Review: Into the Dreaming, Karen Marie Moning

Title: Into the Dreaming (Bonus Edition)

Author: Karen Marie Moning

Publication: Random House , 2012

Pages: 272

Genre: Time-Travel Romance, Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A really, really great little book highly recommended to all fans of Karen Marie Moning. Despite its small size, quite a lot is crammed in here, and it’s definitely not to be missed.

The first section is a simple re-print of Karen’s novella Into the Dreaming. It’s just under 120 pages and tells the story of Jane, a modern-day romance author, and Aedan, a cursed Highlander from 10th Century Scotland. With the help of the Faerie Queen, Jane and Aedan meet and fall in love in the Dreaming, a realm between worlds. When Jane is transported to medieval Scotland to save Aedan from being forever cursed by the Unseelie King, she uses her dream memories to bring him back from the brink. Obviously, not a whole lot can happen in such a short story, but Karen still works her magic and makes me fall in love with her characters.

At the end of the novella, Karen adds a truly heartfelt Afterward that talks about her own struggles as an author, and how the pressure to write what’s “popular” can be completely overwhelming, especially when you’re just beginning. She encourages writers to stay true to their own stories, no matter what the cost, because there will always be someone to take a risk on you. It might just take a little longer. I find Karen to be an extremely inspirational woman, and she’s VERY open with her fans in general about her writing process, so thoughts like these are always really great to read.

The next section includes a formal proposal for a novel that was never written, entitled Ghost of a Chance. I was actually a little nervous about reading this, because I was afraid it would sound SO GOOD, and I’d be dying to read it even though it didn’t exist. However, even though it DID sound interesting, and I’m sure I would have loved it had she written it, I can kind of see why she abandoned it. The characters didn’t grab me the way they normally do, and the plot didn’t seem as strong, at least in the conceptual stage.

The third section contains a deleted scene from Karen’s third book, Kiss of the Highlander, which won’t make much sense if you haven’t read that novel. Fans, however, will appreciate this alternate look at the relationship between the main characters, Drustan and Gwen, two of my personal favorites. While I completely agree that the published version was better, I’ll never say no to more of these two! Plus, it was really interesting to follow Karen’s thought process and see what other roads she was considering during the initial draft. It’s a bit like watching bloopers for a movie, though obviously less funny.

My personal favorite section was the next part, entitled Dark Highlander Lite. Apparently, Karen was two-thirds of the way through her fourth novel – a month before it was due to her publisher – when she realized she was writing, as she called it, the wrong book. It hadn’t come out in any way, shape or form the way she wanted, and she was determined to start over. Her publisher had a meltdown, but they compromised. Karen would start over, and send the first 50 pages of each book for editing, and if the second version was better, she’d get an extension. Karen agreed, but then burned all but those first 50 pages of the original book to ensure she’d be able to write her new version. Luckily, the publisher agreed the second version was much better, so she got her extension anyway. But can you imagine the nerve it took to literally burn her bridges??? All because she knew her own story and this wasn’t it.

Reading these first 50 pages, I have to agree. It’s a perfectly fine book, one I’d definitely want to read, but it wasn’t right for the story she wanted to tell. My respect for her pretty much doubled after reading this, if such a thing is possible.

The next section includes the first chapter of Darkfever, the first in her latest five-book urban fantasy romance series, which is really nice for those of her fans who adore her traditional Highlander romances and just aren’t sure about making the jump to something darker. (That would have been me five years ago, by the way!) And finally, she includes both black and white and full color illustrations from her upcoming graphic novel Fever Moon. I’m still on the fence about this, as I really REALLY dislike Western comic animation, but I’ve never NOT bought something written by Karen, so….

In any case, highly recommended to both old and new KMM fans! This little book packs quite a punch!

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Top Ten Tuesday – Ten All Time Favourite Characters in Books

Apologies for neglecting this blog so soon after starting it! Real life became excessively hectic, but I’m going to try to get back in the groove now!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly series hosted by Broke and the Bookish. This is my first time participating, and I’m really excited about the topic! While it was difficult to narrow down my choices, I’m fairly satisfied with the results.

10.) Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling)

Umbridge might be a foul excuse for a human being, but all the reasons we hate her are are the same reasons that make her an absolutely amazing character. In my opinion, Umbridge was the strongest villain in the HP series. Voldemort never truly frightened me, probably because he’s such an stereotypical fantasy antagonist. But Umbridge was 100% real. She reminds us that evil doesn’t always wear black clocks and masks. Sometimes – a LOT of times – they wear pink and drink sweet tea and cover their offices with pictures of adorable kittens. Prejudice, racism, closed-mindedness…this is how evil subtly invades our lives. Umbridge is one of the most frighteningly real villains of all time, and that makes her a fabulous character.

