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Book Review: Alien Tango by Gini Koch (Series, #2)

December 27, 2010 7 comments

Man carrying a woman holding a gun over alligators.Summary:
Kitty Katt only learned about the existence of aliens on Earth five short months ago.  Incredibly hot aliens who wear Armani as a uniform and can run at hyperspeed.  Now she’s the head of a special American government division working with the A-Cs to keep Earth safe from the extra-terrestrial threat of superbugs.  Plus she has a hot A-C boyfriend, Jeff, who gives her the best sex of her life.  Their new routine gets interrupted though when the team gets sent to Florida on a routine mission that quickly turns abnormal.  Can the team figure out the threat at Kennedy Space Center?  Just as important, will Jeff’s family accept that he’s dating a human?

Review:
I actually received a Kindle copy of this book for free as part of its promotion, so I was unaware that it’s the second book in a series until I was a couple of chapters in.  Thankfully, the paranormal romance genre tends to take a few moments to remind the reader of what’s going on in the plot, so I wasn’t lost for too long.

Kitty Katt is the ideal paranormal romance heroine.  She’s simultaneously strong and girly.  She can kick major ass but also just wants to be held when the action is all over.  Best of all, her wit and snark line up exactly with mine.  I found her hilarious and would love to be her best friend.  Or be her.  In any case, she is 100% not annoying, which is not easy to pull off in the paranormal romance world.  I want to visit Kitty again and again, which is kind of the point of paranormal romance series, yes?  I kind of think of them as modern day serial stories.

I also really enjoy the alien angle.  I fully admit I rolled my eyes at the fact that the aliens only wear Armani, but in that “this world is ridiculous but I love it” way, not in the annoyed way.  The aliens tend to either be imageers or empaths.  I’m a bit unclear as to what the imageers can do.  I think that’s because I missed the first book.  Kitty’s boyfriend, however, is an empath, which means he almost always knows what emotion she’s feeling.  Talk about your dream guy.  It’s a fun new angle as opposed to the over-done vampires and shapeshifters.

The plot is full of action and sex.  It’s fast-paced with always one or the other going on.  The sex scenes are believable, in spite of the alien factor, and very modern.  Kitty is a gal who understands how things work in the bedroom but is also able to shoot a gun and outwit terrorists.  The combination of well-written modern day sex scenes and exciting action sequences make for an intensely enjoyable read.

Overall, Alien Tango is the ideal paranormal romance.  It puts something new into the mix–aliens–and features a heroine who is strong, modern, yet still retains some of her femininity.  I highly recommend this series to all who enjoy a good paranormal romance and also to lovers of scifi who won’t mind some hot sex scenes tossed in.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Touched by an Alien

My Tentative Journey With eBooks

August 26, 2010 8 comments

A while back, I told you guys that I’m continuing my tentative steps into eBooks, but it hadn’t been very successful yet.  I admit this is partly because I’m a broke-ass graduate student, and so I don’t exactly have the cash to shell out for what I see as an extravagance.  Why get an eReader when I can get used books for under $5 a pop?  (For why I don’t have time to use the local library, see this post).  I’ve tried downloading eBooks that are available as pdf’s onto my computer, but I always made it only about as far through as a blog’s archives before losing focus.  Or I’d have to leave it and come back the next day and be incapable of finding where I left off.  I just can’t read a book on a computer.  Nuh-uh.  A computer is for article-length pieces.  I just can’t get past the part where I’m looking at a computer to get lost in the story.

When I got my iTouch, I decided to venture in yet again.  But I repeat that I’m a cheapskate, so I downloaded a couple of the various apps available for 99 cents that provide huge selections of out of copyright classics to read.  Although I was able to focus on the screen, it reminded me a lot of my speed-reading classes in middle school, because the screen automatically fades at a certain point (I’m not sure how long), so I’d either have to keep tapping the screen to keep it from doing that or read insanely fast.  The speed might not have been an issue if I wasn’t attempting to read classics, but I always read classics kind of slowly.  I get wrapped up in the language and the world-building.  Classics are about slow reading versus the fast reading of genre fiction for me.  I got about 3 chapters into two different classics before giving up and stopping.

