I now blog over at The Eyre Guide! This blog is an archive of my past posts.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Review: The House on the Strand

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
The House on the Strand
by Daphne Du Maurier

Plot Summary:

Dick Young is lent a house in Cornwall by his friend Professor Magnus Lane. During his stay he agrees to serve as a guinea pig for a new drug that Magnus has discovered in his scientific research.

When Dick samples Magnus's potion, he finds himself doing the impossible: traveling through time while staying in place, thrown all the way back into Medieval Cornwall. The concoction wear off after several hours, but its effects are intoxicating and Dick cannot resist his newfound powers. As his journeys increase, Dick begins to resent the days he must spend in the modern world, longing ever more fervently to get back into his world of centuries before, and the home of the beautiful Lady Isolda..


Daphne du Maurier's novel on time travel and history was a particularly captivating read for me.  Because of the time travel aspect obviously and the scientific approach to it, but also because I kind of think of it as watching a train wreck.  Hear me out.  It's because as I read more of it, the sense that things were going to end unhappily became more and more pronounced.  The sense is hard to pinpoint, but seeing how unhappy Dick is with his real life, and the way he becomes obsessed with seeing lives that have nothing to do with him and which he can never participate in became gradually nervewracking.  I didn't think he should keep trying to make visits to the Medieval past, but he was compelled to keep going.

It was interesting to read how Dick develops as a character.  As a reader I felt very sympathetic with him and his uncertainty about his future.  He seems to love his wife, but he also pushes her away in ways that at first seemed natural (she did seem kind of annoying) but then somewhere in the middle of the book, it seemed like maybe he was being unfair.  I love that about Daphne du Maurier's writing - there is an unpredictability in her characters that keeps the suspense going.  She can turn these characters around and make it completely believable.

The past that Dick finds himself in is just as compelling as Dick's present; there are many characters introduced and it does get a bit confusing in the beginning but all that exposition sorts itself out and the main players in the drama of the past becomes clearer.  At first I did find Dick's attraction (if I can call it that) to Lady Isolda to be a little bit odd and a little too instantaneous, but after finishing the novel I think there is a reason to support why that was.  Except that is just one of the things that is nebulous about the ending of this story.  It's something the author does often I think - to give a chance for the reader to interpret the ending in their own way - which was a little disappointing because I wanted to have more answers.

Time travel in this story is very intriguing though.  Dick's friend Magnus created a potion that caused your consciousness to travel into the past, but not your body, so that Dick was always trying to independently prove that he was not hallucinating and that what he was seeing had really happened.  The idea that you can poke your head into the past is very appealing, and probably addicting as Dick finds out, and the idea that while he was in the past, anything could be happening to his body is another very suspenseful plot point.

This story is very well-written and intricately plotted and while it does take time to start up in the beginning, it becomes fascinating to visit the past with Dick and to read how his life becomes corrupted by the time travel.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: On the Jellicoe Road

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
On the Jellicoe Road 
(or Jellicoe Road in the U.S.)
by Melina Marchetta

Plot Summary:

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn't a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.


Let me preface this by saying contemporary books aren't usually my kind of read but I adore Melina Marchetta a whole lot, so I'm really sad that On the Jellicoe Road really did nothing for me.  It might also have hurt that I was listening to this on audiobook and it took me awhile to understand what was going on in the beginning - that there is a separate (but related) story being narrated alongside Taylor Markham's.  And the seriousness with which the territorial gangs take themselves is a little bit bewildering to me so maybe there is also a culture disconnect going on with me?  I'm not sure, but I really want to stress that I know this is a highly regarded novel and I understand why it is so well thought of, but personally I didn't find myself very invested in the story.

The novel captures the teenage angst very well, with such vivid, rich character portrayals that make you feel like you know these people.  There are a lot of secrets in this story and Taylor is driven to know what happened with her mother which creates much tension as she struggles to understand her past.  Jonah Griggs as the main romantic lead is damaged by his own past, but manages to be a very charming and caring character who I wanted to immediately see more of when he was first introduced.  The related storyline which is something that Taylor's guardian Hannah is writing, has it's own dramas and I really believe that if it was better delineated in the audiobook between those two accounts I would have found Hannah's story more effective.  As it was, it seemed more like a distraction until the true meaning of it became clear.

There's nothing really bad I have to say about this book actually.  I only didn't love it as much as I wanted to, and I felt like for the subject matter, I preferred Melina Marchetta's earlier novel Saving Francesca.  The characters of that novel appealed to me more than the characters of Jellicoe Road.  And there were times when I really felt that Taylor could have been more productive if she had calmed down and looked at the facts more.  The writing is outstanding of course, as are the characterizations, it's only personal preference that has made me ambivalent about this book.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Taking A Look At Author Review Requests

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

When I first started my blog, I was eager to open it up to self-published authors who were looking for their books to be reviewed.  I was even a little awed that these authors would even consider giving a copy of their book to me.  Now I understand a bit more how hard it is to get attention for a new book - especially if it is self-published - and how amazing it is when a book reviewer will decide to give it a read.  There are just so many books out there!  And I have so many that I want to read at any given time, it's ridiculous to think of adding to my list (though of course I do all the time).  Over time, I've become much stricter in what I look for in self-published books.  It's mostly to do with my recent experience with reading outside of my favored genres and recognizing indicators that I might find a book disappointing.  Obviously these are my thoughts and opinions from my (short) experience only!

