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GIVEAWAY! Paperback copy of The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

Book of Life

Synopsis

After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

Review

I will be honest and admit that I didn’t re-read the prequels prior to diving into this one. It’s been a couple of years since I read Shadow of Night so my memory was fuzzy on certain details and as a result, toward the beginning of this book I felt a little lost. It didn’t last for long though as Harkness weaves the story together very well incorporating important developments from the other novels into this one. It definitely feels like a third book so you don’t want to start here.

If you’ve been waiting patiently for this one then it was worth the wait. It’s a satisfying final act and at this point I’d say it’s my favorite of the series because I want to read it again. Harkness is prolific, but the pace felt just right this time around whereas in the earlier novels it occasionally felt slow. Either that or I finally adjusted to her writing style. I was hanging onto every word and the suspense created just the right tension, especially toward the end. I couldn’t put the book down. It struck an emotional chord with me which was a pleasant surprise. After about a third into the book I was completely invested in the outcome for Diana and Matthew as they had so much counting against them and their family. And it only compounds as the story goes on. Diana’s growing powers, Matthews secrets, the plot twists, the villains, they were all very entertaining.

Aside from feeling lost after having not re-read the other books, my only other criticism is that I thought it was a little crowded character-wise. I could keep up with core supporting characters, but often enough I found myself mixing up the rest.

These books offer a mix of everything which is what makes them so fun. I came for the paranormal but I appreciate the amount of research that went into the historical aspects of the book, the strong writing, the humor, the horror, the drama, and the romance. The chemistry between Diana and Matthew is the best part of the reading experience. By the end I felt like I went on a journey with the characters and that to me is a sign of a successful story. Though this is the end of the trilogy I think there is enough left to write another one and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it down the line.

*ARC provided by the publisher
*Review posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Giveaway

Well if you guys remember, I have done a couple of giveaways previously for this final entry in the All Souls Trilogy.  But now that the paperback release is coming up soon, Penguin has once again been kind enough to team up with me.    One lucky winner of my blog will receive a paperback copy of the novel! All you have to do is comment and tell me what you’re most looking forward to in this book. Or if you’ve already read it, tell me what you loved most! Spoiler warnings, ya’ll.

How to Enter (PLEASE READ CAREFULLY): My giveaways are only open to followers of Your Urban Fantasy who are 18 years of age or older. In order to enter YOU MUST COMMENT ON THIS ANNOUNCEMENT POST AND INDICATE YOU HAVE DONE SO ON THE RAFFLECOPTER WIDGET! If you’re a new member, sign up on the right panel to follow my blog via email. (Make sure to check your email to confirm your subscription. You should receive a notification immediately, so check your spam folder if you don’t see it right away). Current followers can just say so in their post. The next four opportunities are for bonus entries. Overall, there are up to 5 chances to enter:

  1. Follow this blog via email and comment on your preference to win the ebook or hardcover (THIS IS REQUIRED)
  2. Like my review on Amazon (bonus entry)
  3. “Like” Your Urban Fantasy on Facebook (bonus entry)
  4. Follow me on Twitter (bonus entry)
  5. Tweet about the giveaway (bonus entry – you can do this daily for more entries)

The more entries the better your chance to win! Good luck! And don’t forget to tell me what you’re most looking forward to in this book! 

The giveaway will run from 5/18/14 – 5/25/14. Good luck!
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Mad Max – A Mad Good Time!!

I’d been looking forward to this one. I’m a Tom Hardy fan and most of the time he signs on for some pretty good stuff!

Though he’s survived this dystopian society on his own, Mad Max (played by Tom Hardy) is captured.  Taken prisoner by a bunch that is about as uncivilized as it gets, he manages to escape their clutches through a massive car chase. He reluctantly teams up with Furiosa (played by Charlize Theron), a fugitive of this society, and her group as they try to escape this crazy group and their savage leader.

