Monday, September 20, 2010

♥♥♥♥♥♥: The Secret of the Glass by Donna Russo Morin

The Secret of the Glass
Donna Russo Morin

Page Count: 384
Release Date: 23 February, 2010
Publisher: Kensington
Source: Complimentary copy provided by Romancing the Book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

The Murano glassmakers of Venice are celebrated and revered. But now three are dead, killed for attempting to leave the city that both prized their work and kept them prisoner. For in this, the 17th century, the secret of their craft must, by law, never leave Venetian shores. Yet there is someone who keeps the secret while defying tradition. She is Sophia Fiolario, and she, too, is a glassmaker. Her crime is being a woman—Sophia is well aware that her family would be crushed by scandal if the truth of her knowledge and skill with glass were revealed. But there has never been any threat-until now. A wealthy nobleman with strong connections to the powerful Doge has requested her hand in marriage, and her refusal could draw dangerous attention. Yet having to accept and cease her art would devastate her. If there is an escape, Sophia intends to find it.

Now, between creating precious glass parts for one of Professor Galileo Galilei's astonishing inventions and attending lavish parties at the Doge's Palace, Sophia is crossing paths with very influential people—including one who could change her life forever. But in Venice, every secret has its price. And Sophia must decide how much she is willing to pay.
Is it just me, or is history class one of the most painful classes ever in school? It isn't particularly hard, just... boring.

The Secret of the Glass by Donna Russo Morin is of the "historical fiction" genre. For me, reading historical novels is always the best part of history class. It becomes weary to have to read pages and pages of thick, heavy textbooks, and then sit through hours and hours of dull documentaries (though they are an easy method for me to catch up on my sleep), so being able to read something fictional, yet still relevant, iss always a sort of relief. Had I been given the chance to read The Secrets of the Glass in World History, I might have dreaded that course a little less. Otherwise, I couldn't quite get myself to enjoy this book.

Don't get me wrong, it's beautifully written. Morin pays such breathtaking attention to detail, and I swear, there isn't one word used twice throughout the entire book. Aside from extensive vocabulary and amazing imagery however, the story lacks intrigue. 

Sophia, the protagonist, is an entirely two-dimensional character. She's the most beautiful of the three Fiolario daughters, and the most innocent of them too. Her biggest concerns are 1) her father is suffering from dementia; 2) she is betrothed to a man she despises, Pasquale da Fuligna; 3) she is in "love" with another man, Teodoro Gradenigo; and 4) she is the only woman in the world who knows the art of glassmaking. But because she is such an unrealistic and unmoving character, I couldn't find mind myself sympathizing with her at all. First of all, she practically bawls every time her father blanks out. Every so often, he forgets everything, everyone, and the doctors say he was losing his mind to age. Sophia is supposed to be the practical goody-good virgin; she's not doing anything practical or goody-good by crying irritatingly for her father's disease.  It was painful for me to read about such babyish behavior. Secondly, Morin makes it clear that Sophia must marry da Fuligna, a man who is neither rich, nor handsome in any way.  I actually laughed at this a little; surely the Fiolario family must have had the tiniest ounce of dignity. Why they would marry their eldest daughter off to a man who neither loved their daughter, nor had anything to offer, I'll be darned. And of course, Teodoro. Ah. He was probably the only character in the book I could imagine without giggling or wincing. Handsome, charming, polite... what a gentleman. So much of gentleman to Sophia actually, that within first meeting him, she declares to herself that she is in love with him. Chemistry? Nooo, who needs chemistry when you have love at first sight (even though you're already engaged)?

Morin clearly attempted to weave an intricate plot with complicated details, but for some reason, the two don't mix. The Secret of the Glass made out for a really, really interesting textbook. I could have written my essay on Roman Studies with just this book. But as a novel, it is weak and had difficulty capturing my attention.

I understand that this book was written because of an initial passion Donna Russo Morin held for Italian glassworks... a little too big of a passion, perhaps? I mean, the first paragraph of the book is an epic simile where glassblowing is compared to the reaching of an orgasm. I thought I was a fan of the hot and sweaty stuff until I read those few lines.

Most historical romances are romance novels with little tidbits of the respective history thrown in; The Secret of the Glass was an informative description with tidbits of respective romance thrown in. If you're into that kind of stuff, this book will enchant you. But if you're like me and require more fiction than fact, then Morin's story may bore you to tears.

