Thursday, September 18, 2014

In Spite of Triple Digit Temperatures, Fall Is On My Mind ...


Even though we don't start getting Fall weather here in the Phoenix area until oh, around December, I still love this time of year.  It reminds me of autumn in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge (Washington/Oregon), where I grew up—I loved the crispness in the air, the golden colors of the changing leaves, the smell of ripening apples, and the feel of soft sweaters and flannel against my skin.  None of those things are happening around me at the moment, but here's one sign of the season that remains the same no matter where I live:  the start of the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge over at Stainless Steel Droppings.  I get excited about this reading challenge every year, even though I haven't participated in awhile.  Things have been a little slow around old BBB lately, so I thought, why not liven things up with a little challenge?  This one, which is in its ninth year (wow!), celebrates things that go bump in the night, particularly horror stories, dark fantasy, mystery, suspense, supernatural, gothic, etc.  I'm a little late to the party this time around, but I'm going to go for broke and sign on for Peril the First which requires me to read four books that fit in with the RIP Challenge genres.  Here's what I'm planning to read:




1.  Contaminated by Em Garner -- This YA novel about rehabilitating zombies sounds like ... fun?

2.  Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd -- The second book in a YA series starring 16-year-old Juliet Moreau, daughter of H.G. Wells' famous mad scientist.

3.  Needful Things by Stephen King -- I think I read this waaayyyy back in high school.  What better time for a re-read?

4.  Sweet Unrest by Lisa Maxwell -- This book, which comes out in a couple of weeks, involves a teen girl who's trying to solve the mystery of the troubling dreams she's had all her life, which are becoming even more strange since her family moved into an old Louisiana plantation house.

What do you think?  Can I handle it?  We shall see, we shall see ... What about you?  Are you brave enough to imbibe?  Want to join the challenge with me?  Click here for all the details.  Also, don't forget to show some love to the talented Abigail Larson, who designed the challenge banners.

Happy haunting reading!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sequel Disappointing After Archetype Build-up

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Prototype, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Archetype.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Having narrowly escaped the possessive clutches of Declan Burke—the man who claims to be her adoring husband—Emma is on the run.  Desperate to find the parents she never knew, she's spent the last year searching the globe for any sign of them, but to no avail.  While questioning a promising source in far-off Mexico, she receives shocking news.  Declan, whom she believed to be dead is, in fact, alive.  Not only that, but he wants her back.  And has promised to make the person who can produce his missing wife a very, very wealthy individual.  

With a target on her back, Emma has little choice but to go underground.  Although the Resistance leaders allow her to hide with them, no one—least of all Noah Tucker—can quite trust the clone who wears the face of their dead friend.  Emma doesn't want to intrude on the life Noah has made for himself with another woman, even if that woman is now helping him raise their daughter.  Still, she can't help feeling envious.  Still unsure of what she actually is, Emma can't help questioning what she wants and where she really belongs.  Should she reconcile herself to being Declan's dutiful wife or should she fight for what was Emma Wade's—even if she's not exactly Emma Wade?  As Declan's forces close in on her, Emma must chose her fate, once and for all.

After the thrill ride that was M.D. Waters' Archetype, I couldn't wait to delve into its sequel, Prototype.  I expected the same kind of taut, twisty plotline; intriguing world-building; and psychological suspense that kept me so riveted in the first book.  Did I find it in Prototype?  Not so much.  The plot suffers because of Emma's weak story goal, dissolving into a generic dystopian cat-and-mouse adventure with an irritating love triangle at its center.  There are a few psychological thrills thrown in to make Prototype interesting, but not quite enough to make it as enjoyable as Archetype.  All in all, I did find this one entertaining, just a little disappointing after the build-up of the first book.  

(Readalikes:  Archetype by M.D. Waters)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Prototype from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Archetype a Taut, Twisty Genre Mash-up

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When 26-year-old Emma Burke awakes in a hospital with only the foggiest of memories to keep her company, her doctor explains that she's been in a horrible accident.  Because of her injuries, she can't remember the most mundane things—like her husband.  Declan tells her stories about how they met, fell in love, and lived happily ever after, but they might as well be fairy tales.  These beloved memories should feel familiar, but they don't.  Not at all.  The strange dreams that fill her nights seem more real.  But, they project impossible images, false memories of violence, a camp where young girls are trained to be perfect wives, and her love for a man who is not Declan.  Emma can't make any sense of anything.  She should be able to confide in her husband as well as her doctor, Declan's trusted friend—if it weren't for the warning voice screaming in her head, maybe she would.

