Scorpio Hates Virgo by Anyta Sunday

Sometimes, you just want a Twinkie instead of a steak – a bit of empty calories that are oh-so-enjoyable but never going to be filling or much remembered after the next hour. The same applies for books – sometimes, it’s just nice to enjoy a slow burn romance that is a quick and easy read. With Scorpio Hates Virgo, Anyta Sunday has written a slice of life slow burn romance that is sweet enough to rot teeth but worth it all the same for the guilty pleasure experience it gives.

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Story: Percy returns home to his beloved Aunt’s house for her funeral – the Aunt who cared for him and believed in him after he left his family when he came out. Percy always had a fractious relationship with neighbor Callaghan but all the neighbors on the cul-de-sac are a close knit group. Now, heartbroken over his beloved Aunt’s death and the recent breakup of his long term relationship, he feels it is best to sell the house and move on. But the neighborhood – and especially irascible neighbor Callaghan, may have something to say about that.

This is your typical slow burn romance – with both main characters invested in each other but through misunderstandings, miscommunication, and the usual past baggage are unable to recognize their attraction. It makes for a lot of amusing double entendres and longings hidden within innocuous-seeming statements. These are staples of the slow burn romance and author Sunday does it well.

Admittedly, there isn’t a lot happening in the book. It’s mostly about the boys being thrown together often and the warmth and quirkiness of the cul-de-sac residents. But that’s ok – we’re reading this for the slowly unfolding romance rather than for any drama or action.

The book ends on a nice note and leaves room for more characters in the future. In all, this is a very undemanding but enjoyable read – a guilty pleasure Twinkie to lift your spirits as you watch two nice guys fall for each other all over again. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

This is probably the highest star review I will ever give a book that I ended up not wanting to finish. Stiefvater’s trademark imaginative writing is coupled with a slavish devotion to magical realism. The result is a book that starts out great but by the half way mark, completely disenfranchises the reader into indifference for the characters or the plot. The writing was cyclical, measured, mannered, and at times it felt like a sweet round story was being ruthlessly hammered into a square stylistic hole.

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Story: the Soria family are linked to saints due to a history of miracle creation running in the family. But there are rules to any magic and in this case, the ‘saint’ of the family can draw out a person’s darkness but only that person can then finish the process to find peace. If a saint helps out a pilgrim, his or her own darkness manifests and too often it wipes out several members of the family in the process. When Daniel, the current saint, makes an error, he goes on the run, leaving the family to pick up the pieces or risk his darkness consuming them.

It sounds very dark but really this is a study of characters rather than a character piece. By that, I mean that we are never really drawn into any of the characters and the book cheerfully bounces around various people and their very odd quirks. From the girl who has constant rain on her and is covered by butterflies to the man who becomes a wall. It’s all very imaginative but viewed so impassively as to be very mundane.

Magical realism is about the little bit of surreality in a common set of lives. Stiefvater nails that here but forgets in the process to give us a reason to care for these people. With the introduction of every new character (and there are a few!) we get the same worded introductions (what they like most about themselves, what they fear the most, etc.) and the same impassive observation of their quirkiness. Each person is so odd that they feel more like a caricature than a living breathing person. Perhaps it is the one-dimensionality of their descriptions/lives or perhaps it is the way that we interact with them, but there never was any connection. After awhile, I felt like I was a rock at their Bicho Raro ranch observing the people coming and going but never interacting with them or caring if they succeeded or failed. Or even that they were people and not, e.g., a different rock in its own rain and covered with butterflies. If you have a god-complex, this is your book because that’s our perspective on their lives – distanced and dispassionate. The people were cardboard figures you were moving around the desert randomly.

Midway, I could not find a reason to continue reading. The endless repetition of the magical realism aspects crowded out any interest in the characters and the mystery wasn’t interesting enough to keep me engaged. Perhaps it didn’t help that one of the characters was known as the girl without feelings – because honestly it felt that way with all of them.

The writing was, as I noted earlier, beautiful. But it was a cold stark beauty that grated when repeated at length: A snowy landscape that’s beautiful initially but then gets boring and unpleasant the longer you stand out in the middle of it. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Self-Esteem Habit for Teens by Lisa M Schab

As with so many teens, my 14 year at times grapples with self esteem issues. I asked her to read and write a review of the book, with her thoughts of what was and wasn’t effective for her. Here is her review:

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The book is a summary on some easy to do tips that you could use in various situations. It is easy to read and comprehend. All the points that are mentioned could easily be applied to real life situations. The book also repeated itself many times, which got boring quick. In some parts, the book was oversimplified, thus making it annoying to read.

