Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Review: Dark Embers

Title: Dark Embers
Author: Tessa Adams
ISBN: 978-0451230584
Reading Level: Adult
Genre: Romance/Paranormal Romance/Erotica
Theme: Dragon shifters
Binding: softcover
Length: 320 pgs
Published: 6 July 2010
My Rating:

Synopsis: Prince Dylan MacLeod is one of the last pure-blood dragon shape- shifters-and ruler of a dying race, the Dragonstar clan. It falls to him to protect his people and their ancient magic. But he has one important duty: to provide an heir...

Like all dragons, Dylan, who has a dark, rampant sexual appetite, can only procreate with his destined mate-for whom he's searched for the last five hundred years. But his quest is delayed when a disease sweeps through the Dragonstars, and Dylan must venture to the human world to find a cure. He tracks down bio-chemist Phoebe Quillum, never imagining the beautiful scientist would be the mate he's been seeking. But even with the fate of the clan on their shoulders, Phoebe and Dylan are overcome by their sexual desire.

Their passion turns to something truer, but when Phoebe is kidnapped by Dylan's oldest enemy, he must risk everything for his love and his clan...

**The following review may contain SPOILERS**

My Review: I figured it was about time to go back to my first love-- the romance genre-- and write a review about the latest one I just finished reading. Dark Embers is the start of a new steamy series about dragon shifters. I have read my fair share of shape shifting romance novels, everything from wolves, lions, bears, eagles, hawks-- you name it. In more recent years, I've noticed a trend of dragon shifter books but for some reason none of them really caught my attention. Until Dark Embers that is.

Let's face it, when you are on B& or at a bookstore going up and down the isles, the first thing that catches your eye is the cover artwork of a book. It doesn't matter what section you are in, it is just a known fact that, unless you already had an author picked out ahead of time, your first going to go to the book that is aesthetically pleasing to look at. It doesn't mean you are going to buy it, but the cover will draw you like a moth to a flame. That is exactly what happened to me with Dark Embers. Come on! Look at the hunk on the front cover! Okay, okay, while I reign in my raging hormones, it's more than just the hunk with 6 pack abs that drew my eye. I like the attention to detail everything from his belt buckle (Oh come on! I am not that perverted! I wasn't looking at anything below the belt! >=)~) to the color scheme, to the little desert town in the background. It gives you a lot of info in that one piece of artwork and it definitely makes me wonder what the cover of book 2 will look like!

Okay so here are the things I like about Dark Embers. This may piss off the feminists out there but Dylan, king of the Dragonstar shapeshifter clan and our hero is most definitely an alpha male. I'm not going to lie, I love my romance heroes to be dark and dominant. I know this view may set back the female rights movement back 200 years but hey, I know I am not the only woman who likes their heroes to be alphas. Moving on to Dylan's character, Tessa Adams does a great job developing his story, everything from his insecurities as a leader of his clan to his more personal angst, such as not having found his mate. Besides really good character development, Adams does well on creating this dragonshifter mythology and the mysterious way they live and have survived for ages in the human world. For example, these shifters:

a) They live in hidden caves in the desert (dragons like it hot!)
b) They love gems and precious stones
c) These gems/precious stones have meaning and can be used for different purposes
d) In human form their bodies run hotter than normal humans (makes sense since dragons like the heat)

I know there has to be more which will hopefully be explored in future books of the series.

Now here is what kept me from giving it a perfect 5 star rating and these are truly minor things that may be explained in the future. Okay so we know these dragonshifters live in the desert in hidden caves. Cool. But one thing that sorta bothered me was the flying in the air. Adams describes their dragon form as being pretty damn big. If they are flying around, are you telling me that no one is going to notice a huge dragon? How about airplanes or other aircrafts? I know that some of these dragonshifters can use "glamour" to hide their identity but I am not sure if I read somewhere that they can make themselves completely invisible in the air.

The other thing that bothered me-- and I know this is soooo trivial-- but in the synopsis of the book and throughout the beginning it is mentioned that Dylan not only yearns to find his mate to fill the other half of his soul, but only a true dragon mate will allow him to procreate. Another words, he can't knock up anyone other than his true mate. So I was thinking, cool, Dylan is going to find his woman and he is going to get her pregnant which will give hope to his people since they have lost so many loved ones to this terrible disease. Nope. Doesn't happen. At least not yet. Hopefully in book 2 Adams will develop that a little.