Meeting Noah Tucker, the head of a security company engaged by Declan, changes everything for Emma.  She's almost positive he's the man in her dreams—the one who makes every nerve ending in her body tingle with joy—so why is he trying to kill her? 

More confused than ever, Emma must decide who to believe—her husband or the man who haunts her dreams.  The story Noah tells her feels nearly as false as the one Declan has spun.  Which version of her life is the true one?  Both?  Neither?  Who is Emma Burke, really?  The more she learns about herself, the more horrified she becomes ...

It's tough to describe Archetype, a debut novel by M.D. Waters, without throwing spoilers all over the place.  Suffice it to say, the story's a taut, twisty genre mash-up (sci fi/psychological thriller; romance; dystopian-ish) that will keep you guessing.  Or maybe you'll have it all figured out by the second chapter.  Even then, I dare say, you'll keep reading.  Because, whatever else Archetype may be, it's an edge-of-your-seat, mind-bending adventure that will leave you clamoring for a sequel (good news: Prototype came out in July).  

(Readalikes:  Prototype by M.D. Waters; also reminded me of Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Archetype from the generous folks at Penguin/Dutton.  Thank you!

Friday, September 12, 2014

In a Handful of Dust A Compelling and Worthy Sequel

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(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for In a Handful of Dust, it may inadvertently expose plot surprises from its predecessor, Not a Drop to Drink.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Even though Lynn has learned the value of trusting other people, the 26-year-old is still watchful, still cautious.  Unlike Lynn, Lucy—who is now 16—has grown up in a close community, surrounded by friends.  She knows little about vigilance or surviving in the world beyond their small village.  But, when a deadly disease strikes, killing almost everyone in its path, that's exactly what Lucy must do.  Led by the unyielding Lynn, she leaves behind the people she loves, including the boy she hoped to marry, for the promise of a "normal" life in far away California.

There are a lot of miles between Ohio and the Pacific Ocean, all of them fraught with danger.  It's not just the threat of wildlife or human violence that threatens them, but all the mundane problems as well—hunger, thirst, blisters, sunburns, injuries, squabbles, etc.  Although Lucy pines for her lost love, both women are determined to reach safety on the West Coast.  No matter what it takes to get there—and it will take everything they have.  And more.

One of the reasons I liked Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis' debut novel, so much is that it offered an original take on a familiar story.  That, combined with compelling characters, vivid prose and tight plotting made it stand out from all the other YA dystopians out there.  With its sequel, In a Handful of Dust (available September 23, 2014), the story bends in a more generic The Road-type direction.  Still, McGinnis knows how to keep things from getting too stale.  With the bleak, spare style that defined Not a Drop to Drink, she continues to develop the relationship between Lynn and Lucy while hurling enough obstacles in their way to keep their journey exciting.  Although I liked the first novel better, In a Handful of Dust is still a compelling and worthy sequel.  Overall, I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis; The Road by Cormac McCarthy)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder invectives), violence/gore, sexual innuendo and references to rape

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of In a Handful of Dust from the generous folks at Harper Collins via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Original Alternate World Makes Inventive Middle Grade Novel Exciting, Absorbing

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When 13-year-old Jax Aubrey awakes to an empty world, he assumes he's the sole survivor of some crazy apocalyptic event.  Except nothing seems damaged or different—all the people have just up and disappeared.  If it's a nightmare, it's the most realistic one he's ever had.  When Jax notices his 18-year-old guardian, Riley Pendare, moving around as well, he learns the truth: he's a Transitioner.   People like him and Riley are among the few who are able to slip beyond the week's ordinary seven days into a special eighth day.  

There's little to occupy Jax's time on the eighth day—until he discovers a mysterious girl hiding in the house next door.  Unlike Jax, Evangeline Emrys exists only on this extra day.  Curiosity piqued, Jax determines to find out everything he can about her.  Riley warns Jax to stay away from Evangeline, but Jax can't understand the harm.  As he gets to know her better, though, he realizes who the girl really is and why Riley's so determined to keep her existence a secret.  By nosing around, Jax has added fuel to an ancient feud—now it's up to the two boys to protect Evangeline from an enemy as old as time.

