My 2011 Reading Challenges

As mentioned in my "Thoughts On: Reading Challenges" post, I'm always down for a good challenge but prefer longer term (read: year-long) efforts. I've found a few that will hopefully fit nicely with my reading habits, yet also push those same boundaries just a bit. Upon the arrival of the New Year I'll add my challenge tracker to the top info bar (just above). So behold, my selections for 2011 challenges (not inclusive of the few GoodReads challenges I might do here and there):

1st in a Series Challenge
hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages

I'm REALLY big on series, and am in the midst of many from various genres. But these days I don't start new series as often as I'd like, so this challenge is a welcome one.
This particular event runs from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011. The name is read books that are the first of a series. There are no restrictions on genre, and one needn't be a blogger to participate. There are four different "levels" of possible participation:
  • Series Novice: Read 3 books that are the first in any series.
  • Series Lover: Read 6 books that are the first in any series.
  • Series Expert: Read 12 books that are the first in any series.
  • Series Fanatic: Read 20 books that are the first in any series.
One can list their books in advance or just put them in a wrap up post. Selections can be changed as the mood strikes. If you're interested in doing this challenge yourself, more information can be found HERE (you can join anytime before December 31, 2011).

50 States Challenge
hosted by Tasha at Book Obsessed

This particular challenge has me really excited. I've always wanted to do a tour of my beloved nation, and now I'll get the chance! ^__^ The goal of this challenge is to read books that are set in each of the fifty states. Books can be of any genre and any format (ie. paperback, ebook, audiobook, etc.). But no short stories. Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are fine. One can list their books in advance or list them as they are read. If this challenge interests you, feel free to find more info and sign up HERE.

Historical Romance Challenge
hosted by Danielle at Romance Book Junkies

As a newcomer to historical romance (modernly writ, that is...if that's relevant), I look forward to pushing myself further into the genre. Not that I need much pushing...the handful of HR books that I've read thus far have absolutely enchanted me. I can't wait for more.

This challenge is to read 12 historical romance books from January 1, 2011 - December 31, 2011. Historical fiction is allowed, as long as it contains even a small romantic element (and Danielle can be contacted for clarification on whether a book is eligible).

Note that this challenge also involves monthly giveaways for the participants. ^_^
Full information, including the sign-up page for this challenge, can be found HERE.

Review: Skinwalker

Skinwalker (Jane Yellowrock, #1) by Faith Hunter

Quick Take: I wasn't bowled over by this story, but overall it was enjoyable. The protagonist is unique and striking, despite nominal comparisons to other urban fantasy heroines.

Book Description:
     A year ago Jane nearly lost her life taking down an entire blood family of deadly rogue vampires that preyed on the helpless local populace of an Appalachian town. Now, after months of recuperation, she’s back and ready to fight again. Except this time, she’s hired by those she’s trained to kill—vampires…
     Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind—a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and hunts vampires for a living. Back from hiatus, she’s hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katie’s Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who’s killing other vamps.
     Amidst a bordello full of real “ladies of the night,” and a hot Cajun biker with a panther tattoo who stirs her carnal desire, Jane must stay focused and complete her mission—or else the next skin she’ll need to save just may be her own…
Okay, so I told myself right at the beginning of this book not to compare this character to two other seemingly similar UF protagonists: Janet Begay of the Stormwalker books, or Mercy Thompson of the Mercedes Thompson books. For the most part this was easy to do, as Jane Yellowrock's similarities only go as far as the Native American heritage and general badassitude. And maybe the affinity for super-cool automobiles. ^_^

Jane's particular brand of "badazz" behavior is less of the fun/comedic sort, and more no-nonsense. She's perfectly capable of the occasional snarky remark, but she's aware that smart-alec comments--amongst so many ruthless characters--are the quickest way to get injured or dead. She is powerful and ruthless, however...which is what makes her a great hunter and skinwalker. Janet's also quite mysterious, since she has almost no memories from her life before the age of 12. Why is this so? Well, it has a lot to with a soul that shares Janet's body…a second consciousness referred to as Beast.

