Monday, November 23, 2015

Cute He Said/She Said Novel a Delightful Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

From the moment he met Juli Baker in second grade, Bryce Loski has done his best to ignore her.  Which isn't easy considering she lives across the street from him.  Her obvious, annoying infatuation with him has driven him bonkers for years.  Even now, in eighth grade, her obnoxious enthusiasm—for him, for her chickens, for everything—sets his teeth on edge.  Will the embarrassing little brat ever take the hint and just leave him alone?

Juli flipped the first time she met Bryce.  Just flipped right out.  She's longed for him ever since he moved into her neighborhood, but try as she might, she can't seem to get him to really see her.  These days, she's learned to hide her feelings.  Sort of.  Juli still likes Bryce, but the thing is, she's starting to see him in a new light.  And the things she's seeing, well, they're not great.  Is he really as wonderful as she's always thought?  Or have her feelings finally flipped right back?

Just as Juli's starting to see Bryce differently, the same thing is happening to him.  The irritation he's always felt toward Juli is starting to swing alarmingly toward interest, even attraction.  Why does he suddenly wonder what she's thinking?  Why does he now care if he's hurt her feelings?  Has he gone crazy?  Is he flipping out or is he—finally—growing up a little?  

What will happen as Bryce and Juli see the truth about each other for the first time?  With their feelings flip-flopping all over the place, can they find their way to friendship, maybe something even more?  Or will knowing the truth about themselves and each other end things between them, once and for all?

With its upbeat he said/she said format, Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen is a cute, enjoyable read.  Both its narrators are believable, appealing and root-worthy.  Although the story is definitely on the lighter side, Flipped is not without depth.  In fact, it teaches some excellent lessons about looking beyond surface appearances, showing people you care, and looking for truth, even when it's painful to accept.  A funny, uplifting read, Flipped is definitely worth a read.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face by Paul Acampora)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs)

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a copy of Flipped from my daughter's bookshelf.  Thanks, babe!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ancient Chess Set Mystery A Slow, Slow Slog

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It's 1792 in France, a country boiling over with political turmoil, just one step away from total anarchy.  With the bankrupt State seizing Church property, the nun in charge of Montglane Abbey is in a panic.  Having vowed to protect the priceless treasure hidden in the walls of her cloistered home, the abbess must do everything she can to ensure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.  Few understand how potent is the power contained in the Montglane Service, a chess set—exquisitely crafted and jeweled—that belonged to Charlemagne.  Individually, the pieces are stunning enough, but when possessed as a complete set they are more mighty than God Himself.  In the wrong hands, they could bring death and destruction to every corner of the Earth.  Entrusting portions of the set to eight different nuns, she urges the women to scatter, to protect their cargo with their lives.  

Fifteen-year-old Valentine and her cousin Mirielle flee to Paris with two of the pieces.  In the care of their godfather, the girls find themselves in the heart of enemy territory.  With danger around every bend, they can never let their guard down.  As Paris grows more turbulent by the day, Valentine and Mirielle have to keep their chess pieces safe, even if it means losing everything else that matters to them.  Which it just might.

Fast forward almost 200 years.  Catherine Velis, a 23-year-old computer expert, is spending the last day of 1972 worried about her fate.  Having crossed her boss, the CEO of a prominent New York City auditing firm, she's concerned that she's flushed her young career down the toilet.  When she discovers she's being shipped off to Algiers for a year to consult with an obscure operation called OPEC, she's not thrilled.  Her antique dealer family friend, however, is delighted.  He begs her to hunt down pieces of a dusty chess set that are rumored to be in Algeria.  Not long after Catherine hears about the Montglane Service, very strange things start happening to her.  Before she knows it, she's in North Africa hunting down a mythical chess set, being chased by very real enemies.  What has she gotten herself into?  Smack dab in the middle of an ancient Game she is only beginning to understand, Catherine wants only one thing—to win.  Is doing so even possible?  Is it worth it, especially if it costs her her life?  

Alternating between 1792 and 1973, The Eight by Katherine Neville tells a The Da Vinci Code-like story full of history, adventure and intrigue.  First published in 1988, the popular novel has recently become available as an e-book for the first time ever.  I had never heard of Neville, but the premise behind The Eight sounded fascinating, so I accepted an e-book to review.  Unfortunately, I didn't check the book's page (or screen) count before agreeing to read it—the paper version weighs in at 624 pages!  It's a chunkster, which doesn't usually bother me as long as the story can maintain my interest for that long.  In the case of The Eight, that just didn't happen.  While there's plenty of action woven through the book, I still found myself bored with it.  Part of my frustration had to do with sheer length—the story is epic in scope, yes, but it could have been shortened by at least 300 pages, thus tightening its structure and making it a more compelling read.  Neville's prose doesn't help, as it has a dull, tell-not-show quality to it.  The plot seems far-fetched, contrived and too loosey-goosey.  Then there are the characters, who are mostly flat and unlikable.  It's difficult to empathize with greedy, self-centered story people.  So, yeah.  I had quite a time slogging through this lengthy tome.  It took a week to conquer—unheard of for me.  I'm sorry to say it, but in the end, The Eight just was not worth the time I invested in it.  Bummer, since I still find the idea of the Montglane Service so very compelling.  (Just for the record, it doesn't actually exist, although the idea of it is based on the Charlemagne chess set associated with the Saint Denis Abbey that is now housed in France's Bibliotheque Nationale.)    

