#43 A Review of The Canterbury Tales (Graphic Novel) by Geoffrey Chaucer and Seymour Chwast

If I remember correctly, the first time I was introduced to The Canterbury Tales was in high school.  I remember instantly falling in love with Chaucer’s tongue-in-cheek humor and how he infused that humor with parables that left one with a lesson learned.  When I was at the bookstore and found that a graphic novel version existed, I of course needed to buy it and see how creative Seymour Chwast was in his interpretation of Chaucer’s great work.

For those of you not familiar with The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer writes the tale of 30 pilgrims that are making their way to the Canterbury Cathedral.  Chaucer originally intended for each pilgrim to tell a tale to and from the Cathedral, for a total of 60 works.  Unfortunately, he died after completing 24 tales, of which we will never know the true order in which they are meant to be told.  What is complete, however, are the funny, serious, intriguing, intelligent, and overall entertaining tales of these pilgrims.  From the shockingly raunchy and funny tale of the Wife of Bath to the pious tale of the Prioress, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales cover the whole emotional spectrum and evoke both laughter and sorrow from the reader.

One thing that I think makes people frightened to read The Canterbury Tales or any other Medieval literature is the language barrier.  When I first read the tales it was when I was still in school, and was therefore being taught how to translate the text.  Once I was able to understand fully what each tale was about, why certain themes were important, and what made them funny, I developed a love of them.  What’s great about the graphic novel version is that it’s written not in its original text but a hip, modernized version of today’s English language.  Even the illustrations got in the “modern game”, depicting the pilgrims riding motorcycles instead of horses.  In doing this Chwast has opened up The Canterbury Tales to  not only a new generation of readers, but also a whole new audience in general.

My only critique of the graphic novel is that some of the tales’ adaptations weren’t written cohesively.  The Canterbury Tales is a huge undertaking in its normal format, so to squeeze all of that into 144 pages of text and illustrations is definitely not a simple job.  I felt that some of the stories could have used a little more tender loving care in their adaptation.  Despite this, the humor and morality of the tales still shone through well enough for any newcomers to the tales.

4 out of 5 Stars

This is my twelfth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and Seymour Chwast
Bloomsbury USA (2011)
Hardcovers: 144 pages
ISBN: 9781608194872

#39 A Review of A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

In recent years I’ve become a voracious reader of the memoir genre.  I love learning about the interesting lives of other people!  In some instances I want to be them and in others I’m glad I’m not them!  When I saw that Barnes and Noble was having a travel themed eBook sale I quickly grabbed some of the memoirs.  A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi happened to be one of these selections!

In this autobiographical tale of food and romance, Marlena De Blasi first takes us to Venice, Italy in the late 1980’s.  She is a food journalist and chef, and is on her first trip to Venice.  In the Piazza San Marco, a man, whom she affectionately calls “the stranger”, spots her from across the Piazza and instantly falls in love with her from afar.  When he sees her again, this time a year later, he decides that it is fate and that they must be together.  Marlena, fresh from a divorce, politely declines the man’s affections, thinking herself too damaged and hurt to be of any use in a relationship.  However, as luck would have it, only a few short months later she finds herself packing up her life in America to move to Venice and marry this “stranger”.  Although the culture shock is enormous, Marlena finds herself embracing the new and exciting smells, sounds, and life that this exciting city has to offer.  She cooks traditional American dishes for her new Italian friends to try, while they teach her to dance in the candlelight.  Complete with numerous recipes of her own creation, Marlena tells her tale of life and love in one of the most romantic cities in the world.

At the end of this novel, I had very mixed emotions.  I’ll start with some of the areas of the work that could use some improvement, then work towards its strengths.  Initially, I thought the book was very hectic – I kept reading and felt like I was being thrown all over the place.  The concept/true story element is what kept me reading, but the flow of the book was rough.  The best way to describe what I mean is it felt like I was reading something that had been translated oddly.  It’s extremely difficult to try to explain what I mean here, it wasn’t poor word choices or the story proper, more the way it was structured and pieced together.

Additionally, the relationship between Marlena and “the stranger” seemed really odd at times.  He wanted a marriage, yet it was completely one-sided (when he quits his job at the bank, he just does it, even though they discussed waiting till they got their affairs in order).  She up and leaves her life and her children in America, moves to Venice for this man, and yet she feels restricted in the things that she can do and say to him.  One example is her cooking.  Obviously, cooking and food are HUGE parts of her life, having been a chef and restaurateur.  She becomes ashamed of this at certain points, and she writes of having to hide her trips to the market.  It’s almost as if she has an alternative life outside of her marriage, creating an entirely different life out there with the merchants and market people.

