Thursday, February 23, 2017

Promising New-to-Me Series Starts With a Bang

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"Maybe Hell wasn't anything to do with places.  Hell was all to do with people.  Maybe Hell was people" (44).

The very last thing Ellie and her friends expect when they emerge from the bush is to find their world irrevocably changed.  After a week of camping in the wilderness outside their hometown, all they're really thinking about is hot showers and home-cooked meals.  But, while they've been gone, an unknown enemy has taken over their small town.  Wirawee—and maybe all of Australia—is overrun with armed, foreign soldiers.  All of the kids' friends, neighbors, and family members have been imprisoned.  Homes sit empty.  Farm animals are dead in their corrals.  Stores have been ransacked.  The sound of gunfire echoes through the still air.  This, the teens are shocked to discover, is a war zone.

Ellie and her six best mates soon realize they may be Wirawee's only hope for rescue.  They've been joking all week about "going bush" and "going feral."  It's no longer a laughing matter; hiding seems like the best—the only—way to avoid capture.  From the safety of the bush's natural camouflage, they can figure out what to do next.  The terrified teens can't imagine how to do it, but they know it's up to them to save the world—or at least their little corner of it.

Tomorrow, When the War Began is the first installment in John Marsden's addictive Tomorrow series.  The Australian author published the initial volume in 1993; it, and all the subsequent books, have been popular ever since.  It's easy to see why.  Narrated by strong, sympathetic Ellie, the novel tells an exciting story full of action and adrenaline-fueled adventure.  While it's sometimes difficult to distinguish one member of Ellie's posse from another, the characters are still intriguing.  They get more fleshed out in later books; Tomorrow, When the War Began focuses more on plot.  Still, the tale offers an engaging cast of story people, all of them interesting and root-worthy.  That, coupled with lots of heart-pumping action, makes for a fast, engrossing read.  The tale's not without its quiet, contemplative moments, which gives it more depth and authenticity.  This balance creates a round, layered story that's not just a good yarn, but a poignant one as well.  Tomorrow, When the War Began hooked me right away—since the books weren't readily available at my library, I bought the whole set from Amazon through a U.K. seller.  That's how invested I already am in this promising series!

(Readalikes:  Other books in the series, including The Dead of The Night; A Killing Frost; Darkness, Be My Friend; Burning for Revenge; The Night is For Hunting; and The Other Side of Dawn)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

(Note: The 2010 Tomorrow, When the War Began film [viewable right now on Netflix] is rated either PG-13 or R, depending on where you're looking.  Netflix says R.  Amazon has two different listings for the DVDs, one with a PG-13 rating, one with an R rating.  I won't watch the film until after I finish the books; if you have, enlighten me about the content, won't you?  The 2015/16 t.v. mini-series version [available for purchase on Amazon through Australian retailers] is NR for not rated)   

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ketchup Clouds As Laugh-Out-Loud Funny As It Is Weep-Out-Loud Sad

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Someone once called me the Simon Cowell of book blogging, a title which I proudly embraced.  I'm notoriously hard to please, but guess what?  There's someone out there who's even pickier than I am!  You're shocked, I know.  Jenny, who runs Alternate Readality, is that blogger.  I've been a fan girl for a long time because I can always trust Jenny to tell it like it is.  She's got a sharp wit, a refreshing honesty, and an abiding loyalty to her blogging friends.  I love her.  She rarely gushes, so when she posted a rave review of a book I'd never heard ofKetchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher—I knew I needed to give the novel a go.  In the end, I didn't love it as much as Jenny did, but I did enjoy the book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who digs contemporary YA.

Here's the low-down:

Few people know what it's like to bear responsibility for the death of someone they love.  Few people get how it feels to lug around guilt that big, that crushing.  "Zoe"—a British teen—can't reveal her dark, dirty secret to anyone.  No one would understand how she fell for two boys, ripped one's heart out (figuratively) and killed the other (literally).  No one except another murderer.  Desperate to confess to someone, "Zoe" chooses the one person who might get what she's feeling—an inmate on Death Row in a Texas prison.  Through the letters she writes late at night, she tells Stuart Harris everything.  He may never receive her epistles, but that doesn't really matter.  What matters is "Zoe" coming to terms with the horrible thing she's done, the terrible pain she's caused, and the excruciating grief that will be her lifelong penance.  

