Tuesday, July 31, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: The Magruder Transplant by Jack Chase

Release Date: May 19th, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace (self-published)
Page Count: 276
Source: Complimentary copy provided by Katherine Stone (the author's beautiful wife and partner in crime) in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thanks, my dear!)

A dying cardiologist is in desperate need of a donor heart that no one believes will become available in time to save him. An innocent young woman is brutally raped and murdered in a crime whose trail has long-since grown cold, and the state's most powerful political figure, its senior United States senator, hides his son from the authorities investigating the crime.

It is the relentless convergence of these disparate threads, that drives the narrative of this emotionally-intense romantic thriller, unraveling a web of deception, blackmail, and murder and ultimately revealing the tragic secret that lies at the heart of The Magruder Transplant.
What Stephanie Thinks: Medical thrillers shine proudly with books like The Magruder Transplant paving the genre. I enjoyed this book profoundly. Jack Chase, who is a doctor himself, really does well with its medical aspects; they're very realistic and accurate. He explains medical phrases and conflicts in Layman's terms to make them not only understandable, but also compelling. Chase's voice is descriptive, but only to a necessary point; it definitely isn't overly flowery, which is just the way I like it.

The mystery of Pace Magruder's shady heart transplant donation emerges and becomes troublesome, not to mention suspicious, when he won't just give the issue up, like the doctors and the donor's family will him to. In wanting to repay the donor's family, he discovers a scandalous inconsistency that puts the power over the state's most powerful man straight into his hands. Pace is a cardiologist, so he knows his stuff; his expertise, wit, and collaboration with Courtney, an investigator who herself, won't let go of a case that everyone else wants closed, propel him to solve the obscure secret once and for all... if he can even make out alive.

I love how there are a several different plots, including Pace's heart transplant, Courtney's determination to solve the rape and murder case, and the corrupt senator's scheme to cover up his tracks, as well as his own shocking revelation along the way. All of these little storylines come together to create the big picture of The Magruder Transplant seamlessly. 

The minor romance thread was a little far-fetched. I feel Pace's relationship with Courtney should have developed way further before they went at it as lovers. It does show well their character traits—Pace, the lady killer and Courtney, the attractive, lovable girl—but frankly this novel would have good even with the romance storyline spared.

Deep in subject matter, but simple in structure, this book is fast-paced, clever, and a solid, engaging read. The mystery, like I said, is extremely complicated, but Chase's effortless tone prevents it from being confusing; his style is very clear, which I was impressed by. With delightful plot twists, wry humor, scintillating suspense, and realistic, scary-yet-real-life dialogue, The Magruder Transplant is a gripping novel that surprises until and satisfies at the very end.

Stephanie Loves: "'I'm afraid it might be over,' [Courtney's father] said [of his latest love interest, Widow Johnson].
'I'm sorry. Anything I can help with?'
'I doubt it. She was really into kinky sex.'
'I mean a woman who weighs more than two hundred pounds.'
'You'd think she'd try to be a little genteel about things.'
'There is no Widow Johnson, is there?'
'I have wonderful memories of your mom, sweetheart. That's all I need.'"

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Sportuality by Jeanne Hess

Release Date: January 13th, 2012
Publisher: Balboa (Hay House)
Page Count: 216
Source: Complimentary copy provided by Westwind Communications in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

Sportuality is an examination of sports at all levels from a Western perspective, focusing on how it reflects our cultural belief in separation and dualistic thinking, as well as how sports can grow peace, understanding, and joy. Sportuality crosses disciplines of sports and spirituality to help readers-athletes, coaches, parents, and fans-evolve a higher consciousness within sports and competition. Using a journal and questions for self-reflection-called a "box score" and "time-out" -readers can reflect upon and create their own sportual stories. By examining words traditionally used within sports, Sportuality helps the reader think critically about competition, community, communication, spirit, humor, enthusiasm, education, religion, holiness, sanctuary, sacrifice, and victory. Sportuality can also expose our learned beliefs in war and violence so we might be willing to choose the alternatives of joy and peace.
What Stephanie Thinks: The spirit and essence of sports are conveyed through Hess's quick, upbeat, and motivational Sportuality and I think it's a book all Christian athletes can get a lot out of. The style in which the book is written is casual, but still very sophisticated. The author does her best to distinguish Sportuality from every other self-help book you've probably read, while still maintaining a professional, easily followable tone.