Having this first-person co-protagonists-in-a-shared-body setup certainly was interesting…it's not a frequent occurrence, that's for sure. But the dynamic did take some getting used to. This is because the emergence of Beast brings along very basic, beast-like thought processes replete with telegraphic phrases and elementary representations of complex concepts. It felt very stark, almost overly so…it's sort of reminiscent of beat poetry. However, I slowly got used to it (and I think the author slightly softened the narrative device over time).

The book was was enjoyable overall, but I must admit that it was not the most memorable affair for me. I just didn't form an attachment to anything. Not the protagonist, not the potential love interests (but I thought they were cads, so maybe that's a contributing factor ^_^). And I wasn't really bowled over by the climax and resolution of the tale. But there were bits of plot that seemed promising, and some character dynamics that were interesting: Jane's relationship with best-friend Molly and attachment to Molly's daughter, for instance.

Having said everything above, I do in fact wish to read the next book in the series. There were many moments where I thought to myself, "ooh, this looks promising…" which is a promising occurrence in and of itself. ^_^ The setting (New Orleans) was warm and familiar yet fresh; the supernatural world seemed intriguingly complex; and there is still much to discover about Jane's character and background. I look forward to further exploration of all of those things.

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review: Midnight Awakening

Midnight Awakening (Midnight Breed, #3)Midnight Awakening by Lara Adrian

Quick Take: Loved it! My fave so far. The two leads were a great and compelling match. I'd recommend having read book two before jumping into the series with this book.

Book Description:
     With a dagger in her hand and vengeance on her mind, Darkhaven beauty Elise Chase prowls Boston’s streets in search of retribution against the Rogue vampires who took from her everything she cherished. Using an extraordinary psychic gift, she tracks her prey, well aware that the power she possesses is destroying her. She must learn to harness this gift, and for that she can turn to only one man—the deadliest of the Breed warriors, Tegan.
     No stranger to loss, Tegan knows Elise’s pain. He knows fury, but when he slays his enemies it is with ice in his veins. He is perfect in his self-control, until Elise seeks his aid in her personal war. An unholy alliance is forged—a bond that will link them by blood and vow—and plunge them into a tempest of danger, desire, and the darkest passions of the heart. . . .
I'm glad to note that thus far, I've enjoyed each Midnight Breed book more than the last. Granted, I've only finished three installments now, but the direction of the trend is a very promising one. In this story we're treated to a closer look at Tegan, the most closed and inaccessible of the Breed warriors. Up to now he's seemed stone-cold and emotionless, observations that are only solidified by the fact that his emotion-affected dermaglyphs--tattoo-like markings that the Breed are born with--are always at an innocuous, neutral shade.

I for one didn't think much of Tegan in the first two books. It seemed almost as though he was intentionally painted into the proverbial wordwork. ^_^ I was pleased that his core-personality does not change, but that greater understanding of his motivations was gained. His nominal pairing with Elise didn't seem to make sense before I picked up this book, but I was made a believer by the end, that's for sure. He's now my favorite of the Order warriors.

The plot moved at a wonderfully steady-yet-engaging pace, and I went through the whole book eager to read what was to follow. The romance is admittedly slow-going, but I felt it was actually better that way, as the characters' (considerable) emotional turmoil was given fair treatment. The entire "regular" cast was involved in the main plot line in some way, though the narrative perspective stayed mostly with the two leads. It worked out well, and I felt like I was getting the best of both worlds: an intimate glimpse at Tegan and Elise as they slowly came together, and meaningful portrayals of the other members of the Order. Not to mention a broadened scope of the overall series. I dug it all. ^_^

Now, this book can technically be read stand-alone with minimal confusion. But I would highly recommend that newcomers read book two (Kiss of Crimson) before jumping into this book. Doing so will provide greater context and a deeper emotional understanding of the heroine, Elise Chase.

