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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Review: Team Human

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Team Human
by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
YA Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Readers who love vampire romances will be thrilled to devour Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. Team Human celebrates and parodies the Twilight books, as well as other classics in the paranormal romance genre.

Mel is horrified when Francis Duvarney, arrogant, gorgeous, and undead, starts at her high school. Mel’s best friend, Cathy, immediately falls for the vampire. Cathy is determined to be with him forever, even if having him turn her could inadvertently make her a zombie.

And Mel is equally determined to prove to her BFF that Francis is no good, braving the city’s vampire district and kissing a cute boy raised by vampires as she searches evidence in this touching and comic novel.


This was a fun book to read - light on emotional investment when it comes to the characters, but full of quirkiness and a great sense of humor.  Having read Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, I found that this book didn't have quite the number of jokes and one liners that I anticipated so instead I felt this story was amusing instead of laugh-out-loud funny.  The story did have some legitimate and interesting points of view in Mel and Cathy in their attitudes towards vampires.  It's interesting to see Mel grow from her almost irrational dislike of vampires to understanding, and because this is a bit of a parody of vampire stories, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Cathy is ultimately not belittled for her point of view as a character.  I don't want to reveal too much though about the choices the characters make in the story.

There is a nice romance between Mel and another character too which gave more dimension to the vampire vs. human aspect.  The romance is predictable, but sweet, and it was entertaining to see the little bumps in their romance along the way.  The story also features a side mystery with one of Mel's other friends, and that also became a bit predictable towards the end, but it contributed much to keeping the plot more interesting.

This wasn't a book I devoured so much as quietly enjoyed.  The message in the end is a great one for tolerance and choice however, and it was delightful to go on this journey with the characters.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pippin: the Musical

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
I feel like this show is really popular with the hardcore musical fans, but I've never seen it or heard the music (except for a couple songs)... until now.  I saw it on tour in LA, twice now and I have to say, it's a fantastic show.  Comparing some clips from the original 1972 production to this new revival version, they really brightened it up and made it more of a spectacle which means it's a great show to see live. There are actual circus performers and some really cool acrobatics.  Oh yeah, and magic tricks!  This show is pretty much unlike anything I've ever seen - the concept is so unique, and the execution is brilliant.

Pippin starts out as a story being presented by a circus troupe, with the Leading Player setting the stage and the actors occasionally breaking the fourth wall.  And in one case, there is a sing a long with lyrics projected - so that definitely broke the fourth wall.  While I absolutely love the idea of such a stylized coming of age story being presented in a Brechtian manner (we're always aware that this is a show), I think the message of the show got a little muddled for me.  Pippin is a naive, unsophisticated youth, even though he is a prince, and throughout the show he's searching for some bigger meaning for himself.  And when he does find something special, he doesn't recognize it until the end because it's not extraordinary like he was hoping.  And him finally appreciating the ordinary I can completely agree with, but there is this underlying sense that he's giving up a lot to be 'ordinary', that he's "trapped but happy" and the Leading Player really looks down on him for it.  And that made me feel a little sad.  The show managed to end on a high note, but I still couldn't stop thinking that this show is a journey of self discovery with so many wonderful possibilities and Pippin kinda settles if he doesn't feel that what he has isn't extraordinary to himself.  Though seeing it the second time, I think it's a fitting ending for such a lavish show and I suppose that mirrors how the audience feels though, since after such a fantastic show, it's back to reality by the end.  This show has layers!

The L.A. tour featured two special performers - Andrea Martin (a legend!) who originated the Broadway revival role of Berthe and who was just fantastic.  She's a comedic genius, but also she's in amazing shape and performed some really difficult looking aerial acrobatics.  She's 67 years old guys.   And John Rubinstein played the father, King Charlemagne - and John originated the role of Pippin in 1972.  So cool! I was also thrilled that the original Pippin from the recent revival was in the role again because it's so great that both original Pippins are in the show!

The music is the highlight for me in this show - perfect, tuneful melodies - I'm obsessed with a handful of songs from the show now, but I'll only mention a couple here - "With You" which is a gorgeous romantic ballad with a satirical side that is not evident in the music and lyrics - it's only evident if you watch the show - but I completely disregard that side, because the music and lyrics are so sweepingly lovely, and I want to dwell on the romance of it.

Another song I want to mention is the opening number "Magic to Do" which is a wonderful piece.  Just from the opening chords there's this excitement brewing, and the energy of the number promises and delivers on that excitement.  The Tony Awards performance ends with their rendition of "Magic to Do" - after a performance of "Corner of the Sky" which is another fantastic song!  Oh my goodness, I'm obsessed with this show!  It's so funny and memorable and surprising and just plain exciting, and I love that that energy is put out there to be absorbed in a theatre.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Refined Reader (30) Origins of the Horror Genre

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

The elements of horror in fiction has it roots deep in our past with folklore and humanity's concern with death and the afterlife.  Gothic literature played an important part in the evolution of horror as it's own literary genre, since modern novels were more based in realism until The Castle of Otranto (1764), the first modern novel to incorporate supernatural explanations.  When The Castle of Otranto was first published, it was marketed as a found medieval story so when it came out that it was in fact written contemporary, it was not critically received very well.  But it became very popular.

Horror literature incorporates many supernatural elements such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches and the occult, and creates emotional, psychological or physical fear within a reader, but in a controlled manner which can be exciting or a thrilling.  Our psychological interest in reading horror stories is an interesting point to explore and there's more of a philosophical discussion of it on the wikipedia page linked below.  There are some ideas that because we don't have to deal with fighting for survival on a daily basis like our ancestors did, horror stories supply that need for excitement or for an adrenaline rush.