I love best how different aspects of health are considered in this book, not just physical boundaries, but also the importance of mentality, as well as environmental elements such as society and more deeply, religion. Structured in a convenient, buoyant "game plan", Sportuality is encompassed around four quarters: the bases, Communication and Spirit; the  aspects we build on top of that foundation, Competition and Community; the most important self-regulated roles of all, Enthusiasm, Humor, and Education; and last but not least, the spiritual significances, Religion, Holiness, Sanctuary, Sacrifice, and Victory. 

As a whole, it was not the most effective book I've read. Enjoyable and with the occasional extraordinary anecdote, yes, but completely fabulously memorable, no. I recommend Sportuality for those—young and old, healthy and recovering—who need that extra push of prayer and inspiration when it comes to the game—this applies not only to sports games, but also works well for the game of life. However, sometimes I feel it's a little too preachy (especially in the last quarter), so I would endorse it for only those who have strong grasps in their faith.

Stephanie Loves: A list of laughter's benefits:
  • "Laughter ... leaves [us] invigorated and alert.
  • Laugher provides isometric abdominal exercise to tone abdominal muscles.
  • Laughter ... helps us manage pain or illness.
  • Laughter helps protect us from colds and viruses because it increases the levels of antibodies (Immunoglobulin A) in the nose and respiratory passages.
  • Laughter increases levels of natural killer (NK) cells and antibodies to boost the immune system.
  • Laughter stimulates production of lymphocytes containing T-cells that deal with cancer cells.
  • Laughter reduces blood pressure and heart rate if practiced regularly.
  • Laughter is one of the best muscle relaxants.
  • Laughter reduces stress hormones, epinephrine and cortisol.
  • Laughter provides facial exercise and increases blood flow to the skin.
  • Laughter activates our tear glands to brighten our eyes.

(Herwitz, Michigan Today)

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

Monday, July 30, 2012

Yong-Dae Lee in my pants now!!!!!!!! (이용대)

Can we all take a moment to appreciate how ridiculously good-looking Yong Dae Lee is.
ahhhhhahsdkfjhkjasdfkjlakg the world-famous wink
Wellll I do like my Korean boys pretty!
 Ha.aaaaaaaaa.aaaa a a aja fd

Name: Yong-Dae Lee (이용대)
Age: 23
Location: Hwasun (화선), South Korea (though currently in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics! Unfortunately he lost in mixed doubles though *cry*)
Status: anyone know?!??!?
♥: the baby face, the fact that pretty boy, his skill, his saves, how he murmurs advice to his partners
Stalk him: Wikipedia

Mark Cavendish tribute!

I still love you Cav!!!!
I think it's unfair how good-lucking some men are.

Name: Mark Simon Cavenish
Age: 27
Location: Isle fo Man (though currently in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics!!)
Status: he's got a girlfriend and a daughter nOoOoOOooOOOOoo
♥: the rugged face, the cyclist legs, the Englishness (i.e. the accent), the gold
Stalk him: Official Site

Ryan Bertrand i loVE YOU ok

Yeah babyyyyyafjaklafkasdf

Okay but seriously, why are soccer players so attractive ♥_♥ this is so bad for my hormones and well, my sanity.

Name: Ryan Dominic Bertrand
Age: 22
Location: London — where he's at for the 2012 Summer Olympics — Team GB!!!
Status: /?? ??  ??????
♥: the gorgeous eyes, the body of a god, the Englishness (i.e. the accent), the perfectly rich skin tone YUM
Stalk him: Tweeter

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Redneck Ex by Claire Croxton

Release Date: December 22nd, 2011
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Page Count: 311
Source: Complimentary copy provided author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

With one twang of a banjo string, Summer Leigh Johnson's tidy, organized life in Barrow, Alaska is jolted back to the Ozarks when her coon-hunting, tobacco-chewing, bull-riding, redneck ex-husband asks for her help. She has two options: turn her back on him like he did to her eleven years ago, or help.