This book only further solidifies my affinity for this series. I see that Rio is up next as lead hero, and I couldn't be more excited. Yay, Breed!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thoughts On: Borrowing

Who would you rather borrow from? Your library? Or a Friend?
(Or don’t your friends trust you to return their books?)
And, DO you return books you borrow?
(Question from Nov. 18 "Booking Through Thursday" meme)

When it comes to book borrowing, I most certainly prefer borrowing my books from the library. Having spent five years working for various libraries, I'm way beyond convinced of the ease with which one can procure reading material. I have a huge selection of titles from which to choose. I get to lolligag in one of my favorite environments and indulge in a type of "shopping." I can get no-pressure book recommendations from knowledgeable staff. I can renew (remotely; yay technology!) if I need more time to read...and quite honestly, I prefer the prospect of a late fee over an ornery friend or colleague. ^_^

I rarely borrow books from friends, even when they are specifically offered to big reason being that I feel (self-imposed) pressure of sorts. I don't mind my own books being well-loved, with cracks in the spine or folded pages (it's naturally what happens when reading a book, after all)...but for some reason I freak out about similarly affecting someone else's book. I also feel a little pressure when someone offers to lend me a book they "absolutely loved." I know it makes little sense, but if I accept someone's generous offer of lending their beloved book, I feel a tinge guilty if I end up not liking or (gasp!) not finishing. Hm. I don't quite understand my own hangups, since I will lend books freely and don't mind if they take a long while to come back to me.

What I really enjoy is a permanent book swap. I finish reading a book and swap it with a friend or colleague (or two of my husband's cousins, who share my book preferences ^_^). The book becomes mine, there are no time-lines attached, and if I don't like the title I can swap it away again. Easy-peasy!

Review: Kiss of Crimson

Kiss of Crimson (Midnight Breed, #2)Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quick Take: A solid sequel that seems to outdo its predecessor. There's a lot of well-crafted action and intrigue here; this series now has my full attention.

Book Description:
He comes to her more dead than alive, a towering black-clad stranger riddled with bullets and rapidly losing blood. As she struggles to save him, veterinarian Tess Culver is unaware that the man calling himself Dante is no man at all, but one of the Breed, vampire warriors engaged in a desperate battle. In a single erotically charged moment Tess is plunged into his world—a shifting, shadowed place where bands of Rogue vampires stalk the night, cutting a swath of terror.
     Haunted by visions of a dark future, Dante lives and fights like there is no tomorrow. Tess is a complication he does not need—but now, with his brethren under attack, he must shield Tess from a growing threat that includes Dante himself. For with one reckless, irresistible kiss, she has become an inextricable part of his underworld realm…and his touch awakens her to hidden gifts, desires, and hungers she never knew she possessed. Bonded by blood, Dante and Tess must work together to thwart deadly enemies, even as they discover a passion that transcends the boundaries of life itself….
     Ah, so here we have the second entry in the Midnight Breed series, a collection of books which is oft compared to another series with some similar themes--it starts with a B and a D and a B--but I'll not make any further mention of such since the MB series does deserve to be considered in its own right.
     Those that are already interested in this book are likely to have read its predecessor Kiss of Midnight. But it's my opinion that this book can absolutely be read without having read the one prior; book one's carry-over plot points really aren't emphasized or rendered crucial here. This story focuses on a mysterious new recreational drug named Crimson. The substance is powerful, highly addictive and deadly to the Breed (aka vampires), and is slowly threatening the well-being of the race. In scouting out the source of the threat, Breed warrior Dante Alighieri becomes inadvertently involved with veterinarian Tess Culver.
     I thought that this book built some great suspense over time. The Crimson plot thread was interesting, and actively involved several members of the main cast to complex yet seamless effect. The film "Traffic" comes to mind, what with its constellation of characters that are unwittingly tied together by circumstance (and drugs, of course). Only here we've got vampires, supernatural violence and sizzling sensuality, of course. ^_^
     On a somewhat related note...this book is also a great example of masterful use of the "two-or-more" perspective. I never felt lost, and the scene/perspective shifts were done at just the right moment to heighten anticipation and drama. Now, the build-up of the pairing itself wasn't (in my sole opinion) the most solid or moving I've ever read; at least initially. But it was still plenty precious and compelling, let me say. ^_^ Compelling particularly because it was so closely tied to the awesome Crimson plot-thread.
     After book one I was pleased but certainly not clamoring for a copy of book two. Having finished this book, however, I'm much more engaged and curious about what happens next for the Breed warriors. This story provided a masterfully subtle setup for future plot lines, and I hope the successors take it and run with it.

Review: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Quick Take: This book was utter magnificence. The male protagonist was extremely compelling. In fact, I fell in love with the whole cast, and will consider this series "auto-buy" from now on.