The Review Request Email

This post is only about self-published or small publishing companies requests since I have yet to receive an unsolicited email from a major publishing company (fingers crossed?).  Overall I have found authors to be lovely in their emails - they do all the right things like addressing the person by name, adding a synopsis, including a link to the book on Amazon, and just generally being polite.  Some even try to increase the personal touch with some comment on my blog or my review style.  Which is nice but not necessary.  When I look at the email I look for three things:
  1. Book Cover
  2. Book Genre
  3. Plot Synopsis
And in that order.  For me (and I am a little bit ashamed to say this) the book cover is my number one indicator.  If the book cover is great I will be more interested in the book.  And it is difficult to say what is a great cover.  It shouldn't look cheap, have bad image blending, or be bland.  At least for me, an attractive cover excites me for the content of the book.  Yes it is superficial, and it doesn't necessarily indicate book quality. Although I do kinda think what's on the outside generally reflects what's on the inside.  And I can't think of one book with a bad cover that I have really loved.  If I was an author I would really work hard on not selling that aspect of my book short.  It must look appealing!

I have a paragraph on my About page on what types of books I like to review.  It's fairly broad, but to try to be more specific would probably only encourage an author to skim and maybe just send the email request anyway.  I don't mind considering the book - I'm sure it must be difficult for the authors to go through so many blogger's About pages and try to comply!  So when I look at a request from an author I really appreciate it when the genre/synopsis is clearly marked out.  It makes it easier and faster for me to see if this is a book I would like to read.  I have received a fair amount of book requests over the months I've been blogging and I thought it would be interesting now to go back and see what kinds of books have been sent my way for a review request.  I went through my email and actually counted some up.  (I didn't know I had that much time either!)

What's in RED are the book genres I don't read, and what's in GREEN are the ones that I do.  Overall I've had 84 review requests in genres I don't like to read - about 36% of the time I am already not interested.  Which isn't very bad really.  It seems like authors are reading the About page (or I just got lucky) which is great!  I did have to use my discretion in categorizing some of the books though.  Authors sometimes categorize their own books very widely.  Which is really not a positive in my opinion.  I wonder at how cohesive the story is if it crosses so many genres.  And then I also wonder at whether or not the author is just trying to hit keywords.  I had one email where the author described their book as a YA/NA/Adult crossover.  Huh?  So it's pretty clear there are no children in this book.

Review Request Turn-Offs

While again, the majority of emails I receive from authors are great and if I have to turn down their request I feel bad, there are some things that make it easier to turn them down.

  • Email Blasts: Sending out one email to multiple recipients is understandable.  But if you are one of many it is easier to just ignore the email altogether.  In all probability the email won't really interest me anyways.

  • Wrong Name: Sometimes the email is not addressed to anybody or generically and that's okay, but if you have the wrong name - maybe you didn't mean to send it to me, and maybe then I don't need to read it.  Although one time it was addressed to "Jane" and that gave me a laugh!

  • No Information on the Book: I hate this!  When an author sends a request with just "Would you like to read my new book?" -  no synopsis, probably no cover or link to the book - how am I supposed to evaluate?  It's just lazy and really annoying.  

  • Quotes from Positive Reviews: It's great that the book has positive reviews, but it doesn't prove anything to me to have quotes from these reviews included in the email.  I do like to know what other reviewers think, but to have the author try to show me what opinions they think are valid is again very annoying.  And it lengthens an email which really doesn't need to be that long.

  • Email Attachments:  Actually I don't mind this so much if the relevant information is in the body of the email, but please don't expect me to open up an email attachment to read the plot synopsis or see the book cover.  (And if you can include the book cover in the body of your email that is fantastic!)  Sometimes an author will include a copy of the book with their request and although it is very presumptuous, I honestly don't mind it that much.  If I don't plan to read the book, I will not even download it so it's like it was never there.

  • Long Plot Synopsis: I do need to know what the book is about, but 4 or more long paragraphs detailing the plot is just too much!  And I don't have time to read all that! 

I think these are things that would generally turn off any book blogger, but in particular they do annoy me.  I personally don't do cover reveals on my blog so requests for those are turned down.  I also happen to find books in any genre that include "strong violence," "explicit," "gory" or "gritty" in their plot synopsis to not really be my thing.  These are things that have taken me quite a while to realize.  Book blogging has been a very interesting learning process, and with this post I was glad to reconsider what I expect from review requests.  In a way I hope this post will help any authors thinking of contacting me or another blogger for a review.  But if this post helps out new bloggers still struggling to deal with review requests that would make me very happy.  Thanks for reading!
Sunday, January 26, 2014

Suspense Sundays (81) Thou Shalt Not Commit

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}

"Thou Shalt Not Commit"
Air date: April 14, 1957
Starring Victor Jory and Ellen Morgan
>>Episodes here<<

On a remote island, a wife feels her husband, who is a Doctor, is not paying enough attention to her and she regrets the move to that isolated place.  The Doctor makes more of an effort to spend time with his wife, but when the very attractive Captain of a ship lands on the island, the wife falls for him and they both make plans to run away.  However there is a typhoon heading towards the island, and the Doctor, who discovers their affair, drops another surprise - he has appendicitis and unless the Captain performs the surgery on him, he will die.

The wife is very unsympathetic in this - especially after her husband makes such an effort to spend time with her and repair their marriage.  It's kind of sad how even the morally loose Captain comes off better in this - as the suspense comes in whether or not the Captain will take the opportunity to get rid of his rival on the surgery table.  It's a bit predictable how it all ends, and the resolution is a little too cute for me.  But the story builds very well and the Doctor is the most interesting character in the story.  He's got a very interesting sarcastic edge to him!
Friday, January 24, 2014

Review: Don't Turn Around

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Don't Turn Around (PERSEFoNE #1)
by Michelle Gagnon

Plot Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been a victim of the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses her computer-hacking skills to stay safely anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in an empty warehouse with an IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa starts to wish she had someone on her side.