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of The Da Vinci Code and other books by Dan Brown)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, sexual content, and references to illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished e-copy of The Eight from the generous folks at Open Road Media.  Thank you!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Party Style Inspires Even Me, the Party Grinch

 (Image from Barnes & Noble)

For my family, November is party month.  Not only do we celebrate Thanksgiving, but we've also got birthdays galore.  Although none of my children were actually due in November, three of the four decided to show up then anyway.  The nerve!  In my extended family, lots of nieces, nephews, cousins, etc. also have November birthdays (in fact, today is my mother-in-law's).  All of which makes for a very festive month dedicated to honoring many of my favorite people in the whole wide world.  Because three of these are my own children, I've had to do some serious November party planning over the years.  Which turned me into a frantic, waspish, stressed-out ball of nerves and anxiety.  Needless to say, my comfort zone so does not include throwing lavish parties.  Or even casual ones.  Hosting any kind of fiesta turns me into a panicked mess.  

So, yeah, when Gemma Lynn Touchstone—a professional party guru from California—offered to help me get a clue, I accepted.  Her book, Party Style, is the first in a planned series designed to help anyone (even me!) pull off a fun, organized, successful party.  While this debut guide focuses specifically on children's get-togethers, the advice Touchstone doles out really can be used for all kinds of occasions. In four simple words, she advises hosts to: Prepare.  Anticipate.  Be flexible.  The first is especially important.  Touchstone provides numerous helpful organization tips on everything that goes into a child's party—choosing a theme, making invitations, picking a menu, selecting the perfect decorations, etc.  She also includes fun recipes (my up-and-coming birthday girl would go crazy for the Gummy Bear Soda; I thought the Mason jar meals were especially clever), links to templates/printable decorations (for those of us who need a little a lot of help), and a section of glossy party photos to give real-life examples/ideas (even I, the party Grinch, found them inspiring).  Throughout Party Style, Touchstone maintains an upbeat, you-can-do-it tone that made me feel like maybe I actually could!  

While Touchstone's easy-to-read guidebook is a quick, helpful read, it's not without its faults.  The prose isn't the smoothest, and—as is common in books from this publisher—the text contains a number of irritating typos.  I know the latter is not the author's fault, but I still shy away from purchasing and gifting books that have too many errors.  I'm super picky that way.

Regardless of these complaints, I enjoyed Party Style overall.  It's an instructive book in an accessible format that makes party-planning look easy.  If you need some fresh ideas for children's parties, give this one a whirl.  You'll also want to check out the author's website for lots of planning tips.  Also, use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win some great prizes in the giveaway she has going on.  Hurry, it ends soon!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(Readalikes:  Hmm ... apparently, I don't read many books like this.  Suggestions?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Party Style from the generous folks at Cedar Fort in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Library of Souls A Haunting, Harrowing Conclusion to an Immensely Enjoyable Series

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers from Library of Souls, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from the first two Miss Peregrine novels.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

When Jacob Portman, a 16-year-old American, discovered a time loop in Wales that sheltered children with unusual abilities, he found some much needed entertainment.  He never dreamed the kids he met would become his dearest friends.  Or that he had his own ability, one so rare and valuable that it's become crucial to the survival of peculiardom.  He never imagined he'd be running through time, hopping in and out of time loops in order to save his beloved Miss Peregrine.  But that's exactly what he's doing.  With Emma Bloom, a stubborn firestarter, and Addison McHenry, a talking dog, by his side, what could possibly go wrong?  How about everything?  

Tired of being chased by the merciless monsters who are kidnapping ymbrynes for their own nefarious purposes, Jacob decides to take the fight right to the wights' doorstep.  Unfortunately, their fortress sits in the middle of Devil's Acre, the most desperate and dangerous slum in all of Victorian England.  Reluctant to trust anyone they meet, Jacob, Emma, and Addison must figure out how to rescue their friends all on their own.  Caul, the megalomaniac set on ruling peculiardom no matter what the cost, will certainly kill Miss Peregrine and his other prisoners (which include all of the Headmistress' charges), as soon as he's done with them.  Can Jacob and Emma rescue their friends in time?  Can they save peculiardom from enslavement by the ruthless Caul?  Will Jacob's disturbing new power be the death of him?  Or will he learn to harness it in time to save himself, his friends, and the whole peculiar world?  If he manages to survive all that, will he return to his own land and time, even if it means losing the girl he loves?  Or will he trade the modern world for a romance that can't exist outside of peculiardom?  

In Library of Souls (available November 10, 2015), the final book in Ransom Riggs' enjoyable Miss Peregrine series, the story races to its exciting, adrenaline-rush of a conclusion.  With the fate of the peculiar world resting on his shoulders, Jacob jumps through time in an adventure that twists and turns in a labyrinth as dizzying as Devil's Acre itself.  Like its predecessors, this novel offers a blend of action, romance, humor, and horror that makes for a memorable thrill ride.  The haunting vintage photographs that have marked this series as unique appear here as well, giving the tale an extra measure of eerieness.  All of these elements make Library of Souls a worthy finale to a quirky, creepy series that has brought me hours of entertainment.  I'm sad to see it end.  At the same time, I can't wait to see what the innovative Ransom Riggs comes up with next. 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Library of Souls from the generous folks at Quirk Books.  Thank you!