Book Description:
     The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family--rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn't be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them--of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz.
      The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He's also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women.
      Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama--an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband.
     And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her. 

This is yet another book that presented difficulty to me. You see, I enjoyed it very much; so much so that I find it hard to adequately convey my enthusiasm. But it seems such a shame to read the book and do naught but numerically rate it. Therefore...

This is the first book in a series that's apparently meant to focus on the four brothers of the Scottish Mackenzie clan. The family has a long and storied history, much of it painful and unfortunate. This particular installment is about the youngest and arguably most tragic of the lot, Lord Ian. His particular condition is nameless, unaccepted and misunderstood in that time and place. Today he might have been thought an austistic savant, or perhaps someone with Asperger syndrome. In this story, people simply label him "crazy."

As always, I was quite attentive to the characters themselves (typically my favorite aspect of a book). Fortunately the author seems to have been, as well. ^_^ Jennifer Ashley presents an absolutely intriguing portrayal of the male protagonist. Due to the nature of his thought processes as well as his traumatizing(!!!) past, his character provides much of the novel's mystery. His interactions vary greatly amongst the other characters in the book, revealing a man not "crazy" but immensely complex. Ian is easily one of the more interesting characters I've ever come across in a romance tale.

The female protagonist, widow Beth Ackerly, made for a great pairing. Nominally she seems to be the least sensible match for someone like Lord Ian, but her own past hurts (a lost spouse) and considerable strengths (triumphing over a poor upbringing) make her interesting when played against the dramatic Mackenzie family.

...and as for the Mackenzies. Wow. Though the book is "about" Ian and Beth, the rest of the clan is not neglected story-wise. Each of the brothers have been well fleshed out. Ms. Ashley made this book as much about family as anything else.

"Anything else," in addition to the central romance, refers to a mystery-laced murder subplot (a "whodunit"). It provided some exciting thrills and got me truly caught up in the process, but in truth the thread--including its resolution--was not the most arresting I've ever seen. In retrospect it was the weakest element of the book....which really means little, since it'd still be the best part of any other book. ^_^

This is only my third "historical romance," but even so it's clear there was something special here. The tale endeared me not only to the featured couple, but to the entire Mackenzie clan. I even love the family dogs! Ms. Ashley began brewing a plot thread that will boil over spectacularly into the next installation of the series: unreliable artist Mac Mackenzie's dealings with his estranged wife Isabella. I can't wait to read it!

In Anticipation: Matched

Though I only occasionally dip into the realm of Young Adult titles, it's been pretty difficult--nay, impossible--to avoid the massive wave of press for author Ally Condie's latest offering, Matched. If you haven't already gotten wind of it, this is what the dystopian novel is about:
In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die. Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s barely any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one . . . until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.
Matched is a story for right now and storytelling with the resonance of a classic.
I must say, I am absolutely in love with the cover; it's so striking in its simplicity, and the lime green just draws the eye immediately. It's actually what drew my interest toward the book. That's right; the synopsis was only part of the equation here. ^_^ But the premise really does sound intriguing. I'm usually a fan of dystopian-themed novels, for most every age group from youth to adult. I'm hoping the aforementioned love triangle isn't all there is to the story; the notion of the Society having such minute control of every aspect of citizens' lives is intriguing, and I hope it's explored thoroughly.

On the heels of the Hunger Games trilogy's conclusion, this might just be what the doctor ordered for many people out there. Here's hoping it's worth such comparison!

Review: Touched by an Alien

Touched by an Alien (Katherine "Kitty" Katt, #1)Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Quick take: I had a love/hate relationship with this book. Most was love, but there were aspects that had the Scoff-O-Meter turned up high. But overall it was an amusing sci-fi romp!