Enter Peter Gregory. A rich kid and the leader of a hacker alliance, Peter needs people with Noa's talents on his team. Especially after a shady corporation called AMRF threatens his life in no uncertain terms.

But what Noa and Peter don't realize is that Noa holds the key to a terrible secret, and there are those who'd stop at nothing to silence her for good.


This was a wonderful, captivating thriller.  The pace never let up as I was thrown into Noa and Peter's struggles against a mysterious and powerful organization.  Both Noa and Peter were great protagonists because they were so different from each other - Noa is tough, experienced and very analytical while Peter is likable and idealistic.  And they're both smart so it's exciting how they approached undermining an organization that seemed way too big to take down.

The author obviously did a lot of research into the logistics of computer hacking and made it very visually descriptive so that I found it easy to understand.  And I identified with the hackers in the story as a noble-minded community trying to right wrongs - there was a great sense of family with them because they are willing to help each other out and that made me root for them even though it's scary how much power they have in their hands.

The story switches perspectives between Noa and Peter which again highlights their differences in attitude as well as their similarities keeping the story fresh and engrossing.  Their back story was seamlessly integrated with the action, which kept the story moving quickly while the development of the characters progressed in the background.  It's a fine balance and perfectly done.  There were other characters that I also felt I knew very well from their interactions with Noa and Peter - Cody in particular was a scene-stealer, and such a sweetheart!  With Noa and Peter there is just a hint or a romance which totally applaud because the main focus for these characters is getting out of danger and I'm glad the Noa and Peter's interest in each other will have a chance to grow and develop more.

I really enjoyed the roller coaster ride this book put me on - there were so many suspenseful, tense scenes - chases, threatening figures, and the horrible reality of what the AMRF were doing - that it was impossible to put this book down.  Even scenes when Noa or Peter are just hacking into something on their computer were as tense as the chase scenes - probably because they were enhanced by the paranoia in seeing how dependent we are on technology and how much of our information is out there. There's also the urgency of needing to see Noa and Peter succeed that kept me turning pages.  This is such an exciting read!  I can't wait to get started on the second book!



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Word or Two - Christopher Plummer

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Last Sunday I saw Christopher Plummer's one man show "A Word or Two" at the Ahmanson Theater in LA.  If you don't know, I'm a big fan of The Sound of Music - obviously that is when I first became a fan of his (like almost everyone in the world) and while I haven't seen as much of his work over the years as I would like - what I have seen or heard him in I really enjoyed.  Like Murder by Decree (where he played Sherlock Holmes) and of course Pixar's UP.  And I realize he's in one of the Star Trek movies!  Can't wait till it's time to watch that one!

But when I was a teenager there was one summer I practically watched The Sound of Music every day.  Not the whole thing every day - mostly my favorite parts.  This was on VHS so what a drag it was to fast forward and rewind to those parts!  (Right guys?! Remember?)  But I just loved the story, the music and Captain Von Trapp so it was incredible to see Christopher Plummer talk to us for an hour and a half.

His show is something that is uniquely appealing to me and appropriate to this blog because it's about words and how language and the great works of fiction have impacted his life since he was a child when his family would sit around after dinner and read to each other.  In his show Christopher Plummer intersperses commentary on his life with quotes and snippets from stories and poems that have influenced him.  With Lewis Carroll, Nabokov, Shakespeare, Kipling, Oscar Wilde, and more - even a very moving, romantic passage from the Bible that was not religious (which was his point in that the Bible is full of rich storytelling regardless of your religious beliefs).

The staging was simple - with a leaning tower/whirlwind of books that contained props, a desk, a lectern and chairs.  There was a birch tree and a round window which each played a part in the story he was telling.  I didn't know what to expect from this show really, but I came away with a greater appreciation for how much great literature can enrich your life.  I really need to read more of the Classics! There's a sense I got from his show that books can help you through anything which is an idea I believe in.  His show progresses from his childhood through his life - touching on love, certain experiences, and in the end death.  It was the ending that I found really emotional.  His commentary that death is scary but maybe there is a lightning before death like Hamlet says or "to die will be an awfully big adventure" like Peter Pan says was very moving to me.  But the show is full of light moments - when he pokes fun at himself and recites passages in a silly voice or flippant air.  The show was so rich with context and meaning, and I was riveted from beginning to end.  This was a wonderful experience to share with such an accomplished actor!

After the show (which runs til February 9th in case you are in the area and have an opportunity to see it!) I headed to the stage door.  Even though I was pretty sure Christopher Plummer would not come out at the to sign autographs... but why not just go and see?  After waiting a bit with a small group, the security guard told us that although Plummer would not come out to sign, if we put post-its with our name on our items, he would take them in to get signed.  Cue embarrassing happy dance!  It was much more than I could have hoped for, and I was glad to cap off a wonderful performance with such a lovely keepsake!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: Witch Finder

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Witch Finder (Witch Finder #1)
by Ruth Warburton

Plot Summary:

London. 1880. In the slums of Spitalfields apprentice blacksmith Luke is facing initiation into the Malleus Maleficorum, the fearsome brotherhood dedicated to hunting and killing witches.

Luke’s final test is to pick a name at random from the Book of Witches, a name he must track down and kill within a month, or face death himself. Luke knows that tonight will change his life forever. But when he picks out sixteen-year-old Rosa Greenwood, Luke has no idea that his task will be harder than he could ever imagine.


This book was very easy to immerse oneself into.  The descriptions of London, the characters, and the way witchcraft is depicted made for an interesting blend of historical drama, fantasy and suspense.  The dilemma Luke finds himself in - with his mission to kill a witch who is definitely not as evil as the Malleus think all witches are - was so gripping, and I couldn't wait to find out how he would find a way out of it.  It was difficult at times to read though because since I know Luke is a good person his attempts to fulfill his mission were really disturbing to me.  Especially when in one instance there is a very sad consequence.  I wanted to keep liking him and fortunately the author was able to bring his character around.