What was great?  Her descriptions of Venice and food are astounding.  Having been to Italy before (see my recaps here, here, here, here, here, and here) I know that it generates strong feelings in a person.  The landscape and buildings are stunning to see.  To read her words and thoughts so eloquently put was very rewarding.  I found myself at a loss for words on many of the things during my trip to Italy/Spain, so it was rewarding to find someone who could write about the beauty of it all so well.  In all, this beautiful imagery that de Blasi is able to conjure up in her book was enough to keep me from becoming too upset over the odd flow of the book.  It’s still definitely a worthwhile read for the recipes alone!  I can’t wait to try some of them out, they look quite delicious!  So, if you’re in the mood for a book that will take you on a mini-tour of all the sights and sounds that Venice has to offer, as well as a personal back story, give A Thousand Days in Venice a try.

3 out of 5 Stars

This is my eleventh completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2002)
eBook: 288 pages
ISBN: 9781565125896

#36 A Review of Across the Universe (Across the Universe Trilogy #1) by Beth Revis

So it has been a while since either Todd or I finished a book and then shoved it in the other’s face to read it ASAP.  I recently finished reading Across the Universe by Beth Revis; ran through our apartment and thrust it into Todd’s face. “You MUST read this.  It’s science fiction which you love. It takes place in space – you love that. It’s a dystopian novel.”  That’s all it took for Todd to pick the book up and read it.  Here we are now, a few weeks later, both bursting at the seams to spill our guts about this novel/series.

Revis’ Across the Universe takes place centuries from now, on a ship known as “Godspeed” jettisoned from Earth in the hopes that its inhabitants will be able to land and successfully colonize Centauri-Earth, the closest inhabitable planet to our own.  Now over 250 years after her launch, Godspeed is currently populated by roughly 3,000 inhabitants which are organized by their primary job on the ship.  The ship is mainly comprised of “feeders” whose sole job is to provide for those on the ship, whether it be via food, textiles, or other consumables.  “Shippers” are the next stage, whose responsibility is to keep the ship running and take care of its day-to-day activities.  Finally, there is an Elder and Eldest.  The Eldest is the ruler of the people of the ship, and his Elder is second in command.  Eldest is grooming Elder to become the leader of the new generation of the ship, as he is old and will soon be unfit to rule.  Half of the novel is told through the eyes of Elder, and deals with his mixed feelings of responsibility for those on the ship and hatred towards Eldest, who rules with an iron fist.  The other half is told by Amy, a girl who is one of a hundred people who were cryogenically frozen at the beginning of Godspeed’s journey over 250 years ago.  The plan was to reanimate them once the ship landed, and they were picked for their specific skills that would prove useful on the new planet.  Amy is “nonessential cargo”, as she has no specific useful skill set but is the child of two important parents, and thus allowed to be frozen.  Unfortunately, she is unfrozen by an unknown person over 50 years before the ship is scheduled to land.  What will she think of this new race of humans on the ship?  Will Elder be able to come to grips with his duty?  What will he think of Amy?

Todd:  As Kim alluded to before, I’m a huge sci-fi fan.  Admittedly, I will like most novels in this genre regardless, but this particular one was a personal favorite.  The social commentary was spot on, and the story was engaging and made me want to keep reading.  Elder was an extremely likable character, and I felt as if I would have acted in the exact same way if I were put in his shoes.  His interactions with Amy really change the way in which he acts and views himself as a leader.  As the true face of Eldest comes to light, the entire tone changes.  It was a really interesting turn of events that I didn’t see coming and was super surprising.

Kim: I definitely agree with Todd about the characters.  Amy and Elder are now happily situated among my absolute favorite characters ever.  They’re both so intriguing!  Amy is such a strong female character, definitely one young adults can look up to and admire.  She stands for what she believes in, never backing down for fear of anything.  Elder, on the other hand, is so genuinely good.  His heart is 1,000 times larger than himself and he is constantly standing up for those around him.  Besides the amazing characters in this book is a major mystery that is filled with suspense, murder, and betrayal at every turn.  There were so many twists and turns (all perfectly written) that I found myself unable to put the book down until I finished it.  Revis does an amazing job at unfolding each piece of the puzzle in a perfectly timed and thought out manner.

Todd: Kim has a great point.  One of the best characteristics of Revis’ writing is that it’s like an onion.  She slowly peels back layer by layer, adding more complexities to the original mystery.  By the time I reached the end of the novel, life on Godspeed was completely different than it was in the beginning.  Amy and Elder’s character transformations were intriguing and were a great background to the greater story of the peril that those on Godspeed face.  The completely different world that those on the ship live as opposed to the world that you and I know is a point of contention and friction between Amy and Elder, and it’s a great way to introduce the differences in morals as well between Elder’s and Amy’s generations.  Additionally, there is still plenty of potential left for more action and suspense in the other two novels in the trilogy.  The end of the book left a large cliffhanger that sets up an even bigger problem than the one faced in this novel.