Hot alpha male? Check
Hot sex scenes? Check
Originality? Check

Dark Embers is definitely worth checking out if you are looking for something a little different in the dragon shifter category. Can't wait to read more from Tessa Adams!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Recommendation: To Save A Life

I have been waiting about 6 months for To Save A Life (2009) to finally come out on dvd. It was finally released this week (Aug. 3rd) and I just got around to watching it last night. The movie is about Jake Taylor, a popular senior high school student that seems to have the perfect life--hot girlfriend, full-ride scholarship to The University of Louisville, (due to being an all star athlete) big house, jock friends, etc. But one day at school, his childhood best friend, Roger, whom he has ignored for years because he is not "cool" enough, open fires and kills himself in front of Jake and other students. Plagued with guilt for not being a better friend or seeing the signs, Jake goes on a spiritual journey and begins to reevaluate his life. More importantly, he tries to find the answer to this one question: what does it take to save a life?

Some of you may or may not know this but I am in the teaching field so I deal with kids (ranging from 12-20 year olds) on a daily basis. I found out about this movie back when school was still in session and couldn't wait until I got my hands on it because I was hoping this would be a good movie to show to teenagers. Teen suicide is such a sensitive topic especially in today's society when we hear about tragedies like Columbine or severe bullying that leads to kids feeling alienated and desperate to be heard (such as teenager Phoebe Prince's sad story).

To Save A Life is a movie that not only covers teen suicide but topics like bullying, peer pressure, teen drinking, cutting (as in teens that cut themselves), the effects on teens in single parent homes, the effects on teens whose parents are going through a divorce, pregnancy, Christianity, spiritualism, and I will even go as far as to include interracial relationships. For a 120 minute movie, it covers alot of issues that teens, parents, AND teachers go through and should look out for in their daily lives.

The only thing that I want to caution viewers about is that this movie does get a little "preachy" so if you are a teacher that is thinking about showing this film to your students you might want to be careful on how you go about it. I myself got a little tired of the constant push towards Christianity. However, I do know that a teenager's life is filled with questions and self exploration so it doesn't surprise me that the topic is brought up. I just wasn't expecting it to be one of the main themes of the movie. So for all you teachers out there, this is definitely a movie students should see but tread carefully.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Book Review: Eva Underground

Title: Eva Underground
Author: Dandi Daley Mackall
ISBN: 978-0152054625
Reading Level: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Theme: Historical Fiction
Binding: Hardcover
Length: 256 pgs
Published: 2006
My Rating:

Synopsis: In 1978, a high school senior is forced by her widowed father to move from their comfortable Chicago suburb to help with an underground education movement in communist Poland.

**The following review may contain SPOILERS**

My Review: I know the last few posts have been about movies so it's time for me to change things up a bit and review a book that I recently finished reading. Eva Underground is a young adult novel that is quite different from the norm. Or at least in my reality it is. I know the book was published back in 2006 but it seems in recent years that most YA novels are focused on vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and fairies (you get the point). While I love a good paranormal/supernatural story like the next person, I must admit that it's beginning to get hard to weed out the diamonds among all the coal (like that analogy? hehe). Sometimes I just need a break from the monotony. Eva Underground not only provided that but also took me back to the days when all I did was read historical romance and fiction.

The book takes place in communist Poland, 8 years after the Gdansk riots of 1970 (which you find out was the year that Tomek's older brother was tragically killed). Americans Eva and her father, a college professor, are first introduced at a Czech border crossing. While they sit with tension in the unheated car, waiting for the line to move, we get small glimpses of Eva's life back in Chicago and the events that led to her current life change. Right off the bat we know that being uprooted from everything she knows is not her choice, but her father's. She yearns to be back in Chicago with her best friend and boyfriend and close to where her mother is buried (not a big spoiler since you find that out within the first few pages of the book.) Her father, Professor Lott, has an agenda-- to meet up with Father B. (who is in charge of this underground movement) and teach/train oppressed yet eager Polish students so that one day they can make a stand against a government that wants to keep its people uneducated and ignorant. Once they finally do cross the border (not without difficulty) they meet Tomek, a 19 year old Polish teen who reluctantly takes on the job of escort and translator for the American professor. Just like Eva, he does not really want to get involved with the underground movement but does because of the money he could earn so that he can buy books and go to school. When Tomek and Eva first meet, they obviously don't like each other. Tomek thinks Eva is spoiled and rich since her father is a college professor and Eva resents Tomek because, well, he represents everything that is foreign to her.