I love books that fire up my imagination by offering me unique, alternate worlds.  The Eighth Day, the first book in Dianne K. Salerni's inventive new middle grade series, does just that.  Although the plot's a little skimpy, its focus being more on world-building, the story is still exciting and absorbing.  It's a fun, original read.  I'm counting down the days until January 27, 2014 when the sequel finally comes out!

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of an old, adult book—The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything by John D. MacDonald)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Tyger Tyger Pretty Generic Generic

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Teagan Wylltson lives an ordinary life.  She's just a 16-year-old girl from Chicago who spends her days studying, hanging out with her BFF and working with primates at the Lincoln Park Zoo.  She's no one special.  And she's certainly not crazy.  Except that she's been seeing things.  Strange things.  Things that cannot possibly be real.  

When gorgeous Finn McCumhail shows up out of nowhere raving about goblins, Teagan knows he's telling the truth.  There's no other way to explain what she's been seeing.  But, if Finn's stories about the ancient creatures from Irish folklore are real, that means Teagan and her family are in grave danger.  Finn claims they were born to fight all goblin-kind, but just the sight of the horrible monsters makes Teagan want to run away screaming.  Can Finn teach her how to resist their strange magic?  Can Teagan trust the beautiful boy who is, after all, a stranger?  What will happen to those she loves if she puts her faith in the wrong person?  What evil will she bring down on them all if she chooses the wrong side in the goblin wars?  With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Teagan must decide where her loyalties lie.  

Because I've read so many YA urban fantasies like this one, I put off reading Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton.  And really, the only reason I finally picked it up (so to speak) is that it caught my attention when I was browsing through books on my phone's Kindle app looking for something to keep me awake during a snooze-worthy Diamondbacks baseball game.  Tyger Tyger did the trick.  At least for the duration of the game.  The story drew me in enough that I kept reading, but in the end, I found the novel disappointing.  Why?  Generic plot, annoying insta-love, abrupt transitions between scenes, underdeveloped characters, and just general over-writing.  To me, the novel felt over-long and underwhelming.  I finished it, but I didn't care enough about the characters to bother picking up the sequel.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of The Iron King by Julie Kagawa)

Grade:

    
If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs) and violence/gore

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

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

When the Taste of Sugar Ain't So Sweet ...

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Although no one is allowed to own Sugar anymore, she still feels like a slave.  Spending long, grueling days cutting sugarcane under the sweltering sun doesn't seem very free to her.  She longs for a life beyond River Road Plantation, where she can do as she pleases without the master or the overseer or even her adoptive mama, Missus Beale, looking over her shoulder.  It's only when Sugar's traipsing along the banks of the Mississippi River, exploring and make-believing with the master's son, that she really feels free.  Even then, she can't let her guard down—if anyone catches her and Billy together, they'll both be beaten.  

When Billy tells Sugar a secret—his father is hiring Chinese workers to labor alongside the former slaves in the cane field—she feels a tingle of excitement.  She's the only one, though.  The rest of the plantation workers fear for their meager wages.  They look at their new co-workers with suspicion and doubt.  Sugar can't understand the tension as she finds the Chinese men fascinating.  There's one thing she does understand—she's the only one who can bring all the workers together.  But how?  And what will it cost her to take such a risk?  Her reckless bravery always leads to trouble—will this time be any different?

Sugar, like Jewell Parker Rhodes' first middle grade book, Ninth Ward, offers readers a strong, capable heroine who uses her wits to rise above a difficult situation.  Although she possesses courage and wisdom beyond her years, Sugar's childlike enthusiasm and imagination guarantee she remains both believable and relatable.  Young readers will relish her mischievous streak, while applauding her efforts to promote understanding and peace among two very different groups of people.  Hers is a quiet, enjoyable story that reminds us of the humanity we all share, regardless of our race or culture.   