Quirky, Creepy Adventure Continues in Second Miss Peregrine Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Hollow City by Ransom Riggs, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

"'Strange,' I thought, 'how you could be living your dreams and your nightmares at the very same time'" (144).

Jacob Portman, a 16-year-old from Florida, never thought of himself as special or peculiar in any way.  That is, until he discovered a latent talent for seeing hollowgast—horrifying monsters from a different world that are visible only to peculiars with Jacob's extremely rare ability.  His skill has made him indispensable to a group of children with unusual talents (invisibility, seeing the future through dreams, making fire with bare hands, etc.) who live in a time loop under the protection of their headmistress, Alma Peregrine.  As an ymbryne, their guardian has special powers, including the ability to change into a bird.  Trouble is, she's stuck in that form—and at the worst possible time.  With their home in ruins, their leader unable to communicate in anything but squawks, and wights hot on their tail, it's up to the children to save their beloved headmistress.  The question is: how?  Without Miss Peregrine to instruct them, they'll have to rely on their own wits to outsmart the monsters and return their protector to human form before the problem becomes irreversible.    

Rumor has it that one ymbryne—Miss Wren—remains free, safely hidden in London, circa 1940.  The war-torn city holds dangers of every kind, but Jacob & Co. have to risk it in order to save Miss Peregrine.  Along the way, they'll encounter friends, foes, and everything in between.  In the midst of all the excitement, Jacob has to confront his growing attachment to Emma Bloom, the irrepressible firestarter who's stolen his heart.  He's also worried about his parents, who are surely frantic with worry over his disappearance in the present.  If Jacob survives this escapade, he'll have to make the toughest decision of all—stay with Emma in a time loop that will forever preserve their youth or return to his own time, where he can be with his family, but not the girl he loves.  It's an impossible choice, one he can't bear to think about, especially when he needs to focus on saving Miss Peregrine, her charges, and the entire peculiar world.

Like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children before it, Hollow City by Ransom Riggs, offers a compelling, action-packed story peppered with humor, romance, and suspense.  Eerie vintage photographs make the tale especially memorable, even if Riggs sometimes has to stretch a little to make the pictures fit the story.  Still, Hollow City remains every bit as enjoyable as its predecessor.  If you like quirky, creepy adventure tales, you're going to love this series.  I do.

(Readalikes:  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Library of Souls, both by Ransom Riggs)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Hollow City from the generous folks at Quirk Books.  Thank you!

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Go Set a Watchman: I Didn't Hate It. Surprise!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"She did not stand alone, but what stood behind her, the most potent moral force in her life, was the love of her father.  She never questioned it, never thought about it, never even realized that before she made any decision of importance, the reflex, 'What would Atticus do?' passed through her unconscious; she never realized what made her dig in her feet and stand firm whenever she did was her father; that whatever was decent and of good report in her character was put there by her father; she did not know that she worshiped him ... [she was] complacent in her snug world" (117-18).

When I first heard the announcement about the release of Harper Lee's "new" novel, Go Set a Watchman, I felt ecstatic.  More from Maycomb?  Yes, please!  Then reviews started trickling in.  Not-so-great reviews.  The flame of my enthusiasm flickered a little.  Was Go Set a Watchman going to tarnish my undying love for To Kill a Mockingbird?  Would it spoil everything I thought I knew about Atticus Finch & Company?  Should I risk reading it or would I be better off just leaving it on the shelf?  Since I'm nothing if not daring (actually, I'm nothing like daring), I decided to take the plunge.  And, guess what?  I didn't hate Go Set a Watchman.  I get why some people did, but I didn't.  In fact, I liked it.

The novel opens with 26-year-old Jean Louise "Scout" Finch coming home to visit her father in Maycomb.  Although little has changed in the decades since she was a child running wild in the streets of the small town, Atticus has somehow become an old man.  At 72, he's crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and being looked after by Alexandra, his impossible, always disapproving sister.  Of course, seeing her father isn't the only reason Jean Louise is visiting—there's also Henry Clinton, Atticus' right-hand man.  And Scout's fianceé, if she would just go ahead and accept his marriage proposal already.  Determined to "pursue the stony path of spinsterhood" (15), at least for now, Jean Louise is happy to flirt with her long-suffering beau, philosophize with her aging father, and use her modern, New York-ified ways to scandalize the town she loves so well.

While happily pursuing these aims, Jean Louise stumbles upon a discovery so shocking it shakes her to her very core.  With this sucker punch to the gut, her safe little world tilts on its axis, throwing everything she thought she knew about her fair-minded father, his equally equitable colleagues, and her beloved Maycomb into doubt.  Is it possible that the people and place she's known all her life have changed so irrevocably in her absence?  Or is it Jean Louise?  As she grapples with the answers to questions she's never thought to ask, she must face the ultimate question:  Where does she truly belong—in prejudiced, provincial Maycomb or in permissive, progressive New York City?  It's becoming increasingly obvious that she can't have both.