Radical Rating: 6 hearts: Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back. ♥♥♥♥♥♥
I think I'm starting to get the hang of this reviewing thing... I might just be able to do two or three a week, depending on my schedule. Yay :) If you're reading now, please follow! Tell all your friends to follow too. I'm holding a contest (with authors), so stay tuned! 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Fang Face by Norm Cowie

Fang Face is probably the first humor novel I've ever read. I never really knew what "funny" was before I read it (my tenth grade Advanced Honors English teacher told me that Charles Dickens was funny... not that I agree in the least, but Norm Cowie is probably twice the comedian he is. Word). His style is captivating; once you pick it up, you can't put it down, and his wit is literally laugh-out-loud amusing. I had the wonderful opportunity to read and review this delight, that the author sent to me, himself. Here's Fang Face by Norm Cowie:

Fang Face
Norm Cowie

Page Count: 282
Release Date: 1 September, 2009
Publisher: Quake (Echelon Press)
Source: Received as a gift from the author (with no expectations of a review, let alone a positive one... thank you so much, Norm!)

Erin has bigger worries than how she'll do on her Trig Final. A vampire bit her and she's turning into an Undead.
Things could be worse, though. It cleared her complexion, she can fly, and now her parents have to let her go out at night. And being a vampire is great for freaking out her little sister.

The downside? Besides being dead, of course... and having to drink blood smoothies... was having to give up tanning and pizza. And with her new edgy Goth look, jet-black hair and porcelain skin, everyone tells Erin she's become beautiful. So much so that the other girls in school have started calling her names... like 'Fang Face.'

Erin wouldn't mind checking her new look for herself. But as everyone knows... Vampires can't see their reflections! 

I'll have to admit, it sounds a tad cliché. When I read the blurb, I rolled my eyes and said, "Oh, God. Not another vampire novel." But I take that all back now. Fang Face is NOT just another vampire novel. Well, it is another vampire novel, but it's not all romancy and tragic like the Moonlight series or whatever it's called. See, Fang Face has lovable characters, an actual point to its plot, and the ability to make me laugh with the turn of every page. 

I could relate to Erin a lot. She's just a typical high school girl, unnoticed and unnoticing. She's nice but not innocent; pretty, but not gorgeous. She does nothing to deserve turning into an Undead—an everliving bloodsucker—and yet she still does, when a sly vampire manages to bite her one day.

The story does not revolve around Erin, however. This story revolves around Ian Trug, who is described as "quite possibly the ugliest kid in the entire country" by the first sentence of the book. Immediately, Cowie makes Trug the most lovable character in the book, if not physically, sympathetically.

For me, there was a little too much sarcasm. I used to think that I was the most sarcastic person in the world (I'm not), but this book definitely topped me :) It was entertaining though; nice to be able to laugh at a book every once in a while. Nonetheless, the style was very moving and kept me at the edge of my feet at all times. There was a perfect balance of humor, anguish, and affliction throughout the novel.

Radical Rating: 8 hearts: An engaging read; highly recommended. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Sizzling Seduction by Gwyneth Bolton

I love the romance genre, and Harlequins have always been proven to be especially ineffable since they're short, sweet, and simple. I'm not too big of a Harlequin Suspense fan, but I do love the very stereotypical "single-mother-meets-handsome-stranger-and-ends-up-marrying-him" ones. They are so realistic and easy to read; it explains why I have so many at home! However, I had never considered trying a Kimani Romance until I picked up a copy of Gwyneth Bolton's Protect and Serve. I read the back cover and immediately, I was hooked! I was excited to hear that it was actually a series, with three more books coming out after it. Sizzling Seduction, the fourth and last installment of Bolton's captivating and sultry series, tells the tale of the last Hightower brother and the love his heart is able to find. I actually did not get a chance to read the second and third books in the series, but the last book still made a wonderful stand-alone novel, and it was great to see some recurring characters (brothers of male protagonist, Patrick). Hope you enjoy Sizzling Seduction by Gwyneth Bolton:

Sizzling Seduction (Hightower Brothers #4)
Gwyneth Bolton

Page Count: 224
Release Date: 1 October, 2009
Publisher: Kimani Romance (Harlequin)
Source: Gifted from author (in no way expecting a review, nor a positive one, for that matter... thank you, Gwyneth!!!)