Pioneers of the horror genre include Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Bram Stoker in it's earliest incarnations,  H.P. Lovecraft and his 'cosmic horror' (in his stories the insignificance of humanity is often a focal point).  Lovecraft could also be credited in creating the modern zombie tale, as well as Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend.  Stephen King is a highly influential modern horror writer, who helped make the genre extremely popular in our time.

Personally horror stories that feature overly gruesome details or graphic depictions of death are not appealing to me, but horror stories that deal with the supernatural and psychological horror is very interesting to me.  I usually like to read older horror novels since they are not as disturbing to me.  So I'm a little bit of a wuss. ;)

What are some of your favorite horror stories?  Do you have a favorite supernatural creature?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Suspense Sundays (121) The Man Who Would Be King

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.

"The Man Who Would Be King"
Air date: May 31, 1959
Starring Dan O'Herlihy
>>Episodes here<<

Dan and Peachey - two con men - travel to Afghanistan to pretend to be kings/gods to the more primitive people in that land.  They lord it up, and enjoy their time, until Dan decides to take a wife.  But it is against their law for a woman to marry a god.  The woman is scared and bites Dan, drawing blood, which proves he's not a god at all.  And the people get angry.

This episode is based on a short story by Rudyard Kipling and is more of a sad tale in my opinion than a suspenseful one.  It's clear that thing would not go well for these two men, and their bluff, arrogant characterization in the show just confirmed that they would not deserve a happy ending.  It's an interesting story though for the idea of two people deliberately taking advantage of another people's culture.
Friday, October 24, 2014

Interview with N.B. Roberts, author of Halton Cray

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,

On Wednesday I reviewed the Jane Eyre inspired novel "Halton Cray" by N.B. Roberts and I'm delighted that the author agreed to do an interview for my blog!  I hope you'll enjoy reading her answers as much as I did!  And if you are a fan of Jane Eyre, Gothic, paranormal, or suspenseful romance, definitely check out "Halton Cray"!

And find N.B. Roberts on:

Q: What is your "Jane Eyre" origin story? When/Why did you first read the novel and what were your first impressions?

I've always loved period dramas, and while subscribing to a ‘classics’ DVD collection in my mid-twenties, I received a free paperback copy of ‘Jane Eyre’. Up until that point, I struggled to find books that enthused me to turn pages, despite reading in various genres. I had been under the illusion that classic works were written in an archaic style I might not grasp. Having Jane Eyre (the book) in front of me, I determined to read it before cheating with the TV adaptation – and so glad I did; I discovered my kind of novel! Jane Eyre kindled my interest in reading other classic works too.

From turning those first pages, the relationship that Charlotte Bronte establishes with the ‘reader’ was the hook for me. Jane, as a child, has a love for books with pictures and exciting titles. I felt that she couldn't see a book as interesting otherwise; she couldn't see beyond the boring black text – what interest could that hold? That was me as a child; I resonated with that, and the fact that Jane has a tough time at school. Jane’s experiences in many respects put my own complaints to shame. Watching Jane mature and take control of her life was mentoring to me, and I felt I could be anything I wanted to be. Though I found the author’s wit and turn of phrase absorbing, the story became enthralling and truly entertaining when Rochester appeared. In short – I couldn’t put it down. It will always be a book I return to for encouragement, comfort, and comedy!

Q: "Halton Cray" has some very striking horror elements and is in many ways more Gothic than "Jane Eyre". What inspired you to make the story darker and introduce a paranormal element?

I have a *slight* fascination with the macabre anyway; a love for Edgar Allan Poe tales, Vincent Price movies, gothic horror in general – adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula (1993) are among my favourites. It wasn't long after first reading Jane Eyre that I began compiling notes for Halton Cray. At that point I was reading the works of Robert Louis Stevenson. But I was keen to expand on the darkness I saw in Jane Eyre and explore. The horror in Bertha viciously attacking her own brother is only hinted at because Jane doesn't witness it first-hand. Even the way in which Bertha’s end was described to Jane is rather gruesome, and again, only a hint at the darkness of what happened. Jane also alludes to the supernatural to explain how she heard Rochester call her name from Ferndean,and he heard her reply. I saw an opportunity to magnify the darkness and weave my favourites together. Additionally, in Halton Cray, Thom is not the best behaved man on the planet. Therefore, my villain had to be really bad…

Q: Halton Cray, the house, is described in detail in the book, along with the workings of running a 'historic' home in England. What kind of fun research did you do for that aspect and is Halton Cray based on a real house?

The research was especially fun because I got to do something I love in exploring historic houses. I have a deep-seated admiration for the architecture and domestic stories. While writing, I was working as a software analyst, so I didn't have much of an idea on a curator’s responsibilities in a stately home: learning that role for Thom was an enjoyable challenge.

I feel lucky to have grown up within walking distance of a reputedly haunted Tudor manor, which provides my mental picture for the Halton Cray estate. Our National Trust manages it and they do a marvellous job. I am though a little sceptical about naming the house because I feel it may colour a reader’s interpretation of my setting. Having said that, if anybody is curious to know – I have had emails asking for more information – I will happily send them a link to this particular house. I spent the best days of my early teens there annoying the poor staff who were incredibly good to allow unaccompanied children inside. They were great too when I would phone them or turn up to ask odd questions such as ‘what would happen in a power cut?’