Like To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman is a coming-of-age story.  Even though Scout is already an adult in body, it's her awareness that evolves throughout this novel.  The eyes through which she viewed her childhood are opened in ways that are startling and life-changing.  Readers who adore To Kill a Mockingbird will likely be just as troubled by the revelations that pummel Scout as she is.  Knowing the hard truth, even about fictional people in made-up places, can be horrifying.  While I still prefer the idealized version of Maycomb and her residents that appears in TKAM, it's fascinating to compare that with the more complex one Lee offers in Go Set a Watchman.  Studied together, the books offer a truly intriguing and enlightening reading experience.  Go Set a Watchman isn't the masterpiece that its predecessor is—in fact, it's clunky, confusing, and downright dull in places (although hilarious in others)—but as a companion novel (not a sequel or prequel), it adds illuminating layers to Scout's story.  Even if you're a diehard ignorance-is-bliss kind of reader, you don't want to miss this novel.  Not only does it bring to life a complicated, contradictory period in history, but it highlights how little things have changed over the years.  For a book written in the 1950s, Go Set a Watchman (especially its last few chapters) addresses ideas/themes that are oddly, eerily pertinent to issues we're dealing with today.  Beyond that, it's a compelling tale about contradiction, balance, and being humble enough to accept other people's beliefs even when (especially when) they conflict with your own.  In my opinion, Go Set a Watchman does exactly what the jacket copy says it does:  "It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic."

(Readalikes:  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for mild language (no F-bombs), racial epithets, sexual innuendo, and references (not graphic) to sex, rape, etc.

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Go Set a Watchman from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Haunting Everest Murder Mystery One of Reichs' Best Tempe Books Yet

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers from Bones on Ice, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from previous Temperance Brennan novels.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Finding dead bodies on Mount Everest is hardly unusual.  Around 250 people have lost their lives while attempting to reach the top of its treacherous peak, some from exposure, some from falls, some due to deadly avalanches, others from heart attacks, mountain sickness, and a host of other causes.  Most of their corpses remain on the mountain, their removal impossible in such an unforgiving terrain and climate.  They serve as a grim reminder of nature's awesome power, its dominance over man with his foolhardy notions and (often) fatal conceit.

When the body of a climber is discovered on Everest after an earthquake jostles it loose, it's assumed to be that of Brighton Hollis, a 24-year-old woman who disappeared on the mountain three years ago.  Her family—wealthy and very well-connected—wants to be sure it's her.  Enter Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist who examines bones discovered in both Charlotte, North Carolina, and Montreal.  Her job is "simple": identify the remains.  But what she finds is much, much more complicated.  According to evidence on the battered corpse, Brighton Hollis didn't die from exposure or frostbite or an accidental fall.  She was murdered.

As Tempe helps the police investigate Brighton's death, she learns that plenty of people had it in for the young climber.  In fact, every member of her climbing team had reason to want her dead.  Did one of them kill her, using Everest's extreme nature to cover up their crime?  Or is someone else responsible for her brutal murder?  Tempe needs to figure out what really happened to Brighton—and fast—or hers could be the next body lying on a gurney at the swanky new Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner facility.

Everyone knows I'm a huge Temperance Brennan fan (book version, not Bones version).  I've read every book in Kathy Reichs' popular series starring the dedicated forensic anthropologist.  While I've raved about many of them, ho-hummed over others, I always learn something from them.  Reichs knows how to explain the complexities of forensic science in a way that is clear and engaging without insulting the reader's intelligence.  Then, there's our heroine.  Tempe, who is smart, funny, devoted, and self-deprecating is the kind of character that always speaks to me.  I adore her, as well as all her quirky colleagues.  Of course, Reichs' novels also offer tons of action, suspense, and mystery to keep the reader engaged.

So, yeah, it's a given that I'm going to enjoy—at least to some degree—every book Reichs writes about Tempe.  Still, I found Bones on Ice (a novella that fits between Bones Never Lie and Speaking in Bones) to be especially intriguing.  Knowing nothing at all about mountain climbing or Mt. Everest, I was riveted by every detail Reichs included, from the descriptions of climbing culture to the heartbreaking idea of a mountain littered with the bodies of dead dreamers.  Learning about the methods use to examine a frozen corpse was likewise fascinating.  Naturally, the novella also has lots of action, intriguing characters, and sparks flying between Tempe and her cohorts.  Reichs blends all of these elements into a tight, engrossing story that kept me thoroughly entertained.  Although Bones On Ice is not a full-length novel, it's still one of the best installments in the series.  My mind and heart are still haunted by the sobering images of Everest Reichs planted in my head ...

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Temperance Brennan series [Deja Dead; Death Du Jour; Deadly Decisions; Fatal Voyage; Grave Secrets; Bare Bones; Monday Mourning; Cross Bones; Break No Bones; Bones to Ashes; Devil Bones; 206 Bones; Spider Bones; Flash and Bones; Bones Are Forever; Bones in Her Pocket; Bones of the Lost; Swamp Bones; Bones Never Lie; and Speaking in Bones])


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Bones On Ice from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

DiCamillo's Heartwarming Winn-Dixie A Sweet, Simple Tale of Friendship

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Opal Buloni has just moved to Naomi, Florida, with her father, a Baptist preacher.  Her mama took off a long time ago and the Preacher, still bitter from the loss, throws himself wholeheartedly into his work.  Lonely, 10-year-old Opal is looking for a friend.  And she finds one in the most unlikely of places—the local Winn-Dixie grocery store.  Her new pal is a dirty, ugly stray dog.  When the Preacher agrees, albeit reluctantly, to let Opal keep him, no one is more surprised—and delighted—than her.