Rosa Greenwood was another great character to get to know.  I feel like she has a lot of potential because while she is very kind and sadly beset by her family's expectations, that spark in her gradually came out and I am sure she will continue to grow into a stronger character in the next book.  I was looking forward to seeing her take more of an active role in freeing herself from her situation in this book, but her growth is slow and it is important that Luke is the one who helps her the most.  Their romance was very sweet though building in a way that does play more on mutual attraction than an intellectual connection but it is understandable that since Rosa is unused to kindness she would form a strong attachment to Luke.

The main villains in this book were really striking I thought - especially because I was not quite sure about one character and what part they had to play in the story.  The mystery of what that character was up to was gradually worked in and it was surprising and fantastic the twists and turns the story took near the end.  There are many aspects of this story that are intriguing and will be great to learn more about (Luke and Sebastian's backstory for instance) and although I found the ending of this book pretty satisfactory, I look forward to more exploration of the world and characters when book 2 comes out later this year.

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review.  I was not compensated for this review.)


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Suspense Sundays (80) Fugue in C Minor

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}

"Fugue in C Minor"
Air date: June 1, 1944
Starring Ida Lupino and Vincent Price
>>Episodes here<<

Amanda is introduced through her sister to a very eligible widower, Theodore, who loves to play the pipe organ.  Since they both share a love for music, they quickly fall for each other.  As it turns out Theodore really loves the pipe organ since it is basically built into his house.  And when his two children return from boarding school, Amanda finds out the children are convinced their mother isn't in heaven but inhabits the pipe organ.

Victorian setting, charming widower, ghosts, murder, mysterious house - I mean all these things basically mean I loved this episode!  It's creepy and the sounds of the pipe organ definitely doesn't help, Theodore's "love" of the pipe organ is a little unsettling, and whether or not Amanda is in danger is so suspenseful.  Although the listener has to know there is something not right about this situation.  The children are fantastic in setting up the suspense as well - and they also play an important role in the story.  This is a classic Suspense episode, and not to be missed!
Friday, January 17, 2014

Review: A Conspiracy of Kings

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
A Conspiracy of Kings (The Queen's Thief #4)
by Megan Whalen Turner

Plot Summary:

Sophos, under the guidance of yet another tutor, practices his swordplay and strategizes escape scenarios should his father's villa come under attack. How would he save his mother? His sisters? Himself? Could he reach the horses in time? Where would he go? But nothing prepares him for the day armed men, silent as thieves, swarm the villa courtyard ready to kill, to capture, to kidnap. Sophos, the heir to the throne of Sounis, disappears without a trace.

In Attolia, Eugenides, the new and unlikely king, has never stopped wondering what happened to Sophos. Nor has the Queen of Eddis. They send spies. They pay informants. They appeal to the gods. But as time goes by, it becomes less and less certain that they will ever see their friend alive again. Across the small peninsula battles are fought, bribes are offered, and conspiracies are set in motion. Darkening the horizon, the Mede Empire threatens, always, from across the sea. And Sophos, anonymous and alone, bides his time. Sophos, drawing on his memories of Gen, Pol, the magus — and Eddis — sets out on an adventure that will change all of their lives forever.


What I'm really loving about The Queen's Thief series is how the author makes each book a different experience.  A Conspiracy of Kings takes on a different narrative style, a different narrator, and brings the reader more into the political world of Sounis.  Although my favorite character, Eugenides, features less in this book, I was glad to read more about Sophos who was a great character in the first book, and becomes much more mature and hardened in this, without losing too much of his idealism and enthusiasm for learning that really made me love him in the first book.

I'm generally not a fan of heavy politics in stories, but Megan Whalen Turner manages to make it intriguing and gripping (just like in the second book The Queen of Attolia) especially when the ambitious barons directly antagonize Sophos.  It's also interesting how important it is to have read the first three books to really understand how important the actions of the regents of the three nations are.  And the way the history of these nations are continually developed through each book made me feel like I really understood the world and how it works.  It's fantastic storytelling!

Where I was a tiny bit disappointed was in how the pace sometimes flagged - especially with how Sophos in captivity.  Those scenes were important for Sophos in many ways, and it helped to build Sophos into an even stronger, more sympathetic character, but I found myself really looking forward to when Sophos would find a way out.  Towards the end though there are fantastic, tension-filled scenes as Sophos fights for Sounis, and it's again highly impressive how invested I was in the political maneuverings of these nations.

There's an understated romance weaved into the story which I really enjoyed.  Which surprises me because I usually go for more demonstrative romances, but it is really done well in this book - especially in the way the narrative flows - because even though we don't see our hero and heroine together a lot, you know by the way Sophos speaks that he is always thinking of her.

We see more of characters I've fallen in love with from the previous books, and more action, adventure and mishaps to keep every installment exciting, so I really hope there will be another book out in this series soon!  Because I adore the series and the author so much!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review: 3:59

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
by Gretchen McNeil

Plot Summary:

Josie Byrne's life is spiraling out of control. Her parents are divorcing, her boyfriend Nick has grown distant, and her physics teacher has it in for her. When she's betrayed by the two people she trusts most, Josie thinks things can't get worse.

Until she starts having dreams about a girl named Jo. Every night at the same time—3:59 a.m.

Jo's life is everything Josie wants: she's popular, her parents are happily married, and Nick adores her. It all seems real, but they're just dreams, right? Josie thinks so, until she wakes one night to a shadowy image of herself in the bedroom mirror – Jo.

