started to grow and change.  The best thing about the book, though, was the humor.  Oh, my gosh, it was so funny!  I kept laughing out loud while reading, over and over again.  I love when a book makes me laugh!
I thoroughly enjoyed Confessions of a Shopaholic and will definitely be back for more.


At a Loss for Words

Do you ever get reviewer's block?  I find that when I am reviewing a middle-of-the-road book I have a hard time coming up with things to say.  When I love a book, I don't have any problems coming up with my review.  When I hate a book, I have lots to say about why I didn't like it.  But when I feel ambivalent about a book, or like it just "okay," I can't ever think of much to say.  

Does this ever happen to you?  What do you do when you are short on words?

Book Review: Crux (Southern Arcana #1) by Moira Rogers

Jackson Holt makes a decent living as a private investigator in New Orleans, home of one of the largest underground supernatural populations in the United States. He and his partners have never met a case they couldn't crack...until a local bar owner asks him to do a little digging on her newest hire.

New Orleans is the fourth destination in as many months for Mackenzie Brooks, a woman on the run from a deranged stalker. After all, any man who shows up on her doorstep claiming to be her destined lover has more than a few screws loose. But crazy doesn't explain why he always finds her no matter how far she runs.

When her well-meaning boss puts a PI on her case, Mackenzie comes face to face with the incredible truth: magic is real, and whatever spell has kept her hidden and separate from the paranormal world is rapidly deteriorating.

With time running out, she has no choice but to trust Jackson as he struggles to uncover the truth of her past-and her destiny. 

Release Date: March 3, 2009
Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Source: Won from The Book Vixen

I've had this book waiting for me for what feels like forever.  It's probably been about a year since I won it from one of The Book Vixen's giveaways.  For some reason, I did not realize that the book was about magic.  Or shifters.  I have never really liked books featuring shifters and no other paranormal beings, but the inclusion of magic saved the book for me.

I liked Mackenzie and felt for her.  She is terrified---on the run from a crazy stalker---and can't seem to stay more than one step ahead of him.  She ends up in New Orleans and starts working as a bartender. Her new boss, Nicole, senses that something is going on with Mackenzie and has her friend Jackson, a private investigator who is also a spellcaster, follow Mackenzie home to make sure she is safe.  There is an instant attraction between Jackson and Mackenzie, and he is finally someone she can trust to help her.

I liked the story and the writing style.  I enjoyed the book as a whole, but I did have a few problems.  The first is Nicole's nickname---Nick.  Every time I read "Nick" I immediately had to tell myself I was reading about a woman and not a man.  It was hard for me to remember that Nick was a woman.  That is a petty thing to not like, I know, but it took a lot of the enjoyment out of the book for me.  I just could not keep it straight in my head that Nick was short for Nicole.  Another problem was the romance between Jackson and Mackenzie.  I liked the development of their relationship but I thought the bedroom scenes were too heavy.  It felt a little vulgar and out of place with the story.  The last problem I had was the ending.  It felt anti-climatic for me, after so much build-up.

Overall, I enjoyed the book but probably would not seek out the next book in the series.  If book two comes across my path, great, but I won't be buying it.

Book Review: Lost in Time (Blue Bloods #6) by Melissa de la Cruz

After their beautiful yet brief bonding ceremony in Italy, Schuyler Van Alen and Jack Force are forced to separate. To fulfill the Van Alen Legacy, Schuyler travels to Alexandria to search for Catherine of Siena and the Gate of Promise. But Schuyler quickly discovers that everything she believed about the Gate to be wrong. Meanwhile, Jack makes the difficult decision to return to New York to face his twin and former bondmate, Mimi. But instead of a bitter reunion, he is faced with a choice for which there is no good option.

Mimi, with a most unexpected travel companion in Oliver Hazard-Perry, jets off to Egypt, too, to search for Kingsley Martin, her long lost love. With all roads leading to Hell, Mimi learns that not all love stories have happy endings. But she'll have to put her own feelings aside if she's going to save her crumbling Coven.

Packed with heartache, twists, and vampiric folklore,
Lost in Time is sure to satisfy hungry fans' cravings for more Blue Bloods adventure.

Release Date: September 27, 2011
Age Group: Young Adult
Publisher: Hyperion
Source: Purchased

I love the Blue Bloods series and have really been looking forward to Lost in Time.  And it was totally worth the wait and anticipation!  I think that this was the best Blue Bloods book yet, and that's saying a lot.

I love so many things about this series: the love stories, the history behind the vampires, the writing.  The way Melissa de la Cruz writes romance is so tender, so full of feeling.  This is a small thing, but I love when books have titled chapters.  It adds so much to the story, in my opinion.  I also loved the alternating points of view.  Switching between characters each chapter really keeps the story moving and keeps things fresh.  I much prefer that style to breaking a book up into parts and featuring one character per part.

One of my complaints about Misguided Angel (book five in the series) was that it was over really quickly (it was a short book at only 270 pages) and felt transitional.  None of the questions I had after reading book four, The Van Alen Legacy, were answered.  Misguided Angel was more of a world-building book.  Happily, Lost in Time was full of action and revelations.  There was also a lot of character growth, which I love.  I loved finding out more about Allegra.  She has always mystified me, and I hope we learn even more about her in the next book.  I want to know the circumstances surrounding Bliss's birth.  Bliss was only mentioned once in Lost in Time, and I have really missed her in the last few books.  She was just about my favorite character. 

I just discovered that Melissa de la Cruz is ending the Blue Bloods series with book seven.  I am so glad, because I think she will end on a high note, instead of dragging the story out for too long and losing momentum.  I have high hopes for the spin-off featuring Bliss, and will definitely be buying those books as soon as they are released.