For an animal no one wanted, Winn-Dixie has a way of wagging his way into a person's heart.  Because of him, Opal discovers her new home is full of kind, interesting folks.  The more she reaches out to them, the more her own heart fills with hope and joy.  Maybe she and her father will always have a mom-shaped hole in their lives, but, as Opal learns, it doesn't have to define her.  Because of Winn-Dixie, she realizes that sometimes, you have to make your own happiness.

I'm probably the last person on Earth to read Kate DiCamillo's heart-warming children's story, Because of Winn-Dixie.  The book has received heaps of praise and accolades, including a Newbery Honor Award.  Is it deserving?  Absolutely.  This is a sweet, simple tale that teaches important lessons about acceptance, love, and the fulfillment that comes from helping others, be they human or canine.  DiCamillo said, "The book is (I hope) a hymn of praise to dogs, friendship, and the South."  I couldn't have said it better myself.  

(Readalaikes:  Reminded me of A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord)


If this were a movie (and it is!), it would be rated:

for brief, mild language

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a well-loved copy of Because of Winn-Dixie from my daughter's personal library.  Thanks, sweetie!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Far-Fetched Premise Makes YA Thriller Just So-So

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

At 14, Frances Mace took the trip of a lifetime—a cruise aboard a luxury yacht.  There she met bright, wealthy Libby O'Martin; there she kissed a boy named Grey; there she witnessed a gang of assassins slaughter the ship's passengers and crew, leaving Frances an orphan.  Only three people survived the attack and the subsequent sinking of Persephone.  Only three people know what really occurred on board, what really happened to the 327 who died as the result of the vicious assault.  And two of them —Grey and his father—are lying. 

Frances isn't being totally honest either.  After the Persephone disaster, Libby's devastated father took Frances in, promising to protect her from both the media and the killers who might be looking for her.  He did it with one condition—that Frances pretend to be his dead daughter.  After reconstructive facial surgery, no one can tell she's not who she claims to be.  But Frances, now 18, and grieving the death of her adoptive father, is ready to shed her false skin.  She's ready to confront the lying Wells men, ready to avenge her deceased parents.  In order for it to work, however, she must convince Grey she's really Libby O'Martin.  He has to like her, trust her, fall in love with her—only then can she put her plan into action.

Once on Caldwell, an island in South Carolina where both the O'Martin and Wells Families own property, Frances' conviction starts to waver.  Especially as she gets closer and closer to Grey.  Can she see her plan through?  Will she finally be able to avenge her parents' deaths?  Or will the powerful Wells' win yet again?

If the plot to Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan sounds convoluted and improbable, well, that's because it is.  Which doesn't stop the book from being an engrossing page turner (provided you're willing to do some serious belief-suspending, of course).  The action kept me turning pages, even while I rolled my eyes at the irritating love triangle and melodramatic prose.  I cared more about the mystery than about any of the characters, especially the personality-less boys.  If it weren't for the quick pacing that made me want to know what happened next, I would have put this one down after the first few chapters.  I finished Daughter of Deep Silence, but didn't find the ending very satisfying.  Overall, then, it was only a so-so read for me.  While the suspense made the novel compelling, it just didn't do enough to override the story's gaping plot holes, far-fetched premise, and unlikable characters.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, scenes of peril, and sexual innuendo/sensuality

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, October 22, 2015

2 Lonely, Homesick Girls + 1 Magical Book = Adventures of a Highly Unusual—and Immensely Enjoyable—Nature (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"It had just dawned on her to wonder what the book might want from her" (87).

Kai Grove has never met the great-aunt with whom she'll be living for the summer.  Lavinia Quirk, a shockingly spry 86-year-old who listens to hip hop, resides in a house that's just as wonky as she is.  So, really, 12-year-old Kai shouldn't be surprised when she finds a strange old book among the eclectic offerings on her aunt's shelf.  Titled The Exquisite Corpse, it tells an old-fashioned tale about a boy who discovers magic.  Not all that unique, perhaps, until Kai writes in the book and it writes back.  At first she thinks she's imagining things or that Lavinia's playing a joke on her, but soon, she can't deny that something very real—and extremely strange—is happening to her.  Kai came to Texas wanting an adventure; it seems she's found it.  

Like Kai, Leila Awan has traveled to a faraway place seeking new experiences, preferably romantic, exciting ones like those she reads about in her favorite novels.  Staying with her uncle's family in Lahore, Pakistan, should offer Leila plenty of unique opportunities; so far, though, she's got little to Skype home about.  Then, she finds an intriguing book in her uncle's library, The Exquisite Corpse.  Leila's hoping the tale inside will be "both utterly romantic and moderately gruesome" (21).  What she finds is something rare, something magical, something that freaks her out completely.  When Leila writes in the book, it writes back.  Completely creeped out, she tries to destroy the book.  It resists her attempts, relocating itself and demanding her attention.  Little does Leila know, a girl her age on the other side of the world is having similar struggles with her copy of the same strange book.

