Thursday, April 28, 2011

Childhood Thrills (April 2011).

Childhood Thrills is a feature that recalls books I read in my childhood or adolescence that were special to me or "haunt" me in some way. I don't intend to re-read & review them, just simply share my memories and the feelings they evoke.


D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths and Norse Myths.

With the resurgence of Greek myth re-tellings, I thought I would talk about these wonderful collections.  When I discovered D'Auliere's Greek Mythis in the library, I knew that big, bright yellow book was a treasure.  I was enchanted as I read about the Gods and Goddesses of Mt. Olympus.  I was enthralled by Promethius and Pandora, mesmerized by Persephone and Hades and I felt sorry for Hephaestos and how much he loved Aphrodite.  I was in awe of Poseidon, could never relate to Hera and absolutely adored Mercury.  And the pictures!  Bright, colorful and vivid, bringing these characters to life.  I remember dressing up my Barbie dolls as the characters and acting out the myths.  My friend always wanted her barbie to be Artemis and no matter how much Ken begged, Artemis-Barbie would never marry him.  I loved creating costumes and togas for them out of handkerchiefs and scraps of material and costume jewelry from my mother's collection. 

I took this book out of the library so much that my name was practically the only one on the sign out card.  My love of mythology made me an expert among my peers and they were impressed that I could remember who everyone was and what their function was. 

Then one day I found D'aulaires' Book of Norse myths.  You can't even imagine how excited I was!  Another entire Pantheon of wonderful characters, beautiful pictures and remarkable yet sometimes heartbreaking stories. 

To this day, I love all mythology, from Greek to Native American to Celtic.  Through author Charles de Lint, I developed an interest in Native American mythology and even took a few courses on the subject.  I also became obsessed fascinated with British mythology including Arthurian legends and try to read everything I can find on the subject.  I find the threads that connect these stories to each other and to different  cultures fascinating and intriguing.

So, what are your favorite myths and/or mythological characters and why?  I would love to know!  

1 Year of Blogging Winners Announcement!

Thank you all for entering the 1 Year of Blogging giveaway and thank you for all your well wishes.  Hopefully, my next year of blogging will be just as much fun.  Please stay tuned for more reviews, book adventures and giveaways.

The winners are:

Book Prize Pack Contest (US only):

1. Jennifer from Reading With Tequila - YA prize pack.

2. Lucia from I Live, I Laugh, I Love Books - Cynthia Leitch Smith prize pack.

3. Laura - Shannon Delaney Prize Pack.

4. Savvy from Books with Bite - Dusty Volumes Prize Pack.

5. Diana M. The Lovely Getaway - Horror Prize Pack.

International Only Contest:
Sara from Just Another Story chose Anna and the French Kiss from Book Depository as her prize.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Restorer.

Title/Author: The Restorer. (Graveyard Queen #1) by Amanda Stevens.

Genre: Supernatural Thriller.

Publisher: Mira Books.

Source: NetGalley.

Favorite character: Amelia.

Favorite quote: “The Midnight stars weep upon her silent grave.” –(Epitath).
“If New Orleans is midnight, Charleston is twilight.” ~Temple
“My father had once told me that a place need not be haunted to be evil.”~Amelia.

All in all: Excellent!

Synopsis: "My name is Amelia Gray. I'm a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I've always held fast to the rules passed down from my father. But now a haunted police detective has entered my world and everything is changing, including the rules that have always kept me safe.

It started with the discovery of a young woman's brutalized body in an old Charleston graveyard I've been hired to restore. The clues to the killer—and to his other victims—lie in the headstone symbolism that only I can interpret. Devlin needs my help, but his ghosts shadow his every move, feeding off his warmth, sustaining their presence with his energy. To warn him would be to invite them into my life. I've vowed to keep my distance, but the pull of his magnetism grows ever stronger even as the symbols lead me closer to the killer and to the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next." ~Product Description.

My Thoughts:
I was sucked into this book from the first line and the beautiful, mysterious premise paired with the main character kept me enthralled throughout. The writing is atmospheric, gentle, brooding, dark and lush all with a touch of the poetic. I could smell the flowers in the air, feel the fog on my skin and the heat of the sun on the back of my neck. The author created a charming setting in Charleston and the locale, class differences and weather add to the mood. The story is told in Amelia’s POV and there is something unique about her voice.  It is hushed and quiet like a secret which is one of the themes of this story. Hushed and quiet like the cemeteries she works in.  Many of the characters are hiding something. As Amelia unravels these riddles she gets closer to danger, emotionally as with John or her parents, and physically, as she gets closer to the killer. The chapters always end on a note that made me want to turn the page and in between them, there are nice graphics of ivy leaves that lend itself well to the setting and tone of the book.