Kim: I was thrilled to know that book two of the trilogy, A Million Suns, was published shortly before I finished Across the Universe.  The plight of The Godspeed, Amy, and Elder totally roped me in and I could not wait to continue.  With the amount of mysteries, lies, and deception that were present in book one I couldn’t even fathom what else could happen in the other two books!  Revis is a skilled writer, one whose career you should follow if you’re not already.

Todd’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Kim’s Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

This is my tenth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Penguin Group (2011)
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN:  9781595144676

#33 A Review of The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge

Sometimes when I’m bored I scavenge Barnes and Noble’s website looking for what I call “book oddities”.  What I mean by this are books that completely shock me plot-wise.  These could be off the wall, like Fifty Shades of Grey, or quite depressing like The Replacement Wife.  Every once in a while I feel that I need a book to give me a good cry.  After reading the plot of The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge, I felt as if I found a book that fit the bill.

Camille Hart thought she had been through it all.  She endured a rough childhood that included her mother’s death at an early age, inadequate parenting by her vacant father, and later, cancer.  These were all things that she had fought through and came out intact.  So much so that she is the strong pillar of support for her husband Edward and their two children.  She runs a successful matchmaking business in Manhattan, and can finally rest after knowing that the hardest part of her life is behind her.  Only this isn’t the case.  Cancer rears its ugly head once again, and this time the doctors say it’s terminal.  Knowing that her husband will crumble without her there to support the family, Camille makes the hardest decision she’s ever had to make in her life: she decides to find a woman to be her replacement and her husband’s new wife once she is gone.  Methodically attacking the task, Camille sorts through potential matches for her husband, and even invites a woman over for dinner and numerous “dates” that she feels is a great candidate to become her replacement wife.  Edward is completely against the idea, but realizes that if he does not want to spend the rest of his wife’s short life fighting over this, he must agree to compromise and consider accepting this woman.  During one of these so-called compromises, he attends a matchmaking meeting where he meets Angie, a woman he begins to form a steady friendship with unbeknownst to Camille.  What will happen to Camille and Edward’s relationship?

If you don’t want to read spoilers I’d suggest you stop reading now!

I had a TON of issues with this book.  As I stated before, sometimes you need a good cry.  Going into this novel I knew it wasn’t going to be a happy-go-lucky experience.  However, I did not expect to want to bang my head against a wall for most of the reading.  Starting out, I understood why Camille wanted to find someone for her husband to lean on when she passed.  The background and flashbacks you’re given of the first time she went through cancer are signs enough that Edward would need serious help once she passed.  I understood Camille’s wishes and wants, although that was about all I understood about her character.  She tells Edward of her plan and her wishes and he (understandably) is 100% against it.  Edward, being a doctor himself, knows that there is a small chance she could beat the cancer and holds out hope for a clinical trial of some sort.  While I feel for Camille going through cancer I stopped caring about her feelings when she became driven to find Edward a new wife.  It became the only thing on her mind.  Edward tries to convince her to go for new treatment methods and look for clinical trials, but she won’t budge.  All she cares about is making sure her “find” meshes with her family!  I’m sorry but a marriage isn’t over until someone is in the ground or there are irreconcilable differences.

Edward, on the other hand, meets Angie and begins a secret friendship with her – this I kinda got.  He wanted to have something that Camille wasn’t controlling, wasn’t searching for deeper meaning in.  Angie begins falling for Edward and vice versa.  I was really hoping that Edward wouldn’t turn out to be “that guy” who cheats on his wife while she is going through cancer (a la John Edwards), but alas my heart was seriously disappointed.  Is it sick that I understood why he cheated though and didn’t hold it against him a full 100%?  His wife has given up on their marriage, given up on their family, and more importantly given up on fighting to survive.  If I was Edward I’d be pretty damn depressed too, looking for any outlet that bought joy into my life.

Besides all of my issues with the above I COULDN’T STAND THE ENDING. Camille’s doctor winds up finding some clinical trial for her to join that he doesn’t think will really do anything.  It’s more about appeasing Edward at this point.  Guess what – 6 months into her clinical trial HER CANCER DISAPPEARS. COME ON NOW.  YOU’RE SERIOUSLY GOING TO END THIS WAY!?!?!? Yes folks, she survives.  Edward and Camille decide to divorce knowing that Edward loves another woman now and that Camille has thrown away any love that Edward had ever given her.  When I got to the end of the novel I legitimately wanted to fling my nook against the wall.  It honestly felt like a scapegoat of an ending, trying to give everyone what they wanted/needed.

To sum up my thoughts:

– The writing of the novel is great. Strong writing skills, great vocabulary – these kept me going with the story.

– Unique storyline – You can’t fault the author for writing something 100% out of the box.  I tip my hat to Goudge for trying to be different.

– There is not one ounce of anything in me that feels for these characters.  Beyond feeling for Camille going through cancer, I didn’t connect with any of the characters, nor did I feel for them when conflict/misgivings/unhappiness came their way.  They all deserve the messes they got themselves in.