Josie and Jo realize that they are doppelgängers living in parallel universes that overlap every twelve hours at exactly 3:59. Fascinated by Jo's perfect world, Josie jumps at the chance to jump through the portal and switch places for a day.

But Jo’s world is far from perfect. Not only is Nick not Jo's boyfriend, he hates her. Jo's mom is missing, possibly insane. And at night, shadowy creatures feed on human flesh.

By the end of the day, Josie is desperate to return to her own life. But there’s a problem: Jo has sealed the portal, trapping Josie in this dangerous world. Can she figure out a way home before it’s too late?


Gretchen McNeil writes some amazing suspense stories, and 3:59 is another great one.  The concept alone is chilling, so I was surprised by how much horror was put into the plot.  The creatures in the parallel universe are so creepy, and the way the people have to live to cope with them makes it pretty important that Josie return to her own universe.  I loved the set-up and execution of this story though for many more reasons.

Josie's life in her own time is full of high school drama and an unhappy family situation.  It is a little shallow when compared to things to come, but perfectly captures what teenagers feel, and how these things seem so important to them.  But there was a sense of humor about it - particularly in how Josie reacted to some situations.  And in the snowballing effect of all the drama that piles on her.  All the characters in this book did feel very familiar - the usual stereotypes you see in a teen thriller which made it easy to focus on the mystery of the parallel universes and why Jo is so eager to switch places with Josie.

I was really impressed by how much effort the author put into giving the parallel universes a valid scientific basis.  Some of the descriptions and explanations might have gone over my head a little, but it definitely helped to make the world-building realistic.  I love that Josie is smart in science and math and that it helped her get out of her predicament.  She's a strong character and I admired that she acted well on both intellect and intuition.

The resolution of this story was edge-of-your-seat stuff, with a fantastic twist.  The actual outcome for the characters was a little open-ended which was disappointing, but fitting because they were in such a difficult situation.  I don't believe there is going to be a second book, so the reader can resolve it in their own way.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Star Trek Season 1 - My Top 5 Favorite Episodes

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Last month I posted about getting into the Star Trek fandom with The Original Series and now my addiction is permanently out of control.  (Only slightly postponed by the new episodes of Sherlock.)  I recently finished the first season (30 episodes woo-hoo!) so I wanted to note down some of my favorite episodes.  There were some really great ones in the first season which made it hard to narrow it down to five.  But I did it!  I do want to mention up top that "The Menagerie" is highly rated (if only to see Spock facing court martial) but I think seeing so much of the footage in that episode in the previously unreleased pilot kind of ruined the effect for me.  But it is very high on my list.  Also I switched out "The Enemy Within" from the list at the last minute because although I kinda love Evil!Kirk, he is a little over the top.  So anyways now for the Top 5 - starting with Number 5:

5. Tomorrow is Yesterday

For a Sci-Fi show that I thought would be all about traveling through space and NOT time, I was in for a surprise because there is time travel in this show.  Awesome.  It's more accidental when it happens (although in one episode it seems like Spock could figure out how to do it) but having it occur rarely does make the time travel episodes stand out for me.  Two of the episodes in my top 5 deal with time travel and this is the first one.

The Enterprise travels back to the 60s in a freak black star encounter, and 1960s Earth is ready to take down the Enterprise as a UFO.  To avoid an attack, Captain Kirk beams up the scout sent to check out his ship.  Of course there are complications when Spock tells Kirk that he can't allow the Air Force Captain to go back to Earth with this knowledge of the future.  What I liked about this episode was how it was almost a Mission Impossible type scenario where Kirk had to make sure the Air Force Captain was returned to Earth safely, but unable to use his knowledge of the future to change the timeline.  There are some close calls and suspenseful scenes where things seemed to be getting worse as the Enterprise crew tried to avoid letting anybody find out who they were.

4. Shore Leave

Almost with all the TV dramas I love, I really adore it when they include a funny episode in the season to lighten things up.  While this episode has some intense moments, I think it is mostly humorous and therefore makes it into my Top 5.  But it is also an interesting mystery since for the longest time nobody knows why the things that the characters think of suddenly materialize on the planet.  You also get to see a different side to Captain Kirk and it's interesting how they gradually leak more and more information about the personal lives of the Enterprise crew as you continue to watch the show.  While this episode is fun, it's also developing the characters and their bonds very well which made it such a joy to watch.  And honestly, I would love to visit this planet and think up so many cool things to experience.  I just have to make sure not to think of anything scary.  Like they did in this episode.

3. Balance of Terror

The story is pretty simple - there's a threat and despite Kirk's attempt to keep the peace, he engages with the Romulan ship who initiated the aggression.   Even though the Romulan ship has a ship-invisibility cloak (as it were) and weapons more powerful than the Enterprise, which means Captain Kirk has to outmaneuver the Romulan commander.  And that battle of wits is what makes this such an exceptional episode.  Especially because the Romulan commander is more than a match for Captain Kirk and to see him gain respect for Kirk is a nice touch to this very tense episode.  It's a clever story, with strong leads, and clear line between good and evil.  There's also an interesting tension added by having the Romulans resemble the Vulcans, and some ugly racism rears it's head on the Enterprise.  Even though Spock is clearly above suspicion!   But it is nicely resolved in the end, even though it reminds the viewer of our human weakness - which leads me too:

2. The Devil in the Dark

This was a surprisingly thought-provoking episode!  Where I was expecting a straightforward kill the Evil Evil creature causing such panic on this human space colony, we get a thought-provoking exploration of humanity's reaction in the face of something we don't understand.  This creature - the Horta - is extremely dangerous, almost immune to weapons, and attacks very viciously, but when Kirk and Spock find out it's habitat was destroyed by the miners and it's eggs were broken, it's suddenly an extremely poignant moment when Kirk and Spock connect to the Horta.  And I was so impressed by the message this episode embodies of tolerance and cooperation.  Spock's friendship with Kirk was also a highlight for me.  When in the beginning Spock is more logical in the fact that the Horta should not be harmed if possible, his immediate reaction when Kirk was trapped with it was for Kirk to do anything he could to neutralize the Horta.  The bromance in this show is killing me!