Book Description:
     Marketing manager Katherine "Kitty" Katt steps into the middle of what appears to be a domestic dispute turned ugly. And it only gets uglier when the man turns into a winged monster, straight out of a grade-Z horror movie, and goes on a killing spree. Though Kitty should probably run away, she springs into action to take the monster down.
     In the middle of the chaos a handsome hunk named Jeff Martini appears, sent by the "agency" to perform crowd control. He's Kitty's kind of guy, no matter what planet he's from. And from now on, for Kitty, things are going to be sexy, dangerous, wild, and out of this world.
I'd like to start by saying that this book has a gorgeous cover. Artist Daniel dos Santos--who is known for his work on the Mercy Thompson series's US covers--is freaking brilliant. I must say that I absolutely judged a book by its cover in this instance; it drew me in immediately. Gini Koch is one lucky author to have scored his talent for her debut novel.

The cover is pretty encompassing of the book's contents, as well: Armani-suited aliens, monsters, big explosions and romantic drama! All starting from the first page, when protagonist Katherine Katt is abruptly and accidentally introduced to the secret existence of aliens on earth. Whatever "normal" life she's lived up to that point quickly becomes quite irrelevant.

It's no surprise that author Gini Koch pokes fun at the Men in Black franchise in this series starter; she was probably preempting the inevitable comparisons. But this book feels most like something of a cross between MiB-like shenanigans and a superheros/supervillians story. One should expect a lot of action, comedy and wildly dramatic intrigue.

There were some aspects of this book that rankled a bit, though quite frankly I'm surprised they didn't put me off considerably more, as is usually the case. For one, there's a fair bit of information overload ("info dump" if you will). By and large, the wealth of details introduced were relevant to the story--making for a very complex plot--but in a handful of instances, the info really could've been introduced in future books. Numerous characters were introduced by name and implied as important in Kitty's life, only no never come up again. Critical revelations were piled upon each other, so complex as to border on confusing. I tried to take notes for a while, but eventually just gave up. ^_^

Other things that chafed a bit (but again, not as much as I would've expected) were the pop culture references and the frequent smart-alec banter. Think of any episode of the show Gilmore Girls. Funny dialogue, but occasionally just a bit TOO wry; do people really talk like that all of the time? ^_^ Though really, I suppose it was just a matter of excessive wit at unlikely, unnecessary moments that bugged the most.

Funnily enough, though...the easy, lively banter was also one of the things I really enjoyed. So was Kitty's witty inner voice. There were a few laugh-out-loud moments, and many instances where I had a big smile on my face as I read. A lot of it had to do with the interactions between characters.

Ultimately, I found the book to be just plain fun, more than anything else. The action scenes were highly visual and engaging, and the characters were supremely amusing. There were plot twists a-plenty, with some sizzling romantic intrigue to top it all off! The foundation has been well-laid here, and I'm most assuredly looking forward to the next book.

Review: Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord

Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (The Ralstons, #2)Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord by Sarah MacLean

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quick Take: What delicious story! I thoroughly enjoyed it, from beginning to end. The question is not so much "will I like this book?" but rather, "how much will I like this book?" Reading book 1 one not required.

Book Description:
Since being named one of London’s "Lords to Land" by a popular ladies’ magazine, Nicholas St. John has been relentlessly pursued by every matrimony-minded female in the ton. So when an opportunity to escape fashionable society presents itself, he eagerly jumps—only to land in the path of the most determined, damnably delicious woman he’s ever met!
     The daughter of a titled wastrel, Lady Isabel Townsend has too many secrets and too little money. Though used to taking care of herself quite handily, her father’s recent passing has left Isabel at sea and in need of outside help to protect her young brother’s birthright. The sinfully handsome, eminently eligible Lord Nicholas could be the very salvation she seeks.
     But the lady must be wary and not do anything falling madly, passionately in love.
Okay, so I was having a spot of trouble figuring out what I'd like to say about this book. Typically I write some notes down as I'm reading a book, so as to have something semi-coherent to say in my review. But in this case, I didn't because I was too busy reading! :o) I read this book in pretty much one extended sitting.
     Unlike with the previous book, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, the story take place largely away from society . Here, it's the distant specter of society's actions and expectations that looms large over the hero and heroine. For Lord Nicholas St. John it's the threat of in London...for Lady Isabel Townsend it's the effect of a absentee--and most scandalous--father. And for the ladies that inhabit Isabel's "Minerva House," it's the threat of discovery (and thus abuse, both literal and figurative). The effect of this is a story that focuses more keenly on the characters and their shared experiences.
     ...and to me, the real gem of this book was the cast of characters. I was particularly fond of the addition of James, Isabel's 10-year-old brother and newly named Earl of Reddich. The interactions between James and Nick were so sweet. Nick's consideration for the numerous similarities between the boy and himself (when he was James's age), and his attempts to give the child some of the fatherly care he never had, absolutely endeared me to both of the guys.
     Also a treat was the group of ladies that inhabit Minerva House. They provided many laughs with their playful banter. They have little individual face time (they're more of a package deal), but the author balances this with some brief description of each one's path to the safehouse. Their stories are touching...and their collective survival (and...thrival? lol) is one of the more inspirational bits of the book.
     Of course, the meat of the book is the progression of romance between Isabel and Nick. In my eyes, it did not disappoint. The pairing made sense; both individuals are strong-willed, protective, capable types who just happen to have major issues with trust and romantic love. For all the book's mention of "protection" and "rescue," it was all about watching the two help each other heal. And it was beautiful.
     Thank goodness there's a third book in the works. The author clearly knows how to craft compelling characters and situations. I absolutely cannot wait to see what she's got it store. Autobuy, indeed! ^_^