Like Jenny, I appreciate the balance that Pitcher achieves in Ketchup Clouds.  Parts of the story are (believe it or not) laugh out loud funny.  Other sections are weep-out-loud sad.  The narrator's voice is so authentic that it resonates no matter what part of her tale she's telling.  All the teens in the story seem step-right-off-the-page genuine—they are realistically thoughtless, impulsive, and fickle, which makes what happens to them all the more poignant.  With impeccable pacing, Ketchup Clouds also manages to be tense and suspenseful.  I never read story endings first, but I was tempted to in this case because I really, really wanted to know what happened with this ill-fated love triangle.  Overall, then, Ketchup Clouds makes for a compelling read.  Not a happy one or a hopeful one, but a thoughtful one that will make you think—about guilt, grief, remorse, and the eternal sting of regret.  I guarantee you'll still be pondering this one long after you read its last page.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), sexual content, and depictions of underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Despite Familiar Plot, Intriguing Premise Produces Compelling Page Turner

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It has always been difficult for 15-year-old Nico Morris to live in the shadow of her older sister.  Beautiful, popular, and brimming with self-confidence, Sarah is everything Nico is not.  Even though Sarah has been gone for four years—she vanished from the Pennsylvania park where she was meeting her older boyfriend when she was 15—her presence still lingers.  The disappearance shattered the girls' parents; Nico, however, has felt only relief.  No one knows how cruelly Sarah treated her younger sister.  The daily taunting, the constant belittling, the never-ending bullying—no, Nico definitely does not miss Sarah. 

Then, a miracle occurs: Sarah has been found.  Suffering from retrograde amnesia, the 19-year-old can't explain where she's been.  She can't even remember the plot of her favorite book.  Obviously traumatized, this Sarah is malnourished, shy, and tentative.  Most shocking of all, she's nice.  Not sure what to make of the stranger beside her, Nico becomes convinced that the interloper isn't Sarah at all.  But if she isn't Nico's sister, then who is she?  If she is, then Nico has some serious questions for her.  What really happened to Sarah Morris?  Everyone is asking, but only one person knows the truth ...

I've read a couple books lately with the same premise as the one at the heart of The Stranger Game by Cylin Busby.  It's a fascinating idea, one different authors have explored in different ways.  Although the plot of The Stranger Game is almost identical to one of the "readalikes" I list below, I still found it to be a compelling page turner.  It's tense and twisty, with the kind of ending that makes you go, "Huh."  I'm still not sure what I think of it!  I do know that I whipped through The Stranger Game in a few hours, anxious to see how it would wrap up.  In the end, I liked the book, didn't love it.  Still, it's an engrossing psychological thriller that will appeal to fans of Gillian Flynn and Ruth Ware

*A couple interesting tidbits about this book and author:

—Busby has a disappearance story of her own, which she writes about in a memoir called The Year We Disappeared.

The Stranger Game was inspired by the fascinating true case of Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who disappeared when he was 13.  Warning: to avoid spoilers, read about Nicholas only after you've read The Stranger Game.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and depictions of underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, February 13, 2017

Absorbing and Atmospheric, Historical Novel with Big Sur Setting Makes for a Compelling Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Gertrude "Trudy" Swann knows exactly what to expect from her future.  After graduating from the Milwaukee College for Females, she'll marry sweet, straightforward Ernst, settle into a house not far from her parents', and rear a brood of well-tended children.  It will be a pleasant life, placid and predictable.  If only Trudy could settle for that!  But, no, the 19-year-old longs for adventure, something more than mundane Midwestern married life.  

When Trudy meets Ernst's cousin, Oskar, she's smitten with his charming, ambitious nature.  Despite her family's misgivings, the couple marry and set out on what promises to be a thrilling endeavor in California's rugged, remote Big Sur.  Point Lucia, the untamed island on which Oskar will be working as an assistant lighthouse keeper, is more primitive than the newlyweds ever could have imagined.  The only other people on the island are the Crawleys, an enigmatic family with plenty of secrets.  Immediately taken by the Crawley children, Trudy becomes their teacher, playmate, and co-explorer.  As she and Oskar adjust to their hardscrabble island existence, trouble soon surfaces in paradise.  Between Mrs. Crawley's constant disapproval, Oskar's increasingly unsettling behavior, and a shocking secret hiding in the rocks, Trudy's little adventure will turn into an extraordinary experience destined to change her life forever.

The Edge of the Earth by Christina Schwarz is a quiet, but compelling novel about finding oneself in the most unexpected of places.  Big Sur makes for a vivid, exotic setting.  Details about marine life and lighthouse keeping give the story authenticity without dragging it down.  Trudy, Oskar, and the rest of the cast are complex, intriguing characters.  I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen to them all.  Although The Edge of the Earth tells a sad story, I enjoyed this absorbing novel about the nature of a marriage, the nature of an island, and the nature of a woman on the cusp of discovering the person she is truly meant to be.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, February 10, 2017