I like Amelia a lot. She seems so melancholy. She is closed off and used to protecting herself but she is not reclusive. She does have friends and family who she socializes with, and it’s a nice balance. The only thing that bothered me, and this is a small complaint, is I felt her fixation on John gets to be a bit redundant, but it did let up as the story progressed and I found it more realistic. Other than that, I feel Amelia is very real. She is not perfect. She makes mistakes, gets reprimanded, is embarrassed, is cowed by her boss and doesn’t always know the right thing to say.

I love discovering new things by reading and when it arrives in a work of fiction, the information can come about more seamlessly than in a textbook or article. The Restorer introduced me to Taphophiles and the meaning of pareidolia. The details of the different types of archeological forensics were fascinating as well. I also learned to paint your porch roof blue to keep away wasps as well as spirits and how to read an inscription on a grimy headstone.

The author must have a blog, because her character has one as well and laments that “writing steady and interesting content was both challenging and time consuming.” That made me laugh and I thought that the use of a blog a very contemporary addition to the story and it serves various purposes.

The paranormal aspect of the book is very believable, eerie and enchanting all at once. Without it there would probably still be a good mystery, a solid story, but the paranormal is what fuels Amelia’s role and is integral to the novel.

The other characters are interesting and worth getting to know as well, especially stoic and sad John Devlin, the detective on the case and Amelia’s love interest. He is interesting and has that swoon factor by being nothing more than intense. John has to make a choice between the past and the present and his torment is apparent without being trite. John and Amelia are both haunted in their own way and while it seems at times that if they can get together they will find peace, there is also the feeling that if they get together it may cause chaos.

The Restorer is suspenseful, full of twists and secrets and I couldn’t put it down. Lots of thrilling moments full of surprises. There are so many layers that the author lets you uncover, but keeps some secrets yet to be discovered that will hopefully be forthcoming in the next books. I’m not one for series, but I don’t feel I was left hanging. The main mystery is wrapped up and the book is self contained, but it leaves a flavor of what is to come and I cannot wait to continue the adventure with Amelia.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Horror of Fairy Tales.

I'm participating in Fairy Tale Fortnight over at the Book Rat.  Click HERE to read my post.  

Not familiar with Fairy Tale Fortnight?  It's an amazing, impressive and creative collaboration put together and hosted by Misty from The Book Rat and Ashley from Books From Bleh To Basically Amazing.

Just one look at the schedule is a testament to all the work they have put in collecting reviews, interviews and essays, as well as contributing their own posts -- all having to do with Fairy Tales.   So put a little magic into your day and head on over to the enchanted realm they have created.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Mystery of Grace.

Title/Author: The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint

Genre: Urban Fantasy.

Publisher: Tor

Source: Purchased.

Favorite quote: “…sometimes things are as wonderful and perfect as they are because you only get to hang on to them for a moment.” ~Wes.

“Our experience with God, with the world, or the spirit world is more personal than scriptures and structure.” ~Nina

All in all: A couple reservations, but still compelling.

SynopsisOn the Day of the Dead, the Solona Music Hall is jumping.  That's where Altagracia Quintero meets John Burns...

Altagracia – her friends call her Grace – has a tattoo of Nuestra SeƱora de Altagracia on her shoulder, she's got a Ford Motor Company tattoo running down her leg, and she has grease worked so deep into her hands that it'll never wash out.  Grace works at Sanchez Motorworks, customizing hot rods.  Finding the line in a classic car is her calling. 

Now Grace has to find the line in her own life.  A few blocks around the Alverson Arms is all her world -- from the little grocery store where she buys beans, tamales, and cigarettes (“cigarettes can kill you,” they tell her, but she smokes them anyway) to the record shop, to the library where Henry, a black man confined to a wheelchair, researches the mystery of life in death – but she’s got unfinished business keeping her close to home. 

Grace loves John, and John loves her, and that would be wonderful, except that John, like Grace, has unfinished business – he’s haunted by the childhood death of his younger brother.  He's never stopped feeling responsible. Like Grace in her way, John is an artist, and before their relationship can find its resolution, the two of them will have to teach each other about life and love, about hot rods and Elvis Presley, and about why it's necessary to let some things go.

