Tuesday, November 26, 2013

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner: Review

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These Broken Stars
by: Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

Tarver is a war hero. A true rags to riches story. When he meets Lilac on the Icarus, going toe to toe with security, her boldness (and beauty) spark his interest. Of course, he doesn't know that she's THAT Lilac. The heiress to the formidable LaRoux empire. And that she's going to make sure that he knows his place. But, when the Icarus has a mechanical malfunction that causes it to careen to the planet, Lilac and Tarver are going to have to stick together to survive.

When I first heard about this book at BEA, it was pitched as a "titanic in space" science fiction novel. I said to myself, "Self, this could either be really good or really bad." But, either way, I was intrigued. Of course, I had hoped that it was more like actual Titanic, and less Rose and Jack.

"These Broken Stars" began with one of the best opening sequences that I've ever read. Lilac and Tarver's first meeting, his humiliation, and the subsequent EPIC SPACE CRASH were spot on. I couldn't put the book down, and the detailed descriptions really had me. Hook, line and sinker.

But for some reason, after that initial spark and flame, it just burned out for me. It felt like there was a lot of walking, a lot of verbal sparring (some really well done, some forced), and just not a lot of action. The development of Lilac and Tarver's relationship was not insta-love but it felt like it. Or rather, I felt like a very creepy observer of their intimate moments. Instead of wanting to root for their relationship, I kind of wanted them to take it off the page.

Things picked up significantly at about the 3/4 mark, but in some ways, it was too late for me. I was supposed to be invested in Lilac and Tarver (Larver? Tarlac? Man, no good ship names there), and I just wasn't.

Will I read the sequel? It's a possibility. I liked it enough to finish, and even enough to say that I enjoyed it. So, put me in the maybe, leaning yes category.

A few little content notes. There isn't much cursing, everyone is starving so no underage drinking (har har), but there is a fair amount of sexual stuff. It's not explicit, but it's frequent innuendoes. So, it may be better suited for a little older teen.



Friday, September 27, 2013

Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson: Review

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Blackmoore
by: Julianne Donaldson

this review was written by my good friend Julie Pullman, the best English teacher on the planet.

Hello! I'd like to thank Emily for allowing me review Julianne Donaldson's newest book, Blackmoore. I'm a high school English teacher and I'm always recommending books to students to keep them reading. But last year, a student passed me Donaldson's first book, Edenbrooke, and I couldn't put it down. Emily must have known, because she sent Blackmoore my way.

First, a confession for you all: I had a serious regency romance phase back in the day (and I still can't turn down a good one). I am definitely predisposed to like this type of book, but this means I also go in with high expectations. I've read enough that the tropes of the genre annoy me pretty easily. Thankfully, Blackmoore avoided the pitfalls of the typical romance and fulfilled *almost all of my reader's desires.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Kate Worthington knows her heart and she knows she will never marry. Her plan is to travel to India instead--if only to find peace for her restless spirit and to escape the family she abhors. But Kate's meddlesome mother has other plans. She makes a bargain with Kate: India, yes, but only after Kate has secured--and rejected-- three marriage proposals.

Kate journeys to the stately manor of Blackmoore determined to fulfill her end of the bargain and enlists the help of her dearest childhood friend, Henry Delafield. But when it comes to matters of love, bargains are meaningless and plans are changeable. There on the wild lands of Blackmoore, Kate must face the truth that has kept her heart captive. Will the proposal she is determined to reject actually be the one thing that will set her heart free?

Review:

Kate is an interesting female lead. She has some strong opinions of her own and a backstory that leads her to make a few decisions that readers might not understand at first. Donaldson weaves the backstory in with the main plot in ever increasing chunks as the story moves its way to the conclusion and it works to build interest and pace as we near the end. While Kate is a different type of personality than I am and makes some choices that could have annoyed me as a reader, Donaldson has done such a solid job of making her a complete and realistic character that I understood Kate's motivations. Her emotions and choices stay true to the type of girl she is and lend credibility to her character. And call it some early pregnancy hormones, but I did find myself tearing up quite a bit at some of the heartache poor * endures throughout the story. (My husband may or may not have come upon me sniffling over a scene in the book, taken one look at me, and promptly retreated…)

We can't discuss a romance without discussing the male lead. Henry. Oh, Henry. Besides being everything that is good and sweet and, let's face it, rather dreamy, Henry is also a very well-developed character. All of his actions lend themselves perfectly to creating exactly the sort of lead I wanted in a book like this. He came off as a realistic, sincere, and genuine young man who was sometimes confused and frustrated by Kate but supported her nonetheless.