In short, although Goudge’s writing is technically superb and her plot is unique, the character development threw me off base.  This is a purely personal reaction, however, so I suggest that you see for yourself how these characters strike you.  You may just end up having the opposite reaction.  For me, however, this is one I won’t be re-reading anytime soon.

2 out of 5 Stars

This is my ninth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge
Open Road Publishing (2012)
eBook: 482 pages
ISBN:  9781453223314

#29 A Review of Fever (The Chemical Garden #2) by Lauren DeStefano

With all the buzz recently regarding The Hunger Games movie adaptation, I felt that it was definitely appropriate to review what is fast becoming my favorite new dystopian series, The Chemical Garden Trilogy. (as a side note, if you haven’t seen The Hunger Games yet, do it!)  I’m always interested in new dystopian novels, and the premise plus the awesome cover art drew me into the first book in the series, Wither (see review here).  Naturally I had to continue on, so when book two, Fever, was published at the end of February I jumped at the chance to continue reading.

We are again thrust into the surreal world created by Lauren DeStefano where a genetic mishap ensures that women live to 20 and men live to 25.  We are reunited with Gabriel and Rhine as they make their escape from the mansion and the housemaster Vaughn.  Although one would hope that they would finally reach a safe haven after the terror of the first novel, it is not to be.  Gabriel and Rhine find themselves trapped in a carnival of sorts that employs a legion of young girls against their will.  Just when Rhine thinks that she is beginning to understand her situation and has Gabriel to help her, she is thrown into another period of chaos and terror that shakes her faith in the world in which they live.  Their only beacon of hope is Manhattan, where Rhine’s twin brother Rowan lives and can offer them shelter from the terrors they endure.  The only problem is in getting there.  What will happen to Rhine and Gabriel?  Will they ever be able to reach safety again?

WOW. Just……WOW.  Wither was stellar, leading me to have extremely high expectations for Fever.  I can 100% say that I was not disappointed at all.  Readers are given new locations and new horrors to deal with in this futuristic society that are just as bad as the ones Rhine and Gabriel left behind at the mansions.  I thought that DeStefano did a great job at continuing to bring us a world with multilayered, action packed conflicts.  Just when Rhine and Gabriel think that they’re on the path to freedom and safety, they’re thrust into a world that I think is worse than the one that they escaped from.  The carnival that they’re trapped in is hands down the creepiest location that we’ve seen yet in this series.  The fact that drugs are used to a. keep Gabriel in check, b. the girls of the carnival subdued to “perform”, and c. force Rhine and Gabriel to perform in cages together for the benefit of the crowd is quite sickening.  What makes the carnival so scary is the loss of free will.  Sure, there are times when others in the camp help aid in their attempts to escape, but the time spent there is frighteningly dark and DeStefano does a fantastic job at really getting this darkness right.

I really like the character development in this novel, but most especially with regard to Gabriel.  We only get to see him for small periods of time in Wither, so it was refreshing to learn more of his back story as well as see him grow as a person and a man in Fever.  Rhine, too, grows and learns that sometimes in order to protect the people around her, she must give in to those who make her life hell.  She becomes less selfish and more selfless in Fever, which greatly added to the respect that I have for her as a character and a heroine.  For those of you who are new to the series, I definitely recommend adding it to your to-read pile.  Frightening, fascinating, and completely unpredictable, The Chemical Garden Trilogy is definitely a series you need to jump on board with.

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my eighth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

Fever by Lauren DeStefano
Simon and Schuster (2012)
Hardcover: 352 pages
ISBN: 9781442409071

#21-23 A Review of the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James

As a book  blogger I think it’s VERY important to stay abreast of books that are causing a ton of buzz in the literary world.  With Twitter and Facebook it’s now easier than ever to spread the word about a book or books that you think are a MUST read.  As I was skimming the web the other day I noticed a ton of people in my Twitter feed talking about a book entitled Fifty Shades of Grey.  I didn’t think much of it, until I read the following NY Times article (Here).  I highly suggest you read that article before continuing on to read my reviews of all three books.  This review WILL have spoilers, so if you are planning on reading the books consider yourself forewarned.  ALSO – this is unlike my other reviews – there will be lots of snarkiness.  At the end of my review I’ve put together, with the help of my friend Tasha who runs the blog Truth, Beauty, Freedom, & Books, the “Fifty Shades Trilogy drinking game” (Note: not to be played by those who can’t control their liquor or are under 21.  We are not responsible for anything that happens to you should you play along.)

So, where to begin? Oh yeah – the plot.  All three books are really one story (where book one ends, book two picks right back up, etc) about the relationship between Edward Cullen and Bella Swan….I mean Christian Grey and  Anastasia Steele.  Yes, this story has MANY similarities to the Twilight series, but more on that later (again, sorry for the length of this review!).