Some like it hot... Firefighter Patrick Hightower will take any risk in the line of duty. But risking his heart again? That's something he's vowed never to do. He prefers scorching affairs—the briefer, the better—though he might make a temporary exception for smart, sexy teacher Aisha Miller. Only Aisha isn't interested in exploring their instant, searing connection—no matter how much she feels the heat.

Aisha has had enough of dominant men trying to control her life, and the gorgeous firefighter who visits her kindergarten class is alpha male through and through. Yet the gentler side Patrick shows, especially around her young son, gradually melts her reserve. As shadows from Aisha's past resurface, she'll discover just how far Patrick will go to prove she's found her real-life hero.

Aisha has suffered enough to last a lifetime. Not only did her first marriage end with domestic abuse, but she also hasn't been able to find a man in a long time—she doesn't need one. Or does she? She doesn't quite realize how lonely she was until she meets more-than-gorgeous Patrick Hightower, firefighter, at the local station. From the beginning, the attraction is undeniable; even he makes moves on her. But Aisha won't leave her heart open that easily.

The synopsis was really intriguing; I kept the book in my hands and I couldn't put it down because I had to find out what would happen next! Like most Harlequin books, it was a quick, enjoyable read.

There were some things that surprised me though. The end was sort of predictable (your typical happily-ever-after ending), but in between, Aisha's ex-husband showed up. I did not see this coming at all. There was only one scene with him in the entire story, but with the first sentence describing his coldness, Bolton really made me hate him as character.

Also, Aisha's adorable son tugged at my heartstrings way too often. He was so adorable but grew up without a proper dad, so it was really evident how unhappy he was. Bolton sure knows how to catch the emotions of her readers. In the end, I was so happy that Aisha and Patrick got married; solely because her son now had a good father :)

I would totally recommend Sizzling Seduction for anyone who wants the variety. The novel is light-hearted and day-to-day paced, but there are some very intense (i.e.: steamy) scenes, and some really sad ones as well. It perfectly describes a family fairy-tale, so if you like closing a book with a full, satisfied feeling, I recommend you read this one.

Radical Rating: 7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Saturday, September 18, 2010

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: The Younger Man by Sarah Tucker

The English really do do it better. I discovered the delightful Sarah Tucker when I first picked up her novel, The Last Year of Being Single. It didn't seem like my type of story, but after reading the first page, I was eager to find out what would happen by the last. When I finished it, I felt sort of changed. I felt like I had to do something; I felt like it wouldn't be quite right for me to just close the book and put it place it on my bookshelf and forget about it forever. So I went online and bought two of her other books. When I was through with them, I contacted her, telling her what a fan I was, and how much I enjoyed her stories. I also asked if she would mind "autographing" the books for me. She doesn't live in the country, so bookplates seemed to be a good idea. She enthusiastically agreed to send me a few, thanking me for being a reader on the way. Two weeks later, I received something in my mailbox, but it wasn't an envelope of bookplates. Sarah had sent me two of her books, two I didn't have, and they were SIGNED! That very same day, I started and finished The Younger Man, and I am thrilled to be able to share my review. It makes me so happy how generous and loving to readers that authors can be these days. This one is for Sarah Tucker:

The Younger Man
Sarah Tucker

Page Count: 272
Release Date: 1 January, 2006
Publisher: Red Dress Ink (Harlequin)
Source: Gifted by author (thank you, darling!!!) in no way expecting a review, let alone a positive one

Does life really begin at forty?

Successful, divorced lawyer Hazel Chamberlayne is sexy, independent and about to hit forty. Hazel also has a group of friends she loves and trusts, who love and trust her... and she doesn't need a man.

Not, that is, until the intelligent, engaging and ten years younger Joe Ryan becomes a new partner in the law firm. It's one thing to spice things up with the occasional passionate indulgence, but in a job where the path of true love runs straight into the divorce courts, Hazel isn't sure she can believe in her own happy ever after.

Though, just like a bikini wax, isn't love supposed to be less painful the second time around?
The first idea you get when you read the blurb is "cougartown". It's an idea that seems to be overrated these days, called hot by tabloids like E!News and People magazine. I personally find it annoying because of how "cool" it's made out to be. Why should age differences in relationships be cool? After reading The Younger Man however, I could tell why.