The rest of the cast of characters, while minor in their influence in the story, were mostly believable. The mothers were a little overdone and the bargain Kate and her mom made was a bit forced, but some of the other minor characters ended up surprising me in good ways.

One of the things that Julianne Donaldson does so well is to develop the relationships between her characters. Every moment that Kate and Henry were together, every conversation they had, was so satisfying and fulfilling. Their emotions and the way they interacted felt true to course and realistic; they didn't follow a shallow path of a developing relationship that you often find in run-of-the-mill romances.

I do have two complaints with the book, and the first is very minor: once the characters arrive at Blackmoore, the whole story happens in a very short span of time. This means that there are not many dull moments in the pacing, but looking back on the reading, it seems rather quick for so many developments in the characters and plot. Again, this is just a minor issue and doesn't affect a reader's enjoyment of the story much in the moment.

My second complaint is a bit more substantial: the ending. Don't get me wrong, I loved the actual ending itself. It was different than I expected and not a typical 'suddenly everything is good again' ending. What left me feeling a little lacking is HOW the ending came about. The last major scene between Henry and Kate is just too short. Their other scenes were so strong and developed and satisfying, that in comparison, the last scene wasn't as deeply felt as I expected it to be. To be honest, I felt a little cheated. However, the overall impact of the book left me very happy.

Despite those small hiccups, both of Donaldson's books satisfy the romantic in me and I expect they'll do the same for many of you. If you generally like this type of story, pick up a copy and you really won't regret it. If you've not tried anything like this, these would be a good place to start to get a feel for the genre. I'm already passing around my copies to all of the women I know who might possibly like it.


Monday, September 16, 2013

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson: Audio Review

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The Bitter Kingdom
By: Rae Carson
Read by: Jennifer Ikeda and Luis Moreno
Series: The Girl of Fire and Thorns (review), The Crown of Embers

Audio Review: I've listened to the entire series on audio and I specifically waited for the audio of the final book in the series because I love it so much. Jennifer Ikeda does such a great job of channeling Elisa and the other characters. I was pleasantly surprised by Luis Moreno as Hector. I expect that other listeners will agree with me that at first Moreno's voice seems overly clipped and precise. But, it didn't take long before I was enthralled with his narration and really wished there was more of Hector's perspective. If you have some extra audible credits lying around, I'd highly recommend this entire series on audio.

Book Review: I must admit that I didn't immediately take to this series. I enjoyed The Girl of Fire and Thorns and really liked The Crown of Embers. But, I LOVED The Bitter Kingdom. The final installment in the trilogy begins almost immediately after the end of The Crown of Embers. One of the reasons this series is a success is the fantastic growth of Elisa. She is introspective, clever, and relatable. In many ways, she reminds me of Miri (Palace of Stone) with her fierce negotiating and diplomatic skills. These two are leading a crop of YA heroines that are fighters, but recognize that violence is only necessary as a last resort.

Besides Elisa, there are a couple other characters that really stand out: Hector and Storm. Hector's point of view is sprinkled in here and there as Elisa and her friends come to rescue him. It really is a sweet addition that made their growth as a couple all the more satisfying. And their romance is satisfying, trust me. I don't know that I've been so invested in a couple since Han and Raisa (The Crimson Crown).

Storm is another example of a well-developed secondary character. I feel like I could go on and on about the layers of dimension that he added to the story. He's a study in loyalty, truth, and emotion. All because you just aren't quite sure what his intentions are. At least I wasn't.