9.) Andrina Adamo (The Drina Ballerina series by Jean Estoril)

I doubt any of you have ever heard of this series (and if you have, PLEASE tell me so I can finally have someone to fangirl with!) It’s a children’s series of 11 books about a young girl named Drina who fights her way toward becoming a professional ballet dancer. This may sound like a million other “dancing” series, but it’s SO much more than that. Drina was the first book character to ever truly impact my life. She had an inner strength and amazing character that just resonated with me, even at such a young age. Drina battles tooth and nail for her career, against the express wishes of her grandmother, who wants nothing to do with the dancing world for reasons that soon become apparent to Drina. The main reason I adore Drina is because she is very, very much like me in terms of being over-emotional and allowing herself to be carried away by her feelings. She often finds things so intensely beautiful that ithurts, which is so like me. Instead of allowing this to make her weak, she channels her feelings into her dancing, allowing her to become intensely connected with her roles. She just sees the world so vividly and allows herself to love every moment of being alive. It’s amazing to read.

8.) Dorothy Gale (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum)

Dorothy captured me from the first moment I met her, which was admittedly when I  first saw the film adaptation. Her innocence, her imagination, and her kindness all made me just want to hug her and be her friend. When I read the book, I connected with her even more. I felt she came across as a bit younger than in the movie, and that only increased her charm. Dorothy rises to every challenge given her, and she does so seemingly without worry that she’ll fail. Of course, what truly makes me fond of her is her eternal desire to return home, despite her fantastic new surroundings, because she knows it’s where she ultimately belongs.

7.) Erik (The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux)

“Phans” of the PotO musical will no doubt find the original novel a bit of a shock, as I did when I first read it in high school, but it only intensified my love for this character. In the book, the Phantom – Erik – is fleshed out and given a past. He definitely comes across as crueler and more ruthless, no doubt due to the horrible torture he endured. At the same time, this makes him seem more human and less of a true phantom. And as Christine appears even more empty-headed than she does in the musical, Erik’s intense devotion to her is even more pitiable.

6.) Katie Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell)

I know many people who believe Scarlett is a selfish woman who cares only for her own happiness, but I always come away from this book with nothing but admiration and sympathy for her. Born to privilege and made to believe she could – and should – have anything and everything wanted, Scarlett grows to be a strong, self-sufficient woman who does whatever it takes to survive and protect her home. She covets Ashley, and yet she risks her own safety to protect Melanie and her deliver her baby safely. She steals her sister’s lover and marries him, but only to ensure she has money to keep her home safe. She’s arrogant and defiant, yet not too proud to wear a dress made out of velvet drapes. Scarlett is a survivor, and for that she has my utmost respect.

5.) Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling)

Yes, yes, I know I already used an HP character, but it’s not MY fault JKR is so awesome!

Luna is amazing on so many levels, but most of them come down to two factors. The first is that she has an absolutely open mind. Nothing is impossible for Luna. Just because something can’t be proven doesn’t mean it’s false. She’ll believe anything you tell her, and while this definitely smacks of naivete, it’s also an incredible gift. Luna never feels closed in or tied down. If she can’t go forward or back, she’ll simply move diagonally. The second factor is that Luna is always completely, 100% herself. She never tries to conform, she never lies, she never feels the need to hide her opinions or beliefs. She is who she is, and that’s the end of it. That kind of personality is simply beautiful to me, and I envy it terribly.

4.) Alice (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)

Ah, Alice. I’ve met very few people in my life who *don’t* love this little girl, and I very glad of it. I think what originally struck me about Alice was her overall reaction to Wonderland. She tries so hard to remain logical in the face of pure nonsense, which is terribly ironic because in the real world, SHE would be the one considered illogical. She’s nothing like what a proper lady of her rank should be, and she has no desire to conform to society’s expectations. But when faced with a world where NO ONE conforms, she finds that a little sense here and there goes a long way. In the end, she returns to the real world wiser and more intelligent, but also with a glint of madness that never truly fades away.

3.)  Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gabbles by L.M. Montgomery)

Whenever I’m asked which literary character I think I most resemble, at least in terms of personality, I always pick Anne. We’re both writers, dreamers and idealists. We both love to escape into fantasy worlds with dark, brooding men and strong, independent women. We both value our imaginations dearly. We both married men we met in school with the name Gilbert ❤  I also love Anne for her inner strength, for surviving a childhood bouncing back and forth between orphanages and horrible homes, all the while keeping her fiery spirit and dreams of a better future intact.  She’s a red-haired warrior with pen, ink and imagination as weapons, and I adore her for that.

2.) Beauty (Beauty and the Beast)

I’m not specifying a specific version of this tale, because I’ve honestly never read one where I didn’t fall in love with the portrayal of the “Beauty” character. Her personality is always a combination of bookishness and bravery. She’s generally an intelligent young woman who loves her father dearly and is both rather dreamy but also startlingly down to Earth. Despite her fears, she always agrees to take the place of her father, often believing she is trading her own life for his. She turns a dark castle into a home, tames a wild beast, and unravels a curse all while remaining true to herself and her beliefs. Her story is  the best way to prove that beauty itself is not skin deep, that personality counts for much, much more than physical looks, and that her name has absolutely nothing to do with her face and everything to do with her bright and shining soul.