The book first gives an example of a self-esteem problem and then it explains how to fix it. This is a nice and organized system of teaching helpful tips. The vocabulary was easily comprehensible. The ideas were expressed nicely and simply which made it fun to read. They were as easy to read as they were to use in real life situations. The solutions were quick and easy to repeat so the tips were even more helpful. As useful as these tips were, some of the ideas or processes were too similar. This repetition happened more than a few times, which proved to be quite annoying at times. In other instances, the steps of a process were so basic as to be silly, which broke the mentality of the reading. It is boring to read something that is too oversimplified.

In all, the book is good if you need a quick read and like to know some easily applied tips. The information given was nice and easy to use and try out in real life situations. Still, the book could be improved by taking out the unneeded repeats and oversimplifying paragraphs. It is a good book to show to teens and even adults.

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The Complete Color Harmony by Leatrice Eiseman

As a professional photographer, color theory in my work is extremely important. I am always looking for books that can help deepen my understanding of how to create the most impact with my images. When choosing this Pantone book, my first concern would be that it was directed at scientists or professionals in the color industry. As such it would have been dense and inscrutable since color theory is one of the most fascinating but difficult topics out there. However, I was not only pleasantly surprised but very pleased with this book. It is very friendly and written for the layman – and as such the applicability is endless. Whether you are looking to repaint or redecorate a room, create an artistic piece, or even organize your outdoor garden in a meaningful way with color, this book is incredibly useful.

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The book breaks down as follows: Introduction sections on color harmony and defining the basic terms (what’s the different between a hue and a tint, for example), color wheel and temp, complex colors, discord and dissonance in color, and psychology of color.

The color terms is especially well done – beautiful graphics explain the color wheel in 3d form to get the understanding between, saturation, hue, light and dark. Then we have the temp of a color wheel – including primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Everything is briefly and beautifully explained to make the concepts not only palatable but relatable for whatever uses a reader has for color. Then discord and complex colors are discussed to get an idea of how to harness chaos in color.

The psychology of the color section goes into detail about the 13 colors on the color wheel and how they are best employed/used. Then a huge chunk of the book discusses colors and how they create moods – with examples from earthy to playful, transcendent to powerful. Copious amounts of photographs make the ideas gel into concrete examples that can be applied in many ways by the reader.

The last portion of the book discusses personal colors and what they say about you, changing colors and lives, color trends and forecasting, naming colors, and marketing.

The layout of the book is quite friendly and easy to navigate – this makes an excellent resource you can pick up and find exactly what you need in a timely manner. As well, as a general information tool, the author has done an excellent job of condensing the information so there is a perfect balance of informative but not overwhelming.

This is a book written for everyone, not just professionals in any kind of artistic field. It’s both an informative book but also a reference that can be returned to when needed. As such, I find this an excellent and important tool to have ready and available for either professionals in the artistic field or for those interested in redecorating/remodeling. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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A Strange and Mystifying Story Volume 1 by Yuuta Suzuki

This first volume includes two chapters of the main story (completing a story arc) and two side stories unrelated to the main. This is pretty typical fare in this volume – there’s nothing especially new or interesting nor is the artwork especially outstanding.

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Story: As he lays dying, Akio’s grandfather tells him they have a guardian watching over the family. A short time later, Akio succumbs to the ‘family curse’ – which turns out to be a plague demon destroying his health. Near death, Akio calls on the ‘guardian’ only to discover it is a therianthrope – a supernatural being that takes the shape of a humanr or wolf. Akio names him Setsu and Setsu says he can cure Akio of the demon but only if Akio makes it worth his while – in this case, ‘sexual’ healing that Akio resents. Fortunately, Akio has the support of his work colleagues in this time of need.