Well then people started talking about the iBook app, and since I love everything Mac, I decided to download it, but upon trying I found out that my iTouch is too old to support it, at which point I started browsing the eReader section of the app store and saw the Kindle app.  For some reason, it had previously escaped my attention that the Kindle even had an app for Mac products.  I vaguely remembered some book blogs mentioning that you can get some books for free in the Kindle store, and the app was free, and….do I really need to repeat what a cheapskate I am?  Lol.

So I figured where am I most likely to read on my iTouch?  That’s easy.  On the bus when I can’t sit, need to hold on with one hand, and getting a book out of my bag is difficult.  What would I like to read on the bus but am embarrassed to?  Romance novels.  So I found a free romance novel and downloaded it.  The nice thing about the Kindle app, the main thing that made me start to relax into reading with it, is that the backlighting never fades.  I’m not so caught up in beating the fading light that I’m incapable of getting lost in the story.  So that was going fairly well, although I was still choosing to read my print book over the eBook whenever it was possible.

Then a certain book was released.  A book in a trilogy that is honestly a guilty pleasure for me.  (I’ll leave the reasonings for that for when I review the book next week).  I had decided I wasn’t going to buy the book; I’d just read spoilers and be happy with that.  But then the day of the release, I was getting frustrated at the complete lack of spoilers on the internet and while watching tv browsed to the Amazon store on my iTouch, and before I knew it, I’d bought the book.  I didn’t feel bad about the price, because it was less than the price of a movie ticket, and I view guilty pleasure reads a lot like going to the movies.  It’s brief entertainment, and I don’t need to hold onto it.  Let it entertain me for a bit, and in most cases, I won’t ever come back to it (my dvd collection is very, very small).

I was still skeptical about my desire to read on the small electronic screen of my iTouch, but I figured worst case scenario I’d skim for the spoilers and read it in print when the hoopla settles down.  I started reading it when standing on the bus in the morning, got a seat, and found myself wanting to keep reading on my iTouch over my print book.  And then on lunch break I decided I’d rather see what happened in that story than in the one I’m reading in print and discovered how much easier it is to eat and read when you can just set the book down and the pages don’t close on you.  Whoa.  Then I found myself sitting on my couch reading the iTouch.  Then last night in bed I suddenly realized I could turn out all the lights and still see to read because my book was lighting itself up. Whoa.

You guys….I have to admit….I like it.  Now that’s not to say I don’t have my issues with it.  For instance, nice as it is to read in the dark, sunny locations fade the screen so much that it’s sometimes nearly impossible to read.  I also don’t like the thought of the battery maybe running out.  (I may have obsessively recharged my iTouch yesterday.  *looks askance*)  I also don’t like how very small the iTouch screen is.  I also would never ever want an electronic device just for reading.  Part of the convenience on transit is having my music, videogames, and book all in one item.  Having something like a Kindle or a Nook seems rather pointless to me.  It’s one more device to carry.  So what has a larger screen but does all that?  The iPad.  I think the iPad still has issues.  Like I personally think it’s too big and too thick, (that’s what she said) but I think the next generation is going to solve those problems.  So…yeah, I see myself doing some electronic reading in the future.  But never on a device meant just for reading.  I also only see the value in it for guilty pleasure reads.  It works for me because of the way I read guilty pleasures.  I read quickly, sometimes skimming, because the story is all about the excitement or the hilarity.  It’s not about the deep thought.  I can’t see me reading a book that changes my life on an electronic device.  That just rings false to me.  But reading a story that’s about consuming it once kind of like buying movie popcorn for the pure pleasure of chowing down the greasy, salty deliciousness?  That makes sense to me.  So that’s the role I see eBooks taking in my life.  The reading equivalent of movie popcorn, and who doesn’t like movie popcorn every once in a while?