Thoughts On: Reading Challenges

The notion of reading as part of an organized challenge is one that I've been familiar with for only about a year and a half (thank you, GoodReads!). I don't know why it never occurred to me before...that groups of people often come up with themes around which they will base their reading selections. But it's a great idea, in my opinion. For many a-reason. Challenges can bring a sense of excitement, external to the actual reading. They can provide an avenue for healthy competition amongst a group of readers. And most obviously, they can challenge the dedicated participant to read more, broaden usual selection criteria, and reduce latent piles of books to be read (TBR).

Personally, I've found that my personality and typical behavior is such that I tend to be unsuccessful in short-term reading challenges (and by that I'm referring to those that last 2 to 4 weeks in length). I am the type of person that can be quite indecisive. With respect to book selections, I can also be rather fickle. I might buy a book out of extreme excitement, and then immediately put it on a shelf for several months (sorry Lover Mine, sorry Mockingjay). Likewise, I might be in the mood for an urban fantasy title. The next day the mood will strike for historical fiction...but I'm still in the midst of the UF title! (So then it's Too bad, Mr. UF book, but despite enjoying you I'm going to put you down for a bit while I read something else.) ^_^ What this means for challenges is that I can make selections for 5 books, and then in short order have no interest in any of those titles (until much later). And I'm a stickler for sticking to my selections once I make them. Which means that I've failed more than one 30-day challenge. ^_^

So, I've tried to strike a balance in order to enjoy the benefits of challenges and yet ensure a higher likelihood of enjoying what I choose to read. How do I do this? By choosing longer term challenges: I'm currently participating in two year-long challenges--broken down into quarters--that are proving to be quite interesting. I also tend toward themes that permit greater ability to choose books I'm interested in: for example, "animal-based books," instead of "selections based on the color of the cover". And of course, I now try not to have too many challenges going on simultaneously. If I still manage to "fail" a challenge's original timeline, I'll then consider it "open-ended" and finish the books when I get the chance. And lastly, I keep all of my challenges listed in one spot (HERE, as a matter of fact) so that I can compare and better plan my reading order.

Do you enjoy reading challenges? Do you prefer particular themes or time-lengths? Do you have a method for tackling them?

Review: The Proposition

The PropositionThe Proposition by Judith Ivory

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Description: No man, gentleman or otherwise, has ever looked at Lady Edwina Bollash the way the brash, handsome man standing before her is doing now. Edwina has accepted the challenge to transform incorrigible Mick Tremore into a gentleman in just six weeks. And although the linguist is sure she can rise to the task, she isn't at all certain she won't swoon under his frankly sensuous gaze before her job is done.
Mick has lived outside of London society long enough to know that appearances can be deceiving. Edwina might look all buttoned up-the perfect English lady-but there is unleashed passion existing just below her placid facade (not to mention a great pair of legs!). And as she prepares him to take his place in society, Mick prepares Edwina to take her place in his heart...and in his bed.
Pygmalion (film or play). My Fair Lady. She's All That. If you've seen any of these pieces, you'll know the general premise of this book. All are based on the Pygmalion myth of Greek origin in which a sculptor falls in love with his work of art. This book makes a slight alteration by switching the roles of the male and female...that is, the woman is the teacher and the man is the ruffian in "need" of improvement. I found that to be a fun little twist, and it worked out to wonderful effect here in this book that takes place in late-Victorian England (where accepted gender roles make such a dynamic important).