As the story inside The Exquisite Corpse continues to unfold, both girls find themselves enraptured by the romance and mystery of a couple named Ralph Flabbergast and Edwina Pickle.  Their real-life struggles in Texas and Pakistan are confusing enough without the addition of this crazy magic.  And yet, it's as if destiny is drawing them to it, to each other.  The question is: Why?  Are they supposed to change Ralph and Edwina's fate?  What about their own?  What will happen to them all when the story finally comes to an end?

In the introduction to A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou, the author talks about the invisible threads she believes connect people who are meant to find each other.  Through the adventures of Kai and Leila, she explores this most fascinating of concepts.  The fact that she uses a magic book to do it just makes the premise all the more compelling.  With an imaginative storyline, fun characters, and an intertwining plot that jumps between the present and the past, A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic is an enchanting, multi-layered novel.  Both a rollicking yarn and a poignant tale about finding one's true self, it's a bewitching read that I enjoyed immensely.  If you like upbeat middle grade stories sprinkled in fairy dust, this one's for you.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of novels like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brasheres and When the Butterflies Came by Kimberley Griffiths Little)  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs)

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic from the generous folks at HarperCollins.  Thank you!


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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Family Movie Guide a Delight to Peruse

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Everybody loves movies, but since not everyone digs the same flicks, it can be difficult to find one that appeals to the whole family.  Case in point:  Typically, my 6-year-old princess wants a girly movie; my 10-year-old boy begs for something with lots of action; my teenage daughter prefers rom coms; my 16-year-old son groans at anything too juvenile; my husband always suggests sci fi; and by this time, I just want an aspirin.  The solution?  Usually we settle on Studio C.  A great alternative option, it's true, but if you're really sold on family movie night, here's a suggestion:  pick up 101 Movies to See Before You Grow Up by parenting/entertainment blogger Suzette Valle.  It will give you plenty of family-pleasing ideas (although it should be noted that some of the films she suggests are rated PG-13).

In a fun, easy-to-read format geared toward kids, this informative guide discusses 101 popular movies.  For each, it lists a plot summary, people who worked on the film, its rating, release date, and interesting trivia related to the movie.  It even provides a space to record when you saw the film, with whom you viewed it, and your rating (1-5 stars)/review.  Bright colors throughout as well as whimsical illustrations by Natasha Hellegourach make thumbing through this book a real delight for fans of all ages.  I suggest placing it on the coffee table in your t.v./family room to remind you which movies you've seen and which you still need to experience.    

While 101 Movies to See Before You Grow Up really isn't meant to be read cover-to-cover, that's what I did.  And what an enjoyable experience!  I had a great time learning about all these movies, 84 of which I'd seen (guess I can't grow up quite yet).  Some of the plot summaries were a little too informative for me, but overall, Valle provides lots of useful information for each flick.  I especially appreciated the variety of movies that were highlighted—it's a mix of cinema classics (It's a Wonderful Life; Mary Poppins; To Kill a Mockingbird; etc.), newer action/adventure favorites (Back to the Future; Jurassic Park; Pirates of the Caribbean; etc.), beloved animated films (Toy Story; Despicable Me; Shrek; etc., sports/school picks (Cool Runnings; Remember the Titans; Dead Poet's Society; etc.), and even some documentaries (March of the Penguins; Super Size Me; Spellbound; etc.).  Although I didn't agree with every selection (Jim Carrey's Grinch?  No, thank you.), most got my hearty approval. 

If you're looking for a holiday gift for your family or for a friend/co-worker who adores movies, you can stop searching.  101 Movies to See Before You Grow Up by Suzette Valle will make any film lover happy.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie (ha!), it would be rated:

for mild descriptions of violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of 101 Movies to See Before You Grow Up from the generous folks at Quarto Books.  Thank you!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

TTT: My Wish Is Your Command, Book Genie!

If you had an all-powerful genie at your disposal, what would you ask the magical being to do?  What if your genie specialized in granting bookish wishes?  What requests would you be throwing at him/her?  It's always fun to imagine these types of scenarios, isn't it?  Well, that's exactly what the fine ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish are asking us to do this week.  I love fun Top Ten Tuesday topics like this—I can't wait to see what's on everyone's lists today!  If you want to join in the fun, click on over to The Broke and the Bookish for all the details.

Without further ado, I give you:

My Top Ten Bookish Wishes 
(If You Can Dream It, the Book Genie Can Do It!)

1.  I wish for the Book Genie to build me a big, but cozy library to house my overflowing book collection.  I'm not asking for much, really, just something simple like this:

Or this:

Heck, I'd even "settle" for this because, you know, I'm just so very accommodating like that:

2.  I wish for the Book Genie to bring my favorite authors back to life so they can write more books.  This means you, L.A. Meyer, Maeve Binchy, L.M. Montgomery ...

3.  I wish for the Book Genie to write beautiful, scintillating reviews of all the books I've read this year that are still sitting on my desk waiting for me to post about them.  I think I have 30 more to do in order to be caught up.  The Book Genie should be able to handle that, no problem!

4.  I wish for the Book Genie to shake down all those slow-to-publish (slower than I'd like, anyway) authors that I love so much.  Yes, I'm talking to you, Tana French, Maureen Johnson, Veronica Rossi, Joanne Harris, Sherri L. Smith, etc.