Grade:

If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and scary situations
To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, August 28, 2014

No Lie, Tempe's Latest Adventure Gives Me All the Feels

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(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Bones Never Lie, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Tempe Brennan adventures.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)    

With a vicious cold wreaking havoc on her nose and throat, the last thing Tempe Brennan wants to do is head to work.  But, unidentified corpses in need of her particular skill set to wrangle out their mysteries wait for no man—or woman.  Souped up on Sudafed, the forensic anthropologist reports to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, perplexed by the summons to powwow over a case long grown cold.  What she discovers chills her blood.  A sadistic female serial killer, whom Tempe has helped investigate in the past (Monday Mourning, 2003) is at it again.  Anique Pomerleau is Tempe's one-that-got-away.  This time, Tempe's not about to let her go.  She'll do anything she can to find the sick woman and see that she pays—once and for all—for her crimes.

Unfortunately, "anything" involves not just finding her longtime colleague (and on again/off again boyfriend), who flew off the grid after his daughter's death two months ago, but also convincing him to help her track down Pomerleau.  Tempe has personal reasons for wanting to see Andrew Ryan, the man who still makes her girl parts sing, but they're trumped by her professional need to catch the killer.  She knows the Brennan/Ryan team can nail this one.  But bringing a changed Ryan on the case leads to its own complications.

As Tempe and Ryan chase dead end after dead end, Pomerleau's victim count increases.  More young girls will die if they don't stop her soon.  Can they nab Anique before it's too late?  Or will she remain the one who got away—again?

Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm a huge Kathy Reichs fan.  More specifically, a huge Tempe Brennan fan.  I love the sassy, indefatigable scientist—her down-to-earth personality, her sense of humor, her passion for her work, everything.  She's the kind of vivid, complex character that I would follow anywhere.  Although Bones Never Lie (available September 23, 2014) disturbed me more than other of her adventures (something about a woman preying on young girls ... just ick), I still devoured the novel.  As with other Tempe books, this one offers a compelling mystery peppered with fascinating forensic detail explained in terms the average person can (pretty much) understand; exciting, didn't-see-that-one-coming plot twists; and, of course, the friction and sizzle that always accompanies Tempe's interactions with people like "Skinny" Slidell and Andrew Ryan.  Oh, and let's talk about the ending of Bones Never Lie for a minute—gave me all the feels, people, all the feels!  Love, love, love.  So, yeah, enjoyed the book, still adore the series.  Amen.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books in the Tempe Brennan series by Kathy Reichs [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])

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, blood/gore, sexual innuendo, violence, and disturbing images/content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Bones Never Lie from the generous folks at Random House via those at NetGalley.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rollicking Western Yarn Has Heart

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Placid, Wisconsin; 1871—When 13-year-old Georgie Burkhardt lets a juicy secret slip, it sends her shocked older sister off in a huff.  A long ways off.  Two weeks later, the sheriff returns from his search for Agatha with nothing but a corpse.  The body is that of a young woman, but beyond that, the remains are unidentifiable.  Because it's dressed in a distinctive blue-green ball gown that belonged to Agatha Burkhardt, everyone assumes the dead girl is Agatha.  Everyone except Georgie, that is.  As guilty as she feels over the part she played in her sister's disappearance, Georgie refuses to believe Agatha is dead.  She can't stand the thought that "Agatha—sister, friend, guide to life, and the eighth wonder of my world" (15) could be gone for good.

Armed with her trusty Springfield rifle and mounted on a not-so-trusty mule, Georgie sets out on a quest to find her sister.  She knows only that nature-loving Agatha ran off with a suspicious-looking group of "pigeoners" following the birds' migration.  What happened after that is anyone's guess.  Despite her well-deserved reputation as a sharpshooter, Georgie's not as confident as she appears to be.  As she confronts all the dangers the western frontier has to offer, she'll have to harness every ounce of strength within her in order to find the sister she loves.  Even if—especially if—the trail leads straight back to a freshly-dug grave in Placid, Wisconsin.  

I can't remember which blogger recommended One Came Home by Amy Timberlake, but her review of the book immediately sparked my interest.  It sounded like a unique middle grade adventure story with a quirky heroine and a vivid historical setting.  Which it is.  Georgie brings a lot to the table with her strong personality, wry sense of humor and unwavering devotion to her sister.  She makes the story.  Her various adventures keep the tale interesting, as does the mystery of Agatha's fate.  For all the build-up, the ending of One Came Home did strike me as a bit anti-climactic.  Still and all, I enjoyed this rollicking Western yarn.  