Book one (Fifty Shades of Grey) focuses on the beginning of Christian and Ana’s relationship.  Ana is introduced to Christian when she interviews him for an article that will be in her college’s newspaper.  There are obviously sparks between them, but it isn’t until Christian shows up at Ana’s job a few days later that things start picking up.  A drunken phone call from Ana one evening sparks Christian into action.  He picks her up and brings her back to his hotel room, where he cares for her until the morning.  Nothing happens between them, but Christian tells Ana he can’t stay away from her. “Then don’t,” says Ana (oh hey Twilight…. how ya doing).  Fast forward a bit: Christian takes Ana on a date to his apartment where he proceeds to tell her about his secret sexual lifestyle, domination/masochism.  Ana is completely overwhelmed with this secret, but wants Christian so much that she agrees to try it out for him.  (This is probably a good time to mention that Ana is a virgin.  So really, her agreeing to be submissive to Christian isn’t weird AT ALL.)  A contract is drawn up between the two (you know, the standard contract you sign before you sleep with someone, stating they have full control over you – your clothes, grooming habits, what you eat, etc) and their relationship begins.  It’s difficult for Ana to get used to their relationship and all of Christian’s rules.  Book one ends with Ana leaving Christian after a particularly rough beating.  She makes Christian realize that his lifestyle is extremely messed up, and the fact that he gets off on causing her pain isn’t right.

Book two (New Moon… I mean Fifty Shades Darker) begins with newly broken up Ana and Christian.  They’re both seriously lost and depressed without each other.  When they get together to attend an art show Christian tells Ana that he has a new proposal for her.  He needs her in his life and is willing to try a normal relationship with her if she’ll learn to trust him and help him deal with his own issues.  She agrees and the two begin anew.  They begin a whirlwind romance that is a hybrid of their two lives.  Christian begins taking her on dates and loving her, while Ana attempts to take small steps at “fixing” Christian and understanding his sexual preferences.  Fifty Shades Darker also takes on a plot similar to Eclipse.  Ana begins working at a small publishing house that Christian winds up buying.  Christian fires Ana’s boss when he finds out that he is sexually harassing her.   Ana’s boss begins a vendetta against Christian that continues into book three, Fifty Shades Freed.  The main plot piece to take away from Fifty Shades Darker is that Christian is trying to face the demons of his past with Ana’s help.

Fifty Shades Freed finds Ana and Christian on their honeymoon.  This is probably a good time to mention that Christian and Ana got married after being together for about 2 months. I know, I know – why am I surprised?  Isn’t this a common love story?  Girl finds WAY messed up boy, girl falls in love with boy, boy can’t love girl because of his past, girl loves boy anyway, boy beats girl, girl and boy have lots of sex, boy begins looking at his past, girl still loves boy, boy begins telling girl he loves her, girl and boy get married, boy and girl live happily ever after. Blah blah blah – sex scenes – blah blah – throw in some Breaking Dawn unwanted/surprise pregnancy plot points, a happy ending, and you have the Fifty Shades Trilogy!

I’m not even sure where I should begin my discussion of the trilogy.  (Serious thoughts first)  I’ve lately learned that these novels started out as Twilight fan-fiction.  This I think is where my problem begins.  When I first read the Twilight novels I really enjoyed them.  Did I think Bella was a really wimpy heroine? Yes.  Did I think that Edward was a creepy stalker?  Yes.  But something about the story just….worked.  It’s now been 3 to 4 years since I’ve read the series and honestly I don’t think I could do it again.  I look back and think, Bella is the WORST role model for girls.  She becomes addicted to Edward and unable to live without him, as evidenced in New Moon.  The Fifty Shades trilogy elicits the same kinds of problems.  Ana has NEVER been in a relationship pre-Christian, and Christian has never been in a dominant/submissive “entanglement” before.  She finds herself attracted to him and is thrust into this world of messed up shit because she wants his approval and his love.  I’m sorry but being terrified of your significant other is not a good sign of your relationship.  Yes, Christian has serious issues, but who doesn’t?  His character is honestly the only believable thing in the entire series.  He has good reason for being the way he is and treating those around him the way he does.  He needs someone kind and compassionate like Ana, but at what cost?  Ana literally fears being beaten by him.  His temper and his sexual preferences become so intertwined that Ana cannot tell when he’s turned on or angry.  There is literally a line in one of the books where Christian tells her, “I wanted to beat the shit out of you.”  Ah…true love.  Man I wish someone would say those words to me.  I guess this is the crux of what my biggest problem with the series is.  The entire relationship is 1,000% unhealthy.  The first two and a half books have Ana and Christian deal with every problem by just having sex. (I’m not kidding. It’s like every sixth page they are having sex.)  I’m not shy with books that have sex in them, but this was just freaky.  Direct quote from the book, “you should see what I can do with a cane or a cat.” A CAT?! WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!  Shit is cray cray.