1.) Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)

I almost feel like I don’t need to say anything here, because Lizzie’s amazing personality basically speaks for herself. She is brave, witty, vivacious and charming. She refuses to conform to society, turning down not one but TWO perfectly eligible marriage proposals for lack of love, and – with the help of Darcy – she brings Regency snark to a whole new level. She is everything I could possibly want to be, and my admiration for her knows no bounds.

So there you have my favorites. Who are yours?

For more excellent characters, see responses from Coffee & Wizards, Samantha Lin and Mermaid Vision Books!

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Top 10 Romance Books

Happy Heart’s Day everyone!

Now, I know this is a rather controversial holiday, and a lot of people feel like it gets shoved down their throat. But whether or not you’re in love in the real world, fictional love is always there to cheer you up and remind you that true love really does conquer all.

To celebrate, I’m listing 10 of my favorite romance novels. While my all-time favorites would likely be split between two authors, I made a conscious effort to only use each one once. Romance is a rather iffy genre – rather like digging through the dregs of to find the quality work – so this ought to save you some time. Maybe one or two of these will look good to you!  😀

10.) Wishes Come True, by Kathleen Nance: Single mother Zoe is proud of the life she’s built for herself and her daughter, independent of any male influence. She’s been burned once before, after all. But nothing prepares her for the appearance of Simon, a djinni she accidentally conjures during a ritual. Determined not to use her wishes, Zoe tries to ignore him, but that becomes difficult when she realizes that he’s just as trapped as she is. If you end up liking this, I highly recommend one of her sequels, Spellbound, about a djinni minstrel.

9.) A Rose in Winter, by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: Lovely Erienne is sold into marriage by her father in order to pay gaming debts, and she finds herself wed to the cold but gentle Lord Saxon, a man horribly scarred by a past fire. His kindness touches Erienne’s heart, but she finds herself also – must reluctantly – attracted to the dashing Yankee Christopher. When forced to choose between the husband who respects her and the man who desires her, Erienne discovers that not everything is as it seems. I’m always slightly reluctant to read a book by this author, because I either love them or truly despise them, but I think this is her absolute best!

8.) Stardust of Yesterday, by Lynn Kurland: Genevieve just inherited a castle. That’s pretty awesome, isn’t it? The problem is that it’s haunted by Kendrick, a 13th Century knight, and he has no plans to move. Claiming that his and Genevieve’s families were mortal enemies, he has every intention of protecting his castle from the hands of his foe, no matter how beguiling. But things don’t work out quite as planned, and Genevieve eventually finds herself tossed back in time, fighting for the man she’s come to love. Ms. Kurland is a master storyteller, but this was the first book of hers I read, so it retains a special place in my heart.

7.) The Last Warrior, by Kristen Kyle: Captain Jake Talbert came to San Francisco with only one task in mind: Retrieve a set of stolen katana swords, and with them, his honor. Shipwrecked in Japan, Jake spent years learning the way of the samurai, and he’s not about to lose his most prized possessions. His search catches the attention of Meghan McLowry, who just happened to have received just the swords he seeks as a birthday gift. She offers him a trade – If Jake can protect her father from the deadly vengeance of the Tong, the swords are his. Little do either of them know how easily business soon mixes with pleasure, and how dangerous that can become. This is the only Western romance book I’ve ever read that deals with Japanese culture, so it’s worth a read for that alone!

6.) Charmed, by Katherine Hart: In 1813, Silver Thorn, a Shawnee warrior, buries a magical amulet. In 1996, history teacher Nikki Swan uncovers it and is thrown back in time. She feels an immediate connection to Thorn, but it takes a lot for her to accept that she’s traveled over100 years in the past. But when war comes to the tribe, Nikki suddenly has to choose between protecting the man she loves and allowing history to run its course. (I recommend this book if for nothing else than the cover, which is HOLOGRAPHIC!!!)

5.) The Innocent, by Bertrice Small: Lady Eleanore is days away from taken her final vows as a nun, her most cherished dream, when dreadful news of her brother’s sickness and death reach her convent. Now the owner of an important estate, her king commands her to wed one of his knights to secure the land. Having been raised to be a bride of Christ since the age of five, Eleanore has no concept of how to be the bride of any mortal man, but her new husband, Ranulf, is more than willing to slowly and gentle teach her. Their blooming love in threatened before it even begins, as her brother’s killer schemes to remove Eleanore from the picture and take all her lands and power for herself. Often recognized as the queen of historical fiction, Bertrice Small is most well-known for her epic series, but this stand-alone will always be my favorite.

4.) Outerlander, by Diana Gabaldon: After serving as a combat nurse in WWII, Claire Randall wants nothing more than to relax on a second honeymoon with her husband in Scotland. But when she walks through a standing stone and is thrown back in time to 1743, Claire faces dangers even war couldn’t prepare her for. Charged with spying and about to be handed over to a twisted English captain, Claire is married off to Jamie Fraser to give her the protection of his clan. In addition to saving her life, Jamie also soon saves her heart. This is the first book in a sweeping epic. It’s time travel romance and historical fiction at its absolute best, set against the backdrop of a war-torn Scotland, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Culloden, and all the horrors of the era. While later books in the series fizzle out, this first is an absolute masterpiece, and can easily stand alone.