Q: What was your favorite scene to write in "Halton Cray" and why?

It’s difficult to pick one, but I’ll go for the blackout scene, which you mention in your review. That was a lot of fun to write, and I really enjoyed making dialogue dominant over general narrative. It was an exciting challenge to incorporate various elements of the book in one scene: the mystery, panic, and romance all thrown into the mix. It makes you wonder what you would do in that situation, whether you would stay cool or lose it.

Q:  I found the chemistry between Alex and Thom to be a highlight of the book - I was wondering if you had any tips for how to write/craft a good romance?

Thank you – I’m glad you felt that. It depends on what kind of romance would best fit a story. I don’t personally like insta-love. If going for a slow burn romance as I did with Alex and Thom, then the best advice I could give would be to read Jane Eyre (*grins*). A few key things I identified were:
  1.  Establish good/clear motivations for why your characters are drawn to each other. A durable romance based on him falling for her because she looks good in a pencil skirt isn't going to add chemistry, because it isn't going to add depth or understanding from a reader’s perspective. To help create those motivations, look at what your characters need and give that to their intended.
  2. Gradually does it. Don’t rush your characters in love. It is nothing new to have your lovers not even getting on in the beginning (Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennett are a well-known example); whatever works for your story to keep that build-up gradual, giving you plenty of time to have them challenge, explore, and appreciate each other. A misunderstanding, bit of jealousy, and the big will-they-won’t-they question never did any harm.
  3. Last but certainly not least! And this is a must when following no. 2, your characters need to make some physical contact occasionally, and their reactions need to be highlighted. Don’t rely on the reader taking the hint. If your character liked that his fingers brushed against hers, say so. She liked it.
Q:  Will the rest of the books in the Shadows of the World series have some inspiration from Jane Eyre? Or another book?

As with Halton Cray, the sequel will certainly inherit some elements of Jane Eyre, but does continue on more of its own path, with the occasional nod to Brontë’s work.

Q:  Just for fun - do you have a film dreamcast for Alex and Thom?

This is a tough one to answer, because before now I have never put an actor’s face to any of my characters. I would love to see the wonderfully versatile and talented Abigail Breslin play Alex. And since this is a lot of fun, I would nominate two actors to play Thom: Sam Claflin as seen through Alex’s eyes; he’s such a cheeky looking guy as well as a superb actor. Plus, check out the dimples! – And Norman Reedus, but as seen through everybody else’s eyes, because to me he can look truly sinister. Ha!

DREAMCAST!  L-R: Abigail Breslin for Alex, Sam Claflin and Norman Reedus for Thom

Q:  And because I have to ask one more "Jane Eyre" related question - which adaptation is your favorite?

Despite it being a less than perfect production, the 1983 BBC adaptation is my favourite. It captures everything from the book I want to see on screen. I really enjoyed Zelah Clarke's spirited performance of Jane. And I just loved how Timothy Dalton captured Rochester: his exacting and rather compelling tone – particularly when teasing Jane – met up with my idea of the Byronic hero from the novel. I had previously seen Mr Dalton in various roles when I was a child, such as James Bond, but I really rated him as an actor after seeing this series. His portrayal even became an inspiration for me when writing Thom's teasing of Alex. Although Timothy Dalton is a deal too striking in looks, he is in every way the perfect Rochester, and is additionally deserving of the role for playing the part of the gypsy! which still makes me laugh aloud – ‘Off ye lendings!’

Of course, being a TV series gave it sufficient coverage of the book, but what I really appreciated was the ample interaction between Jane and Rochester to warrant the profoundly passionate connection they formed; that coupled with the use of original text, this is by far my favourite.

I have to say, if I was in a similar situation with the blackout scene in this book, how I would react would depend on two things.  One -is Thom there to save me?  Because then I wouldn't panic, and two - if there are other people panicking like crazy, then I would most definitely endeavor to keep my cool!  And about the dreamcast - I love the author's choices, but Sam Claflin I double love!

Thank you for your fantastic answers N.B.!  And please everyone check out "Halton Cray" on Amazon or Goodreads!
Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Halton Cray

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Halton Cray (Shadows of the World #1)
by N.B. Roberts
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

‘Yes, I’ve killed! I’ve killed as indiscriminately as God! And yes, I will kill again.’

‘Sometimes Death lurks after them for days, weeks, or even months, waiting for their time... Sometimes it doesn’t, and I’ve often raced that omnipresent Reaper to one portion of its work.’

When Alexandra Turner takes a job at the eerie Tudor mansion, Halton Cray, she needs all her wit and spirit to cope with the enigmatic Thom Rues. Whilst a near constant fog envelopes the estate, Alex begins questioning the bizarre things she’s seeing around him, as gossip circulates that Thom is more than just different. Determined not to let rumours influence her, Alex tries to learn who he really is, even as he provokes her with his dark sense of humour. But discovery of Thom’s terrible secret propels Alex’s life in a direction she could have never predicted.

Halton Cray is the first book in the Shadows of the World series, a contemporary paranormal romance and adventure inspired by Charlotte Brontё’s Jane Eyre.