Ok take the sex out of it, there were still 1,000 other weird things about the book.  Ana’s Spanish friend Jose – randomly popping in and out of the story blurting out Spanish phrases.  The weird expressions that are used – I know the author is British, so some of the expressions are expected to be a bit out-of-place, but they really just threw me off sometimes.

I really really really wanted to root for Ana and Christian, especially after you find out his whole back story, but part of me couldn’t condone the relationship with Ana being frightened of him a good percent of the time.  I’m not really sure how you go from being scared the guy is going to beat you to suddenly agreeing to marrying him.  BIZZARO.  Or maybe I’m the bizarre person here?  Maybe I’m the freak who doesn’t think stalking is hot?  AHHH.  This series elicited strong reactions from me, more so than anything I’ve read recently.  Sure there were some really great parts (Christian’s secret planning of Ana’s birthday party, the care he gives her after her accident, etc) of the trilogy, but unfortunately not enough to outweigh all the weird shit that was going on for me to give them great reviews.  I will 100% admit though that something drew me to them.  Will I ever re-read these novels?  Probably somewhere down the line because honestly they made me laugh SO MUCH.  Although I may have laughed a lot more due to the Twitter conversations Tasha and I had over the course of my reading the three books…..  However, there is no denying that they are a guilt pleasure for sure.

Regardless of everything I’ve said above – if you read these books know that there is some freaky shit going on and prepare yourself for it.  You may like them, you may hate them, but you WILL have an opinion when you finish.  I can 100% guarantee it.

Now, without further ado: The Fifty Shades of Grey Drinking Game!!  Here are the rules!  You must drink when the following occurs:

  • Every time Christian stalks Ana
  • Every time Jose says something in Spanish for no reason
  • Every time someone bites their lip
  • Every time there is sex
  • Every time Ana’s subconscious does backflips or is mentioned
  • Every time Ana calls Christian “Mr. Grey” or “Fifty”
  • Every time Ana doesn’t realized another man is attracted to her
  • Every time there is a Twilight similarity
  • Every time it seems weird Ana doesn’t know how to use basic technology
  • Every time Ana rolls her eyes and Christian wants to punish her for it
  • Every time Christian nitpicks Ana for not eating
  • Every time Christian says “What are you doing to me?’
  • Every time Ana thinks about leaving Christian
  • Every time “SHOUTY” capitals are used
  • Every time the phrase “laters baby” is used
  • Every time there are “sparks” in an elevator
  • Every time the unborn baby is called “Blip”
  • Every time Christian is totally overprotective
  • Every time “Mrs. Robinson” is mentioned
  • Every time  Ana says “Holy ____”
  • Every time the word “more” is used
  • Every time Ana says “crap” or “double crap”

If anyone out there has read/decides to read the trilogy I would LOVE to hear your thoughts.  Tasha’s review is here and is much funnier than mine!  Whether you opt out of reading this trilogy or not, read Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren instead. (Here’s my review)  It showcases what a true BDSM lifestyle is like when both partners are willing and trusting.  (It also doesn’t hurt that the book is written 1,000 times better than Fifty)

Trilogy Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

This is my seventh completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Knopf Doubleday (2011)
eBook: 384 pages
ISBN: 9781612130293

Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James
Knopf Doubleday (2011)
eBook: 394 pages
ISBN: 9781612130590

Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James
Knopf Doubleday (2012)
eBook: 451 pages
ISBN: 9781612130613

#15 A Review of The Last Cahill Cowboy by Jenna Kernan

The Last Cahill CowboyMost of you, my fabulous readers, know that I have a weak spot for romance novels.  I know they’re not written amazingly nor do they have the most creative plot lines, but damn – they hook me in.  I love those roguish rakes and loose ladies. I can’t help it. I’m addicted.  With that being said I ventured into the “western” branch of Harlequin romances and came out with The Last Cahill Cowboy by Jenna Kernan.

Traveling back to his hometown to help find the person who brutally murdered his parents, Chance Cahill is a much different person than when he originally left.  Now a bounty hunter, Chance feels that he has nothing to lose, and lives life on the edge.  Thinking that his hunting skills are his only asset to the town, he is taken aback when he meets his sister’s best friend Ellie Jenkins.  Her beauty astounds him, and he is ashamed to admit to himself that she is quite above his standards.  Ellie, however, feels a strong attraction to Chance that she just can’t seem to shake.  His sudden return to town makes her realize that she has loved him her entire life.  The only problem is Ellie’s mother: a dominant woman who Ellie is pseudo-controlled by.  Will Ellie be able to move past her mother’s commandeering nature and tell Chance how she really feels about him?  Will Chance be able to see past his depression and take the woman who so ardently loves him?