3,) Believe, by Victoria Alexander: This was the very first romance book I ever read, and it remains one of my favorite. Professor Tessa St. James loves literature but hates the Arthurian legend, though she’s forced to at least touch on it. But when a strange man appears in her classroom asking too many questions, Tessa begins to wonder if there’s more to the story than meets the eye. And when touching an old book actually sends her back in time and INTO the legend, she know’s something up! Sent by Merlin to help Galahad discover the Holy Grail, Tessa learns a lot about what it means to love, to seek, to protect, and to fight for the things that matter most to us. As this book combines my intense love for everything having to do with Arthur and some excellent time travel, it’s no surprise I adore this book. Plus, the banter between Merlin and his lover Vivianne is just hysterical! (I’d also recommend Yesterday and Forever by Ms.Alexander, where a woman is thrust back in time to Regency London – one of my favorite eras! – and into the arms of a most interesting gentleman. While the two main characters are wonderful, it’s the hero’s sister who captures my heart every time!)

2.) Breath of Magic, by Teresa Medeiros: I’ve already mentioned my intense love for this author, but Breath of Magic is truly her best work. Being a witch in Puritan New England is a dangerous profession, but Arian just can’t help herself! Unfortunately, her quest for excitement and a joyous life leads her to the town prison, and only by sheer luck is she able to escape….into the 20th Century. Ice cold billionaire Tristan has a very good reason for hating magic. It killed his best friend and he narrowly escaped being branded a murderer. But when it becomes clear Arian’s powers are more than just a trick of the light, he’s forced to come face to face with his worst nightmares. This book is a beautiful romance, and it’s one of the few that truly makes it obvious that BOTH the hero and heroine need saving in their own way. I’d recommend anything this woman wrote, but make sure to start here.

1.) The Immortal Highlander, by Karen Marie Moning: This woman is the best in the romance business, no question. Karen has two distinct series – the Highlander novels and the Fever novels, and this happens to be the sixth in the Highlander. Unfortunately, it means you can’t pop right into it, but that’s fine. Just read everything she’s ever written. Trust me, it’s worth it.

This particular novel focuses on my favorite of her characters, Amadan Dubh (or Adam Black) one of the most powerful fae of all time. (Remember Puck? That was him!) Unfortunately, even the best fae can sometimes anger their queen, and Adam has a fascination with humans he’s never been able to shake. Cursed with being human himself, Adam roams the world, trying to survive without his god-like powers for the first time in millennia. Oh, and he’s also invisible. Luckily, he runs across Gabrielle, one of the few humans who can see between the veil of fairy and human, and in exchange for getting him off her doorstep – and bed – she agrees to help find away to get his powers back. The thing is, Gabby’s been taught NEVER to let a fae know she can see them, otherwise she’s dead. And when royal Hunters start tracking her, she wonders if saving Adam means damning herself.

I absolutely ADORE pairings where the all-powerful, arrogant male is brought to his knees by the Right Woman, and this is exactly what Karen brings. I love all her heroes and heroines, but Adam and Gabby are the best.

But seriously, just read all her books. Just do it. You’ll be glad you did.

So what are some of your favorite romances? I’m always on the look-out for recommendations, especially if they’re time travel or historical, but really, I’ll try anything!

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OMG SNAPE *insert action here* IN HALF-BLOOD PRINCE!!!

I think we can all agree that un-wanted spoilers are no fun. We probably all have different levels of Spoiler Tolerance, and that no doubt changes based on what we’re reading. A spoiler for a one-shot romance novel is probably not so bad as the above spoiler for Harry Potter.


The point is, some people like spoilers and some people don’t, so it’s always best to error on the side of caution just in case.

…and then there’s me.

In my last post, I talked about how easy it is for me to get, shall we say, overly involved with my stories, to the point where I can have physical reactions to them. In some cases, it’s wonderful. I’m able to truly immerse myself in these beautiful worlds and experience them to the fullest. But when things get too tense, violent or simply death happy, I start to have problems. To combat this, if I think there’s a chance that I’ll have a more out-of-control reaction than I’d like, I’ll go ahead and “spoil” myself. This usually consists of going on Wikipedia to read the book summary, or asking someone who has already read the book to tell me about it. This way, I go into it with my eyes open, and I don’t have to worry about having a horrid headache after my favorite character takes a bullet to the brain.

The thing is, this process has become so common-place for me over the years that I don’t actually consider it to be spoiling me.

Yes, technically I know what’s coming, and that does take some of the surprise out of it. But suppose I knew what was going to happen when I picked up Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Other than being elated that one of my least-favorite characters got what was coming to him, I truly wouldn’t feel fully spoiled. Simply knowing the action occurs doesn’t tell me much. When does it happen? Why? How? What’s the scene, the motivation, the story leading up to it?

We’ve all heard that old cliche that the journey matters more than the destination. I think the same thing is true here. My knowing that certain people get hurt or kidnapped or killed doesn’t lessen my enjoyment out of the book, because those facts are just the finish line. The devil is really in the details. For a fully concrete example, I have yet to read Game of Thrones *gasp shock!* and I am aware of The Event toward the end, and that doesn’t bother me one bit! I have only the vaguest idea of when and how it happens, and I know nothing of why or what motivated it. That’s enough for me!