5.  I wish for the Book Genie to put a bug in Patrick Ness' ear about the need for another awesome YA series from him.  I'm still mourning the ending of The Chaos Walking books.

6.  Because of all this reading material the Book Genie is going to magic into the world, I'm going to need him to take care of my messy house, piles of laundry, and kid-chauffering duties so that I have more time to read.  So, I wish for that, too.  

7.  Since my big, brand-new library will probably not be completely filled with the books I already own, I wish for a bookstore gift card that never runs out of money.  Ever.

8.  I'm super impatient when it comes to waiting for books to come out, so I think I'll wish for all those I've been waiting for to appear right now.  

9.  While you're at it, Book Genie, I'd love an all-expenses paid trip to New York City for BEA 2016.  I've never been and it looks soooo amazing.  Wish granted, right?

10.  Taking a cue from Disney's Aladdin, Book Genie, I'll show you my thanks for fulfilling my bookish longings by wishing for your freedom.  You're welcome.

11.  On second thought, I wish to have all classic literature downloaded directly into my brain so that I can talk intelligently about, say, Moby Dick, without actually having to slog through it! 

How about you?  What would you wish for?  I'm eager to see what're on your Book Genie list.  Please leave me a comment and I'll gladly return the favor.

Happy TTT to you!  

Monday, October 19, 2015

Tense Historical Mystery/Thriller Gets Everything Right

October 1922—On a warm day in Milan, Italy, the life of 19-year-old Isabella Berotti changes forever.  One moment she is gliding through the busy marketplace on the arm of her handsome husband, their unborn child nestled safely in her womb.  The next, Luigi lies dead in the street, blood streaming from a bullet wound in his chest.  A second shot rings out, felling Isabella, who barely survives the injury.  The bambino inside her is not so lucky.

Ten years later, Isabella is still haunted by the violent death of her husband.  As a Blackshirt—one of Mussolini's elite soldiers—Luigi was in a dangerous line of work.  Still, why him?  Why her?  Their shooter has never been brought to justice and the police claim to know nothing.  Isabella doesn't believe them.  Someone knows something, she's sure of it.  But, questioning authority in Fascist Italy is never a good idea, so Isabella distracts herself with work.  As an architect in the most prestigious firm in Bellina, one of Mussolini's new cities, she has the privilege of designing beautiful new buildings and homes.  Her work is the center of her life, the only thing that keeps her moving forward.

Little does Isabella know that her life is about to change in an instant once again.  When a strange woman approaches Isabella, begging the architect to watch her young daughter, she doesn't have time to react, let alone refuse.  Moments later, she's horrified when the mother throws herself off a clock tower, plummeting to her death.  The woman hinted that she knew something of Luigi's death—now Isabella will never know what it was.  Unless the child knows.  Trying to simultaneously protect 9-year-old Rosa and extract information from her throws Isabella into the middle of a dangerous political battle.  Surrounded by enemies, she doesn't know who to trust.  With her neck and that of the girl who's reawakened her mother's heart on the line, Isabella doesn't know what to do, where to turn.  Mussolini's goons lurk down every possible road and of one thing she's certain—they want her dead.

The Italian Wife by Kate Furnivall is one of those novels that just gets everything right.  In vivid, painstaking prose, the author builds a setting so rich, so authentic, it was as if I had truly stepped into Fascist Italy (and wanted to step right out, thank you very much).  Because their tension, their fear, their desperation, and their anger felt so palpable, I had no trouble at all empathizing with the characters.  I rooted for them without hesitation.  Character-driven though it may be, The Italian Wife doesn't skimp on plot.  There's plenty of pulse-pounding action, nail-biting suspense, and life-or-death twists to keep a reader glued to her seat.  Although the book clocks in at 411 pages, I never got bored with it.  It kept me riveted to the very end.  There's so much to love about this one that I honestly can't come up with any complaints (be amazed, be very amazed).  If you like tense historical thrillers, this is the book for you.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of several WWII novels, including The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah; The Kommandant's Girl by Pam Jenoff, and Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (one F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Italian Wife from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Complex, Enjoyable Still Life SO Much More Than a Cozy

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

South of Montreal, near the U.S. border, sits a small, idyllic village called Three Pines.  With its lush natural beauty, quaint shops, and warm-hearted residents, it's a lovely, postcard-perfect kind of place.  A place where "the only reason doors were locked was to prevent neighbors from dropping off baskets of zucchini at harvest time" (1%).  From a distance, it looks like a snow globe scene, perpetually safe inside its protective bubble.  No community can be that flawless, of course.  As in every other town, plenty of tension simmers beneath Three Pines' serene surface.  

Still, the discovery of a dead body in the woods comes as a great shock.  Especially since it belongs to Jane Neal, a retired teacher much beloved in the village.  Pierced with an arrow, she appears to have been the victim of a tragic hunting accident.  Armand Gamache, the chief inspector of the Sûreté du Quebec, however, isn't convinced.  Determined to discover what really happened to the elderly teacher, he and his team take up temporary residence in Three Pines.  Intelligent and thoughtful, Gamache knows the better acquainted he is with the townspeople, the more forthcoming they will be.  But as he becomes more and more familiar with the colorful village people, slowly falling in love with them and their town, the less he wants to suspect any of them of killing an old woman.  And yet, it's his duty to find her murderer.  Was it Jane's greedy niece?  Or someone with a less obvious motive?  As pressure to solve the case intensifies, it's up to Gamache to find a killer among his new found friends.  Can he do it in time or will he become the next victim?