Overall, The Bitter Kingdom is a near-perfect conclusion to the series. This is one that I'll definitely be re-reading in the future. It's probably best suited for slightly older teens (14+) for some sexual content. There isn't anything explicit, but a lot of innuendo and some pretty steamy stuff near the end. There isn't any questionable language, but a moderate amount of violence.




Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Penumbras Blog Tour: Review + Giveaway

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Penumbras (Middle School Magic #2)
By: Braden Bell
Review by: Kylie Comfoltey


Emily's Reading Room is happy to be a stop on the Penumbras Blog Tour! See our five star review + enter a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Braden Bell!

Children and adults will fall in love with this magical world of light vs dark! In this second installment of the Middle School Magic series, Conner, Lexa and Melanie continue their magi training and all around unintentional trouble-making in the whirlwind adventure that is Penumbras. This book is a page turner, packed with fast-paced action, wild antics, laugh-out-loud humor and a good bit of mystery.

While I love many of the characters in this series, I grew an especially soft place in my heart for Dr. Timberi in Penumbras. Every child deserves a loving role model, and Dr. Timberi is top notch. He is knowledgeable and strict as well as forgiving and human. There's no wonder he receives so many hugs throughout the book. He is a large piece to this story and an exemplar mentor.

Also a favorite for me, geeky friend Pilaf gains a larger role in Penumbras and the reader will adore him. I believe in a good laugh, and Pilaf is the perfect goof for the Middle School Magic series. He brings just the right amount of silliness in a very natural, believable way without distracting from the always progressing plot. Pilaf adds a certain atmosphere that melds so seamlessly, you'll forget he wasn't always a there tagging along.

Braden Bell has a special way with metaphors, and the images they built in my head made me laugh out loud more than once. Perfect depictions; wonderfully creative and fresh. His writing is energetic and very true to tween life and personality, with all the angst, humor and middle school feelings.

If you're looking for a fun summer read, jump into Penumbras. Middle school children especially will inhale this exciting adventure.

     

Sexuality: None.

Drugs/Alcohol: None.
Profanity: None.
Violence: Very mild and non-descriptive. It is good vs evil, after all!


Enter below to win a $50 Amazon Gift card from Braden Bell himself!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Friday, June 28, 2013

Going Public...In Shorts: JIAM Hop

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I am so excited to bring you Going Public...In Shorts for Audiobook Month. Audiobooks are one of my favorite ways to squeeze in some extra reading, and I have a particular affinity for narrators. Which is why I was just tickled when Xe Sands asked me to be a a part of this boldly ambitious project.

Details of the project:

June is Audiobook month (JIAM 2013). The audiobook community is giving back by teaming with the Going Public Project by offering a serialized audio story collection. All proceeds will go to Reach Out and Read literacy advocacy organization. Throughout June, 1-2 stories will be released each day on the Going Public blog and on author/book blogs. The story will be free (online only – no downloads) for one week. In collaboration with Blackstone Audio, all the stories will be available for download via Downpour. The full compilation will be ready June 30th.

The full schedule of the story release dates and narrators are at Going Public. Engineering and Mastering are provided by Jeffrey Kafer and SpringBrook Audio. Graphic design provided by f power design and published by Blackstone Audio. Project coordination and executive production by Xe Sands.

NARRATOR INTERVIEW

Today I have Kyle Munley, who has graciously done an interview on the ins and outs of audiobook production.

About Kyle: 

Kyle Munley

Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce

Kyle Munley is an audiobook narrator and voiceover artist currently recording and residing in the
foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in Greenville, SC.

What do you do to prepare before narrating an audiobook. Do you read the book? Speak with the author?

No matter if it's a work of fiction or nonfiction, I always read the book before I begin to narrate. I'm not sure I could be effective otherwise. As a storyteller I have responsibilities to both the author(s) and the audience when I sit down to narrate. To the author, among other things, I have to ensure that I do my very best to bring their story to the audience as they intended it to be presented and to do that, I have to know how the story ends and map the roads and avenues that it took to get to that ending. To sum up one of my past audiobook coaches: In a whodunit, you need to know who done it. The audience should be surprised by the revelation at the end, the narrator should not. And that's true, you have to know where the twists and turns and hints and deadens are in advance (or, at least, I do) so that you don't accidentally mislead the audience (and yourself) by misplaying the text.