But I know this is a weird view. Even my husband, who understands probably better than anyone why I do this and even helps me when it comes to books he’s read, doesn’t see how I can still consider myself unspoiled. And it does make it harder for me to discuss books and movies and television with others, because I need to be extra careful. Information that I wouldn’t even remotely consider spoiler-worthy could send other people into spasms of fangirl agony, and no one wants that!

I know it sounds weird, but this is how I roll! And while I certainly don’t skip ahead in all my books, this process does allow me to read things I probably wouldn’t be comfortable in trying otherwise, and for me, that’s all that matters.

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Shards in the Eye: Books and Emotions

In my first post, I addressed some of the attributes that set true book lovers apart from people who simply enjoy reading. But there’s another very important difference I didn’t mention, mainly because I realized it was entire post on it’s own.

Books make us feel.

Wait, what? Books make lots of people feel! If you read something you like, it makes you happy. If you read something you don’t like..well, maybe you don’t even finish it in that case. But it leaves a negative taste in your mouth just the same. That’s not what I mean, though. Pretty much all readers have some sort of emotional reaction to books they read, no matter how minor. I’m talking about something deeper. For true bibliophiles, every book is a red thread. We live the lives of the characters, we feed off their emotions, their hopes and dreams, their successes and failures. And if one of them dies? Best to be in another room.

But it’s when books provoke a physical reaction that things tend to get even messier.

The first time my parents had an inkling that perhaps I was experiencing books in a, shall we say, deeper manner than they realized, I was too young to understand what was happening. I think I was in second grade, maybe third, and we were reading fairytales in school. One day we read The Snow Queen. I don’t remember anything about it except that I came home from school rubbing my eye and complaining that it hurt. This apparently went on for the rest of the night and a bit into the next day. After ascertaining that there indeed was not anything wrong with my eye, my parents were confused. What could be causing this?

Most of you probably have the answer by now, but for us, it was a big revelation. There’s a section in the story where the little boy, Kay, turns evil because an mirror shard falls into his eye. Apparently, I was so connected to the story that *I* felt the pain of this shard, and it stuck with me.

This amazingly strong emotional connection is something that I still experience to this day. If a character I’m particularly attached to becomes physically injured in a book, I’ll feel it in the same spot. (Chest wounds are the worst, let me tell you!) The same is true with movies, though that’s probably a bit more understandable, since there are direct images to process. But I know I’m far from the only one to experience this emotional-physical connection. I’ve met other bibliophiles who share these feelings, who become so intensely drawn into the world that it has real-life consequences.

In some ways, this is probably not a good thing. It makes it hard for me to read certain stories. It’s the main reason I stay away from horror and anything with a lot of drawn-out, tension-filled plots. Physical or mental torture is a huge no-no.

And I still can’t read The Snow Queen without feeling weird. Just writing this is making my eye twitch.

But at the same time, it allows me to fully immerse myself in the author’s world, and turns reading into a truly active experience. When I say reading gives me the chance to live a thousand different lives, I mean that literally. It’s an amazing experience.

So even if you don’t have this connection to the same depth, I challenge you to make reading an active hobby. Don’t just sit in a chair and read about someone else’s life. Experience it for yourself. Live with them. You’ll be glad you did.

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My Basis for Comparison

”It’s not fair!”
“You say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

~ Sarah and Jareth

Many of you will get that reference without my help, but just in case, here’s the lowdown. In the movie Labyrinth, our heroine, Sarah, is having one of her frequent temper tantrums, and is informing the evil Goblin King that his actions – and the world in general – simply aren’t to her liking. (Considering she gets to spend 13 hours with an amazingly gorgeous fae always made me question her judgment, but we’ll leave that for another day.) The point is, since she’s always saying things are unfair, Jareth is curious as to how she can make this determination, as she doesn’t seem to view anything as fair to begin with.

Ok, fine, we know you’re in love with David Bowie, but what does this have to do with books?

Bibliophiles can’t help but rank books as we read them. We don’t always mean to judge them, but we do. These rankings inevitably come from comparisons. Is this book better than the last you read? Worse? About the same? We remind ourselves that we’re often comparing apples to oranges, especially when we radically switch genres, but that doesn’t seem to matter. With so many sites like Amazon and GoodReads focusing on reader-based comments and reviews, we can’t help but give our opinions. But that means that, unlike Sarah, we actually DO have to have a basis for comparison. Every reader’s measuring stick will vary, but for me it inevitably comes down to the same basic question: What is the best book I’ve ever read, and how much lower on the totem pole does this one fall?

In some ways, I’m probably more guilty of this than most, because I was lucky enough to read my favorite book in fifth grade. Since I’ve loved it so deeply for so long, the chances of it being overthrown – or even challenged – are basically slim to none. But it does give me one heck of a measuring stick. You want to make it on my desert island list? Here’s your competition. Go.