1. The City on the Edge of Forever

Well if anyone reading this is a fan of this show, then I'm sure my Number 1 pick isn't a surprise.  I had to google this episode immediately after watching it because it was so good I wanted my love of it to be validated.  And fortunately it is commonly thought one of the best episodes of the Original Series.  I completely concur, having not finished watching the series.  This episode is just heartbreakingly beautiful.

Poor Dr. McCoy is the cause of all the trouble, when he accidentally shoots himself with a drug that makes him go paranoid and delusional.  When the Enterprise crew comes across a portal into the past, McCoy runs through and suddenly the Enterprise ship is gone.  McCoy changed the past, and now Kirk and Spock must go through the portal and reverse whatever McCoy did.  And unfortunately it means Kirk losing something he loves.  The whole episode is so well done - from the humor in the awkwardness of trying to blend in with 1930s New York City (Spock's ears give him such problems) to the romance between Kirk and the unfortunate visionary Edith Keeler.  I always love a good romance.  And it's heartbreaking how Kirk can't stop what happens to Edith.  Although I was thinking he would find a way to change the future.  The way Kirk deals with his dilemma and his feelings shows off again how noble and admirable he is, and this was a truly moving hour of television.

Well that's my top 5!  If you have any favorites from season 1, I would love to know what they are!  And I will continue to plow through Season 2 so I can post my top 5 fave episodes from it here soon!
Sunday, January 12, 2014

Suspense Sundays (79) The Storm

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}

"The Storm"
Air date: March 2, 1943
Starring Frank Lovejoy
>>Episodes here<<

Larry and Joyce, a husband and wife dance team travel to a vacation resort for a job, even though there are reports of a hurricane heading their way.  But since no one seems to be worried about it, "it's business as usual."  The couple aren't as close as they used to be, and soon they get into a fight.  Of course, that's just when the storm becomes a problem, and Larry is desperate to find his wife who ran out.

There are quite a few meteorological descriptions in this - it's understandable because this is not a visual medium but it does get a little tedious.  Descriptions of storms aren't that suspenseful for me.  But unfortunately this episode disappoints in more than that - with the characterizations of the couple which is a little flat - especially because it's hard to understand Larry's point of view and why Larry and Joyce are so cold to each other.  So when we get to the ending, it's a bit sad, but not much of an emotional impact.  
Friday, January 10, 2014

Review: The King of Attolia

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
The King of Attolia (The Queen's Thief #3)
by Megan Whalen Turner

Plot Summary:

By scheming and theft, the Thief of Eddis has become King of Attolia. Eugenides wanted the queen, not the crown, but he finds himself trapped in a web of his own making.

Then he drags a naive young guard into the center of the political maelstrom. Poor Costis knows he is the victim of the king's caprice, but his contempt for Eugenides slowly turns to grudging respect. Though struggling against his fate, the newly crowned king is much more than he appears. Soon the corrupt Attolian court will learn that its subtle and dangerous intrigue is no match for Eugenides.


If you haven't read the first two books in this series, OMG just read it already!!!  Ahem.  I meant to say I can no longer contain the spoilers and it's better to pass over this review until you've read The Thief and The Queen of Attolia.  I mean, really.  These books are so good, just read it.

The narration switches again - this time to limited third-person omniscient with a new character - Costis.  Now that Eugenides is King of Attolia, there are so many things against him, and through Costis' very biased eyes, it doesn't seem like Eugenides is bearing up too well under the pressure of court, the disdain of everyone around him, and the possibility that his wife doesn't really love him.  But with two books detailing how Eugenides is pretty much always in control, I was so eager to read how he would turn things around.  And this book was another clever installment of the Eugenides Is Awesome show!  Even at those darkest moments when Eugenides seemed truly beaten, it was glorious to keep that belief in the character while reading, and to not be disappointed by the end.  I continue to admire the way the author builds on Eugenides' character by showing the depth of his humanity and intelligence behind his wicked sense of humor and his carefully deceptive antics.

Costis as the main narrator, was also a wonderful character to get to know.  He's obviously mistaken in his opinion of Eugenides, but gradually he comes to respect his king, and with that also gains the respect of the reader.  His character arc is the most important in the book, and the author does a wonderful job of showcasing his growth and his estimable personality.  And while we are learning more about Costis, we also learn about the smaller scale politics of Attolia which echoes what was explored in The Queen of Attolia, but now we see why the Queen is so cold and distant, and in the background what Eugenides is doing to change that.  This story has layers upon layers - it's glorious!

This is another stellar installment of The Queen's Thief series - I might even say it's my favorite of the three so far - because of it's depth and it's climax - the book builds to a moment when Eugenides shows his hand, and it's a very satisfying conclusion.  This series continues to be the most satisfying read I've had for awhile!