My Thoughts: Charles de Lint is a thoughtful writer who seems to want to share his vision of the world and his views on spirituality. I don’t feel his books are preachy. In fact, there is always a character who doubts and disbelieves and he allows the reader this view as well while also trying to convey that anything is possible. I think that the author’s main point here is faith, whatever it is that you may believe in.

If you read other reviews of this book, you will get more of the premise of this book, but I do not want to give away even that much. The reason is that I went into this book blind and the confusion that I felt at first led to realization and surprise. The turn of events is compelling and different from other books by Charles de Lint yet with the same feeling of awe and mystery. If I knew more going in I don’t think I would have had that same sense of wonder.

Grace is a tattooed mechanic who works on hot rods and loves the whole rockabilly culture. In this respect she reminded me a little bit of Mercy Thompson. I do like Grace. There is one point in the book where I felt she was too “good,” but then it came about that some of her motives were based on fear and I related to her more. Her love interest John is also a character that is well developed. Some may find fault with the fact that he got too much into Grace’s world since after he met her delved into hot rods and surf music as well. But he explained that he didn’t envelop himself in these interests just to connect with Grace, it was that Grace connected him to these interests that he didn’t realize he had until he explored them. Their romance although very quick was believable to me as well. Maybe because they were. Or maybe because in the de Lint world there is so much magic it often seems like anything is possible.

***SPOILER ALERT: My problem with The Mystery of Grace is that one of the characters sort of dropped out of the picture. Perhaps because of the whole theme of faith you are not supposed to know what happened. Also, the fact that a bruja created the world that they were stuck in, made sense to a point, but part of me felt that it wasn’t dramatic enough. :END SPOILER ALERT***

However, the writing is beautiful and his characters are always easy to be around, if that makes sense. I always want to be friends with the people in the de Lint world. This is a book that kept me turning the pages so I could find out what happened and also once again gave me something to ponder and a point of view to rattle around in my head.


(I am trying something new: Writing about books without giving a rating! I'm going to see if it works for me and for you. Please let me know what you think. If you must see a rating from me, you can visit my Goodreads page or my Amazon reviews.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

One Year of Blogging.

In March 2010 I was at a writing conference and was told to check out The Story Siren to see what books were popular in YA. After I e-mailed Kristi to tell her that her blog was mentioned at this event she suggested I start my own.  Before that, I thought that blogs were only for technology, economics or adoption journeys.  Why I thought that, is now beyond me.

I had been *trying* to keep track of my books in an Excel spreadsheet, with a rating and short reminder of what it was about.  But a book blog?!  The possibilities!  I could keep track of the books I read, organize and discuss them!  I bought Blogger For Dummies, looked at other blogs (was amazed at how many there were), and picked a name.  My first few posts were lame.  Totally lame.  Not that I write the best posts on the block now, but I definitely feel more comfortable.  (Well sort of.)

I have met so many great people,  attended so many fun events and have been introduced to so many great novels that I would not otherwise have known about if not for other bloggers.  I want to thank everyone in the book blogger community for helping me, whether it was personal advice or simply sharing information on Twitter.  I also want to thank everyone who has ever commented, every publisher who has sent me an ARC and every author who has written a book.

To show my gratitude,  I'm having a giveaway.

The book giveaways are only open to the US only.  I have prize packs for five (5) winners.

For people outside of the US I'm also having a separate giveaway.  I have a prize for one (1) winner.  (Scroll down to bottom.)

Fill out the Form.  Please note the giveaways that are available to your country.

  • See my contest policy HERE.
  • Giveaway ends Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at midnight (EST).
  • Winners will be chosen by
  • No need to follow, tweet, link or like.  
  • You can only enter once.
  • The first winner will win their first choice.  If subsequent winners have the same "first choice" prize will defer to their next choice.
  • If you have any questions, please ask on the comment form or e-mail me at

Giveaways for US only:

#1-Cynthia Leitch-Smith Prize Pack:  Signed copy of Tantalize, Eternal & Blessed. (Please note, Tantalize has a small crease at edge of cover.)

#2-Shannon Delaney Prize Pack:  Signed copy of 13 To Life and Secrets and Shadows.

#3-Dusty Volumes Prize Pack - If you are participating in the Dusty Volumes Challenge, you may want to try to win Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Dracula by Bram Stoker.

#4-Horror Prize Pack: The Association by Bentley Little, Pet Sematary by Stephen King and Shadowland by Peter Straub.