Obviously the fact that this book is inspired by Jane Eyre made me want to read it - and I have to say in one aspect this book totally honors the connection.  That aspect being the chemistry between the two leads.  While I was a bit iffy on them initially - because Thom Rues was sometimes unattractively abrasive and I really wanted Alex to stand up to him more and keep up her side of the banter - but eventually their growing romance won me over.  The story itself doesn't really bear a lot of similarity to the plot structure of Jane Eyre, but draws more on the major elements, like the dynamic and the rocky progression in the romance, a very ominous house, and a big secret, and I think because it is more of it's own story, that helped make this a very absorbing read on its own.  Especially when it came to finding out what Thom was hiding.

I don't want to reveal too much about the secret because I think it's a great surprise, and the explanation behind it was really well done.  There's a real impact in the reason why Thom and Alex are separated because it is a conflict that is very difficult to resolve.  Often with stories inspired by Jane Eyre, that reason can seem pretty weak, but that is not the case here.  However, it is resolved somewhat in this book, and probably that plot point is the one thing I had the most problems with in the story.  Because the way the problem is done away with, really stretched believability for me even though this book does dabble a bit in fantasy.  It just took me out of the story, and I had to decide to go with it, to really start enjoying the book again.

This was an absorbing read for me though, because of the atmosphere and the gradual sparks between the two main characters.  Alex is a very relatable character, and Thom is so darkly magnetic once you get to know him (which is a great reflection on the character of Rochester.)  The suspense of not knowing Thom's secret in the first half the book really carried the story for me as well, because there are so many hints and clues, but it's nearly impossible to put them all together.  The author really created something very different with Thom.  The dark atmosphere is enhanced by some really creepy scenes in this book, and in particular a great scene where Halton Cray loses power in the middle of a big storm and in the middle of a party.  Some of the guests get a little panicky, and I was really caught up in the pervasive feeling of dread and suspense in that scene.

As a Jane Eyre fan, I would recommend this book as an interesting modernized version, but with the focus more on it being a great, dark Gothic tale.  It's a little overwrought, with tons of atmosphere which is just perfect in capturing the Gothic tone.   I'm definitely looking forward to the next installment of Alex and Thom's story!

(I was asked to review this book by the author, but obtained my copy through the Amazon Prime Lending Library)

On Friday, I will be featuring an interview with the author, N.B. Roberts.  There will be some burning questions about the romance in this book as well as the author's thoughts on Jane Eyre!
Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm + LeVar Burton signing

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , , , ,
The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm
by LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo
Children's Literature
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

When little Mica Mouse is scared by thunder booming outside her cozy home, Papa Mouse reaches for just the right story to comfort her. Hugging her close, he begins to read The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. In this poetic book-within-a-book, a happy little rhinoceros is overwhelmed by a storm that sweeps away everything he loves. Swallowing the storm just makes him feel worse, so Rhino sets off on a whimsical journey toward healing. Along the way, he meets many friends, including a kind spider, a brave kangaroo, a wise tortoise, and an uplifting whale. With their help, Rhino lets go of the storm inside and learns to see the light in a world turned gray. Mica Mouse is soothed by the story and Papa’s gentle reminder that even though bad things sometimes happen, the world is full of people who care.


This was a lovely and charming read with a heartwarming and uplifting message.  Since it's a story within a story, the Rhino's tale serves as a kind of fable for kids to reach out to loved ones in times of trouble.  I think the message is a timely one, and it made me feel a little emotional in the hope that it's a message that more people are able to take to heart.  The illustrations are bright and enhance the poetic story beautifully.  This is really a lovely read for children - and even better, it's a great book for parents and teachers to read to children.

I don't read a lot of children books now, but this is a nice book for me to look over every now and again for it's message and charm.

The Book Signing

The book signing was a lot of fun!  There was a good amount of Star Trek talk among the people waiting for the event to begin, so already I was entertained.  Someone who worked on the set of the TV show and some of the films was talking about their experiences!  And I got to talk to the lady next to me about Doctor Who, and she had some very interesting viewpoints on science fiction as a genre which was very thought-provoking for me.  But anyways.

For the event, LeVar Burton gave a little speech about Reading Rainbow and why he wanted to write a book - he wanted to write something that Mr. Rogers (from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood) would have written.  And then LeVar read the whole book to us and the kids who were seated on the floor in front of him - and that whole experience was a delight.  He did voices and gave a great performance of the book.  After, there was a Q&A and I was intrigued by a couple of answers he gave - one that his favorite book as a child was Captain Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, which was so absorbing to him that he felt depressed when the book was over, and that to this day, when he's reading a great book, he slows down to make it last a little longer.  Which is something I have a very hard time doing, because even if a book is so good I don't want it to end, I do want to know how it ends and get that closure!

The other answer was to the last question of the night which was - why a Rhino out of all animals?  And it's because Rhinos are strong and if even they are brought down by pain and grief, and yet can move past it, then anyone can.  And as the editor points out, there are a lot of stories about elephants.

The signing part went by in a blur of course.  He signed for most of the kids first, which was adorbs, and then when it was my turn I told him how much I enjoyed the reading he gave, and his performance which made me enjoy the book even more.  And I also asked him if he has any favorite books that are not children's books, and he said he usually says the book he's reading right now, which is Game of Thrones.  But one of his favorite authors is Octavia Butler.

And then that was pretty much it!  I was so happy I went (and managed to not ask him about Star Trek, haha).  I do wish I had asked for a posed photo - his people were saying there wasn't time, but I think a few people asked anyways and got it!  But it was a very enjoyable evening, and well worth the traffic-heavy drive through downtown Los Angeles!
Sunday, October 19, 2014

Suspense Sundays (120) The Beetle and Mr. Bottle

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.