Friday Fun! (Gardening, Kindle App, Swiffer)

July 23, 2010 5 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Thanks to my friend Nina, my tomato plant now actually has a cage instead of being held up by a contraption made up of random bits of my blinds, yarn, and my refrigerator.  It is surviving…barely.  It’s this tall gangly thing.  On the other hand, my peppers keep getting bushier but not blossoming.  Get on that, peppers!  The basil is behaving quite well.  I highly recommend it to anyone who forgets to water plants until they get wrinkly and then desperately drowns them with so much water that the dirt floats.  That might just be me.  In any case, the basil is thriving in spite of my abuse.

Oh in bookish news, I got the Kindle app for my iTouch, partly because it’s free, but also because I was wondering if I’d actually successfully finish an eBook if it wasn’t a classic.  So far all the ones I’ve tried have been classics because that’s what’s free.  Anyway, I heard that you can get some romance novels for free from Amazon via the Kindle app, and lo and behold you can!  So expect a review of reading on the Kindle app, and possibly the book, if I actually finish it.  I have yet to successfully finish an eBook, and I only plan on reading this when I’m standing up on the bus with one free hand or in line for something.  So we shall see what we see.

Also, pet owners, for the love of sanity get a Swiffer.  After battling the epicness of my own long hair combined with my kitty shedding non-stop this summer, I finally caved and bought one.  You know what?  It’s amazing!  It actually caught all the hair without sending any of it flying toward my nose.  My floors have not looked this clean in ages.  Plus, it took about a third of the time of regular sweeping.  I’m totally sold.  Although, I’ll probably still do old-fashioned mopping periodically.

Happy weekends all!

Book Review: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

A woman dressed in white posing for a portrait.Summary:
Originally serialized in 1859 to 1860 then published in book form in 1860 this epistolary novel is considered one of the first mystery novels. Walter Hartright is an artist who gets hired to be a drawing master for two half-sisters Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe. He and Laura soon fall in love, but they cannot be together due to class differences and Laura’s prior promise to her now deceased father to marry Lord Percival Glyde. A mysterious woman dressed all in white warns Laura against her marriage, calling Lord Glyde evil. However, Laura is reluctant to renege on her final promise to her father and proceeds with her marriage, sending herself, Marian, and Walter into a spiral of intrigue and danger.

Review:
I love slow-moving, epistolary novels, particularly gothic ones read on a long, hot summer day.  One of my finest reading memories is of enjoying Dracula while working on a summer internship at a national park on a peninsula with four beaches.  So I came to this gothic, mysterious, epistolary novel with high expectations.  At first they were met, but as the plot proceeded I came more and more to want to smack Collins upside the head.

Without giving away too much, suffice it to say that the slowly building tension indicates a truly serious infraction on Lord Percival Glyde’s part that turns out to be not particularly shocking at all.  At least to my American mind.  Suffice it to say, it revolves around title holding, something which I find baffling and laughable.  Why should anyone care if Laura is Mrs. Glyde or Lady Glyde?  Her life seems more boring than the servants’ anyway.  I thought I would be reading a novel that was more about revealing the treachery and debauchery of the upper class.  Instead I got a book about bourgeois problems, which, I’ve indicated elsewhere on this blog, I simply cannot relate to and find completely annoying.  I get it that some people enjoy that, but the desire to maintain a tense, mysterious illusion around the book led me to believe it’s something it wasn’t.  That is frustrating, to say the least.