What I Liked:
Where to start? If you go into this wanting a good action movie, then you’re in for a great action movie! Very rarely does a film engage me to the point of where I don’t want to look away from the screen for a second out of fear that I’d miss something.  This was one of them.  There were so many really cool sequences packed into its two hour run time.

The world building was fantastic and from an artistic standpoint it’s pretty amazing too.  The visuals stay with you long after the movie is done.  It helped enhance the action sequences, which were creative and interesting all on their own.  I want the blu ray just to see the behind the scenes features to see how they made it.  I’m a dork, but I’m usually not that dorky so that says a lot about this film.

Tom Hardy did well, but this was Charlize Theron’s movie.  I have never been a huge fan of hers (I’m usually neutral) but this is probably my favorite role for her. She was so empowered and badass while being sympathetic at the same time.

I also liked that while this is a post-apocalyptic world, the colors remain vivid and bright. It doesn’t have that blue tint that often accompanies films ike this.

What I Didn’t Like:
The storyline is fairly shallow and I didn’t find the themes very deep.  The characters, while fun,  were underdeveloped though their story managed to rope me in anyway and I felt invested in their success.  A film of this caliber usually goes beyond two hours and I think if they spent an additional 15-20 providing more backstory for the main characters to flesh them out more, it would have improved my overall impression of them.

I wouldn’t say I disliked this, but I noticed that while there are disturbing themes and the action is unforgiving to its casualties, it wasn’t as gory as I was expecting.  There were a lot of cutaways even though the tone of the film still commands an R-rating.

Also, I would have liked more sets.  Almost the entire film is this car chase.  I normally get bored when that happens in film, but this one managed to do a good job of remaining engaging anyway.

Overall:
Do yourself a favor and see this one. It’s truly a fantastic film. There’s really no other way to see it but in theatres.  The 3D wasn’t really necessary since they only played around with it a little by the end.

I know they have a game for this as I’ve seen the demo.  I was watching the movie thinking about how much the game could expand on things.  They have all the recipes to make one awesome and extremely fun product.  I’m not an intense gamer. I only bother playing a handful myself throughout the life of a console, but this one could easily be on that short list.

Rating: 4.5/5

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

In a year absolutely packed with Blockbusters, the king of them all is undoubtedly Avengers 2. Furious 7 has already cracked the billion-dollar barrier in record time (17 days) and we aren’t even halfway through the year yet. Avengers 2 will undoubtedly join it and set a new record in the process. I’ll give it 14-15 days considering it has the 3D markup going for it.

Speaking of which, the 3D was absolutely unnecessary so I don’t think you need to spend extra money on it…that is if you are one of the few who don’t have their ticket purchased already.

Synopsis:
While Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) is brilliant, sometimes his bright ideas don’t turn out so well. And that is the focus of this film after he accidentally creates a sentient being, Ultron, in the name of peace. However its idea of peace isn’t what Tony had in mind. The Avengers must assemble once again to save themselves and the world. Added to the mix are a mysterious set of Russian twins with strange powers and nefarious plans of their own.

What I liked:
So the question of the day, is it good? In short, yes. This type of spectacle can only be fully realized in the theatre. We have the return of characters we know and love and they’re as entertaining as ever.

The effects were top notch and I appreciated how they really wanted to make each Avenger shine. I gotta say, Captain America was really impressive here. His fights were probably among my favorite. And that’s not the biased fangirl talking.

Though he doesn’t totally sustain for me, I think Ultron is a pretty cool villain. James Spader nails the voice; he can really make your skin crawl. I loved how they contrasted him with Jarvis who has such a pleasant, charming, and soothing personality in comparison.

What I didn’t like:
Though I love the cast to bits, I gotta say I missed Loki. His brand of humor instantly makes any marvel movie better as far as I’m concerned.

I also have to say that I think I am becoming more attached to the individual films. While Avengers develops this massive cast as best as can be expected, I also missed secondary characters. They conveniently explained them away here (like the lack of Pepper and Jane for instance) or they had a little more than a cameo appearance and I just found myself wanting more.