Burdened with the curse of every southern woman—What Would Mama Do?—she goes to his aid. And what does she find? The man she fell in love with all those years ago and a second chance at love and family. The last time she gave her heart to Dwight, he flicked it aside like an empty can of Skoal. This time he's cradling it as gently as he would a speckled pup. It will take a lot more than Dwight's southern charm and good looks to convince Summer to stay.
What Stephanie Thinks: A romance between old flames blossoms in Redneck Ex, a novel about what a woman's values ought to be, southern hospitality, and true, destined love—the second time around.

Summer Leigh is happy. It's been eleven years since her prick of an ex suddenly claimed not to love her and sent her packing, but she's finally content with her new, successful life as an archeologist (with a doctorate!) in Barrow, Alaska. She's got everything she could possibly want: a tight circle of amazing, supportive friends, and her dream job, but every bit of composure she's had crumbles when she receives devastating news that Dwight, her ex-husband, has been hospitalized, and even more shockingly, that he's listed her as next-of-kin. What else can she do but go and tend to him, and maybe even try to find out what the hell he's thinking by asking her to be the one to come—even though he's the one who shattered her heart and soul years ago, and even though he's thousands of miles away?

Her trip to Germany is only the beginning though. About halfway through the book, she returns home, but finds she is plagued by her reunion with Dwight, who actually seemed glad to see her. But he's not sending her clear signals; one moment he acts like he's interested, the next, he's cool and unperturbed as ever. She won't let herself get hung up over him, and she certainly won't let him break her heart again. Or... will she?

Summer Leigh is the perfect example of someone who's experienced 
the heartbreak of being too generous, too kind, too sweet. She can't help it that she's such a good-natured person from tip to toe, even though she's got a strong personality and a smart mouth that make her seem otherwise. Now pushing 35, she radiates a vigor and vitality that she hasn't been lost since childhood, and it makes her such a memorable character. Dwight wreaking havoc on her peaceful life in Barrows may be wrecking her on the inside, but she's too strong to ever let it show. She also possesses a delightful self-deprecating humor. At times, however, her narration reads a bit too chick-litty for me (aka annoying). I mean, I understand Summer Leigh is a clever, but kind-hearted and sensitive girl, but her concern for her appearance (clothes, makeup, body image, etc.) is irritating and makes me wonder if she's got some growing up to do. It contradicts her compassionate, maternal side and makes her come off as superficial and feeble.

The storyline is obviously predictable—no huge surprises as the novel progresses—but it's a fun, substantial romance that makes my heart flutter at times, and my stomach drop at others. Croxton has such an effortless style, a voice I never got tired of reading. Though Summer Leigh and Dwight have some qualities I don't care for, or I feel could have been developed better, overall, they're likable, and clearly meant for each other. The first half of this book was really slow for me, but thankfully it picked up by the second half. In fact, I couldn't put it down once I was halfway through! I suggest Redneck Ex as an easy, down-to-earth read (i.e. one that isn't particularly thrilling, erotic, or haunting—just breezy, humorous, and full of sentiment).

Stephanie Loves: "Concerned that he was slipping back into unconsciousness, I said, 'Dwight, baby, don't go back. Stay with me.'
He squeezed my hand and smiled. Coughed again. Then said, 'You called me baby.'
Really? The guy's been unresponsive for three days and that's the first thing he says?
'I'll call you something else if you go back into a coma.' There were too many retorts running through my mind, so I had to grab something and throw it out there. I didn't think: you egotistical prat was nurturing enough.— sharp, laugh-out-loud-able humor. Love it!

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: The Wild Princess by Mary Hart Perry and Giveaway!

Release Date: July 31st, 2012
Publisher: William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Page Count: 414
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher, via Innovative Online Book Tours, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you both!!)

Four of the five daughters of England's Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were regal, genteel, and everything a princess should be. But one was rebellious, scandalous, and untamed.


To the court and subjects of Queen Victoria, young Princess Louise—later the Duchess of Argyll—was the "Wild One." Proud and impetuous, she fought the constraints placed on her and her brothers and sisters, dreamed of becoming an artist, and broke with a three-hundred-year-old tradition by marrying outside of the privileged circle of European royals. Some said she wed for love. Others whispered of a scandal covered up by the Crown. It will take a handsome American, recruited by the queen's elite Secret Service, to discover the truth. But even as Stephen Byrne—code name the Raven—vows to risk his life to protect the royal family from violent Irish radicals, he tempts Louise with a forbidden love that could prove just as dangerous.