The book to which I’m referring is Beauty by Robin McKinley, a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast. Since I love fairytales in general and BatB in particular, perhaps this comes as no real surprise. But McKinley managed to do what I’d previously considered almost impossible, which was to make a tale full of magic into something even more wondrous.

The story is told from the first person perspective of Beauty, whose real name is the somewhat questionable Honour. (Virtues are an interesting theme of this book. Her two sisters are named Grace and Hope, and a baby comes along with the name Mercy.) While the story follows the typical plot of the rich family suddenly losing their wealth and being forced to move to a small cottage in the woods, where the father encounters the horrible Beast when picking a rose for his daughter, McKinley gives every character so much personality that I can’t help but feeling like I’m reading this fairytale for the first time. In no other version have I felt as deep a connection to Beauty’s family as I do here. Her sisters have full-grown personalities, as do their love-interests, and I found myself bonding with them just as much as Beauty herself. Her father is an incredibly sympathetic character, and even though readers generally feel sorry for him in all versions, I felt even worse than normal. But perhaps what I love best is that the Beast has a depth to him I’ve never seen before. His emotions and motivations are clear for all the see, and the history of his disfigurement is explained in much greater detail, even going so far as to bring his parents into play. Even Beauty’s horse, Greatheart, has more personality than I’ve seen in the main characters of other novels!

With such a cast of characters, you might be worried that Beauty herself gets buried, but that’s not the case at all. By literally giving Beauty her own voice and allowing us to hear her thoughts directly, McKinley created a very real and very remarkable character. Instead of simply stating that Beauty was a great reader, McKinley shows her translating Sophocles from the original Greek and Catullus from the Latin. When her sanity is tested by the presence of invisible servants and a library containing books that don’t quite exist yet, we’re not only shown but made to feel her confusion, her anger, and eventually her acceptance. She is perhaps the most real character I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Unfortunately for other writers, McKinley not only set the bar so high in general, she basically ruined me for all other first-person novels. I judge them even harder than others, and I become frustrated exceedingly fast if I’m not immediately drawn into the person’s mind and world. It’s a tough act to beat, let me tell you.

I’m not positive how many times I’ve read Beauty. I’m guessing somewhere between 15 and 20, but it could be more. For a long time I read it at least once a year, sometimes more. It’s the book I always took on vacations just in case I couldn’t concentrate on a new story, and it’s the book I return to whenever I’m feeling really down. I’ve read it at hospitals and funerals just too keep me calm. The cover is heavily torn in several places, and there’s a giant rip in one of the pages where some kid tore it on a school bus way back in the day. But I can’t bear to get another copy. Not only is it the original cover, which I haven’t seen for years, even on eBay, but this book definitely has more history attached to it than any other. Giving it up for a shiny new version would feel so wrong.

I realize I’ve put this book on quite a pedestal, but I feel like it’s colored so much of my reading experience merely by existing that I can’t praise it enough. If someone asked me what book changed my life the most, this would without a doubt be the one. It’s definitely my ultimate basis of comparison!

What book (or books) have impacted your life as a reader to a large extent? Do you have a book you’d consider your own basis for comparison?

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Review: The Pleasure of Your Kiss, by Teresa Medeiros

Title: The Pleasure of Your Kiss

Author: Teresa Medeiros

Publication: Pocket Star Books, 2011

Pages: 506

Genre: Historical Romance

Rating: 4/5 Stars

I absolutely adore Teresa Medeiros. She’s absolutely everything a romance author should be. Her plots, while uncomplicated, still make the reader feel as though she’s getting more out of the novel than a smut-fest, her characters are wonderful, and I never leave her books without feeling like love truly does conquer all. This is the 10th book I’ve read by her, and I think only one really failed to meet my expectations. She focuses mainly on historical fiction, which is one of my favorite romance sub-genres, but I found her through one of her few time-travel stories, which is my absolute favorite type of romance. I’ll read almost anything you put in front of me.

I think what makes Teresa stand out more than other romance authors is the care she takes with her characters, and I do mean all them. She fleshes out even the most minor of her players, given them individual personalities and motivations. If the person has a name, they have a story, even if it’s just a small one. No character feels useless, and I really, really enjoy that.

The Pleasure of Your Kiss focuses on Clarinda, a Regency heiress on her way across the ocean to be a director of the East India Company. Along the way, her ship is attacked by corsairs, and she and her companion are sold into a sultan’s harem. Desperate to rescue his bride, her fiance, Max, hires his rapscallion brother, Ash, to save Clarinda from the clutches of the lecherous Arab. Ash almost refuses, wanting nothing to do with the woman who broke his heart years before agreeing to marry his brother, but he can’t just sit by and let her waste away in the harem.

During the story, we learn about Ash and Clarinda’s past, discover that the sultan isn’t precisely the ogre he is assumed to be, and Clarinda faces a difficult choice between two men who saved her life and the one man without whom her life has no meaning.

A romance in the most traditional sense, I fell in love with Ash and Clarinda, and I eagerly await Teresa’s next novel, which focuses on Max.

