Friday, July 23, 2010

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker (Strangely Beautiful, #2) by Leanna Renee Hieber

Posted by Simcha 11:20 AM, under | 5 comments

After the terrible battle in which the Guard was nearly defeated by the minions of the Darkness, Elijah, Josephine, Jane, Michael and Rebecca just want the chance to recover in peace and return to their everyday lives. And after nearly losing Percy, Alexi is desperate to marry her immediately and keep her safely by his side. But instead of the restful respite they all long for, the Guard receives word that the final battle against the underworld is about to commence, and it will be taking place at Athens Academy.

Strange doors are suddenly appearing in the school and the ghostly remains of Guard members from the past are showing up to provide their assistance. But each of the Guard members have more on their minds than just the upcoming war; unreciprocated love, jealousy, treachery and fear are some of the obstacles that they face as they prepare for a battle which may just be their last.

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker picks up almost immediately after the events of the last book, though we are brought up to speed by Beatrice, a member of a past Guard, who is now a ghost. Terrified at the thought of losing Percy, Alexi is frantic to marry her as soon as possible and the rest of the Guard are happy to help however they can, especially since they owe their lives to Percy’s timely intervention. But Beatrice’s warnings that Percy will be required to enter the underworld have Alexi’s protective shackles raised and he begins to live in fear that his wife will be repossessed by the the Darkness that had once claimed her. And while Percy is delighted to finally be married to the man she loves she feels uncertain about her new status within the Guard and the schoolboard, and still remains self-conscious about her unusual looks.

Meanwhile, Rebecca is torn by her feelings for Alexi, Jane is in love with a man she can’t possibly be with, Josephine and Elijah are frustrated by the societal restraints keeping them apart and Michael quietly pines for Rebecca in the background.

Readers who eagerly followed Alex and Percy’s tension-filled romance in Strangely Beautiful will be happy to see that two finally brought together, though I did feel that a little too much of the book was spent detailing their love for each other. While I enjoy Heiber’s poetic prose, the flowery declarations of love between the two of them got to be a little too much for me after a while. But once the honeymoon was over and the preparations for the battle began, I easily lost myself in the story. There were some interesting twists and I enjoyed getting to know the other members of the Guard better, though admittedly Alexi and Percy still remain my favorites. We are also once again treated to the atmospheric setting of a Victorian London populated by ghosts and we get to visit the underworld, as well, which is described in deliciously vivid and creative detail.

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker was a satisfying sequel, and conclusion, to Percy’s tale. Even with all of the ghost-busting and battles against Darkness this was overall a story of love and romance and one which I am sure will please the most discerning of romance readers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Favorite Fictional Character: Shawn Spencer

Posted by Simcha 2:36 PM, under | 7 comments

Favorite Fictional Character

In honor of the return to television of one of my favorite shows, Psych, this week's FFC will focus on the show's main character Shawn Spencer.

Shawn, played by James Roday, is such a fun and entertaining character to watch and is one of the main reasons that I tune into Psych each week.

Raised by a stern father, and dedicated cop, Shawn was taught to pay close attention to every detail of his surroundings and as a result he developed an acute sense of awareness, able to observe details that most people would never notice. As an adult Shawn uses this skill to help solve crimes for the local police station while claiming that it is his psychic powers allowing him to do so. While the police unit he works with are generally dubious of Shawn's claims, they continue to work with him because he does actually manages to assist them, no matter how much he annoys them along the way.

Shawn is often self-absorbed and irreverent, making jokes in the most inappropriate moments and driving his friends and family crazy with his irresponsible behavior. But somehow he also manages to be engaging and likable, and occasionally even charming. And then there are my favorite moments of the show when we are offered a deeper glimpse into Shawn's personality, past his jokes and carefree attitude to the love and loyalty he feels to his family and friends, and his willingness to do anything for them.

Shawn also plays off of his childhood-friend and business partner, Gus, who is really employed by a pharmaceutical company but keeps getting dragged along on each of Shawn's escapades. Each episode is sure to include one of Shawn's famously odd introductions of himself and Gus along with his creative online liners beginning, "Gus don't be a ..." which regulars of the show will often look out for.

If you are not familiar with this awesome show I highly recommend you give it a try. In addition to the show's wonderful characters and interesting storylines there is also a sense that the actors are really enjoying themselves. There are even certain jokes among the show's cast that have made their way into the show, such as the pineapple that appears somewhere in each episode and a song and dance routine often performed at the end of each show by various members of the cast.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Free Read & Audio: The Painted Darkness

Posted by Simcha 12:06 PM, under | 6 comments

Thanks to Dark Wolf's Fantasy I discovered that Cemetery Dance Publications is offering free downloads of both the electronic and audio version of The Painted Darkness by Brian James Freeman, which is set to be released in hardback this November.

When Henry was a child, something terrible happened in the woods behind his home, something so shocking he could only express his terror by drawing pictures of what he had witnessed. Eventually, Henry's mind blocked out the bad memories, but he continued to draw, often at night by the light of the moon.

Twenty years later, Henry makes his living by painting his disturbing works of art. He loves his wife and his son, and life couldn't be better... except there's something not quite right about the old stone farmhouse his family now calls home. There's something strange living in the cramped cellar, in the maze of pipes that feed the ancient steam boiler.

A winter storm is brewing, and soon Henry will learn the true nature of the monster waiting for him down in the darkness. He will battle this demon and, in the process, he may discover what really happened when he was a child — and why, in times of trouble, he thinks: I paint against the darkness.