In the vein of Philippa Gregory, Mary Hart Perry tells the riveting story of an extraordinary woman—a princess who refused to give up on her dreams, including her right to true love.
What Stephanie Thinks: I am SO glad I didn't give up completely on historical fiction. As you may know, historicals are generally my least favorite genre because to be frank, I often find them too detailed and too dull. There are marvelous exceptions, of course, and The Wild Princess is one of them.

Mary Hart Perry's voice is lush and simply masterful. She certainly knows how to weave a romance into historical context, alongside sizzling suspense and lingering mystery. Louise is quite a character, both in the book and in Victorian England, and I think her delicious misconduct is beautifully portrayed. She's the kind of princess I would want to be. Not the prim and proper one who gets the throne and her mother's adoration, but the one who knows how to have fun, the one who learns from experiences rather than advice, through which she is shaped into the strong, naïve, but at the same time, incredibly worldly young woman she became. This does come at the price of a reputation, a brisk air of notoriety. Louise faces hushed whispers and blind accusations within English society. But at least she is her own being; at least she has herself. In such an era and circumstance, I don't know what could have mattered more.

And like all women who live up to insurmountable expectations, Louise has a rocky, and tremendously heartbreaking past. The novel revolves around the Fenian terrorist threats upon the country in 1871 as well as Louise's golden 'wild days', five years prior. Stephen Byrne, a bucking, irresistible non-gentleman of a character, as a member of Her Royal Majesty's Secret Service, has the responsibility over the royal children against such attacks in the book's present day. Except there's one problem: he is irrevocably attracted to the young and feisty Princess Louise, and unfortunately, she is quite apt to his charms.

The frisson between them is undeniable, and it is H-O-T! Their witty exchanges left me smiling and desperate to see them consummate their love for each other. I seriously loved the characters and their dialogue. The Wild Princess tells the story of a tragic incident as well as a slow but sure recovery that is suspenseful until the very end and thrillingly scandalous—so very improper in all the right places. I would have liked the romance aspect of Stephen and Louise's relationship to be a little stronger. As steamy as their encounters are, there are only a few intimate scenes, and vague and lyrical descriptions, rather than arousing details. Other than that, I commend Perry for penning such a poised and substantial, yet naughty and entertaining novel brimming with danger, scandal, and the journey of true love.

Stephanie Loves: "One step forward was all he needed to wrap an arm around her waist and pull her hard up against his chest. Her eyes flew wide. She whimpered as his mouth came down over hers. Unlike the other, this kiss was hard and hot and shockingly intimate.
When he released her mouth, she felt dizzy, bewildered. Perhaps her teasing had backfired?
'Don't play games with me, Princess,' Byrne warned, his voice abrasive with emotion she couldn't identify. 'You won't like my rules.'" — I absolutely LOVE their chemistry. It's witty and tender at the same time, not to mention hot hot hot!!!

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

Thanks to the publisher and IO Book Tours, there is ONE eBook copy (winner's choice of format) of The Wild Princess up for grabs! To enter, all you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form below:
Giveaway runs through August 13th, 2012 at 11.59 pm (EST).

Open to US and CAN readers only!

Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Jun-ho Cho (조준호) on Bronze!!!!

Blogging live from Korea ;)
Jun-ho!!! You make us proud. First Olympic medal in Judo for South Korea ahhhhhh

Name: Jun-ho Cho (조준호)
Age: 23
Location: Busan, South Korea (though currently in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics — Bronze baby!)
Status: /?? ??  ??????
♥: the moves, the composure, the perfect face, the way he hugs his opponents and shakes their hands...
Stalk him: London 2012 Profile

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Inheritance by Lisa Barker

Release Date: May 31st, 2011
Publisher: Lulu (self-published)
Page Count: 276
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author, via Romancing the Book, in exchange for an honest review

Alcoholism, sexual addiction, child abuse and the suicide of a parent are the inherited demons plaguing and isolating Joe Taylor even after four years of sobriety and celibacy, trying to drive him back to the wild parties of his youth.

Poverty, abandonment and neglect are Wendy Masten's inheritance. And one night, in a desperate attempt to reunite with her long-lost sister, Wendy and Joe meet unexpectedly and begin a quest toward freedom and long-lasting love.