If you’re a romantic at heart but this doesn’t sound *quite* like your cup of tea, I’ll highly recommend my two absolute favorites of Teresa’s books: Breath of Magic, which tells the tale of a Salem witch who travels through time and shows a cold-hearted businessman who doesn’t believe in magic that love is the most powerful spell of all, and The Bride and the Beast, a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast in 1600s Scotland. Both are absolutely fantastic!

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Review: Ilium by Dan Simmons

Title: Ilium

Author: Dan Simmons

Publication: HerperTorch,2005

Pages: 752

Genre: Literary Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 Stars

I like reviewing good books. Spreading my love and appreciation for an excellent novel just gives me warm fuzzies. I’m not a huge fan of reviewing bad books, simply because I know how difficult it is to write, and I dislike coloring an author’s success with lots of negativity. (Unless it’s Twilight, and then I just don’t care.) On the other had, I feel it’s a sort of duty to warn fellow readers that this book is perhaps not worth their time and effort when there are so many other amazing books out there, so I still feel like a less-than-positive review is worthwhile.

But it’s been a long, LONG time since I’ve finished a book and honestly not known whether it was good or bad. Ilium by Dan Simmons is such a book.

The novel’s description intrigued me from the moment I spied it on the shelves. A futuristic society has re-created the events of Homer’s Iliad on Mars, complete with enhanced “post-humans” buffed up with special technology to become gods. They’ve also resurrected historians from the late 20th and early 21st centuries who studied the original Iliad, their jobs being to report to one of the muses on whether or not this version follows the story’s path. Greek mythology and science fiction? Sign me up! Unfortunately, that’s only one of three concurrent plotlines, and trying to understand them all – much less put them together – is almost enough to drive one mad.

There are two things you need to know before going into this novel. The first is that Simmons explains nothing. NO-THING! As the book progresses, you start to be able to fill in some bits and pieces, but you won’t ever get all the answers (or even understand all the questions.) My husband read a few books from his most famous series, Hyperion, and this is apparently a common trait for his works. You’ve been warned.

The second thing you need to know is that this book is categorized as “literary science fiction” for a very good reason. If you want to have a fighting chance of keeping up with the plot, you need to have at least some basic knowledge of the following:

– Greek mythology
– Homer’s Iliad and, to a lesser extent, Odyssey
– Shakespeare’s The Tempest (and even better if you’ve read some of the literary commentary)
– Shakespeare’s sonnets, especially those that pertain to the Dark Lady and Young Man
– Marcel Proust (This isn’t as necessary, but it’s helpful in keeping up with banter between two of the characters)

There are smaller references, such as a group of “old style humans” being called eloi in honor of H.G. Wells, but those are the main ones.

Having an interest in science fiction is also a must, but don’t be too worried about whether or not you’re scientifically inclined. Since hardly any of the techno-babble is explained, it’s not like you’re missing anything!

If all of that sounds good to you, you’re ready to start the novel. I’ll try to avoid spoilers here, but some of it is so convoluted that it’s almost questionable what’s too much information and what’s simply inexplicable!

As I mentioned before, the book follows three storylines. What I consider the “main” one deals with the re-created battle between the Greeks and Trojans from Homer’s Iliad. The major character is Thomas Hockenberry, an historian who as been brought back to life as a “scholic” to observe the war. He compares current events with those from the story, and he reports any differences to his Muse. Unfortunately, things get complicated when Aphrodite pulls him aside and gives him a new task: Kill Pallas Athena. Armed with the Hades Helmet of Invisibility and a quantum transporter device, Hockenberry spies on the gods long enough to realize his is a suicide mission, and decides to take matters into his own hands…even if that means changing one of the most famous wars in literary history.

The second plot focuses on “old style humans” in the distant future, I’m guessing somewhere around the 30th Century or so. This Earth is carefully controlled by enhanced or “post-humans” who limit the population to an even million. Everyone lives for Five Twenties (or 100 years) and then ascends to a higher plane to join the post-humans. When that happens, another child is allowed to be born to replace the missing person. These humans lead extremely simply lives, do not know how to read or write, and spend most of their time transporting or “faxing” to one another’s homes for parties. Their every need is taken care of by robotic servants, and if they die unexpectedly, they are reconstructed and returned home. But Harmon, a man one year away from his last Twenty, longs for something more, and he and two companions come across the mysterious Savi, a woman who survived the destruction of the rest of the human race 1400 years prior. Together, they embark on a search to discover what became of those humans, and what they discover leads to a radical restructuring of their identity, to say nothing of their lives.

The final plot deals centers on two sentient automatons called moravecs – basically super intelligent robots with human-like thoughts and feelings. The two main moravecs, Mahnmut and Orpho, are particularly interested in human literature and spend a lot of time bantering back and forth about the merits of Shakespeare and Proust. They are ordered to embark on a mission to Mars, where excess quantum teleporation has been disrupting the fabric of time and space, and while there they encounter a slew of gods who want them killed, a scholar trying to alter the destiny of the entire Greek and Trojan armies, and a host of statues that somehow resemble Shakespeare’s character Prospero.