"The Beetle and Mr. Bottle"
Air date: September 20, 1959
Starring John Gibson
>>Episodes here<<

Kind, sincere Mr. Bottle lives alone in a nice house with a garden he absolutely dotes on.  His daughter hints that maybe he might want to find a nice lady and re-marry before he retires, since he can't take care of his flowers all the time.  When Mr. Bottle goes to London for work, he bumps into a nice lady named Ethel, who is more than eager to get to know him.  Mr. Bottle doesn't know quite how it happened, but soon he marries her and brings Ethel to his little home to live.  Ethel however is not as nice as she seemed and is not happy with the house or the garden.  Or Mr. Bottle.

This is one of the top Suspense episodes I think - such an enjoyable and delightful story as Mr. Bottle is so sweet, and unfortunately marrying Ethel is a HUGE mistake.  It's fun to hear Mr. Bottle plot murder, and the resolution is absolutely perfect - a satisfying twist, given how nasty Ethel is to nice Mr. Bottle.  I highly recommend listening to this episode of Suspense, it's so good!
Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: Dangerous Girls

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Dangerous Girls
by Abigail Haas
YA Mystery
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

It's Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations.

As Anna sets out to find her friend's killer; she discovers hard truths about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.

As she awaits the judge's decree, it becomes clear that everyone around her thinks she is not just guilty, but dangerous. When the truth comes out, it is more shocking than one could ever imagine...


I rated this book three stars - not because it's a poorly written or executed book, but because my personal enjoyment of it was marred by the ending.  And a bit by my frustrations with the characters.  But really this is a great, suspenseful read and it's only because I personally did not enjoy the journey I was taken on with the story, that I felt like I couldn't give this a higher rating.  This is a wonderful book in every objective sense.

The story takes an absorbing look at teenage friendships and experiences, as well as the horrible mania that can surround media publicity craziness.  It's really disheartening to know that people can make such blanket judgements based on biased media coverage.  What's also disheartening is the power of money over justice, and while it is true, this book can be so discouraging in that respect as we see people getting away with so much.

There are some moments of lightness as the author flashes back to tell Anna's backstory and that way of telling the story was so well done.  The whole book moves back and forth between what is happening in the present, and what happened in the past to get us to this point.  There's a real sense of joy in Anna and Elise's friendship which is dampened by knowing what has happened to Elise, but it's also wonderful to see such a strong and unique friendship grow between these girls.

But the real draw of this book is the mystery, which is very perplexing. There are so many threads that run through this, and so many possibilities that it's impossible to figure out until you get to the end.  And it is quite a twist.  I think because I was so disheartened by this book for the most part, I found it difficult to truly enjoy it.  It's really a personal issue, because this is a very well constructed mystery with some important and interesting commentary on our society.

For people who have read the book, I wanted to talk a bit about what I really found so disappointing about the story.  Really, I'm going to talk about the twist, so don't read this if you haven't read the book!  I feel like the twist was a bit of a cop-out since I was expecting something jaw-dropping, but I've seen this twist done before.  And almost expected it a bit before it was revealed.  It's disappointing to me that after all the time invested in believing Anna is innocent, she's not, and that there's still more injustice in the story.  And it seems extra unfair that Dekker, who is so awful throughout, was actually right.  I really don't like reading about blatant injustices that are not righted by the end, so for that reason really, I felt so dissatisfied with this book.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: The Lightning Thief

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1)
by Rick Riordan
MG Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school... again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus' master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus' stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.


This was such a fun adventure read!  The story is told in first person, and Percy Jackson's humorous way of telling his story elevated this simple story because he has such a down-to-earth and sarcastic way of seeing things.  The way Greek mythology is re-imagined in this modern setting was fun to explore as well - I think knowing a good deal about Greek mythology helps with the enjoyment of the story because it's nice to understand the references and the nuances to the characters.

There's a bit of a mystery in Percy's quest to find out what happened with Zeus' master lightning bolt, but it didn't take over the story, because there was more interest in Percy learning more about his powers and limits, and in how the Greek Gods are a part of modern society.  They all have their quirks too, and it's fun to read how the author tweaks them.

The story as a whole, is a light read - I wasn't so caught up in the story that I couldn't put it down - I would categorize it as a nice read, with lots of potential in the characters and the world building.  I am looking forward to knowing more about Percy and his adventures in the next books in the series.
Monday, October 13, 2014

The Refined Reader (29) Book Plates

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

(Many thanks to Romi from Where the Reader Comes to Write for the idea of doing a post on book plates!  If anyone has any suggestions or questions about bookish history they would like to know the answer to, please let me know anytime, and I'll try to do a post on it!  I'll do the research, so you don't have to! :D)

The earliest known example of a book owner marking ownership of their book comes from around 1391 b.c. during the reign of Amenophis III of Egypt.  But marks of ownership evolved to printed papers denoting ownership which is what book plates have become today.   The need for them probably arose from how expensive and rare books were at the time, and how important it was to mark the owner of a particular book. The earliest example we have of a printed book plate dates from 1480, from a German monastery.  At this time, the designs were simple, but usually presented an armorial quality or some symbol or monogram that represented the owner.  It's believed that the practice of using book plates first spread from Germany.

The term Ex Libris (Latin for "from the books" or "from the books of") is often associated with book plates, and that term started to become widely used in 17th century France.  As book plates became more popular, they also became more ornate, and a rococo style of fanciful scrollwork which originated in France, became a predominant style.  In the 19th century however, styles were less rigid and encompassed many elements of previous styles such as heraldic and pictorial.