Grow with them as faith unfolds and unleashes its healing power, transforming Joe and Wendy into the people God intended them to be with the inheritance He planned as they become a couple and prepare to enter the sacrament of marriage.

Rated R: For mature topics, language and some brief sexual depictions.
What Stephanie Thinks: Though this contemporary novel's romance is sweet, its themes are crude, and its characters highly flawed and highly troubled. Inheritance is not a sweet romance in that it is chaste and G-rated; it's sweet in that the relationship is not consummated, sticking with traditional values. However, some of the topics such as alcoholism and sex addiction balance out the innocence of the book. Read the full review at Romancing the Book: http://romancing-the-book.com/2012/08/review-inheritance-by-lisa-barker.html.

Stephanie Loves: "Faith, like a seedling, was buried deep inside and awakening. There was a battle ahead, a battle that would strip them to the core, but a battle they would meet well-armed nonetheless."

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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: No Turning Back by Tiffany A. Snow

Release Date: June 10th, 2011
Publisher: Self-published
Page Count: 385
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author, via Romancing the Book, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you both!)

After the death of her parents, Kathleen Turner leaves small town life for Indianapolis to pursue her dreams the best she can. Young and alone in the world, she works as a lowly Runner at the prestigious law firm of Gage, Kirk and Trent and bartends at night to make ends meet. Her ignominious introduction to Blane Kirk, partner in the firm and local playboy, has her diving under desks to avoid him. Unfortunately, when her friend is murdered and attempts are made on her own life she doesn't know where to turn—except to Blane. Kathleen’s journey begins in the halls of justice where she finds not everyone is as they seem and what you don’t know can get you killed. Though a far cry from her Midwestern upbringing, she poses as a prostitute in the intriguing circles of high-priced escort services in a reckless bid to uncover the murderer. Little does she know that the murder of her friend was only a small part in a high-tech plan to rig an online election. She must race against the clock in a desperate ploy to sabotage the scheme in a dangerous game of political espionage. In No Turning Back, Kathleen struggles to bring a killer to justice, even if it may be the man with whom she's falling in love.

What Stephanie Thinks: It's two in the morning and I'm staying up to write this review, which is saying a lot, considering I'm driving to an charity event at the orphanage tomorrow morning at 7. No Turning Back is seriously one of those books that make me go asdfhgkjdf;afsdj. (The pronunciation of that is up to you). It's everything I love in a novel: sweet, suspenseful, sinfully, sinfully sexy, humorous, and dangerous but still light-hearted; it's one that I literally couldn't put down!

First, I'll throw it out there that Kathleen's voice is breezy, klutzy, and adorable, which reads very chick-lit-y, very entertaining. It does kind make it difficult to take the peril of the situation seriously—after all, this is supposed to be a gripping Mission Impossible-like novel—but all in all, I like it because while it is unmistakably girly, in times of adrenaline and danger, it cuts the crap, and shifts to edgy and bone-chilling. Snow makes these transitions of voice very smoothly, which I was impressed by. 

Kathleen's seemingly mundane and "normal" life is turned upside-down when she is caught up in this murder case—one that's far more than a murder, stretching as far as a lethal nationwide political fraud—and somehow, she knows she has bigger ties to it than just being a friend of the victim. Through awfully awkward but delightfully hilarious mishaps, high-tech computer hacks (much to the fluster of the technology-retarded Kathleen), and even an unprecedented romance (or two), Kathleen bends over backwards to bring justice to the sudden tragedy once and for all—or at least, hopefully, to come out alive.

The storyline, I love love love. There's nothing more accurate I can say about it. The circumstances under which Kathleen is presented are believable, easily followable, and in the end, all fall into place faultlessly. This book is the perfect composition of enthralling suspense, scorching romance, and witty, warm, perfectly-played-out moments. As for her posing as a prostitute, I thought it would be a large part of the book based off the blurb, but it's actually just one scene. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining (because of her ironic predicament!), indulgent, and significant scene I adored.

Tiffany Snow has a way with words; she's amazing at creating situations that range from intense and critical, to blithe and comical. More importantly, her polished, contemporary style make No Turning Back an easy read, not only because of its unchallenging material, but also because the story just progresses effortlessly.