But will Henry learn the truth in time to avoid the terrible fate awaiting him... or will the thing in the cellar get him and his family first?

If you enjoy dark and spooky books then this sounds like one you might want to try out.
Visit to download the ebook or stream the audio book for free.

Monday, July 19, 2010

For the Win by Cory Doctorow

Posted by Simcha 11:04 AM, under | 7 comments

Today I have for you a guest review from Baruch Speiser who often reviews books for my website. For the Win looks like a really great book and I hope to get to read it myself one day soon, but in the meantime here's Baruch's opinion of Cory Doctorow's newest book...


For the Win is another brilliant piece by Cory Doctorow. Like his previous work, Little Brother, Doctorow aims technology in the face of politics. This time around, he places the economy front and center, using the worlds of massive multiplayer online roleplaying games (thankfully abbreviated as MMORPGs) as a basis for understanding the economy.

The story follows the tale of factions of gamers who are being paid to pit against each other, until finally someone convinces them that they are all being exploited and should demand better treatment. Skeptical? Honestly, so was I – and I’m a true geek. For those of us in the safety of Western democracies, the importance of a virtual economy on real life is hard to swallow. Yet Doctorow does an elegant job of changing our perspective: for the poor citizens of Shenzhen, China; or Dharavi, India; the virtual economy can be more important than the real one.

The plot is complex and sprawling, and there are a large host of characters, but the story focuses around three groups – General Robotwallah in Dharavi, Los Angeles teenager Wei-Dong and his gamer friends in Shenzhen, and Big Sister Nor and her sidekicks in Singapore.

General Robotwallah (real name: Mala) is saved from poverty when a mysterious businessman realizes she has a talent for defeating foes in an online world called Zombie Mecha. He hires her and her friends to hunt after rival factions of professional game players. Soon, Mala is making enough money so that she and her mother can afford to live comfortably – which means finding a place with indoor plumbing. It’s too good to be true – until an associate of her employer begins to make inappropriate advances.

Wei-Dong (real name: Leonard Goldberg) plays online games because he finds it entertaining, and he joins up with a crew of professional Chinese players. Matthew, Lu, Ping, and others work for Boss Wing in Shenzhen, China. Boss Wing owns a “gold farm”: a factory where rich Americans decide that they don’t want to spend fifty hours of boring playtime getting all the fanciest online weapons and amassing a hoard of gold. No; these rich Americans decide that they’re not patient enough, so they outsource their game-playing to a bunch of Chinese until they’ve got a sufficiently strong virtual warrior. Matthew decides that he’s done working for Boss Wing, and he’s going to start his own game-playing business.

For thirty bucks, his clientele can get their game god, and Matthew can buy 561 bowls of pork dumplings. Not a bad deal for playing games – until Boss Wing sends two goons over to crush him, throw him back into the factory, and force him to play twenty-two hours straight. At the end of the day, Boss Wing takes all the real cash for himself, along with all the in-game treasures and gold that can be auctioned of on the open market. His workers get a place to sleep – all eighteen of them in a small room – and what to eat while they play, seven days a week, eighteen hours a day. If they don’t give him their gold and treasure, he shoots them. When they complain, the police shoot them.

When Big Sister Nor introduces herself to them through an MMORPG, she convinces General Robotwallah and Matthew from Boss Wing’s factory to unionize and demand better treatment. Within a short time, the gold farming factory bosses like Wing are sending thugs and gangs after Nor and her associates.

Sound ridiculous? Absurd? Even a little crazy? Maybe, but it’s all true. There are professional gamers in China, people who are forced to play World of Warcraft or EverQuest all day and night because someone else is willing to pay for that service. Doctorow builds on this idea, building a convincing picture of the actual world: virtual economies are real.

At any given moment, thousands of virtual items can be bought on Ebay, from virtual dolls to virtual trading cards. Even the Supreme Court of Korea has weighed in on the relationship between real and virtual currency. Doctorow does an excellent job here, guiding the reader through the messy complexities of modern gaming and the equally muddy waters of modern finance. Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt (the authors of Freakonomics) would be very proud.

For The Win is an extremely compelling work. I couldn’t put it down. The characters are deep, the action is surprisingly real, and the gamerese doesn’t bog down the story. While the individual subplots are less cohesive, the overall story is well-crafted and quickly paced. Stylish, sassy, provocative, and intense, For The Win does indeed win.

Free ebook: The Choir Boats by Daniel A. Rabuzzi

Posted by Simcha 9:06 AM, under | 1 comment

In honor of their site relaunch, WOWIO, in partnership with ChiZine Publications, is offering free download of The Choir Boats by Daniel A. Rabuzzi, throughout the month of July.

What would you give to make good on the sins of your past? For merchant Barnabas McDoon, the answer is: everything.

When emissaries from a world called Yount offer Barnabas a chance to redeem himself, he accepts their price-to voyage to Yount with the key that only he can use to unlock the door to their prison. But bleak forces seek to stop him: Yount's jailer, a once-human wizard who craves his own salvation, kidnaps Barnabas's nephew. A fallen angel-a monstrous owl with eyes of fire-will unleash Hell if Yount is freed. And, meanwhile, Barnabas' niece, Sally, and a mysterious pauper named Maggie seek with dream-songs to wake the sleeping goddess who may be the only hope for Yount and Earth alike.

Sound good? Then follow this link to download The Choir Boats for yourself.


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