The first thing I liked about Eva Underground is the third person narrative that switches perspectives between 17 year old Eva and 19 year old Polish Tomek. Up until the Twilight series, I was never a big fan of first person narration, probably because I had my brain trained to reading romance novels, mythology, historical and fantasy epics,-- all of which are mostly written in third person. Okay, and I will admit that I tend to be nosy-- I like to know what's going on in other character's heads and their views throughout a story. Once I started getting into YA literature, I noticed a trend of first person narration and I learned to actually enjoy it. (I'm always up for a challenge and looking for new ways to expand my mind.)

Anyway, the shift back to third person narrative in Eva Underground was a nice change of pace for me. The author, Mackall, did a great job with changing perspectives between the two lead characters as well as giving us as the reader good introductory descriptions into Eva and Tomek's livestyles and backgrounds. By the third chapter I felt emotionally invested in both of their causes and couldn't wait to see how things progressed.

Like I was saying before, I was exposed early to historical romance and fiction novels but will admit that this is the first story I have read about communist Poland in the 70's. The author does a great job at giving just enough details and situations to express the severe opression that these people were experiencing. You don't have to be an expert on the time period or place to get the general mood of the story.

There is one part in particular that I loved in Eva Underground that reminded me of one of my favorite scenes in the movie A Walk in the Clouds (starring Keanu Reeves). In order to get out of doing dish duty (sounds stupid but there are months in Poland where they can't get soap so they kill germs by washing dishes in boiling hot water) Eva convinces Tomek to take her with him to his family's home to help pick plums for the harvest. When they arrive, everyone seems to accept her but Lukasz, Tomek's cousin. They have all gathered to help pick plums from the family orchard before a terribly ice storm hits. With the help of little Stash (Tomek's other cousin) Eva adapts well. She becomes so fast that a competition arises between Eva and Lukasz to see who can get the most plums picked the quickest. This is almost exactly what happens in A Walk in the Clouds only it is Keanu Reeves' character that is the stranger and he must help pick grapes, not plums. Beings that A Walk in the Clouds was released in 1995, I have to wonder if the similarities are purely coincidental or if the author had a little inspiration? Hmm...

Now to the things that bothered me which ultimately is the reason I give this book a 3 out of 5 star rating. The first thing that nagged at my conscience was Eva's father's decision to force his 17 year old daughter to a communist country that is obviously in turmoil. What in the BLEEP was he thinking??? I get that he is still mourning the loss of his wife and living day in and day out in a house full of memories must be like putting salt to a wound. I get that Eva started acting out after her mother's death and perhaps he thought that a change of scenary would do her some good. But to take your daughter out of her last year of high school and drag her to a place where they not only hate their own people but they hate Americans? Don't get me wrong, I am all for helping others. I know sometimes you have to risk your own life for the greater cause. But I just find it either completely negligent or very naive on Professor Lott's part. What solidifies my point even more is the fact that he doesn't even know Polish! I could see if he was fluent in Polish or a similar language, but he actually had to depend on Eva to translate (she can pick of languages quickly) when Tomek was not around.

Another thing that left me with some questions was this supposed hatred between Tomek's father and Josef Krysa, Captain of the militia. The author states a few times in later chapters that Krysa is the "hated enemy" of Tomek's father. I wanted to know why. I had a feeling it was in regards to the death of Tomek's older brother years prior but nothing is really developed. I know not everything in a story has to be spelled out but Captain Krysa obviously has a vendetta against Tomek's family. And when the author stated more then once that both older men are mortal enemies, I had to wonder why or how it started. Mackall kind of leaves you hanging and I found it a little disappointing.

Lastly, I kind of felt that the love story between Eva and Tomek was...underdeveloped. Throughout most of the book you have Eva thinking of her boyfriend back in Chicago and about halfway through the novel she even tries to make a break for it (You'll see what I mean). Tomek, on the other hand, thinks of Eva as being spoiled and selfish. Since he feels this way through most of the book (he thinks it constantly) I was waiting for some big blow up between the two where Tomek finally tells Eva how he feels, but it never comes. Obviously his opinion of her changes, and vice versa, but I guess the whole sudden love thing between the two felt...unreal. Okay maybe unreal is not the best word to describe it, but I think a couple of more chapters to develop their feelings for each other would have satisfied me more.

Eva Underground is a good book if you are reading it for the purpose of educating yourself on this turbulent part of history, whether you are a teenager or adult. I think the author did a great job from a historical perspective as well as giving the reader sufficient description and character backgrounds to reel us in. While the story starts off strong, I think it loses a little steam in the romance department as well as a few underdeveloped story lines such as the bitter feud between Tomek's father and Captain Krysa. Despite my pickiness, I don't regret reading it and would even go so far as to say that if I was teaching history instead of English, I would probably add the book to a mandatory summer reading list.