I was not fond of how Kathleen seems to be some sort of temptress, even though she swears to being, and comes off as, the cute and clumsy type. I mean, she is attractive, and has a great personality, but she's clearly not used to being so desired. Guys can't keep their hands off her—five different male characters (three of which are leading characters) either make passes at her or are infatuated with her, which isn't only grossly unrealistic, but also unconvincing, considering she's the type of girl who never whores herself out, and has only been with one other boy before—and that was in high school. I rolled my eyes at times. While the love triangle is steamy, the other guys hitting on her suddenly are too much. I also was a bit unsettled by the constant betrayal by and Kathleen's fickleness towards Blane. One moment I wanted him and Kathleen to be together, the next, I wanted him out of the picture. He continuously disappoints, sporadically revealing shocking tidbits of his involvement in the life-threatening scheme. Kathleen seems to recognize this. She's a smart, level-headed girl: she knows Blane is trouble, and that he's keeping his own secrets. But then he touches her arm or something and she melts and reconsiders her feelings about him...?—this happens more than a few times throughout the book, and it is not only confusing, but also slightly irritating. However, the conclusion is satisfying—a good ending to a good book—so I can't complain too much. The very last line leaves me hanging, even though full closure is provided; I'm now eager to try the sequel, Turn to Me!

Okay now it's 3am woohoooo but I'm not even tired. Just writing about No Turning Back is invigorating. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who would like a fast-paced, amusing romance that also contains heavier, disturbing facets (such as an attempted rape scene, gruesome murder descriptions, and frightening instances of combat). This, to put it in the best of words, is a law/crime thriller for the ladies: we've got hot heroes and wardrobe malfunctions, gunshots and very very unwelcome hunger pangs, break-ins and breakups... oh yeah. If suspense and chick-lit are your genres, this is the book for you.

[QUICK NOTE] Read my review of Turn to Me, the equally absorbing and fan-fucking-tastic second book in the Kathleen Turner series, by clicking here.

Read my review of the aaahhmazing third book, Turning Point, by clicking here.

Stephanie Loves: "Kade's words echoed in my head and I tried not to let the overwhelming fear and despair drown me. I would do what I could and the rest was in the hands of Fate, the fickle bitch."

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

♥♥♥♥: Faerie Cake Dead by J.M. Griffin

Release Date: June 22nd, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace
Page Count: 262
Source: Complimentary review copy provided by author, via Innovative Online Book Tours, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you both!)

Tea, trust, and trouble meet at Fairy Cake Junction!

When divorcee, Luna Devere, owner of Faerie Cake Junction, meets general contractor, Devin Radford, chaos reigns. Devin instantly wreaks romantic havoc in Luna’s life after she finds a corpse sitting in her tea shop as though awaiting tea.

The tea shop is surrounded by faerie folk who have befriended Luna. They know who left the dead man, but aren’t sharing. The sheriff is convinced Luna is daft and that she’s the culprit. Devin wonders just how odd Luna is... even though he’s drawn to her. And Luna’s ex-husband tries to incriminate her for reasons and purposes of his own.
What Stephanie Thinks: A cruel murder, inconsistent ransom notes, and a plot to frame—but life still goes on with Luna, her cat, and her cupcakes! Faerie Cake Dead is an upbeat, all's well ends well cozy mystery that has a touch of romance and an undertone of fantasy. Years after her divorce to the cold, ruthless Thomas Devere, Luna has managed to turn her life around and streamline it into the success of her cupcake boutique, Faerie Cake Junction. Despite the fact that town officials and some of her customers think her balmy for believing in faeries, who are her inspiration, she's never been better without Thomas, and is really starting to appreciate her prosperous business. Until he suddenly reappears in her life, that is, and a few other things turn astray as well.

The murderer who keeps planting dead or near-dead people in her shop obviously is someone who knows her well, someone who is out to assail her in every way—morally, financially, socially. Sexy handyman and widow Devin Radford offers her an emotional hand during Luna's time of desperation, which she reluctantly, but eventually accepts. But then falls in love with...? I don't get their relationship at all. Devin is way too forward with her, admitting he's in love with her off the bat, even though they've never met before these murders and break-ins took place, and though Luna's annoyed by his directness, she soon returns the feelings? Not believable at all. Neither character is grounded very well—they just swoon over themselves a lot and blame each other for each other's bumblings. I can't say I liked either of them, or their 'romance', for that matter. They both try too hard to come off as lovable, witty characters, but I just couldn't feel it. They lack originality as individuals and chemistry as a couple... does it get any more dull than that?