Beyond the disappointing mystery there’s of course the typical problems found in early 1800s literature.  The sexism comes from Marian’s own mouth, which is surprising given that she is a depicted as a strong woman.  She often will lament the short-comings of “her sex.”  Actually, the entire situation between Walter, Marian, and Laura is baffling.  Laura is a weak, foolish girl who Walter falls and stays head over heels in love with.  I cannot fathom why that would be when he spends an equal amount of time with Marian, who is a strong, thoughtful, intelligent woman.  Laura is described as beautiful, whereas Marian is described as possessing a beautiful body but an unfortunately masculine face.  This leads me to believe Walter is rather shallow, as I see no reason beyond Laura’s beauty for his devotion to her.  I know sexism is to be expected in older novels, but I would at least hope for a hero who loves the heroine for something beyond her beauty.

That said, the novel certainly gives modern women a new appreciation for our current situation.  The women in The Woman in White are constantly downtrodden by the men around them who believe it is entirely within their right to dictate to them everything about how they should behave, speak, dress, etc…  It appears that the only thing the women have control over is when to leave the men to their wine after dinner.  In fact the couple presented as the happiest and most well-functioning is that of Count Fosco and his wife, and they only function well due to the fact that she obeys his every command.  Mrs. Fosco is described as a woman who prior to meeting the Count was loud, obnoxious, and always yammering on about women’s rights.  Count Fosco, apparently, “fixed all that,” and she is now such a pleasant woman to deal with.  The only woman who does not base her entire existence around a man is Marian, and that is due to her bizarre, near worshipful devotion to Laura.  It makes me shudder to think if those had been my options as a woman–existing purely for the whims of a man, downtrodden and outcast, or pure devotion to a sister.  Yeesh.

I did enjoy listening to the book.  It felt a bit like listening to an old-time radio program, which I’m sure is due to its origin as a serial novel.  Those who enjoy the slower pace of older novels and can relate to the bourgeoisie will probably enjoy it.  If either of those elements turns you off, however, you should look elsewhere.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Librivox recording via the Audiobooks app for the iTouch and iPhone

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Book Review: Love Among the Chickens by P. G. Wodehouse

Old book cover with man chasing chickens.Summary:
Jeremy Garnet, a novelist, is living a relatively quiet bachelor life in London when his old school friend Stanley Ukridge shows up.  Ukridge is starting a chicken farm with his wife, Millie, and wants “Garnie old boy” to come stay with them.  He’ll get to write in the country in exchange for a few hours of work a day.  In spite of the fact that Ukridge is planning to run the chicken farm without any prior knowledge or studying “the better for innovation, my boy,” Garnie takes him up on it.  Of course, life with the eccentric Ukridge surrounded by chickens isn’t quite the quiet writing environment Garnie was planning on.  Not to mention the Irish professor neighbor’s lovely daughter that Garnie can’t quite get out of his head.

Review:
There’s no doubt about it.  Wodehouse is pleasantly droll.  It was, however, necessary for me to remind myself a few times of the time period this was written in as certain portions had the feminist in me going “Whaaaat?!”

Ukridge and Millie are a delightful couple.  He’s got zany ideas; she’s endlessly supportive.  He clearly is madly in love with her and vice versa.  They’re exactly the sort of people I would want as neighbors, because you’d never get bored with them around.  Ukridge doesn’t mean to do wrong by anybody.  He just doesn’t get how society thinks it should function.  He does everything his own way, and Millie is along for the ride.

Wodehouse also manages to actually create personalities in the animals that are around from Bob the dog to Edwin the cat to Aunt Elizabeth the evil chicken (named after the aunt that didn’t want Millie to marry Ukridge).  The animals are a part of everything that is going on.  The characters actually talk to them, interact with them, and the animals respond.  It’s something that happens in my own life, but that I don’t usually see in books, so I was delighted to see it here.

On the other hand, chickens are only half of the title, and I must say, I was not fond of the love half.  Garnie’s relationship with Phyllis just hit all the wrong notes for me.  First, Garnie claims to have fallen in love with her at first sight upon seeing her on the train, yet at that portion of the book all he talks about is how lovely her eyes are.  Sounds more like lust to me.  Then there’s the fact that Phyllis’s personality stinks.  She’s dull, boring, and frankly rude.  She’s square under her egotistical father’s thumb too.  I don’t see what Garnie sees in her.  Then of course there’s the fact that Garnie pretty much stalks her for a portion of the book.  He goes to her father’s farm every night after dusk, sits in the bushes, and listens to her sing.  That’s creepy, but when he tells her later, she laughs and is delighted.  People!  Stalking is not romantic.   Gah!