And we can’t ignore the elephant in the room, the Black Widow/Hulk romance. On one hand I want to complain a little bit about the girl getting the love story, but as I think back on the MCU series the character really hasn’t pursued anyone seriously until now. The chemistry was off for me in all honesty. It just didn’t feel like a necessary element to make the film any better and I wasn’t invested in it at all. And let’s be real here, if Black Window needs to hook up with anybody, it needs to be Bucky. I ship it. No apologies.

If the film suffers from anything, it’s mainly that some might think of it as more of the same. The novelty from the first Avengers film has worn off a tad. It gave me a similar feeling to the Playstation Uncharted series. Uncharted 2 is one of my favorite games ever. It set the bar so high for me that Uncharted 3 was only “good”. It’s as if you can only create that really special feeling once, and that’s honestly okay for me.

Overall: It’s an absolute must-see for Marvel fans. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. While I find myself still partial to last year’s Captain American 2: The Winter Soldier, this is a worthy sequel in every way and I’m looking forward to the next MCU movie already.

Rating: 4.5/5

*This review is a guest post for my friends over at The Grand Shuckett.

Unfriended Review

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This one sort of stood out to me because it seemed like it wanted to try something a little different in the horror genre, taking it in a new direction.

I was also curious about Shelley Hennig. Though she is not my favorite on Teen Wolf, she has been a breakout star. She appears to be carving out a niche for herself in the horror movie market, from starring in last year’s Oujia to this. One would think when Teen Wolf finally goes kaput she’ll at least have more opportunities here.

Summary:
A group of teenagers sign on to a skype chat on the anniversary of the suicide of one of their classmates who killed herself after a mortifying video of her went viral. The chat appears to have a glitch though, showing one extra account that they can’t identify and can’t get rid of. That “person” appears to be the dead teen and she wants to exact revenge on the people that drove her to kill herself.

What I liked:
The cast did a fairly believable job a carrying on like a group of insufferable teenaged millennials. I was told that the entire movie was filmed in one take. Or rather every take used was the complete movie acted out every time. I appreciate that type of dedication. It’s not dissimilar to actors in a play where you have to keep going no matter what.

What I didn’t like:
Though the idea is somewhat new, it still has that formulaic feel to it. It even ends with the usual found footage lack of closure.

If you’re looking for chills and thrills from this, well to he honest it’s not scary. Or at least it wasn’t for me at all. Though I’m not an easy scare I can usually acknowledge how it should be for someone else. I found myself laughing more than anything and I’m not sure it was always intentional. But since my expectations were fairly low for this I was entertained anyway.

Overall:
While we’re more connected than ever thanks to the internet, this felt more like a gradual progression for the genre to move on to something like this as opposed to feeling completely new, fresh, and clever. It just wanted to update itself with the times, so the “cybernatural” trend was born.

It’s a short film so it doesn’t require a huge chunk of your time. And I certainly hope Apple, Facebook, Skype, and Google paid them pretty well for the product placement. The movie could probably be funded from those four alone.

It should see pretty impressive profits similar to The Purge. What a good year it is to be Universal Studios! They are really cleaning up at the box office and we aren’t even halfway through the year yet.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

*This review is a guest review for my friends over at The Grand Shuckett.

Jersey Boys

It’s the ‘60s in New Jersey and a group of musicians form a quartet together with hopes of making it big. Frankie Valli (played by John Lloyd Young), Tommy DeVito (played by Vincent Piazza), Bob Gaudio (played by Erich Bergen), and Nick Massi (played by Michael Lomenda) have their dreams realized as their songs become hits. But success does not guarantee happiness; the members have their own demons to overcome that can put the entire group in jeopardy.