The murder case isn't very convincing, either. The characters act very unprofessionally and the resolution isn't shocking at all. There is tittering suspense along the way—Griffin is great at drawing out scenes to make readers keen on finding out who's behind the chaos—but the end result is devastatingly unsatisfying. This book is slightly more disappointing than the other novel I reviewed by J.M. Griffin, Murder on Spyglass Lane. It drags out a lot more, and has an even absurder romantic premise.

Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the writing much either. There's nothing spectacularly wrong with it, all the grammar's fine and such, but it's just not interesting. Griffin's voice is just very blunt, uninspiring, and stale—the kind of prose that's bound to put me to sleep! There are some details I am fond of, however: Luna's cupcake business is cute, and the faeries are captivating. I do enjoy how the author manages to incorporate some magical elements to her contemporarily-set stories. I think the main idea is spot on—the arrangement of corpses is certainly shocking and Luna's business being sabotaged very realistic. However, Griffin's style's blandness and the story's overall lack of substance make the book a flop.

While there are certain things I did appreciate in Faerie Cake Dead, including the cheery tone, the exposition, and the faeries, it's something I do not recommend because it ultimately fails in both the cozy mystery and romance departments.

Stephanie Loves: "'My cat. Like most males, he's very pushy, tries to take over, and makes a general nuisance of himself."

Radical Rating: 4 hearts: So-so; reading this book may cause wrinkles (from frowning so much). ♥♥♥♥

Friday, July 27, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥: Dragon's Moon by Bent Lorentzen

Release Date: June 3rd, 2009
Publisher: Paladin Timeless (Twilight Times)
Page Count: 135
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

A young dragon beset by childhood trauma and a disability, goes on a quest for his identity and happiness. Enduring severe hardships in the search to find his roots, he ultimately discovers his disability may be a key weapon against a terrifying antagonist. 
What Stephanie Thinks: Elementary and middle grade readers will be charmed by this short, but compelling dragon adventure, and parents will appreciate its elements of bravery, family, love, and self-acceptance as well.

Lorentzen weaves a traditional hero's journey that begins with our main character's birth. Even as an infant waddler dragon, he is unlike his siblings—even his egg was unusual; gold, instead of white—in a negative way. He has a significantly fewer amount of scales, which labels him as "ugly" in his unwelcoming homeland of Nistala, and also a speech impediment, which makes him the biggest joke among his peers. On top of that, his growth rate is much more rapid than anyone else's and by a few months, he's already at adult size, awkwardly towering over the other baby dragons. The scenes where he is ridiculed are tear-inducing, reminiscent of The Ugly Duckling (which is a story that made me cry when I was little!). Lorentzen excels at tugging at readers' hearts by ensuing very human emotions with his mythical characters.

The baby dragon wants nothing but to be beautiful, and to fit in—he's tired of being an embarrassment, especially for his tender, but now impatient mother—so he sets off on a quest to find true beauty. On his journey, he discovers more than he ever bargained for, including his identity, a name, for the first time: Farluna; his destiny and strengths, finally an explanation and purpose to his disfigurement and stutter; and most importantly, his soul mate. On this voyage, he experiences for the first time, what it's like to be loved and what it's like to love himself, and that truly is the greatest recognition any young creature can make.

While the plot is well-organized and its message touching, I couldn't really get into this one. I personally don't think it's "fun" enough for children to read—the prose is quite weak, and at times, awkward and difficult to follow. As an older reader, I could tolerate it, but I can't say I enjoyed it. At times, I caught myself skimming a lot too. I guess I'm not that fond of the high fantasy genre. Lorenzen does create a convincing dragon world, but Dragon Moon's lack of reader appeal and stylistic talent make it sort of a bland read.

Stephanie Loves: "'Laugh until pain can no longer touch you."

Radical Rating: 
5 hearts: Doesn't particularly light any of my fires; I feel indifferent about this book. ♥♥♥♥♥