Book plates are not as widely used today, although I remember using them quite a bit as a child for my books.  Maybe my Mom was afraid I would lose my books!  But now,  I don't really like the idea of marking up my books with a pasted label or my name - it's part of my general aversion to writing in books.

Do you still use book plates or other ways to mark that a book belongs to you?

King's College Cambridge
Sunday, October 12, 2014

Suspense Sundays (119) Death and the Escort

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.

"Death and the Escort"
Air date: September 1, 1959
Starring ---
>>Episodes here<<

A young couple, Ed and Jan are having breakfast, and Ed, notices a picture of a racketeer on trial for murder in the newspaper and realizes that he's seen the man before and can place him at the scene of the crime thereby ensuring the man's conviction.  Ed decides to come forward, even though his wife is scared that the racketeer's men will come after him for testifying.  Ed is foolishly dismissive of her fears.

Because of course they are coming after him.  What's surprising to me is how unconcerned most of the people are about this in the beginning!  The police do nothing to keep Ed's identity secret - I mean, Ed's name gets into the paper and no one seems concerned that his name and address is out there.  Until they get the threatening phone calls.  Of course the wife is wrong in not wanting Ed to go to the police, but the police aren't very good at protecting Ed!  Especially when someone tries to impersonate a policeman.  It's just luck that it all turns out right in the end.  And the lesson here seems to be don't completely trust the police! 
Friday, October 10, 2014

20 Things You Might Not Know About Me

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
I was tagged by the awesomely kind Romi from Where the Writer Comes to Write to do this meme, so here are 20 things you might not know about me!  If anyone else would like to do this too, please consider yourself tagged!

One. How Tall Are You?
5'9" so pretty tall.  My Dad would sometimes say 'It's great being tall, just ask short people.'  He has a funny old sense of humor. :)

Two. Do you have a hidden talent? If so, what?
Hmm, not really no - I wish I had something more interesting to add here!

Three. What's your biggest blog-related pet peeve?
Overly negative reviews annoy me.  It's fair if you didn't like a book at all, but I don't like to see bloggers bash a book unnecessarily.

Four. What is your biggest non-blog related pet peeve?
Well, since I just got off work and have work on the mind, people not picking up after themselves in lab, really annoy me.  Mostly because I feel compelled to do it for them, and it seems so obvious to me that if you lay something down somewhere else, you should put it back when you're done.  But I know that's not obvious to everyone...

Five. What's your favourite song?
Maybe I'm Amazed by Paul McCartney.  Although at the moment I'm crazy obsessed with "Let's Face the Music and Dance" as sung by Brent Spiner and Maude Maggart.

Six. What's your favourite etsy shop that isn't yours?
Wonderland Contraband make these delightful clay miniature people as charms and things.  They also do custom orders, so they made me Jane Eyre and Rochester charms that are just adorable.  (And for the record, I don't have an etsy shop.)

Seven. What's your favourite way to spend free time when you're alone?
Besides reading?  Probably watching something on Netflix or a DVD.

Eight. What is your favorite junk food?
Chips.  Even though I have such a sweet tooth, when I snack, I more prefer savory than sweet, and chips are my favorite!  Though I've tried not to eat as much of it lately what with sodium levels!

Nine. Do you have a pet or pets? If so, what kind and what are their names?
I did - I had two dwarf hamsters named Lyra and Pantalaimon (from the His Dark Materials series) and before that I had a pet mouse I named Adele (after the little girl in "Jane Eyre").  No pets currently though.   I really want to get a dog someday!

Ten. What are your number one favourite nonfiction and fiction books?
Hmmm. lemme think... possibly "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë for fiction?  I'm just picking that one off the top of my head. ;)  And for nonfiction, it's Derren Brown's just wonderful and humorous memoir "Confessions of a Conjuror."

Eleven. What's your favourite beauty product?
Right now, I really like Bite Beauty lipstick which is like a lip balm with color.  It goes on light and it's supposed to have antioxidants, so it's good for my skin I hope!

Twelve. When were you last embarrassed? What happened?
You know, I can't really think of a stand out recent moment, so I'll mention one that happened when I was much younger.  In eighth grade of elementary school I was in the student council and I had to help give morning announcements, so I would speak over the PA system.  One day I really needed to clear my throat, but for some reason I felt embarrassed to just do it when the whole school can hear, so I thought it was better to croak my way through the announcement...

Thirteen. If you could only drink one beverage for the rest of your life (besides h20) what would it be?
Tea.  It's so comforting and nourishing!

Fourteen. What's your favorite movie?
Discounting Jane Eyre (cause that's always my favorite everything) I'll say "All This and Heaven Too" which is an old black and white movie from the forties with more than a passing resemblance to Jane Eyre so...

Fifteen. What were you in high school?
Boring?  I wasn't very involved in extracurricular activities, but I did enjoy my classes and did well in them.  I also had a small circle of friends which made me feel very insulated from the kind of high school life I read about in YA books nowadays.  I would like to read before class, or while waiting for it to begin sometimes so that probably helped to isolate me.  But I generally enjoyed high school.  It was a good environment for me.

Sixteen. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
100% England.  I love it there so much.  It doesn't even have to be London... anyone who might want to give me a job over there...

Seventeen. PC or MAC?
Mac - I'm just Apple everything - unfortunately (for my wallet) I really like their design aesthetic and ease of use.

Eighteen. Last romantic gesture from a crush, date, boy/girlfriend?
Oh well, not really applicable.