I enjoy musicals and though the band is before my time by a few decades, their music is timeless. I still hear songs like “Big Girls Don’t Cry”,”Walk Like a Man”, and
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” on movie soundtracks. With Clint Eastwood attached to this I thought it had potential to be really good. But everyone has an off day (or movie) and this one falls into that category for Eastwood.

The story was painfully generic and run-of-the-mill. I also found the songs annoying. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t play the originals and the guys had to sing them as covers, but they don’t sound nearly as good. Simply put, Frankie Vallie’s voice works as a falsetto; John Lloyd Young’s does not. He’s also not that great of an actor. I feel like if you’re going to give a subpar rendition in the singing department, then the acting should at least be amazing, or vice-versa. He doesn’t carry the film well as a lead and while a lot of emotional things with happening with the characters, I felt next to no connection with any of it.

The only actor of the main four I was familiar with outside of this movie was Vincent Piazza. I enjoyed his work on Boardwalk Empire and thought he played a fantastic gangster. But his portrayal as Tommy wasn’t enough of a stretch so I fear he’ll get type cast in the future.

If I saw this in the theatre I probably would have fallen asleep at some point. I nodded off with this one more than once meaning I had to rewind it a lot, prolonging the run time for me.

Overall, I was disappointed in how forgettable this turned out to be. Though I haven’t seen it, I think the play on Broadway is likely a better way to spend your time if you want to get acquainted with this story and hear good music in the process. You can definitely pass on this one.

Get Hard Review

James (played by Will Farrell) is an investment banker who is framed in a fraud scandal and now scheduled to serve time in prison, San Quentin to be exact. So in order to prepare for his time in jail, he enlists Darnell (played by Kevin Hart) to ready him for life behind bars.

Kevin Hart is routinely hit or miss with me. And I know Will Farrell is hit or miss for a lot of people but for me he is normally a hit. Even still, I am usually wary about comedy team ups because often enough the results are generally disappointing. Not to mention, Kevin Hart has had a string of movies where he teams up with someone so it’s beginning to feel stale. What’s next for him? He’s helped with cops, wedding grooms, and now a soon to be prisoner. It’s like he’s the male Melissa McCarthy. I can’t blame him or her for taking these opportunities and striking while the iron is hot and America loves them. We can be a fickle bunch when it comes to the entertainment industry. But I still want a good movie.

The premise of this one reminded me of Rob Schenider in Big Stan (2007) where he had to go to prison and spent time prepping for it through learning martial arts and other…helpful techniques to get him by. After watching Get Hard I do think they watched that film for inspiration but this wasn’t a complete carbon copy.

I do give Kevin Hart credit in that he has good chemistry with whomever he works with. I liked the team up with Farrell. I wasn’t sure how much I would laugh because I honestly didn’t laugh once during the trailers. But in the actual film there were several funny moments. I think it could have been stronger and there could have been more, but I’m pleased enough that it exceeded my expectations. Farrell has a reputation for being very over-the-top, but his character here was tame in comparison to some of his past roles. In past works Hart comes off as trying too hard (ie: Think Like a Man Too) so he is more silly than funny, but thankfully that’s not the case here.

Overall, it delivers on being funny but it’s not for the easily offended. For an R-Rating it’s not as “hard” (pun intended) as it could have been, especially considering the subject matter, but it gets the job done if you want to laugh for a couple of hours and you’re familiar with what these actors bring to the table.

Radiance (Wraith Kings #1) by Grace Draven

Synopsis:  Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne secured many times over. A trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty. Always a dutiful son, Brishen agrees to the marriage and discovers his bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined.

Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn’t just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she’s known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light. Two people brought together by the trappings of duty and politics will discover they are destined for each other, even as the powers of a hostile kingdom scheme to tear them apart.