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and vague references to prostitution

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, August 25, 2014

Southern Novel Enjoyable Despite Cliché, Predictable Plot

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Cassie Madison never planned to stay in her backwards little hometown.  At twenty, she shook the Georgia clay off her shoes for good and headed for the bright lights of New York City.  Fifteen years later, she's pleased with the life she's managed to create for herself.  From her Upper East Side apartment to the successful ad agency she helps run to her polished fiancé—it would be obvious to anyone that Cassie's living the good life.  She's attained the existence she always wanted for herself, a glamorous life far, far away from the tiny hick town where she was reared.

A late-night phone call shatters Cassie's carefully-constructed life in the Big Apple.  It's from Harriet Warner, her estranged younger sister.  Cassie's barely spoken to Harriet since she stole the boy Cassie loved since she was twelve years old—and married him.  After almost two decades of silence between the sisters, Harriet's calling with tragic news: their father is dying.  Nothing else could force Cassie into returning to Walton.  Going "home" to say goodbye is hard enough, but Cassie can't stand the thought of seeing her sister enjoying the perfect family life that should have been her own.  Along with the pain, though, Cassie's stunned to realize that there are some things she still loves about little ole Walton, Georgia—things that might just convince her to stay.  

Torn between her old life and her new one, her family and her fiancé, her heart and her mind, Cassie must decide who she really is, what she really wants, and how to heal her aching heart, once and for all.

As much as I enjoy Karen White's novels, I have to say that Falling Home is not one of my favorites.  Although it's written with White's trademark warmth and sincerity, it becomes awfully cliché awfully quick.  Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it—I did—I just would have liked some surprises here and there.  Overall, I found Falling Home engaging, but not all that original or impressive.  I liked it, didn't love it.        

(Readalikes:  Other books by Karen White, especially A Long Time Gone)

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Falling Home from the generous folks at Penguin via Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting.  Thank you!


Friday, August 22, 2014

Karen White's Newest Another Absorbing, Atmospheric Family Drama

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Nine years ago, Vivien Walker Moise fled the Delta, vowing never to return.  That was before her disastrous marriage, before the miscarriage that brought her to her knees, before she became an addict, dependent on pills just to get through the day.  Now, with nowhere left to go, 27-year-old Vivien returns to the one place she knows she'll always be received, if not exactly welcomed—Indian Mound, Mississippi.  If anything can heal her, it will be the tender ministrations of the beloved grandmother she left behind almost a decade ago. 

Soon after arriving, Vivien receives shocking news:  not only has her grandma passed away in her absence, but her estranged mother is now living on the family estate.  Vivien has some choice words for the parent who abandoned her, not that it matters—plagued with dementia, Carol Lynne Walker Moise doesn't recognize her daughter, let alone remember the hurt she caused her.  As if things aren't bad enough already, Vivien also learns that human remains have been unearthed on the Walker property.  Unable to rest, Vivien throws herself into finding out to whom the bones belong and how they came to be hidden in the dark, rich soil on her family's land.  As she discovers puzzling secrets from the past, Vivien realizes the truths they reveal could be the key—not just to solving the mystery, but also to healing her own battered heart. 

A multi-generational novel featuring all my favorite elements (mystery, romance, family secrets, a Southern setting, etc.), A Long Time Gone by Karen White offers a vivid, compelling story about one woman's quest to heal the hurts of her past.  Absorbing and atmospheric, it keeps the reader's attention through complex characters, smooth prose, and enough twists to keep you guessing.  The back-and-forth-in-time format did get confusing at times, but overall, I found this to be an engaging and enjoyable read.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Kate Morton's books and others by Kate White)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, mild sexual innuendo/content, and depictions of alcohol/drug abuse

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Easy, Breezy, Beach-y Read as Warm as Summertime Itself

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As the only remaining girl in a family of boys (one father, three older brothers, one honorary older brother/neighbor), Charlotte "Charlie" Reynolds really can't help being a tomboy.  Without a mother around (the car accident that killed her still haunts Charlie's nightmares), there's no one to teach her about the frilly things in life.  Not that the 16-year-old wants lessons on how to color coordinate her wardrobe (everything goes with jeans) or correctly apply a bunch of goop on her face (she would sweat it all off on the playing field, anyway).  Charlie would much rather spend her time running, massacring her brothers at mud football, and driving too fast along curvy oceanside roads. 