I just devoured this book. The two lead characters were simply delightful, and I found their budding connection to be mesmerizing and charming. Scene after scene with the two of them, first struggling to tolerate each other, then later struggling with their was always engaging. It was sweet and slightly tragic that each felt themselves not good enough for the other. But, I got my HEA so I'm not complaining. ^_^

Edwina's naivete provided some very humorous moments, and were perhaps my favorite bits in the book. In one scene she ruminates on the word widge, a colloquial term for a man's privates:
His word seemed friendlier. A fond name. Were men fond of that part of themselves? It was certainly not the best part of statues; she made a point not to look there. And it changed, it grew. She'd read that astounding piece of information in a book. That was the worst part, the horror—or it had been the worst until this very moment, when it occurred to her that, goodness, a man might have hair there, too. She did. Oh, something that grew larger, up and out of a tangle of hair. How disgusting.
...oh my gosh, I was giggling so hard at that. That she is a linguist and learned woman, a successful professional...who is so squeamish about more intimate topics...well, I found it supremely amusing. And endearing! Edwina was supremely endearing.

It is really too bad that the part I was sort of underwhelmed with was the very end...because I finished the book with so much less enthusiasm than I had throughout most of the book. The word that keeps coming up in my head is discordant...the last 15% of the book felt so much different than what preceded it. The tone, the voices of the characters (primary and secondary), and (most obviously) the plot. It's not that it was bad so much that I didn't feel it fit with the absolute excellence of the rest of the story. But I won't go into further detail so as to avoid spoilers.

Overall, this was an easy and enjoyable read.

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In Anticipation: Hard Bitten

So, the fourth book in Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires series--one of my favorites!--won't be out until May 2011, but she has recently released the book's description:
     Times are hard for newly minted vampire Merit. Ever since shapeshifters announced their presence to the world, humans have been rallying against supernaturals--and they're camping outside of Cadogan House with protest signs that could turn to pitchforks at any moment. Inside its doors, things between Merit and her Master, green-eyed heartbreaker Ethan Sullivan are ... tense. But then the mayor of Chicago calls Merit and Ethan to a clandestine meeting and tells them about a violent vamp attack that has left three women missing. His message is simple: get your House in order. Or else.
     Merit needs to get to the bottom of this crime, but it doesn't help that she can't tell who's on her side. So she secretly calls in a favor from someone who's tall, dark, and part of underground vamp group that may have some deep intel on the attack. Merit soon finds herself in the heady, dark heart of Chicago's supernatural society--a world full of vampires who seem to ready to fulfill the protesting human's worst fears, and a place where she'll learn that you can't be a vampire without getting a little blood on your hands...
Now, I don't know about you, but I'm absolutely digging the vagueness of the synopsis. Too much detail and the anticipatory tickle would be a full out burn. ^_^ I'm also pretty curious about this "talk, dark" underground-connected vamp…could it be Jonah, the Grey House Guard Captain introduced in Twice Bitten? Here's Merit's introduction to him…
This vamp was tall and lean, with longish auburn hair that just reached his shoulders, blue eyes set beneath long brows, and a chiseled chin. He wore a short-sleeved shirt with a collar, the bottom tucked into his jeans. Tattoos ringed each bicep?a flying angel on one arm, a slinking devil on the other. I wondered what he was conflicted about.
Hm. How yummy would that be? I think Ethan needs a bit of competition…and Merit needs some vampire spice, what with as cute, intelligent and baddass as she is!

The cover of this next installment is just beautiful. Nevermind that my favorite color happens to be purple… it's the perfect tone to lay over a cloudy Chicago night. Not too dank, but not silly. It's also nice to see some extremely recognizable vantage of the Windy City. It looks like photo rather than painting…and if so, I wonder from where the was taken? Helicopter? Hancock tower? I dunno, I'm not well versed in Chicago city-layout. But it's fun to wonder!

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