First thing that struck me about this book?  The amount of action in this book. No, not *that* kind of action – I’m talking the action with guns and duels and pistols!  Knowing that romance novels are written and geared towards a female audience, I was surprised that there was so much “manly” violence. I actually found myself getting into all the fight sequences: cheering on Chance and jeering at the bad guys.  I was temped to let my husband read the book when I was finished, knowing he has an affinity for westerns, but figured he’d die when he found out he was reading a Harlequin romance novel.

Anyway….moving on!  Chance was a pretty interesting character.  He’s got a grudge against the world and doesn’t look upon himself too kindly.  This is unfortunate for multiple reasons: he’s given his sister every dime he’s got to support her and her business, he puts his life at risk to save Ellie, and he’s a bounty hunter! (I say that in this case being a bounty hunter is good because it involves going after bad guys! Who doesn’t love a man who goes after the bad guy!?!)  Ellie is a woman who evolves a lot over the book.  I was really happy with her development, it seemed realistic and made sense for her storyline.  As for the supporting characters, their descriptions were all written like you knew them already.  I found out after reading the book that this was the 4th and final book in the “Cahill Cowboys” quartet.  If you haven’t read the first three though it’s 100% OK.  The plot for this book can stand alone.

As for taking on my first western romance novel I have to say I left feeling impressed.  The writing isn’t the best I’ve read, but it did the job it was supposed to.  If you’re looking for a quick, fast-paced read I would definitely add this one to your list.  (Warning: besides all the action there are the more mature romance scenes not meant for the faint of heart.)

3 out of 5 Stars

This is my fifth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

The Last Cahill Cowboy by Jenna Kernan
Harlequin (2012)
Paperback 288 pages
ISBN:  9780373296750

#8 A Review of The Night Sky by Maria Sutton

The Night Sky: A Journey from Dachau to Denver and BackAnyone who has ever been curious about his or her roots and delved into family genealogy knows they’re bound to find a few surprises.  My own husband’s genealogy search has produced information on countless relatives from the past with some of the most fascinating stories.  Maria Sutton, author of The Night Sky, had other reasons for beginning her genealogy research.  Her mother Julia’s family was torn apart by the horrors and atrocities that occurred both during and after World War II.  As a product of displaced persons camps in her early life before coming to America, Maria is content with her new life in Colorado, far from the postwar entanglements that she and her family suffered.  However, all of this past is brought back into sharp focus as she overhears her mother mentioning a man from her past in a conversation to her friend.  Maria discovers that this man is in fact her biological father, and the man who has raised her for the majority of her life is her stepfather.  Although her mother strongly advises against it, Maria embarks on a journey to meet him and discover the history of how she and her mother came to America.

Upon finishing this novel I was amazed at how much of the Holocaust and WWII is still a mystery to me.  What really appealed to me about The Night Sky was that it gave an account of the war from Eastern Europe’s viewpoint.  When I took a Holocaust history course in college it mostly focused on the war in England, Germany, and France, and didn’t discuss much of Stalin’s invasions through Poland, Ukraine, etc.  Learning new facts (to me) about the war was both heartbreaking and eye-opening.  The one that stands out the most for me was the Katyn Massacre.  Sutton writes:

Stalin had committed one of his most heinous crimes in Katyn Forest, near Smolensk, Russia.  During Russia’s invasion of Poland, 180,000 Polish soldiers were captured.  Of those, 15,000 Polish officers and intellectuals were segregated by the Red Army into different detention centers and transported to the same area used by the Bolsheviks in 1919 for murdering Tsar Nicholas’s officers.  The 15,000 captured officers and intellectuals were loaded into truckers and told they were going home.  But the truckers stopped in Katyn Forest and, one by one, each officer was executed with a bullet to the head and buried in a mass grave.

The novel is packed with facts like these that really do an excellent job on getting Eastern Europe’s story out there.  Often there is a great amount of focus on Hitler’s terrible quest to create a master race, and the atrocities and history of Russia, Poland, the Ukraine, and many other Eastern Bloc countries is buried in the past.  Sutton brings this past to light by telling the story shared by millions as they were touched by the horrors of WWII.

The other portion of the novel, Sutton’s search for her family, is a heart wrenching story filled with lies, betrayal, and fortunately an eventual happy ending.  Sutton’s main goal in the novel is to search for her biological father, Jozef.  My heart broke each time her searches hit a dead-end.  Finding Jozef became as important to me as it did for Sutton.  Her writing skills are fantastic and really pulled me into this search, making me giddy with anticipation every time she found a lead.  Sutton is one tenacious women, using all possible resources (including hiring an ex-KGB officer) to find her family.  Her gripping forty-plus year search is the backbone of this novel, making it one of the most memorable memoirs I’ve ever read.  Harrowing, brutal, and painfully honest, The Night Sky is one novel you MUST add to your to-read pile this year.

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my fourth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

The Night Sky by Maria Sutton
Johnson Books (2011)
Hardcover 240 pages
ISBN: 9781555664466
Special thanks to Maria for sending over a review copy!