 

Review:

After hearing glowing praises for this book I wasn’t quite sure what to do.  There are plenty of instances where I don’t like book series that others tend to rave about.  But the premise sounded interesting so I decided to give this one a shot.  I’m very glad I did! It was a refreshing read.  I tried one book by this author before and couldn’t get into it so that probably didn’t help with my initial hesitation.   But overall I would say that Radiance delivers on just about all cylinders.  I respected how much world building Draven was able to pack into a relatively short book without making it feel like a complete info dump. Something like this is often twice as long and twice as confusing.

The characterization was well done. I’m not an easy sell when it comes to that kind of thing, but I immediately grew to care about both Brishen and Ildiko.  They were likable and easy to root for.  Draven also knows how to create characters we love to hate!  Brishen’s mother is a piece of work, but you definitely can’t say that she doesn’t keep things interesting.

I probably would have given this a 5 out of 5 if not for a certain development toward the end.  What happens sort of feels unnecessary to me and done mostly for shock value.  Maybe if it happened in a sequel or had more build up I would feel differently.

I’m actually considering going back to read that first book from her that I didn’t finish.  It might prove to be a pleasant surprise and pull me in this time around. Sometimes it’s not always that a book is bad. You just have to be in the right mood for it at the time.

Overall you can certainly count me in with the lot that thinks this is a great read and since it appears to be the start of a series, I am eagerly awaiting the sequel!

Furious 7 Review – Another Furiously Awesome Entry

I think the blockbuster season officially kicks off with this one. It’s on my most anticipated movie list. Not surprising since I’m a long time fan of the franchise. Also, I’m loyal and there was no way I would miss Paul Walker’s final film.

After taking down a formidable foe, Owen Shaw, Dominic Toretto (played by Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (played by the late Paul Walker) and their comrades strike a deal to return to the U.S. and recapture their former lives. But they appear to have messed with the wrong guy. Owen’s older brother, Deckard Shaw (played by Jason Statham), is determined to exact revenge for his brother creating a whole new set of dangers for everyone. On the heels of Han’s death, the crew wants to find Shaw and bring him to justice for killing one of their own, not just for revenge, but also for their survival.

What I liked:
The IMAX introduction was custom made for the film, which I thought it was pretty neat. It was the first time I’d seen that for a film actually. And can I say I am grateful that they haven’t jumped on the 3D bandwagon! It’s much more enjoyable in 2D.

It gives you everything you want and expect from a Fast and Furious franchise: cars, over the top action, great cast chemistry, and beautiful locations from all over the world (Abu Dhabi was my personal fave). At this point the franchise knows itself and knows its audience. I love that it’s able to enjoy this much success 7 movies in. It’s very rare for that to happen. And the late films are legitimately the best ones.

Brian (Paul) gets some really awesome scenes. He had a lot of hand-to-hand combat fighting with Tony Jaa and held his own. He even gets his very own Nathan Drake (from the Uncharted video game series) moment as he climbs up a bus precariously hanging off a cliff!

I love Dom and Letty. They are my Fast & Furious OTP. And though he got her back in 6, she’s still dealing with the effects of her memory loss. They get their fair share of angst but fans definitely don’t want to miss the resolution.

Statham was a solid bad guy. I actually think we could have gotten more of him but the cast is fairly crowded as is.

What I didn’t like:
I definitely wish there was more of The Rock in this one. I understand he had commitments to film Hercules at the time, but he is one of the reasons new life was breathed into the franchise and he fits it like a glove now. I definitely hope to see him more in 8. The void will be felt more than ever there.

They finally catch up with Tokyo Drift (the third film) in the franchise timeline, so they used scenes from that film (which came out in 2006) and then spliced in scenes they filmed recently. I have to say being nearly 10 years later it was a bit obvious that Lucas Black (who played protagonist Sean Boswell at the time) has aged. I’m just saying in this film where CGI was all over the place, they could have given him the Benjamin Button treatment a little.

Overall:
6 was my favorite before this one. I’m not sure which one I like more right now as there are certain things I enjoy about both.