#5-Young Adult Prize Pack: Signed copy of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Clarity by Kim Harrington and Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst.

US Only participants-fill out the contest form HERE.

Giveaway for those outside of US only:

$10 gift certificate to Amazon or a book(s) from Book Depository up to $10.00.

Everyone entering the international contest, please note that I will e-mail you to verify your e-mail address and/or shipping address.  If I cannot get in touch with you within 5 business days, I will pick another winner.

International participants (outside the US only) - Fill out contest form HERE.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons/Caroline's Cakes:

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Title/Author: Everdead by Rio Youers.

Genre: Horror.

Publisher: Graveside Tales (2008).

Source: Purchased.

Favorite character: Toby.

Favorite quote: "And here, for one night only, there is death."~Omniscient narrator.
"I’m going to swallow your heart." ~Luca

All in all: Great take on a vampire story.

Synopsis: San Antonio, Ibiza. A non-stop carnival for the young, where excess reigns and rules are made to be broken. But this summer, something else has joined the party. Something cruel and dark-hearted. An evil that moves through the night with an appetite for sin.

Toby Matthews has come to San Antonio to recover from a broken heart, and it seems that beautiful Cass Tait may be the cure. But as their relationship begins to bloom, they stumble upon an unspeakable darkness. They stare evil in the eye, they see its true heart, and know that only they can stop it. Before the sun goes down, they must decide whether to run … or whether to stand like heroes and fight.

This is the hunting ground. The live wire. Where hearts were made to beat harder.

This is San Antonio … one long exhilarated

My Thoughts:
Everdead is told from Luca's POV (the vampire), and Toby’s, our young hero. There was also another character which I found intriguing, the city of San Antonio, Ibiza itself. The location is portrayed as a throbbing, living organism with an extra pulse where thrills and freedom are found down one road and danger down another.

Regarding the writing, there is some head jumping that is a little confusing but it didn’t show up a lot. Also, I personally would have cut out some back story, narrative and dialogue. However, the rest of the story more than makes up for this.  Just like in Mama Fish, also by Rio Youers, this story contains beautiful details and exquisite, skillful metaphors. While reading Everdead, I often shook my head in disbelief and wondered how the author thought of such rich imagery.

The vampire was of the bad ass variety. He killed and reveled in it. Seeing beauty in death where he once saw only despair. It is interesting, because once you are in a character’s head you often root for them. At first, even though I know Luca is a killer I found myself connecting with him and was interested in how he came into existence and the trials, tribulations and joys he finds being a vampire. I love the details of his nature. The strings of saliva like a wild animal when he was enraged and his poetic words to his victims seducing them to their deaths. Remember kids, not all vampires are romantic and sparkly. Some are just downright psychopaths.

Then I met Toby and his friends who are on Spring Break and Cass and her friends who are there for the same reason. I got to know Toby and of course like him.  He is a relatable character, an everyday guy with insecurities who eventually overcomes them because of his connection with Cass. As their world and Luca’s entwine he finds strength within himself. He also gets help from an unlikely source, his stoner friend Johnny, who we realize has more brain cells than at first glance.

I see another theme here as I write this very much akin to Mama Fish; friendship. Cass fights the vampire for her friend who ended up in Luca’s clutches and Toby fights the vampire not only for Cass but for his friends as well.  He realizes that he can’t live in a world where Luca exists, where his loved ones might be in danger.  These feelings help him find inner strength and he discovers that he is not the second fiddle that he has always considered himself.

The story culminates nicely and utilizes earlier devices that I had in my head, but still took me by surprise.  It also didn’t have the fairy tale ending that I thought it might, but it was sweet, even bittersweet without being sappy.

Oh yeah and let’s not forget the horror! Yay! Disturbing, gory, thrilling. Just the thing to get the darkness in my heart pounding. It was prevalent and the blood flowed when needed but it wasn’t gratuitous or unnecessary.

The e-book version is not formatted wonderfully.  This is not something that bothers me, but if it bugs you, just be aware of it or pick up the printed version.

I can’t stop thinking about this story or the characters.  My thoughts flowed without spending days pondering what I liked or didn’t like and I felt that I didn't struggle to write something that might be useful to anyone  interested.  Plus, the horror was really good!

(I am trying something new: Writing about books without giving a rating! I'm going to see if it works for me and for you. Please let me know what you think. If you must see a rating from me, you can visit my Goodreads page or my Amazon reviews.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Title/Author: Clarity by Kim Harrington.

Genre: YA, Mystery, Supernatural.