I wish Wodehouse had simply written about Ukridge and Millie, as they are clearly the couple that is actually interesting.  In spite of the fact that he didn’t do that though, I really liked this book.  People who appreciate a book for the scenes in it and not the overarching plot will like it as well.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Librivox recording by Mark Nelson via the Audible app for the iTouch and iPhone

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Book Review: The Thing from the Lake By Eleanor M. Ingram

March 25, 2010 3 comments

Brown paper cover with read lettering.Summary:
In the 1920s Roger Locke is a composer living in New York City.  He buys a house by a lake in Connecticut as a country retreat and appoints his cousin, Phyllida, and her husband, Ethan Veer, as caretakers of the property.  His first night on the property, he meets a woman–whether spirit or alive, he can’t tell–and is promptly intrigued by her.  His visits quickly turn sinister, though, as a dark force based in the lake comes at night to threaten Roger away from the woman.  What is the thing in the lake?  Who is this woman?  Can Roger defeat the dark force thereby returning himself and his cousins to their idyllic lifestyle?

Review:
I had a feeling I was going to like The Thing from the Lake when I discovered that every chapter started with a relevant quote pulled from the classics of the western canon, and I was right.  Ingram weaves a complex tale, filled with surprising twists and turns.  Just when you think you know what the overarching point is, or where the story is going to go next, you find out that you were wrong.

Ingram artfully goes back and forth between the daytime where the story is more period piece and the nighttime, which is all horror.  It is a very New England tale, featuring small farmers, big city dreams, references to the Puritans, and quirky, drawling neighbors.  While Phyllida and Ethan are believable and infinitely likeable, Roger’s immediate infatuation with the woman is a bit suspect.  It seems shallow how infatuated with her hair and her scent he is, but I think he later proves himself.  Sometimes people just know when they meet, so I’m willing to give Roger the benefit of the doubt.

Ingram leaves it up to the reader whether to believe the scientific or the supernatural explanation for the goings on at the lake.  It reminded me of my class on the Salem Witch Trials a bit, and I’d be willing to bet that Ingram was at least partially inspired by them.  It’s not easy to make both answers to a mystery equally plausible, but she pulls it off wonderfully.

The only thing holding me back from completely raving about the book is that there are parts that smack of historic misogyny.  I’m not blaming Ingram.  For her time period, many of her thoughts were quite progressive, and I’m sure Roger is an accurate representation of many men of that time period.  However, when he speaks about how his “plain cousin” Phyllida is so much more comely when she’s doing “womanly” household chores, it makes me cringe, and not in the good horror way.  Thankfully, these instances are not that frequent, so they’re easy enough to glide over.

The Thing from the Lake is a surprisingly thought-provoking book.  I highly recommend it to everyone, but particularly to those who enjoy New England literature or light horror.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Librivox recording by Roger Melin via the Audiobooks app for the iTouch

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Friday Fun! (Me vs. Turnip Greens)

January 22, 2010 8 comments

Upon the realization that my budget went flying out the window in the last six months of 2009, I decided it was high time to get frugal again.  This of course was spurred on when I got my annual free credit report and saw my student debt all summarized in one place.  Anyway, to this budgeting end, I got two apps for my iTouch–Budget and SpendLite.  I used Budget to outline my monthly budget.  This left me with a set amount for food/necessities and one for fun.  I added those two numbers together, divided by four, and there you have my weekly fun/food/necessities allowance which I plugged into SpendLite.  I can add new expenses right on it as I go without having to save receipts and it automatically subtracts it for me.  A world where I have to do less math is a world I like.