It's this last bit that changes things for Charlie.  Forced to get a job to pay off her speeding tickets, she begins working at a tony little boutique, which leads her down a path strewn with all the girly things she eschews.  Pleasant side affect to acting like a girl?  The attention of an über attractive boy who thinks of her as a delicate feminine flower, not a trash-talking jock.  Not so pleasant side affect?  Having to hide her new-found girliness from the men in her life (they would so not understand).  Leading a double life is starting to wear on Charlie—between that and the haunting flashbacks of her mother's accident that plague her dreams, she's going a little crazy.  The only thing that helps is her late-night chats with her brothers' buddy, Braden, across the fence that separates their houses.  Problem is, the more time she spends with him, the faster she's falling for him.  Will Braden ever see her as more than a bratty little sister?  And exactly how quick will her brothers pulverize him if he does start coming around?  As life grows ever more complicated, Charlie has to decide what she wants—and how much she's willing to risk to get it.  

Between its summer-y cover art and July release date, you can probably tell that On the Fence, the newest contemporary YA from Kasie West, is an easy, breezy, beach-y kind of book.  The plot never gets too complicated, the themes too dark or the characters too angsty.  With an equal mix of the constant ribbing and intense loyalty that defines the best brother/sister relationships, the Reynolds family feels strong and real.  Their bond lends the whole story a warm, playful overtone that makes it a happy, hopeful novel.  Sure, it's cliché and predictable, but On the Fence is also lots of fun.  As long as you don't expect too much depth, you'll enjoy this light, easy read about not just discovering who you are, but also finding the courage to be that person, in spite of the consequences. 

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of the Dairy Queen novels [Dairy Queen; The Off Season; Front and Center] by Catherine Gilbert Murdock and a little of Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of On the Fence from the generous folks at HarperCollins, via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

'Hatchet for a New Generation'? Why Yes, Yes It Is.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Jane Solis is done—done with the mental hospital she's been confined to since she tried to kill herself last year, done with pretending she's cured, done with life.  This time, her suicide will be successful.  Not to mention special.  She'll wait to swallow her toxic mix of pills until she's on the plane headed home to New Jersey, then just fade out while soaring above the clouds.  It's fool-proof.  Perfect.  

Before Jane gets the chance to put her plan into action, however, the plane hits some serious turbulence.  As the aircraft takes a nosedive, everything goes black.  When Jane wakes up, she crawls out of the wreckage into a wilderness covered in snow.  She's horrified to find she's one of only two survivors—the other is a cocky Canadian ski instructor named Paul—and that they're stranded in Montana's remote Bob Marshall Wilderness.  As the weather worsens, it becomes clear that help won't be coming.  Their survival is up to them—and suddenly, unexpectedly, Jane realizes how much she wants to live.  But will her new-found determination be enough to save her, let alone both her and Paul?  As the days wear on, that's looking less and less likely ...

The back cover blurb calls Survive, a debut novel by Alex Morel, "Hatchet for a new generation."  I'd have to agree.  It's a gritty survival story that pits two determined teens against a storm-ravaged wilderness that's ready and willing to claim both their lives.  Exciting and unexpectedly heart-breaking, Survive tells a tense, action-packed tale about a girl who's facing her imminent death even as she's finally learning to live.  Although the story and prose are sparer than I would have liked, I still enjoyed this quick, compelling read.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of The Raft by S.A. Bodeen and a little of Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, sexual innuendo, and intense situations

 To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Survive from the generous folks at Razorbill.  Thank you!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Relatable Premise Just Not Enough to Earn My Undying Love

 (Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ivy Darling enjoys all the trappings of a successful life.  She's been married for three years, works at a job she likes, and thrives on the strength of her tight-knit family (if not her in-laws, who've never quite warmed to her).  There's only one thing she needs to be truly happy:  a child.  Her struggles with infertility have left her feeling raw and vulnerable.  Ivy's ready to move on, ready to grow her family through adoption.  If only her husband would agree.  Determined to have "his own" child or none at all, Nick has become increasingly distant and hostile.  Ivy can't stand the constant tension between them, but she's not willing to give up on her dream of being a mother—even if it means doing it without Nick.