Publisher: Point, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc.

Source: Purchased.

Favorite character: Clarity.

All in all: LOVED IT!

Synopsis: When you can see things others can't, where do you look for the truth?

Clarity "Clare" Fern sees things. Things no one else can see. Things like stolen kisses and long-buried secrets. All she has to do is touch a certain object, and the visions come to her. It's a gift.

And a curse.

When a teenage girl is found murdered, Clare's ex-boyfriend wants her to help solve the case--but Clare is still furious at the cheating jerk. Then Clare's brother--who has supernatural gifts of his own--becomes the prime suspect, and Clare can no longer look away. Teaming up with Gabriel, the smoldering son of the new detective, Clare must venture into the depths of fear, revenge, and lust in order to track the killer. But will her sight fail her just when she needs it most?

My Thoughts: The acknowledgements at the end of the book mentioned Veronica Mars and I thought, “Definitely!” In fact, I kept thinking of Veronica throughout this book.

Chapter one starts right off with a dangerous conflict that drew me in and then the novel went into the events leading up to it. I love the writing.  It's pretty, fun, clear and flows well.  I also love the small details, how the author uses brushstrokes to paint the world. The beach, their house, the summer traffic, even the use of the slang word “wicked” had me believe I was in Cape Cod.

The plot has several elements occurring but is easy to follow.  The author keeps it simple and clean and  although it was a tiny bit formulaic, I didn’t figure out the mystery 100%.  I also have to admit I had a hard time with some of Clare’s doubts about someone who was an initial suspect and yet when she suspects another character of betraying her trust, she believes that person right away when they set her straight. These were my only qualms with Clarity.  HOWEVER, I feel they were minor in comparison to the overall story.  I loved it and couldn’t put it down.

***SPOILER ALERT: Yes, there is a love triangle, but it isn’t your typical cliche and allows Clare to come to terms with a betrayal, and learn and grow from it.  She finally understands that just because someone makes a mistake, doesn’t mean they are a terrible person.  Something, that I even need to remember.  This is probably my favorite part of the story because Clare stuck to her guns although a piece of her didn’t want to. I couldn’t decide which team I would be, team Justin her former boyfriend or team Gabriel, her new potential love interest. Justin is the guy who always believed in her and Gabriel is the guy who doesn’t believe in psychics, but clearly cares about her. But really Clare, you can’t expect someone who is skeptical to just start believing because you say it’s true, or because you’re a nice person. Skeptics need proof! What I really like is that she is strong about what feels right for her. Maybe because I’ve been in her situation and could really relate. It was waaay back in high school and I knew I had to break up with a boy I liked even though I didn’t want to. :END SPOILER ALERT***

Clarity had enough spookiness and supernatural elements to keep me believing and did not go over the top. I’m a skeptic, but the family's psychic abilities and how they worked and didn’t work for that matter, are very convincing. I enjoyed the belief that no one can see the future because people have free will and the path that someone takes is constantly changing.

I love all the characters, from her spacy mother to her player brother and even to mean girl Tiffany, although  Clare is my favorite.  Her wit is funny, her vulnerability touching, her strength inspiring.

I really am not into the whole “trilogy” scene that is prevalent in the publishing world now. The endings of a lot of books really leave me hanging and frustrated and feeling as if I have no choice but to read the next installment. This was not the case in Clarity. The author tied up the present mystery, while leaving just a taste of another episode to come. I didn’t feel like the author threw a curve ball in the story to force me to chase it. The book is a great stand alone, but has room to grow. I personally am very much looking forward to the next mystery that is hinted at.

I've seen a lot of chatter regarding the cover.  I am more inclined to pick up dark or gothic covers, but I think it's pretty and now that I've read the book I feel the cover fits the story. 

(I am trying something new:  Writing about books without giving a rating!  I'm going to see if it works for me and for you.  Please let me know what you think.  If you must see a rating from me, you can visit my Goodreads page or my Amazon reviews.)

BBP 2011-Book Blogger & Publishers Online Convention

The BBP 2011 Online Convention starts today!  If you haven't heard about this event click HERE.  Basically it is an online conference where you can listen to seminars and discussions.  You can join the varied groups they have listed, from the Paranormal Romance Group to the Publicists/Author and Book Promoters Group.  I've already found some bloggers who are interested in Dark Fiction/Horror since, there might not be an app for that, but there is a group for that!  Yay!!!

(Added: 3:31pm: After you go to the site mentioned above above, you will get an invite to join the Ning site.) 