Despite its intimate, small-town setting, labeling Still Life by Canadian author Louise Penny a "cozy" mystery would be a mistake.  The novel, the first in her popular Armand Gamache series, is much more than that.  I completely agree with what Penny said about her books in a recent interview with BookPage:

To call them cozies is to completely misread!  I get very annoyed at anyone who calls them cozies, or even traditional.  I think it's facile for people to think that anything set in a village must, per force, be superficial and simplistic.  (BookPage, September 2015 issue, Pages 14-15)

Too true.  Still Life introduces a town that, to an outsider, looks as cozy as a fleece blanket, when in truth, it's more like a patchwork quilt—still warm, but with a variety of pieces, patterns, and stitching styles that create a more layered, complex beauty than is apparent at first glance.  The novel isn't really about the murder of a community member, it's about the community itself.  It's about the people who live there, the relationships they have with each other, and the ways in which they deal with their differences—in personality, in cultural background, in political views, in everything.  Still Life and the books that follow are character-driven mysteries, focusing on the most appealing of Penny's story people: Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.  Unlike most of literature's craggy, uncouth police personnel, Gamache is a kind and consummate gentleman.  Although he battles his own demons, he's a positive man, happily married, and upbeat even in the face of his often unpleasant duties.  A breath of fresh air, for sure.  All that being said, you'll be happy to know that Penny doesn't skimp on plot.  There's plenty happening to keep the story moving along.  Although I figured out who the killer was before Gamache did, I wasn't totally sure I was right until the very end.  That's the mark of a good murder mystery, in my book.  In case you can't tell, all of these elements blend to make Still Life a fun, compelling read.  I enjoyed it immensely, as I did the next book in the series and the next and the ... you get the picture.  If you dig murder mysteries that are more than just another police procedural, definitely try this series on for size.  It's a darn good one.     

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Armand Gamache series [A Fatal Grace; The Cruelest Month; A Rule Against Murder; The Brutal Telling; Bury Your Dead; A Trick of the Light; The Beautiful Mystery; How the Light Gets In; The Long Way Home; and The Nature of the Beast)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder invectives) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Still Life from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

If It Weren't For the Cop-Out of An Ending ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although she's eighteen, Madeline Whittier knows little of life beyond the walls of her home.  Born with "baby in the bubble" disease (aka Severe Combined Immunodeficiency or SCID), she's allergic to nearly everything.  Going outside could mean death.  So, she doesn't.  Madeline stays inside, studying with online tutors, socializing only with her nurse and her physician mother, and posting spoiler book reviews on her blog.  It's a lonely existence, but one Madeline bears with reluctant acceptance.

That changes when a new family moves in next door to the Whittiers.  Watching their movements from her window, Madeline becomes fascinated with Olly Bright, the family's teenage son.  Always clad in black, he does Spiderman-like parkour moves, launching himself into secret places to get away from his father's alcohol-fueled rages.  When Madeline and Olly start instant messaging each other, she discovers that her neighbor is not just physically skilled, but he's also funny, smart, and thoughtful.  As much as Madeline looks forward to their chats, she longs to talk to Olly face-to-face.  To feel his hand in hers, his lips on her skin.  Of course, her mother would never allow such a thing.  She'd have a coronary if she knew about the instant messaging.  Madeline has never considered defying her mother-doctor, risking illness or worse to escape her confinement, but now?  Now, it's all she wants.  
Will Madeline break free, throwing caution to the wind in order to be with the boy she's coming to love?  Or will she do the sensible thing and forget Olly ever existed?  With her heart—not to mention her life—at stake, what will Madeline decide?

There's plenty to love about Everything, Everything, a debut novel by Nicola Yoon.  To begin with, there's the kind of diversity that is often lacking in YA novels.  Yoon, a Jamaican-American married to a Japanese-American, gives Madeline a mixed ethnicity (Japanese/African-American), which helps her stand out.  I thought the token gay character who drops in at the end was a little much (Why was he even in the story?), but I like that our heroine is bi-racial and it's just a fact of life for her, no big deal.  I also enjoyed the peeks we get into her bright, engaging personality via lists, book reviews, lists, drawings (by David Yoon, the author's husband), and diary entries.  These snippets perk up the narration, moving the plot along in a fast, fresh manner.  The growing relationship between Madeline and Olly is also sweet and fun.  I found all of these elements appealing.  My only real complaint with the novel is with the ending.  With little foreshadowing, the conflict's resolution comes out of nowhere.  And yet, the big twist didn't surprise me at all, as I've seen it done before.  Yoon's wrap-up, thus, felt like a rushed cop-out.  In fact, it kind of soured the whole book for me.  Despite that, Everything, Everything really is pretty enjoyable.  It's the sweet, swoony kind of read teens will definitely get into (my 13-year-old daughter adored it).  Judging by the rave reviews the novel is getting all over the book blogosphere, I'm the only one who felt a little gipped by this one.  Ah, well.  I can deal.

(Readalikes:  Broken by C.J. Lyons)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Everything, Everything from the generous folks at Random House via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

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