The plot sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I certainly thought so. But Simmons seems to almost take pride in his lack of explanations. Perhaps he’s just a huge fan of Clarke’s Law, but some background would be nice! I’m fine with being thrown into a world as long as something about it begins to eventually make sense, but that’s really not the case here. It’s been a really, really long time since a book has confused me so much. Half the time I don’t even know what planet the characters are on, thanks to all the teleporting!

Strangely enough, however, I already want to read the second book, which concludes the series. Based on reviews I’ve read, I don’t expect to find too many answers, which is unfortunate. But the book ended right on the cusp of a new war, with the entire plot of the Iliad suddenly thrown out the window, and I’m too much of a lover of Greek mythology not to want to know how it turns out. It’s just hard to slog through 700 pages when you don’t understand three-quarters of what’s going on XD Part of the appeal might simply be its uniqueness. I’ve certainly never read a book even remotely like it before. And a few of the characters do grow on you after a while. I found Hockenberry in particular to be endearing, and his dry wit and sarcasm is rather infectious.

I honestly don’t know if I’d recommend this or not. I suppose fellow lovers of Greek mythology would probably enjoy it, but I just can’t make any promises.

If you’ve made it this far, I thank you! Hopefully all future reviews will be much more coherent!

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What Makes a Bibliophile?

Before getting into discussions *about* books, I thought we should start by talking about us. The readers. The lovers. The bibliophiles.

Most people enjoy reading in some capacity. Sometimes they have very specific likes and dislikes and will only read certain types of stories, but they can at least find some pleasure in those few books. But then there are those of us whose lives often revolve around books, who don’t feel quite right if we’re not always reading something. We’re the ones who buy purses based on whether or not a good size hardcover can fit inside comfortably, who don’t step foot out the house without at least one book with us. We’re a unique breed, and sometimes it’s hard for non-bibliophiles to understand us.

So what exactly makes a bibliophile? Here are some of my definitions:

1.) Bibliophiles love everything about reading. From the moment we see a book to the moment we finish the last page, we’re in love. For us, it’s an experience, a journey. We can live thousands of lifetimes and see worlds upon worlds without ever leaving the house. Just seeing a room full of books gives us pleasure, because in them we see unlimited possibilities. Opening a new book is like beginning a new life. For us, it’s not so much about what we’re reading but simply the fact that we are reading. Each experience is a gift. Because of that, we often feel bad for those people who don’t enjoy reading for whatever reason. We feel like they miss so much!

2.) Books are prized, irreplaceable possessions. No, I don’t care that if something happens to my book I can go out and buy another copy at Barnes & Noble. THAT book doesn’t have the right number of creases the spine, showing how often I’ve read it. THAT book doesn’t have the tiny rip in the bottom right side of the cover where my cat chewed on it. THAT book didn’t travel across the country with me. While we love spreading the joy of reading, we’re much more likely to go out and just BUY the book for someone rather than lending out own copy. Over-protective? Maybe. But there you have it. Books are priceless.

3.) Bibliophiles will try almost any book. We all have our deal-breakers, of course. (I don’t care how much you absolutely adored Stephen King’s It, I’m just never going to read it because I enjoy sleeping at night!) But at least 80% of the time, if you extol the virtues of your favorite book often enough, we’ll put it on our to-read list, even if we’re not positive we’ll love it. But YOU love it, and that’s often good enough for us.

4.) Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – we like books better than other people. I find this to be one of the hardest things for non-bibliophiles to truly grasp. We’re not being rude when we go off in a corner to read, it’s just that the book is THAT GOOD and we honestly can’t wait to turn to next page. I used to eat in a communal lunch room and one co-worker in particular would always come up and sit with me when I was reading. She couldn’t understand why I’d want to be alone when there were other people around. But here’s the thing – when we read, we’re not alone! We’re surrounded by other people.We’re interacting with an entire cast of characters. Coming up and suddenly talking to me while I’m reading is just like interrupting a conversation. If I’m reading, I’m basically talking to someone else. (Also, if you call my name when I’m reading and I don’t answer, I’m really not ignoring you! I’ve just tuned out all the background noise and I honestly can’t hear you!)

5.) We can be a bit elitist about our books. Just because we’ll try everything doesn’t mean we’ll LIKE everything. And, while we’re more likely to find at least some good in every book we read, if we reeeaaaalllly hate something, we’re not shy about saying so. Just don’t confuse this kind of elitist with someone saying you should only read so-called classics or high-brow literature. We enjoy popcorn chick-lit and sappy romances as much as Austen and Bronte! It’s more whether or not the book lives up to its own expectations. If I’m reading a romance, I expect it to be romantic. If I’m reading historical fiction, I expect to see an adequate representation of history. It’s when the book falls short of it’s own goals that we get snippy.

6.) We believe utterly and completely that books can literally change lives. We don’t mean this as a joke, or a metaphor, or an exaggeration. Books can change people. They make them think and feel new things, give them new experiences and ideas. Books can save. They can cheer us up when we’re sad, they can heal us when we’re hurting, and they feed our creativity and imagination. After reading a book, we’ve essentially lived a new life, and that can be a mind-altering experience. If we say a book impacted our lives, we mean it.

What makes you a bibliophile? Do you fall into any of these categories, or is there something else that makes you a true lover of books?

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