I get very overwhelmed by Forums, but this one seems to be more clear than others and I can easily find unique ones that I am interested in.  There is a forum on Blog Design, YA Discussions, Blog Giveaways and lots, lots more.  Still not convinced?    Check out the Wednesday schedule and the Thursday and Friday Panels that are up. 

I cyber attended this conference back in November and it was very educational and enlightening.  Best of all, the recordings were still available for 30 days as is the discussions on this one.  So, even if this one is too last minute or you think you can't fit it in, you can listen at your leisure for 30 days.

Also, the cost!!!  $45.00.  That's it!!!

Last night was the test run and I already met some great bloggers and authors and we had a fantastic discussion about blog design, reviews, author & blogger relationships and even blog names.

I'm really excited to sit back and cyber hang with other bloggers this weekend and I know I'll glean some great information too.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Winter Haunting.

Title/Author: A Winter Haunting.

Genre: Horror.

Publisher: Harper Torch.

Source: Purchased.

Favorite character: Duane.

Favorite quote:

All in all: Sometimes a bit slow, but the story, scares and culmination are worth it.

Synopsis: A once-respected college professor and novelist, Dale Stewart has sabotaged his career and his marriage — and now darkness is closing in on him. In the last hours of Halloween he has returned to the dying town of Elm Haven, his boyhood home, where he hopes to find peace in isolation. But moving into a long-deserted farmhouse on the far outskirts of town — the one-time residence of a strange and brilliant friend who lost his young life in a grisly "accident" back in the terrible summer of 1960 — is only the latest in his long succession of recent mistakes. Because Dale is not alone here. He has been followed to this house of shadows by private demons who are now twisting his reality into horrifying new forms. And a thick, blanketing early snow is starting to fall

My Thoughts:
This is the follow up to Summer of Night, which I absolutely loved and give it 5 stars on I had been wanting to read this sequel for a while.

Adolescent Dale from the first story is now a middle aged man, struggling with his life. He decides to return to his childhood home in order to write a book about the summer of 1960, which he remembers as idyllic and suppresses the horrors that occurred.

This takes place mostly in Dale’s head and by the middle of the novel I realized how isolated he is. Comparing it to Summer of Night where the story was told by a few characters, this story is mostly told by Dale and takes place from his point of view. It’s only later in the novel I suspected that he just may be an unreliable narrator and this kind of threw me for a loop. So, I was kind of turned around while reading this book. Which is by no means a bad thing. I love being surprised and psyched out by stories.

The other viewpoint is a character that I’m going to be mysterious about just in case you do decide to read either one of these books.  This character is basically a memory, a dream, perhaps even a ghost from Dale’s past.  It offers a kind of omniscient presence and sees into Dale’s motives and offers a thoughtful perspective. I felt there is a distinct difference in this voice as opposed to Dale’s, more astute, thoughtful and even more intelligent. This character's POV also read faster because it was more interesting to me. The dual perspectives is clever because it broke it up from just being with Dale the entire story. I do also have to point out that a lot of this book is a bit slow, which serves to add to the mood, but also didn’t always work for me. I actually put it down for a bit and I think that was just the break I needed because when I started reading it again, the story started flowing again.

The scares sometimes reminded me a little bit too much of Stephen King’s style, but they were still creepy and had me squealing in eerie delight. There were noises and scratches that Dale didn’t hear, but the reader knew about. There were unexplained phenomena and ghostly appearances and again twists that I didn’t foresee.

I loved the end. It was mystical and strange but also kind of sweet. I recommend Summer of Night a bit more than this one, but if you have read Summer of Night and loved it like I did, you definitely might want to check out A Winter's Haunting.

4 out of 5 stars.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Blog Designer Interview: Blogging Bella Designs.

When I decided to get my blog re-vamped I looked around quite a bit. There are many talented people out there so finding a designer was a bit daunting. I searched for a long time but could never quite commit. However, there was one designer that I kept going back to. I liked the way that she had before and after samples on her site with explanations stating exactly what she did.  I also liked that she had a questionnaire regarding what I (as the client) was looking for. Then I found the blog Books With Bite and drooled. It was exactly the kind of feel I wanted.