Hazel Chamberlayne is me. I'm not Hazel Chamberlayne, but she's me, she's you, she's every girl who has ever gotten her heart broken. Her love life has been through hell and high water, so at forty, she knows what she wants in life, and it's definitely not a new husband. She's got a beautiful daughter going off to college soon, a tight-knit circle of friends that you and I would both die to have, and is a successful, confident woman with a fantastic high-salary job. She already has a happily-ever-after life, one that began when her marriage ended, so who the hell is Joe Ryan, showing up at her firm like nobody's business? Who the hell is he to make her forget all of that, and to make her want to start over again?

Well, for starters, he's eye candy. Major eye candy. Jaw-dropping, eye-popping, saliva-inducing eye candy. And you know what? This bastard is nice too! And dare I say it—funny! (collective gasp!!).

Before she can tell herself not to fall for this guy, she finds herself falling for him anyway. It's bad enough that's he's so darned perfect; why must he be ten years younger?

I winced, I smiled, I teared up, and I damn near fell out of my set laughing, while reading The Younger Man. Tucker's charming, goofy British style is sure to make you as well. I have to warn you though, there was some pretty funny English lingo that I didn't quite understand, but it wasn't awful; I could figure out most of it by context. I love Sarah/Hazel's voice, though. British people are so suave and cynically hilarious. I enjoyed this one a lot. I also now love them Brits!

Radical Rating: 9 hearts: Loved it! This book has a spot on my favorites shelf. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Friday, September 3, 2010

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: I So Don't Do Makeup by Barrie Summy

Didn't get this one cheap, but free! It's not an actual copy, and just an Advanced Reading Copy, but I was fortunate enough to snag one from RandomHouse and review it. I outgrew middle age novels when I was about twelve, but I still like to read them for variety. Here's I So Don't Do Makeup by Barrie Summy
I So Don't Do Makeup (I So Don't Do Mysteries #3)
Barrie Summy

Page Count: 288
Release Date: 11 May, 2010
Publisher: Delacorte Press (Random House)

Source: Complimentary ARC provided by RandomBuzzers (publisher) in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

No one messes with Sherry's mascara! A little cherry lip gloss never hurt anybody, right? That's what I thought until my sleepover. My friends went to bed all happy and moisturized... and woke up with serious skin issues! Luckily, I happen to be pretty good at solving mysteries. Because now I'm skin deep in one.

Someone's tampering with the makeup at the mall kiosk where Amber works, and she needs my help. I'm kind of a crime-solving celebrity. My mom is a ghost (really!), and together we've worked on some important cases.

But I'm tackling this mystery by myself. I'm even going undercover—without makeup—to solve it. That's right, if I'm going to crack this case, I'll have to say... I so don't do makeup.
I really didn't expect to like this book. Just by looking at the cover, you think that it's "just another chick-lit for preteenage wannabees" and then by reading the title, that thought is confirmed. The protagonist, Sherry, considers herself a sleuth (her name's short for Sherlock). In this book's case, she is playing detective to catch the horrible person who's been tainting the makeup at her favorite mall kiosk. I hadn't realized that this book was third in a series of Sherry's adventures. However, I read it fine without reading the first two books, so it makes a great stand-alone novel.

Most of the plot, as you can expect, was all happy-go-lucky. Sherry is thirteen, has a boyfriend, an extensive vocabulary, and an oddly quick thinking process. Yet, she's never worn makeup (before her incidental sleepover), loves glitter, and hates her stepmother. Is she mature, or immature for her age? I'm not quite sure. Also, there are some supernatural elements involved: her mom, who passed away, comes to visit her as a ghost, and Sherry always looks forward to meeting up with her. 

The book is very fast-paced and fairly entertaining. I went through it in about three hours. Nothing fancy to particularly stick in my mind (heck, I'm already forgetting some of it... but in my defense, it's been a few months since I've read it), and it definitely is sort of painful to read at times (everything in Sherry's life is so disgustingly perfect, which bothered me a bit). All the events are things that would never happen in real life because real life never works that accurately. There are almost no surprises in the story, and when there is the teensiest trouble (the face mask caused rashes!), someone always comes to the rescue immediately (of course her stepmom is a health freak who just has soothing cream in her medicine cabinet. Really?). And obviously, the ghost mother thing. Note to author: if you're going to incorporate a ghost in the story, at least make it meaningful and realistic! Sherry's ghost mom only took away from the action!

All in all, it wasn't bad. But it's not something that'll haunt/affect me for the rest of my life either.

Radical Rating:  7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Hope you enjoyed the review!