Nineteen. Favorite celebrity?
I'm afraid he's not very well known in the States, but for his portrayal of Mr. Rochester in a 70's version of Jane Eyre, Michael Jayston immediately became my favorite actor.  I really love his portrayal and seeing him in many things after, I think he has a great talent for playing a character's nuances.  (link goes to my fansite for the actor!)

Twenty. What Blogger do you secretly want to be best friends with?
Well I would love to be best friends with all the book bloggers I talk to more frequently because they are all awesome, but best blogging pals is a thing, right? :D

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: The Winner's Curse

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy #1)
by Marie Rutkoski
YA Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction.

Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.


To be honest, the premise of this book didn't draw me in at first.  The plot synopsis has slave culture and gambling which are two things I'm not really interested in.  But from all the fantastic reviews for this, I picked it up, and I'm very glad I did.  This story really was all about the characters, and it was a beautifully written fantasy drama.

The individual conflicts for Kestrel and Arin were the best part of this story I think.  They both have such different backgrounds and goals, and yet they find themselves drawn to each other which causes them a lot of trouble.  It was easy to be sympathetic towards their plight, and the suspense of not knowing how their difficult situations would be resolved, made the plot very engaging.  The romance aspect - while appealing - was not as well drawn for me though.  I wish I understood clearer why they were so attached, after only a few conversations.  Especially for Arin who has so much to be bitter about.  It did make sense why they were drawn to each other in the first place though, as they were characters who didn't fit in with their roles and they did have some mutual interests.

The world-building was another highlight of this story.  The history and background was so vivid and realistic.  The Greco-Roman flair made it even more appealing to me as well because it made it even easier to imagine the elements of the culture and the architecture.  This was a very fast read for me, because I was so caught up in the twists and turns of the plot.  It's a perfectly-pitched drama with high stakes and heart-rending choices.  This was a fantastic read!
Monday, October 6, 2014

The Refined Reader (28) Book Illustrations

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

1514 engraving by Albrecht Dürer
While there was a tradition of illustrated manuscripts going back into the beginning of the creation of books, book illustrations as we know them have their beginnings in the origins of European woodblock printing, and thrived as the printing press changed the accessibility of books.  With the printing press, woodblock printing was left behind and there were two predominant methods of creating book illustrations - etching and engraving.

Etchings were made by placing a "waxy ground" on a metal that was resistant to acid, and the artist would scratch off the ground with a needle to create the image.  The metal would then be dipped in acid, where the acid would eat into the exposed metal and would leave sunk lines in the metal plate.  The ground would then be washed off the plate, and ink would be applied which would fill the sunk lines.  The plate could then be applied to paper through a high pressure printing press to create the image.

Engravings have been around for much longer, but was harder to learn compared to etchings.  Engravings are the direct carving of images onto (traditionally) a copper plate, with practically the same methods used in transferring the image to print.  Sharp and precise tools, as well as artwork prepared in advance were usually more important for engravings.

In the middle of the 16th century, woodcut illustrations became less popular in favor of etchings and engravings.  Using etchings and engravings to create illustrations needed a different kind of printing press than for text, so illustrations were usually made separately which led to full page illustrations in books.  These methods also gave more defined, sharper images which aided in the printing of better maps.  Both methods could also be mixed on a plate to create the optimum print.  Mass production of book illustrations today have progressed much from these early beginnings, but it is incredible to see the amount of precision and detail in the old illustrations given the way they were illustrated.  The talent to create these on metal is very impressive.

What is your favorite illustrated book?  Or do you have a favorite book illustrator?

Wikipedia Wikipedia / Wikipedia
Sunday, October 5, 2014

Suspense Sundays (118) After the Movies

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.

"After the Movies"
Air date: September 6, 1959
Starring Kevin McCarthy
>>Episodes here<<

Al and his wife, Ann, take in a movie to relax because Al has been away on a jury for a big trial, and this is his first long break.  When they go to the drugstore for dessert, Ann finds an envelope of money on the floor.  With $10,000.  They take the envelope home and Al promises to call the police in the morning, but Ann insists he do it now.  Some gangsters come to the door soon after and get the money, and take Ann as well - making Al a threat that if he doesn't make sure the jury is a hung jury, Ann will suffer.

While the twist in this one was pretty obvious to me, I think the fact that this story does take a dark turn was surprising to me.  And because I think the twist is obvious, I'll just say it - that Al is the one who the $10,000 bribe was meant for, and he called the gangsters instead of the police.  Keeping that in mind, it was interesting to follow along with the story and hear how Al tries to cover it up along the way.  And if you do listen to this, there is still something more to the story!
Friday, October 3, 2014

Star Trek TNG - The Films

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
I finished watching all the films on August 31st, but this post is going up some weeks later.  I just want everyone to know I'm still in mourning over the death of Data.  There was a small part of me that was hoping there would be some ambiguity in his death so that he could come back (although I suppose B-4 is that way) but in addition to Data, the destruction of the Scimitar killed my hope.  Poor Data.  These were some fantastic films so that is my consolation.  It's interesting that Picard gets such a starring turn in all of these films.  Of course Patrick Stewart totally deserves it and contributes to really holding these films together.  But it's nice to think that there were no egos among the cast who might have objected to Stewart leading all the films like he does.  (At least I hope not!)

BTW, I just found out that six of the TNG cast members are appearing at the Star Trek convention in San Francisco.  It's in December, and I'm super excited to go!!  I want all the autographs and pictures my poor wallet can handle!