Staci of Blogging Bella Designs, worked quickly and efficiently, turning my ideas into reality. She researched tons of pictures, stayed up late and answered all my inane questions.  She was also really patient with me! I couldn’t quite settle on a font. I wasn’t sure if I wanted the text on an orange background or a more gold one. And could she flip the header and footer? Staci showed me what each option would look like and was very understanding of my indecisiveness. Ultimately, she came up with a design that surpassed my expectations. She also is a perfectionist and worked until elements showed up just right on the different browsers and let's not even get into how much effort she put into making my Twitter background look perfect.  (It looked great the first time she did it, but she wasn't satisfied until it was "just so.")
I’m a frustrated artist, so I really admire people who can draw, paint and design graphics. Their whole process just absolutely intrigues and fascinates me. So I thought I would ask Staci a few questions about exactly how she does it! I also wanted to point out that blog designers are important within the blogging community too!

How did you get started creating blogs?
I started blogging back in May 2008. I used to get a bad case of blog envy anytime I came across a professionally designed one. I couldn't afford to hire someone to design one for me so for awhile I made due with Blogger's dots template. Then when I grew tired of it, I used a freebie from the Cutest Blog on the Block. However, even that template grew boring after awhile, and there were always other blogs out there with the exact same template.

I wanted something unique so I started looking up how to do certain things on my own. I think the first big thing I did was change my blog to three columns. After that I looked up how to add a navigation bar and how to make my columns even across the bottom and added those features to my blog as well. I also scoured the internet for coupon codes so I could get a nice vector image from a stock site for cheap and make a better header than what I originally had.

For awhile there I was constantly tinkering with the look of my blog. My readers would always compliment me on my design changes, and a few would ask me for help with things on their blogs in the comments. After awhile, I started thinking that maybe I should design blogs as side job while looked for a real one. I asked my mom for a Wacom pen and tablet for one of my birthdays, bought the domain for Blogging Bella, and started setting up the site. The project got backburned for awhile after my mom died, but I eventually returned to it. I officially launched Blogging Bella in April 2010.

You said you had a wacom pen/tablet. So does that mean you draw a lot of your vector designs?
I do draw most of them, unless there is already an image out there that is perfect and the client has funds to purchase it. I usually look for predone images first, unless a client has specifically requested hand drawn.

The tablet and pen also work well in Photoshop for things like erasing, highlighting, shadowing, and cutting out images because it allows better precision than a standard mouse. It takes some getting used to though because it's not the same as drawing with a pencil and paper. You can't look down and see what you're drawing as you draw it. You have to look away from your hand at the screen.

I use Inkscape for my vectors because Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw are way out of my price range. For other things, I use, GIMP, Photoshop Elements, and every now and then Corel Painter Essentials.

You started blogging in 2008...what was your first blog about?
It's my personal blog, Just Bloggled. I guess it's mainly about me, the place I go to vent and attempt to be sarcastically witty. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don't. I usually just blog about whatever is on my mind at the time.

So you're self taught?
Yes. I took one graphic design class in college as part of my art minor, but the class was a joke. The school didn't have enough Macs for everyone in the class so we would have to take turns using the few they had. Plus, the professor would give an assignment and then disappear to his darkroom because photography was the only subject he really cared about. There was never any real feedback or direction, and we never dealt with vectors or Photoshop. I have basically learned those things through trial and error and by playing around with different graphics programs.

As for all the html and css stuff involved with blog designing, I learned how to do them from online tutorials.

Are there any unique challenges to designing book blogs over other blogs?
I think one of the biggest challenges is finding a new way to convey that it is a book blog. How many different ways can you show someone reading before you end up repeating yourself? I want each design to be unique so sometimes I have to do a lot of brainstorming to think of a new spin on that basic concept. It helps if the blogger reads from a certain genre because then I can give the design that overall feel. However, if the blogger reads a little of everything it's a bit harder.

Another unique challenge is coming up with a ratings system for the book bloggers who want something beyond the basic stars and different from what every other book blogger is doing.

How do you translate your client's ideas into a finished design?
I have clients fill out a design questionnaire when they place an order. The more information they can provide on it, the better. For instance, if clients can tell me what colors they like and what colors they don't, if there are blog designs out there that they already love, or if there is a certain feel that they want on their blogs, that will help me in the long run create the design they want. If they can't, that's fine, too. In those cases, I usually spend time looking at what's on their blogs now, try to get a feel for the clients and their interests, and browse stock image sites for ideas. Based on what those ideas are, I'll either email them to the clients or do a couple of sample headers for them to choose from to see which one they like. I try to ask for client approval or input as I move from one design element to the other. That way at the end it's the design the client wanted as opposed to the one I did.