#5 A Review of Twilight The Graphic Novel Vol 2 by Young Kim and Stephenie Meyer

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 2As most of you know I’m quite the fan of graphic novels.  Their uniqueness and ability to depict more than just the words written on the page really piques my interest.  Therefore, although Twilight by Stephanie Meyer always seems to catch a lot of flak, I was determined to read it in graphic novel form and see if it matched my views on the novel and its movie adaptation.  It has been split into two volumes, the first volume having been published in 2010.  I read the first volume a while ago and enjoyed the illustrations immensely, so I excitedly dove into to the second volume and waited to see what Young Kim’s second adaptation had in store.

I won’t go into a huge summary, I think everyone is familiar enough with the basic storyline of Twilight to know it’s about Bella, a teenager who falls in love with Edward Cullen, a vampire.  The second volume picks up with Edward and Bella in the infamous meadow scene that Meyer credits for being the inspiration behind the novel.

I know that Twilight gets a bad rap for poor writing/ridiculous storylines, but there is something about this adaptation that gives it its (pardon the expression) sparkle back.  The scenes and dialogue that were chosen to grace the pages of volume two were very well done.  Kim’s illustrations were well worth the wait between the publishing dates of volume one & two, and bring new light to the series.  I enjoy the fact that even though the Twilight film was already out when these volumes were being drawn, Kim chose to draw them not to reflect the actors, but to reflect the characters.  In doing so, I thought it gave the work some of its integrity back.  The first film was sorta lackluster for me, so it was a treat to be able to see illustrations that matched what Meyer actually had in mind when writing. (i.e The meadow, the Cullen house, Rosalie and Alice’s prom gowns)

I also wanted to quickly note how awesome the covers for these two volumes are.  When placed together they are a mural of Edward and Bella in the meadow.  (Very cool touch)  Overall, although I already knew what to expect from this work according to how I felt with the first novel, it was still a great read that gave me new insight into an old storyline.  Meyer’s writing, coupled with Kim’s amazing illustrations made a great marriage that was highly entertaining.

4 out of 5 Stars

This is my third completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

Twilight The Graphic Novel Vol 2 by Young Kim and Stephenie Meyer
Hachette Book Group (2011)
Hardcover 240 pages
ISBN: 9780316133197

#3 A Review of Dangerous to Know (Lady Emily Series #5) by Tasha Alexander

Dangerous to Know (Lady Emily Series #5)Yes, I’m back with a review for the fifth novel in Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series, Dangerous To Know. (Bear with me, there are only 6 out so far! 1 left to review!)  Lady Emily is becoming quite the world traveler!  After her harrowing experience in Constantinople, she and her husband Colin travel to Normandy, France, to his mother’s large estate to rest, relax, and recoup.  She aims to keep a low profile, yet fate won’t let this be, sending yet another mystery to land right in her lap.  Out riding one day, Lady Emily comes across the body of a young woman who has been brutally murdered.  Chillingly, the woman looks like Lady Emily, and has the telltale wound marks of the infamous Jack the Ripper.  With this similarity Emily can’t rest until she tracks down the killer.  She faces her greatest challenges yet, as she must travel across the beautiful backdrop of Normandy to chase down clues on the elusive murderer’s trail.  Will she be able to cheat death as she did in Constantinople, or will her luck run out this time?  Will she be able to bring justice to the young woman and unmask her killer?

Dangerous to Know is a much darker novel than the previous four, giving us a glimpse at a side of Lady Emily we haven’t seen previously.  Still reeling from being shot and miscarrying, she’s in a depression that is greatly subduing her normally outgoing, sparkling, and effervescent personality.  She begins to hear a child crying out at night, and it starts to drive her mad with grief over the child that she’s lost.  The murder (as weird as this sounds) works to drive her mind on a straight path.  It gives her something to focus on and in turn helps to bring her out of the funk she is experiencing.  It’s interesting to see this side of Emily, as it makes her human.  I don’t mean to say that she isn’t a realistic person in the first four novels, but everyone has dark periods in his or her life, and giving Emily and Colin a period of grief to get through made me love their story even more than I previously did.

The reintroduction of Sebastian (from A Poisoned Season) was a fantastic idea!  He is one of my favorite recurring characters; his over-the-top flirtations with Emily make me laugh all the time.  He’s always so mysterious and quick-witted.  His presence brings out a jealous side of the normally confident Colin that is highly entertaining. Together with the emotional development of Lady Emily, this novel definitely progresses much further than the previous ones.  It’s a great addition to an already wonderful story over these five novels.  Alexander did a great job (as usual), and I can’t wait to see what she has in store in the next book!

5 out of 5 Stars

This is my third completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge

This is my second completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander
St. Martin’s Press (2011)
Paperback 336 pages
ISBN: 9780312383817