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Excerpt: Eternal Night

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Eternal Night ebook "What makes Kerrion’s writing so compelling is the beautifully flawed characters that find themselves in unexpected relationships...these kind of character level conflicts make Kerrion’s writing so deliciously addictive."Noor A Jahangir, Author of The Changeling King

“Everything you want in a great story. Love, intrigue, action, betrayal, and understanding.”—Ch’kara Silverwolf, Author of Daughter of Light and Dark

Alone for a millennium, since a human murdered her beloved consort, Ashra, the immortal icrathari queen, rules over Aeternae Noctis, the domed city of eternal night. Her loneliness appears to be at an end when her consort’s soul is reborn in a human, Jaden Hunter, but their reunion will not be easy. Icrathari are born, not made. If Ashra infuses Jaden with her immortal blood, he will be a vampire, a lesser creature of the night, a blood-drinker rather than a soul-drinker. Furthermore, Jaden is sworn to protect his half-sister, five-year-old Khiarra. She is the child of prophecy, destined to end the eternal night and the dominion of the Night Terrors—the icrathari and the vampires. As Ashra struggles to sustain her crumbling kingdom in the face of enemies without and treachery within, Jaden fights to defend his sister and unravel a greater mystery: what is the city of eternal night, and how did it come to be?

 E-books available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Apple / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Smashwords
 Paperbacks available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository

With Tera beside her, Ashra strode forward. A wall of vampires parted to reveal the other two icrathari, Siri and Elsker. A dark-haired human slumped at Elsker’s feet, his wrists cuffed behind his back. Ashra stifled a chuckle. Surely Tera was overreacting; the human was by far the weakest creature in the chamber.

Tera knelt down, wrapped her fingers into the human’s hair, and pulled his head back. The human’s face was handsome enough—the slash of his cheekbones accentuated his perfectly proportioned, sculptured features—but taken as a whole, he was not compelling enough to justify the fuss.

Ashra shrugged. “You’re wasting my time, Tera.”

Apparently undeterred, the icrathari warlord shook the human hard. His eyes flashed open. They were brilliant green, the exact color of the emerald ring Ashra wore on the index finger of her right hand. His gaze was unfocused, and the reflexive narrowing of his eyes matched the clenching of his jaw, hinting of wrenching pain.

Tera looked up and met Ashra’s gaze. “Taste his soul.”

Ashra recoiled, her upper lip curling in disgust. She had no desire to taste a human’s soul. Over the centuries, humans had grown weak, their small lives consumed by superstition and fear. It was better to live on the edge of perpetual starvation than fill her hunger with the pitiful excuse humans called a soul.

“Go deep,” Tera said.

But why? Ashra’s brow furrowed. She glanced at Siri and Elsker, but the two icrathari shrugged, apparently no more clued in than she was. She looked back at Tera. The icrathari warlord known as Ashra’s Blade was the epitome of calm understatement. If she was so insistent, she must have had a reason.

Ashra knelt beside the human. Without flinching, she placed her hand against his muscled abdomen. It was bloody, his flesh ripped by a vampire’s talons.

The man tensed at her touch, and his eyes flared wide with agony when her soul-sucking powers leeched into him. His breath came hard and fast, his chest heaving with the effort as he twisted in Tera’s unyielding grip, trying to break free.

Ashra’s eyes narrowed. The human was weakened—tapped into his life source, she waded through his dazed thoughts and shivered from the echo of each spasm of pain that wracked his body—but still, he fought Tera on the physical plane and Ashra on the psychic dimension, denying her access to his memories and to his soul.

She frowned and slammed her will against his, tearing an anguished scream from his throat, but still, his will did not crumble.

Askance, Ashra looked at Tera. “Did you taste him?”

Tera nodded. “It wasn’t hard the first time; he didn’t know what to expect, but apparently, he does now and is doing a fine job of fighting back.”

Was that grudging respect she heard in Tera’s voice? “Does his soul really matter?”

The icrathari nodded again.

Ashra’s shoulders shifted with the motion of a silent sigh. His resistance left her with little choice. She leaned forward and glided her lips over his in a whisper of a kiss.

Human myths spoke of succubi and incubi—demons that, with a touch, could stir lust in their unwilling victims. All myths were based in reality. The maddening beauty and soul-sucking powers of the icrathari had spawned the legends of succubi and incubi. With a touch, the icrathari could lure their victims into a state of sexual ecstasy, bending the will and baring the soul.

The human tensed against Ashra, resisting the intimate contact. She almost recoiled. Had the centuries dulled her innate powers? Surely she had not forgotten how to lure a man.

She closed her eyes and remembered love.

As always, Rohkeus’s fine-featured face—those beautiful gold-flecked green eyes, so unusual for an icrathari, and teasing smile—came to the fore. With a dreamy half-smile, she deepened the kiss, driving the memory of love before her like a sharpened stake.

At last, the man relaxed, succumbing to the kiss. She leaned into him, heedless of his crimson blood staining her white gown. He was warm, feverish even. Just skimming over six feet, he had more than twelve inches on her, but his physical strength, compared to hers, was puny. She was well aged; over four millennia old, she was the oldest of the icrathari and the strongest. She could have broken his neck with as little effort as a human child snapping a twig.

Her hand trailed across his muscled torso. He made it easy for her to be gentle. His body trembled as if he longed for her. His mouth was hungry for her kiss. He arched up against her, as if craving more. His need was like a living creature, wild and aching for her touch.

Eyes closed, Ashra shivered. Only one other person had desired her as much.

And he was dead.

She forced her way through the memories of pale bodies tangled upon cool silk sheets. When her soul-sucking power leeched out, it found no opposition. Images of the human’s life rewound in a blaze of vivid sights, sounds, and sensations.

Ashra looked up at Tera, her smile little more than a barely perceptible curve of her lips. “He fancies himself the protector of the child of prophecy. Was she among those taken tonight?”

Tera nodded.

Ashra chuckled, the sound without humor. “It’s a pity her genetic heritage wasn’t sufficiently superior to prevent her from being culled.”

“There’s more. Go deep.”