When an African-American family moves into the ramshackle house next door, Ivy's interest is piqued.  The single mother and three children look like no one else in tiny Copper Grove, Maine, which doesn't stop Ivy from trying to welcome them to the neighborhood.  She soon realizes why her friendly overtures are being rebuffed—the kids don't want her to know how often they are left by themselves.  When their mother fails to return from work one day, leaving her children scared and locked out of their home, Ivy can't stop herself from intervening.  Taking the trio into her own home, Ivy pours all the love in her mothering heart into their well-being.  Despite Nick's vehement protests, the situation is looking more and more permanent.  Ivy couldn't be happier with the arrangement, but what will it do to her fracturing marriage?  And how will her heart heal if the children are taken from her?  Does Ivy dare risk it all in the hopes of finally creating the family she's always wanted?

The first in a planned series revolving around the Darling Family, All Right Here by Carre Armstrong Gardner, is a hopeful, inspiring novel.  Although it's classified as Christian fiction, the religious aspects of the story feel natural, not heavy-handed.  The story's focus really is family—the warmth, the conflict, the joy, the jealousy, the love, etc. that exist in every large brood.  It examines some weighty issues, but does so in a way that is both realistic and PG-rated.  While I appreciated all of these elements, there were a few things that bugged me about the story.  The altering viewpoints, for one.  I get that, while All Right Here zeroes in on Ivy's story, it's meant to be an introduction to the whole Darling clan.  Which is all well and good, as long as all the different narrators have distinct voices and problems that are intriguing in their own right, something that doesn't really happen here.  I was most interested in the story's main conflict and found it distracting to head-jump.  As the adoptive mother of a bi-racial child, I identified most with Ivy, although there were definitely aspects of her experience that didn't ring very true.  Still, my biggest problem with All Right Here is that, in general, I found the Darlings—the whole lot of them—underdeveloped and just not rounded enough to really live and breathe inside my head.  Considering all of this, the novel ended up being just an okay read for me.  Disappointing, because I wanted to love this one.  Ah, well.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for intense/adult situations

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of All Right Here from the good folks at Tyndale House Publishers via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Vivid, Compelling YA WWII Novel A Tense, Exciting Page Turner

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As a loyal member of the National Socialist Party and a pure-blooded German, Gretchen Müller knows to stay away from Jews.  They're dirty, sneaky, subhuman—so insists her Uncle Dolf.  Without a father to look to for advice, the 17-year-old must put her trust in the man he died to protect.  Adolf Hitler dotes on Gretchen, his favorite "niece," the daughter of Germany's famed martyr—in return, the 17-year-old owes him her respect and absolute obedience.  Gretchen knows her beloved "uncle" would never steer her wrong, but when a handsome Jewish reporter comes to her with accusations against him, she begins to wonder.  Did her father really die the hero's death for which he's been lauded, or did something much more sinister lead to his demise?  Can she trust Daniel Cohen, who's both a stranger and a Jew?  Especially over the word of Adolf Hitler, the most powerful man in Munich, maybe even all of Germany?

Against all reason, Gretchen finds herself falling for Daniel.  And believing the things he's telling her.  The more she searches for the truth behind her father's death, the more Gretchen questions what her Uncle Dolf has told her—not just about the martyrdom, but also about the Jews.  Fraternizing with Daniel is dangerous enough, but harboring traitorous thoughts against Adolf Hitler?  That could get her killed.  One wrong move and Gretchen's sadistic older brother will turn her in.  In an increasingly tumultuous time, she can't risk losing her uncle's approval.  But, what if Hitler's been lying to her all along?  What then?  Torn between loyalty to her protector and a growing dissatisfaction with his teachings, Gretchen must decide what—and who—she believes.  Even if it means putting herself and everyone she loves in grave danger.

Prisoner of Night and Fog, a debut novel by Anne Blankman, brings the fear and uncertainty of 1930s Munich to vivid life.  With tight prose, an engaging heroine, and a tense, compelling plot, it's a fast-paced page turner that will appeal to anyone who loves historical fiction.  Sure, there are some holes in the story, but overall, I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Pam Jenoff's adult novels about WWII, The Kommandant's Girl and The Diplomat's Wife)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, sexual innuendo and references to sex/prostitution, etc.