Also, pre-reading gives you an opportunity to assess the character traits of all the characters, like their backgrounds, accents, and vocal characteristics. You'd be surprised how often a character appears on page 5, but the quality of their voice isn't described until page 205. And I think it's written in Murphy's Law somewhere that that character to whom you've bestowed a deep, rich timbre on page 5 will be revealed to have a thin, reedy, high-pitched lilt on page 205.

And finally, pre-reading gives you the benefit of researching pronunciations of all manner of things, from foreign languages to place names to regional pronunciations and colloquialisms.

I haven't yet had the opportunity to work directly with an author of one of my titles, but I'd welcome the chance to collaborate.

Audio is theater without the visual. What techniques do you use to engage the listener and ensure you keep their attention?

I've been an audiobook listener for nearly my entire life—I grew up listening to children's stories on vinyl and I had to sit very still when I listened so that the needle wouldn't jump—and I know what I like as a listener, so I try to bring some of that in to the books that I narrate. I want to be emotionally invested in the scene, so if it feels right to use a softer voice, then I'll narrate softer, if a character is surprised, then I'll add just a touch more energy to the narration to reflect what they're feeling internally. But I have to be careful not to overdo it. And I'm here to tell you, I have on occasion, in the confines of my booth and away from the outside world, overdone it and have then had to go back and re-take the scene with "a little less mustard," so to speak. I just don't want to be disconnected.

Also, I want my characters (oops, I mean, the author's characters. See, I'm internalizing them already!) to sound like real people when they speak. That doesn't mean individual character voices for them all (my tendency is to individualize the main and semi-main characters), but, like the above, I want the right amount of emotion to be present when they speak.

In fact, most of my time prepping a book is spent in trying to get the characters set. I'm terrified of screwing up the characters: their accents, inflections, motivations…everything! I honestly believe that, at least for books with enough dialogue, the characters are the key to the whole performance. Get the characters right, and you stand a good chance at keeping your audience along for the ride; but get them wrong and you're likely to pull the audience out of the story…and that's the kiss of death.

How long does an audiobook narration take? (Average being 7-9 hour narration) How often do you have to take breaks?

Generally speaking, I average about two hours for every hour of finished audio. But it can vary greatly depending on the book that I'm doing. For instance, I narrated a book concerning the beach landings on and around D-Day during World War II and, despite all the research that was done on that title prior to my recording it, it was a slow book to record because I often had to slow down or stop to double-check place names and pronunciations. It took a little longer, but the end result was, I hope, better for it. However, some of the pulp novels that I've been able to narrate—and which are a lot of fun, by the way—probably shave my time down to 1.5 hours for every finished hour of audio.

As to breaks, I do take one for lunch and I try to stop for quick 5-minute water-and-stretching breaks here and there (and as my mouth and throat require it) a few times throughout the day as well. But I really prefer to stay seated and recording for as long as possible. I always end up getting so wrapped up in the story I'm telling, that I lose track of time.

When you're creating character voices, is it a conscious effort or do you just vocalize what they sound like in your head?

It's a conscious effort for me. I often fill out character worksheets on main characters (for fiction, any way) to get a sense of who they are. I think it's the activity of writing stuff down that slows my brain a bit and focuses me at the beginning of the process. Then I can blend those "hard facts" about them with the emotional truths I find during my first read-through of the book and marry the two together to (hopefully) bring that character to life.

Does any of that work? That's ultimately up to the reader to decide, but I always hope that I'm doing good by those characters (and by proxy, the listener. It's always for you, dear listener.).


Check out Kyle's wonderful narration of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce below or at the Going Public blog!



Also, don't forget to visit The Oddiophile's blog today for Xe Sands' narration of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman.

Yesterday, Amy Rubinate was at Miss Susie’s Reading & Observations and tomorrow, John McLain will be at Narrator Reviews.