She pushed past the blackness at the start of his memories, expecting deeper darkness. Instead, the colors shifted into shades of ochre and gray. Memories, older than his body, resided in his soul; memories of an Earth long since lost to them—a planet surrounded and nourished by water; images of tall buildings glistening beneath a benevolent sun, and of thriving cities filled with the bustle of humans; memories of quiet and intimate conversations beneath a silver moon, the same silver moon that now graced Malum Turris with its light, though a thousand years older and viewed only from beneath the protection of the dome.

She saw herself as he must have seen her, a much-younger icrathari, still hopeful for the future, never realizing that the Earth they had all known and loved was irretrievably lost. Had she ever looked that vulnerable? Had her smile ever been so beautiful, so filled with love as she looked upon—

Rohkeus?” Oh, blessed Creator, was that stricken whisper her voice?

E-books available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Apple / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Smashwords
Paperbacks available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository
Connect with Jade Kerrion at: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Amazon
Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: Allegiant

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Allegiant (Divergent #3)
by Veronica Roth

Plot Summary:

One choice will define you.

What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.


After reading the second book, Insurgent, I was a bit disappointed with where this series was heading, and unfortunately Allegiant did not turn this around for me.  The further explorations of this dystopian world was very interesting, but I really didn't feel it was believable - especially the attitude that analyzing human nature by genes is a valid way to assess the potential of a human being.  It's not nature over nurture since both are important in contributing to a person's personality.  I am disappointed by how unscientific these scientists in the book are.  Especially since they are supposed to be so advanced and have made such breakthroughs.

Tris and Tobias were also disappointing to me in this, because they again act in ways that are really frustrating.  I continued to lose sympathy for them in their predicaments, especially with Tobias in a certain plot development.  It didn't help that I felt like there were a few too many passages where Tris and Tobias described how the other looks or smells.  It's kind of annoying and there are lots of bigger issues here. With the writing, I also had an issue with how many similes were used - it felt unnecessary and ridiculous and almost like padding out a story that really could have gotten to the point sooner.

No spoilers for the ending, but it is a very difficult one to come to terms with, and yet because I felt so disconnected to the characters, there wasn't really a huge impact for me.  It's a surprise, but I didn't feel emotional over it.  Unfortunately with all my disappointments over the characters and the plot, and the uneven pace of the story, I really couldn't connect to this last book in the Divergent trilogy.  But I am glad that I finished the trilogy and got a resolution.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Suspense Sundays (78) Tree of Life

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}

"Tree of Life"
Air date: January 2, 1947
Starring Mark Stevens
>>Episodes here<<

James Dawson wants to kill his wife, and ironically his neighbor also had plans to kill his own wife.  Unfortunately Dawson stumbles upon those hitmen right after they finish the job.  The hitmen assume Dawson is the husband of the wife they just killed, and Dawson has to go along with it because otherwise the hitmen can not allow Dawson to live.  But how long can he pretend to be another man?

Where is this neighborhood where wives get killed?  I mean what a coincidence his neighbor is also planning to kill his wife!  Dawson has to do a lot of dancing to get out of this situation - but it's pretty sad how stereotypical these hitmen are.  And not too bright.  I do think the final twist in the end is a brilliant one though.  I totally didn't see it coming, and the irony of this whole episode is amazing!  
Friday, January 3, 2014

Review: The Queen of Attolia

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
The Queen of Attolia (The Queen's Thief #2)
by Megan Whalen Turner

Plot Summary:

When Eugenides, the Thief of Eddis, stole Hamiathes's Gift, the Queen of Attolia lost more than a mythical relic. She lost face. Everyone knew that Eugenides had outwitted and escaped her. To restore her reputation and reassert her power, the Queen of Attolia will go to any length and accept any help that is offered...she will risk her country to execute the perfect revenge.

Eugenides can steal anything. And he taunts the Queen of Attolia, moving through her strongholds seemingly at will. So Attolia waits, secure in the knowledge that the Thief will slip, that he will haunt her palace one too many times.

...at what price?
When Eugenides finds his small mountain country at war with Attolia, he must steal a man, he must steal a queen, he must steal peace. But his greatest triumph, and his greatest loss, comes in capturing something that the Queen of Attolia thought she had sacrificed long ago...


After reading the first book in this series - The Thief - I had to pick up the second immediately.  There's just something about these characters and how well they all work together that kept me so invested.  And in the second book everything about the world is expanded.  The narrative switches to third person omniscient (The Thief was in first person) and I thought that was an effective switch because the story became more emotional and suspenseful once you can see the points of view of so many characters - their plans and true feelings - even though Eugenides' thoughts and plans are even more obscured.

Even though the reader knows less about what Eugenides is really doing, it is interesting how sure I felt that he had a plan and it would work.  He's such a great character because he's so clever and calculating, but he can also be so frustrating.  And I love how I can feel completely surprised by something he does, and yet immediately see how the character and the reader were led to that action and so it all makes sense.  Even with the big reveal of Eugenides feelings towards the end, I was both expecting and disbelieving of it.  It's just brilliant storytelling and characterization!

We see more of the worldbuilding with the very intense political maneuverings of the three nations (well four technically with one more on the outskirts) and it's another tribute to Megan Whalen Turner's writing that this part of the book still captivated me because I'm not usually very interested in politics.  But the potential consequences of one nation taking over another were so important to these characters that I found all the drama compelling.  Especially when it came to seeing what Eugenides was going to do about it!

This book kept me constantly engaged with all the twists and the clever way in which the author managed to tell the reader so much, but the true meaning of it only comes much later in the story.  Eugenides is also one of the best, most fascinating characters I have ever come across, and I loved every unbelievable feat he managed to pull off.  This series is an absolute must-read!