Anyway, so to this end, I realized I need to go back to the creative cooking that I established in my super-poor student days.  I’m also attempting to eat more seasonally, as you guys know, because it’s cheaper and it exposes me to new foods.  This week when I was grocery shopping, I came armed with a list of seasonal veggies–sweet potatoes, turnips, butternut squash, and kale.  I quickly found the sweet potatoes and decided against butternut squash since I still had a backpile of frozen butternut squash ravivolis made last week.  The turnips were disturbingly pre-cut and individually shrink-wrapped. WTF?!  They looked like little deformed heads in shrinkwrap.  Kinda like the heads in Futurama only without all that fun water to bounce around in.

Defeated in the turnip arena, I decided to brave the leafy green land of kale.  One of my best friends loves kale and insists it’s easy enough to stir-fry up, so I approached the leafy green portion of the produce aisle that I usually give the evil eye to as I walk by.  The problem with my grocery store is that it sticks labels of what the leafy greens are on the top in a manner that seems to have zero bearing on the leafy greens down below.  You’d think that the lables would be in the same order as the leafy greens, but apparently not.  After much searching, I decided that I’d probably found the kale.  It was leafy.  It was green.  It looked fresh.  It had a produce number on it, which the signs unfortunately didn’t have, but this meant I could type in the produce number at the self-checkout and be sure.

Upon arrival at the self-checkout, I typed in the produce number, and it informs me that I just bought around $1.50 worth of turnip greens.

Turnip greens?! What the fuck is a turnip green?!

However, the practical and very cheap portion of my mind reminded me that turnips are in season so probably the greens are too, and did I notice that this was only costing me $1.50?  So I bought it.  Plus removing things you’ve already keyed in at self-checkout is just annoying.

Using my mad librarian skizzillz, I discovered that most greens are cooked pretty similarly and that on the bitterness scale (what kind of veggie *needs* a bitterness scale?!) it is more bitter than spinach.  Erm, ok.  The next night, I had already determined to make pizza for dinner.  The only veggies I had to put on it were sweet potatoes, black beans, turnip greens, and red potatoes.  I learned from Vegan with a Vengeance that you can put potato on pizza if you thinly slice it and place give it enough oil to soak up to keep from being crunchy.  I’d done that before, and it was amazing.  Sweet potato, black beans, and cheese does not a filling pizza make, imho, so I pulled up info on cooking turnip greens on the interweb.  Apparently you can make greens less bitter by quickly boiling them for a few minutes prior to cooking them in whatever you want to cook them in.  Using copious amounts of garlic was also recommended.  The number one recommendation though was to add pork grease.  Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen, and I couldn’t help but wonder how bad these greens taste if you have to soak them in what essentially equals bacon grease.  But I soldiered on.

I took the huge leaves, ripped two in half, and put them to boiling.  Guys, turnip greens do not have a pleasant aroma when cooking.  It was like smelling armpits.  I drained them, stuck them on a cutting board, and soaked them with lemon juice.  I read somewhere that putting lemon juice on spinach draws out the iron, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt the turnip greens.  I then stood staring at them trying to determine the best method for the pizza.

Since the sweet potato slices have to be on the bottom of the white pizza to soak up the oil, I decided to do the herbs, garlic, and oil, then sweet potato, then ripped up bits of turnip greens topped with more garlic, followed by black beans and three kinds of cheese.  One thing the interwebs didn’t tell me is that turnip greens are kinda stringy.  I tossed the stems that extend up into the leaves ad infinitum and placed the pieces on the pizza.  I crossed my fingers after assembling and stuck the whole thing in the oven.

Surprise, surprise, the pizza was a success!  It was yummy and garlicky and the greens cooked to perfection sandwiched between sweet potatoes and garlic.  I’m still not sure how I feel about a veggie that smells like armpits when you cook it and that needs to be soaked in other things, like garlic, to taste good.  In any case, I still have about 10 leaves to use up somehow over the next week.

Happy weekend guys!