The side stories involve a teacher and lonely student as well as an historical about an orphan boy taken in by a cantankerous artisan. As with the original main story, there’s not a lot to get interested in here because we’ve seen these stories many times. I had hoped Suzuki added something new to the genre but it’s the usual case of effete protagonist and alpha male taking advantage of the ‘no I don’t want to but my body says I do’ stereotype. The sex scenes are implied rather than graphic, which is nice. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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The Uncrossing by Melissa Eastlake

The Uncrossing is a decent first book that does suffer from several ‘first book’ syndrome issues. It is very overwritten, the story difficult to follow (especially in the beginning), and the characters too reactionary and not developed enough. Most fatally for me, I didn’t like any of the leads and became tired of the ‘too stupid to live’ and ‘we fight so much because we lurve each other’ archetypes that don’t make for a good modern romance.

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Story: Luke (and his twin sister Camille) are gifted supernaturally. Luke can unmake curses and it is this ability that brings him into the sphere of influence of the powerful Kovrov family; in particular, the coddled heir Jeremy. Jeremy has need of Luke’s services as his family is targeted by another ‘family’ in the magical underworld of modern day New York. As it turns out, Jeremy has always had a crush on Luke, even since they were children. And though Luke has no idea, he’s about to become embroiled in the Kovrov family business – and with the heir, Jeremy, particularly.

The premise is excellent and I was greatly anticipating this book. Unfortunately, the execution just didn’t work for me. For one, the writing was problematic – it’s the type of book that doesn’t flow smoothly and you often find you have to go back and reread paragraphs in order to understand what was going on. Not enough time was spent on the craft of writing and too much time spent on the characters when they interacted – which was mostly fighting. Honestly, it needs a good rewrite still with a very good editor.

Also problematic where the characters. The constant fighting and misunderstandings got old fast. It made both feel very stupid and brainless, as well as stubborn and unrealistic. Perhaps it is a preference thing, but I look for protagonists who don’t overreact to every situation and for someone to fall in love with someone else for their strengths and not because they are ‘hot’ or despite their very unpleasant nature. I didn’t buy the romance at all here.

The synopsis felt a bit overblown – this is more of story of a minor squirmish in a turf war rather than a big deal. That’s ok, though, but managing expectations is important. I didn’t find the overall story arc any more enticing than the characters. Again, that was likely because Eastlake is a new author and will grow into our skills in upcoming books. There is certainly promise here but this is a book that I did not enjoy and was disappointed in after the promise of the blurb. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Geis II by Alexis Deacon

There is something very brilliant about Geis – we have a story with character stereotypes in the fantasy genre that feel like they should go one way but the story keeps us continually guessing as it goes a completely unexpected and very different direction. It’s this dissonance that is both affecting and disaffecting; none of the large cast of characters is likable, most are acting on purely selfish or self righteous impulses, and how they interact off each other is the real heart of the story rather than the ‘contest’ maguffin.

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Story: The contenders for the rule of Matarka have either made it back to the palace or are out of the race. The second challenge begins: contestants are marked black or white and each must create a ‘mini game’ where the loser has to give up their rulership token and be out of the race. A few know of how serious the race for kingship is – and the Sorceresses’ deadly intent behind the geis. But they are caught up in the contender race and most deal with that as well as try to figure out how to survive the sorceress as she gains power with each death.

The character designs are incredibly unique and yet oddly stereotypical of fantasy characters. It’s both fascinating and frustrating at the same time. As well, this is a story where each panel is completely unexpected – nothing in Geis follows the tried and true or the expected. Story structures are played loose and fast, characters change allegiances while acting on impulses, the most obvious part of the game isn’t even close to what’s truly happening, and the constant shift of alliances is unexpected and disconcerting. If that makes it sound like the book is inscrutable or weird for the sake of being weird, that’s completely untrue. If anything, author Deacon takes the blandest of stereotypes and completely turns them on their head in a way that is truly brilliant.

But here’s the thing: it’s a book that is hard to love because the characters are so disenfranchising. You won’t find typical heroes and villains here; just as with a set of real life characters, no one takes actions to please others so much as they move according to their own desires and motivations. The very loose drawings which distort/amplify the ordinaryness of the characters further makes that dissonance between average and unexpected that much more pronounced. Imagine if the random unknown background people in any fantasy graphic novel suddenly took over the story and you get the idea.

Geis is a series that will be difficult on the first read but rewarding with rereads. This gives value to the story but also may be more of a commitment that some readers will want to give. But there is something very distinct here that you won’t find anywhere else. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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