Emotionally I was okay throughout the film watching Paul, but the tribute to him at the end is where I lost it. I was there 14 years ago where it all began so the montage really got to me. It was absolutely perfect and a touching send off to the character and the actor. You can tell they really put their heart in it and I almost want to tear up again just thinking about it. So I guess you should bring some tissues with you. If not for yourself, then do it for the person sitting beside you.

If you love this franchise this film cannot be missed. If this is a first for you then you should enjoy it but the back story might be over your head. They do want the films to build on one another, which I like because it makes each one important.

I think Paul would have been really proud of this. He will be thoroughly missed and the franchise will never be the same again. Thanks for the memories, Paul!

Rating: 4.5/5

*This review is a guest review for my friends over at The Grand Shuckett.

Insurgent Review

I read the first Divergent novel a few years back.  I know fans defend it against the accusations that it’s a Hunger Games rip-off but in general the YA Dystopian genre just isn’t my favorite.  I didn’t dislike the book, but I just wasn’t eager to continue it.  And after learning that the series was going to be filmed, I decided to watch the sequels instead. The first film was entertaining enough. I didn’t love it or hate it but I thought it adapted well enough from the book. So I assumed Insurgent would be the same.

Erudites are out for blood, Divergent blood to be exact.  Jeanine (played by Kate Winslet) is on the tails of Tris (played by Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James) and co as they make a run for it throughout the ruins of Chicago.  More of the story is uncovered to figure out what Erudites are really after.  Tris and Four’s backs are against the wall and the fate of the world depends almost entirely on them.

What I Liked: The setting it pretty cool. Though I don’t live in Chicago I’ve visited the city my fair share of times for family reunions. It’s one of my favorite places to visit in the summer months.  So I found it interesting to see the dystopian take on it.  I specifically thought about some of the spots I visited as we’re showed their ruined counterparts. I think they did a better job than the original in this aspect.

Theo James. I could watch him on screen all day.  He’s really not a bad actor either, but he provides plenty of eye candy.

Kate Winslet.  While this isn’t my favorite roll for her, her performance is still one of the highlights.  Though for some reason she reminded me of a younger Madonna in a number of scenes.

What I Didn’t Like:  The 3D. Oh my god was it atrocious!  I had to lift my glasses up multiple times just to give my eyes a slight rest. I had a headache and felt nauseous. This was actually one of my worst 3D experiences. I am usually fine if the film has been filmed in 3D, but when it is post-converted more often than not I experience problems. And it’s not like 3D was essential to the movie.  If anything it detracted from it for me.

The book-to-movie plot didn’t strike a balance as well as the first one. This one felt too crowded and at the same time sort of empty, which is typical for middle books in a series.  You want to save the meat for the end most times.  Though strangely enough, I thought Catching Fire was a lot better than its first film even though the book wasn’t as good.

Overall: The terrible 3D had me over this film around the first hour and it’s a two-hour film. The tired premise didn’t really help either. I left sort of dreading that the third book has to be split into two films, riding on Harry Potter’s coat tails to make more money. At this point unless the trailers look promising I may decide to skip the next two. It’s not like I don’t know the spoilers for the final book anyway, so waiting for them to get to the point (Which they can now drag out with two films) is going to be even more agonizing.

Rating: 2 / 5 Stars

*This review is a guest review for my friends over at The Grand Shuckett.

GIVEAWAY WINNER! Burned (Fever #7) by Karen Marie Moning

Thank you guys for entering the giveaway! It’s always nice to see a bunch of readers enthusiastic enough to read new things by this wonderful author. The winner randomly chosen to receive a copy of Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy, #6) by Ilona Andrews is:

Pam Blome

Congrats! Please keep an eye out for an email from me so that I can get your contact info.  Again, thank you all for participating.  Check out my Giveaways page for info on past giveaways as well as those that I have lined up next!  I’m keepin ’em comin’!  I’m working on my review for The Ruby Circle by Richelle Mead so I’ll have a review and giveaway ready for that preeeetty soon!