Like with the first six films with the original series cast, I'm ranking these from my least favorite film to the best (I don't need to even qualify the best film with 'my favorite', it's so clearly the superior film!)

4. Star Trek Insurrection

Even though this is my last ranked film, I really enjoyed this one for the most part - definitely there are great, humorous moments with the cast - like Riker shaving (!), Worf's puberty, and everything Data (when he wasn't being a total bad-ass).  It was also really sweet to see Riker and Deanna reconnecting, although I wonder what happened with her and Worf.  But the pacing is a bit slow at times, and the story itself didn't win me over.  I really enjoyed the exciting denouement, and the fountain of youth idea was interesting, but I found it hard to believe the Federation would condone the destruction of the whole planet - maybe they would relocate the people, but not destroy something so unique!  The romantic connection between Picard and Anij was just okay for me, though I was happy to see Donna Murphy starring in a Trek film!  I would have been much happier seeing Picard and Dr. Crusher reconnecting though!

3. Star Trek Generations

I talked about this film before, and I did not rewatch it after I finished the TNG series because I was just so eager to watch First Contact.  I think putting this film in context with the others, it shows that in this one they were trying to find their footing in placing the TNG crew in a cinematic setting.  They did a great job overall though with giving every crew member their moment in the story, and with bringing Picard and Kirk together in an exciting mission.  And pretty much the very fact that Captain Kirk is brought back in this makes me like this more.  Malcolm McDowell, and the really intense Enterprise crash were also highlights of this for me.  Oh yeah and Time is the fire in which we burn.

2. Star Trek Nemesis

While the whole Picard clone thing was a little weird to me, Tom Hardy was amazing in the role, and having such an absolutely chilling and intense villain in Shinzon really helped focus this film.  And I think the most exciting Star Trek stories come from when everything seems against them and they only have each other to win the day.  The last half hour or so of this film was unbearably suspenseful to me! (And devastating in the end of course).  That ship battle was amazing and intense.  I thought the discussion of how alike Picard and Shinzon are was interesting as well, especially because it is a very difficult argument.  I love that Data was so sure that B-4 would be completely different to him though, despite the fact they share the same makeup and memories.  Data always brings clarity to a situation.  This was not a perfect film, but it built to a terrific finale.  Oh yeah, and Riker and Troi got married!  Finally!

1. Star Trek First Contact

I've heard this was a great film (particularly from fellow Trekkie Amy) but I really was not prepared for how much I would love it!  The Borg are back as the utter villains they were always meant to be - because they are so good in that role.  And this film really captures the horror of the Borg's intentions which contrasts nicely with the hopes and aspirations of humanity which are embodied in Cochran's invention of warp drive.  Even if Cochran is such a drunk and lovable scamp.  The heart of the Enterprise crew and of Picard's courage elevates this to an even more intensely moving story with the crew fighting back despite the hopelessness of the situation.  This was a gorgeously made film with great acting and directing (thank you Jonathan Frakes!) and wonderful moments of humor and lightness to balance the dark despair of the fight on the Enterprise.  Picard's Ahab moment was incredible by the way.  So completely different and yet true to his character and what powerful acting!  And I did do a few fist-pumps when Data turned on the Borg Queen - I don't know why it's so satisfying to me to see Data fierce, but it totally is in a major endorphin rushing way.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review: Emma

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , , ,
by Jane Austen
Classic Literature
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

'I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.'

Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen's most flawless work.


I have to say that I didn't enjoy Emma as much as I thought I would.  I'm familiar with the story and some of the adaptations, but the character of Emma on the page came off as more haughty and presumptuous than I was expecting.  She is very flawed, and it was sometimes hard to like her as a character.  I found the same for Mr. Knightley, who can be just as haughty and presumptuous, with the important fact being that he was usually right.  But even though these characters drive the progression of the story, there are many more interesting characters and a drama filled plot to help make this a charming read.

The character drama is a high point in this story because the plot revolves so much around the romances of the characters.  I found it very interesting how clearly Jane Austen can show the truth of a situation while also making it clear why Emma makes the wrong assumptions.  It's also fun, as the reader, to know more than the main character.  This aspect of the book was very engaging to me, because the moment when the main character realizes the truth has that extra bit of satisfaction.  The cast of characters in this novel are also engaging - there is such a wide variety and so many interesting quirks and character traits.  Mr. and Mrs. Elton were especially fun for me, because they are so awful, and yet it is not overdone.  They are just so perfect for each other.  Harriet was the most sympathetic character for me, even if not the most memorable.  She's nice and pleasant, and with so many characters in this book who are not very nice or pleasant (or at least not always), it was great that she got a happy ending.

With Austen novels, my biggest problem is usually how the romances are culminated, and Emma really surprised me with how abruptly Emma and Mr. Knightley came to an understanding.  It definitely didn't seem very romantic to me, and was more disappointing since this was really a moment I felt the book was building up to.  But Austen writes these characters with so much detachment, that I suppose it was to be expected, so I can't really fault the book because Jane Austen is very consistent.  I can't help feeling disappointed though.

Because I know this to be one of Austen's more well-regarded books, I feel like expectations made me think this would be a more enjoyable and satisfying read than I really found it.  But the story is solidly engaging, with a wonderful cast of characters.  The drama is resolved very neatly as well, with some good lessons included for some of the characters.

Sixth book read in the Classics Club Challenge
Also part of the 2014 Jane Austen Challenge