To the FTC, with love:  I received both a finished copy and an e-galley (via Edelweiss) of Prisoner of Night and Fog from the generous folks at Harper Collins.  Thank you!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Whisper Compelling, But Floppy

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although Whisper's cleft palate makes her an outcast in the outside world, the 15-year-old lives a peaceful, happy life in the woods with a group of other disfigured children.  Cared for by a kindly old man, the kids have all been abandoned by their parents—except for Whisper, who still receives yearly visits from her mother.  While Whisper longs to be able to live with her parents like a "normal" child, she knows it's not possible in a society that fears and abuses people who look like her.  She's content with her lot in life, even if she can't quite understand it.

Everything changes when Whisper's mother dies and the father she's never met takes Whisper away from her forest home.  He wants her to live with him—as his house slave.  When she fails to please the hateful man, she's sent to an even more horrifying place: the city.  Forced to beg on the mean streets in order to keep a roof over her head, Whisper fights just to stay alive.  Only one thing brings her comfort: the music she creates with the violin her mother gave her.  

As Whisper learns to survive in the harsh, unkind world, she finds glimmers of hope in the most surprising places.  While being shunned for her "ugliness," she discovers great truths about family, friendship and beauty.  Is it possible that she can find the happiness she desires even in such a cruel place?   

So, I've discovered that the most difficult books for me to describe are those that skimp on plot.  Things happen in these novels, yes, but because the various scenes aren't tightly and skillfully woven together, the whole story feels floppy.  Such is the case with Whisper, a debut novel by Chris Struyk-Bonn.  While the book offers an intriguing futuristic/dystopian setting as well as a very sympathetic heroine, the story drags along in an aimless, unfocused manner.  Why?  Because Whisper lacks a strong, clearly-defined story goal.  Without one, her tale feels too episodic and disjointed.  While this bugged me throughout the book, I did find the overall story fairly compelling.  I also appreciated the lessons it teaches about the true nature of beauty and accepting people for who they are instead of what they look like.  Still, I ended up liking this one, but not loving it.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Wonder by R.J. Palacio)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for language (no F-bombs), violence, mild sexual content, and references to sex/prostitution

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Leavitt's YA Vegas Romance a Little Thin

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Holly Nolan's beloved Grandpa Jim dies during bypass surgery, the 17-year-old is devastated.  She can't imagine how she's supposed to go on with her life, let alone her "part-time" job without his guidance.  For as long as she can remember, Holly's been as devoted to saving her grandfather's wedding chapel—a crumbling icon on the Las Vegas strip—as he always was.  Lately, it's been a losing battle.  Now that Jim's gone, Holly can't bear to see it close, or worse, get bought up by her grandpa's jerk of a business rival.  What will become of The Rose of Sharon Wedding Chapel now?

At the reading of her grandfather's will, Holly gets the shock of her life: she is the new owner of the wedding chapel.  She's been working there forever, sure, but she knows nothing about steering a failing business back into the black.  Or, does she?  As Holly pulls out all the stops to save the chapel she loves, she finds herself sacrificing everything—her sanity, her social life and, quite possibly, the love of her life (who just happens to be the grandson of her Jim's rival/mortal enemy).  The harder she battles to save The Rose of Sharon, the more she wonders if the fight is worthwhile.  Which will win out in the end—the chapel that symbolizes everything Holly loves about her past or Dax, the guy who just might hold the key to her bigger, brighter future?

The Chapel Wars, the newest offering from Lindsey Leavitt, gives readers everything they've come to expect from the popular YA author.  The quirky, upbeat story is filled with humor, romance and colorful characters.  A vibrant, unique setting, brought to life by a Las Vegas native, definitely adds to the novel's appeal.  As much as I enjoy a fun, breezy read, especially one written by Leavitt, this one disappointed me a little bit.  The plot felt thin and far-fetched.  Dax didn't strike me as all that likable—I get that he's hot, but he's got to have at least a little substance to make me want to root for him.  Speaking of substance, I think that's what was really missing in this one for me.  It was a little too breezy, you know?  All in all, the book kept me entertained, but in the end, it was just an okay read for me.  

(Readalikes:  The Romeo and Juliet/business rivals aspect of the story reminded me of Lisa McMann's Visions trilogy [Crash; Bang; Gasp], although the plots don't have a lot in common.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), sexual innuendo, and depictions of underage drinking/partying

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Chapel Wars from the generous folks at Bloomsbury via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

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