What is your favorite part about creating blogs?
Probably the big reveal at the end--getting the new design installed and seeing how it looks on the client's site as opposed to the test site. It's kind of like when you paint your living room. You don't really know how your color choice is going to turn out until you put all your furniture, artwork, and throw pillows back in place. I'm always happy when the design goes up, it works with everything that is there, and the site gets an instant pick me up.

I also like coming up with new ideas for the designs, even if that's the most challenging part, too.

You can also find Staci on Twitter, giving hilarious comment on Soap Operas, her dogs and exercise. Thank you once again Staci for being patient with me and letting me pick your brain.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Ghost Orchid.

Title/Author: The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman.

Narrated by: Jen Taylor

Genre: Supernatural Mystery.

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Source: Library.

Favorite character: Corinth Blackwell and Nat Loomis.

Favorite quote:

All in all: Mysterious and spooky.

Synopsis: Nestled deep in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains lies the Bosco estate, a nineteenth-century mansion that was once the home of lumber magnate Milo Latham and his wife, Aurora. A rambling property nearly buried under the ruins of once--opulent statuary gardens and mazes, Bosco now serves as an exclusive creative retreat, where artists and writers live and work under almost oppressive seclusion. Inspired by a timeworn pamphlet describing the scandalous events that took place there in 1893, first-time novelist Ellis Brooks comes to Bosco to write about the tragedies that befell the Latham family and the role Corinth Blackwell, a spiritual medium, played in the family's downfall. When Ellis uncovers the family's secrets, she and her fellow writers find themselves imperiled by the house's sinister history.

My Thoughts:
The subject of spiritualism from the Victorian Era fascinates me and this novel includes a lot of it.  The story switches back and forth from present day, told in the main protagonist Ellis’s POV to 1893, told from renowned medium Corinth Blackwell’s POV.  The scandalous events from the past affect the here and now when several writers attend an artist's retreat, called Bosco.  During the novel, the characters try to figure out the events from the past for their books, but also because odd things keep happening.  I thought it was interesting how the author depicted the guests brainstorming and hypothesizing about what could have occured, just as all writers do.

This setting is the Adirondack Mountains in New York on the Hudson River and since that’s close to me, I could imagine the setting very well. In fact, there is a place on the Hudson called Boscobel and I wonder if the author found inspiration from that name for her book.  I also enjoyed the Native American legends that were a major part of the story as well, whether they are real or just made up for this book.

Bosco’s gardens and fountains featured prominently in the novel. The descriptions of both are very detailed and it is clear that the author did a lot of research about architectural landscapes, fountains and gardens.  They were not only plot devices it was as if they were characters themselves, haunting, confusing and giving clues to the players.

Sometimes going back and forth in different time periods is confusing, jarring or just doesn’t work. This was not the case here. I loved discovering the mystery along with Ellis in the present, but was also intrigued by the story from the past. I felt the more that was revealed about what happened in the late 1800s, the more events were spiraling out of control for Ellis in her life.

The spooky parts were very atmospheric and led to more questions or just that eerie feeling when you know something is going on that is not quite of this world. Some pieces of the puzzle unfolded slowly and some were obvious to me, but all added to the mystery.

Although some of the writing was repetitive, I thought most of it was lovely, atmospheric and detailed. I liked the narration also. Jen Taylor did a great job differentiating the voices and characters, from male to female to children, and I could really follow who was talking.

I liked most of the characters from both the past and the present, because I felt they were realistic. Some of course I liked more than others. The ones I liked most had flaws, weren’t perfect and actually had some questionable traits.  What I thought was interesting was that the author allowed the reader to get to know Ellis first and trust her before she brought up the fact that she has some psychic ability. Her gift isn’t pushed down the reader’s throat. It’s clear that Ellis has been avoiding that part of her life and it seems like she almost doesn’t believe in it or, as one character pointed out, she doesn’t believe in herself.

***SPOILER ALERT:  Some of it was a little hard for me to swallow. The people possessed by ghosts of the past, the flowers being possessed and practically coming to life. Also, that some people who were at Bosco were descendants of the characters from the past storyline. However, I could also see the other side that perhaps the author felt that the only way for the events of the past to be resolved was for the people who are connected to them be involved. :END SPOILER ALERT***

I liked the ending too.  There were a few surprises and a few things I saw coming and a few things that I thought maybe were tied up too neatly.  However, this was a book I enjoyed listening to very  much and I couldn't wait to find out what happened to all the characters. 

4 out of 5 stars.

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