Unassuming Mystery Series Opener a Delight

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

One of the things I love most about reading book blogs is discovering new books that I wouldn't have picked up without a strong recommendation from a trusted blogger.  Kay over at Kay's Reading Life is my go-to source for mysteries/thrillers; she never steers me wrong.  Recently, she recommended the Alafair Tucker series by local author Donis Casey.  Granted, I might have given the first installment, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, a look based on its title alone.  The unappealing cover art, however, would have been a big turn-off for me.  I trust Kay, though, so I gave this one a go.  And you know what?  I loved it.
Set during the early 1900s, the series features Alafair Tucker, a hard-working farmer's wife living in rural Oklahoma.  As the mother of nine children, she has her hands full with family, chores, and helping her neighbors when she can.  The Old Buzzard Had It Coming revolves around the Days, who live on the neglected farm next door.  Harley Day is a selfish alcoholic reprobate, his wife a beaten-down mouse who scurries to do her husband's bidding before he beats her.  Perpetually starving and dressed in rags, the couple's eight children are a fearful, wary lot.  When Harley Day is discovered dead in a snowdrift no one is surprised.  Or mournful.  It's generally agreed that, whatever happened to him, he deserved it.

It's assumed that Harley died of exposure until Alafair notices something suspicious: a bullet wound in the dead man's neck.  Plenty of people had reason to kill Harley Day, but who actually did the dirty deed?  With a plethora of suspects, Alafair can't help herself from wondering about the murderer's identity.  The most likely person is not-so-secretly dating her daughter.  Alafair doesn't want it to be kindhearted John Lee Day; to clear his name, she'll have to help the sheriff (who just so happens to be her brother-in-law) find the real killer.  Even if it means putting herself in grave danger.  Which it most assuredly will.

At just over 200 pages, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming is a short, enjoyable mystery that's clean, atmospheric, and fun.  Alafair makes a perfect heroine—not only is she smart, capable, and compassionate, but she's also fiercely devoted to her husband and children.  A practical, down-to-Earth woman, she's easy to like, simple to cheer on.  While I did identify the murderer before Alafair did, it took me awhile.  All in all, then, I loved this first installment in what promises to be an entertaining series.  Less than halfway through The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, I put the next two Alafair Tucker books on hold at the library.  That right there should tell you how much I enjoyed it!

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Alafair Tucker series [Hornswoggled; The Drop Edge of Yonder; The Sky Took Him; Crying Blood; The Wrong Hill to Die On; Hell With the Lid Blown Off; All Men Fear Me; and The Return of the Raven Mocker] by Donis Casey)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Intriguing Premise Falls Flat in Debut Sci Fi-Ish Teen Drama

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With her best—and only—friend off on an exciting foreign exchange student adventure, Tara Krishman is starting her junior year alone.  As the only person of color (Tara's dad is Indian, her mom Caucasian) in her posh Connecticut high school, she already feels out-of-place.  Without her BFF by her side, Tara knows it's going to be a long, lonely year.

Then, something incredible happens: a new planet is discovered.  Terra Nova seems to mirror Earth, even down to individual people.  Tara can't help but imagine another Tara in an alternate world.  Is Other Tara friendless or popular?  Shy or bold?  Scared or courageous?  

Weirdly, a small shift has occurred in Tara's real world.  When she receives an unexpected invitation to a party at the home of a super popular girl, Tara's thrown into the "it" crowd.  Suddenly, relationships she's only dreamed of are becoming real.  At the same time, things at home are changing.  Obsessed with Terra Nova, Tara's mom runs off to join a doomsday cult.  Her dad can't cope; neither can Tara, not really.  How can her life be going so wrong at the same time it's finally going so right?  How will these events, both cosmic and domestic, alter the course of Tara's life?  What will they teach her about family, friendship, and who she is as a person?

I grabbed Mirror in the Sky, a debut novel by Aditi Khorana, off the shelf because it had been voted a teen favorite by patrons of my local library.  The premise sounded interesting, so I decided to give the book a shot.  And?  Well, it was interesting, just not quite as interesting as I wanted it to be or interesting in the way I wanted it to be, if that makes sense.  Although the story sounds very sci-fi, it's not.  At its heart, Mirror in the Sky is a story about an ordinary teen girl trying to navigate her way through what is fast becoming an extraordinary year.  It's a blend of family conflict, friend drama, and awkward teen romance.  Terra Nova exists in the story only as a tool for reflection.  Bummer, that, because I found the mirror planet to be the most intriguing aspect of the novel's plot.  Tara and her friends just aren't that engaging—almost to a one, they are selfish, whiny, negative, petty, melodramatic, etc.  Also, unrealistic.  What teens have this much freedom (where are their parents?)  and vocabularies that allow them to toss around words like heteronormative and matrilineal in casual conversation?  Anyway, for me, the most compelling aspects of the novel remained the least developed.  In the end, then, Mirror in the Sky left me feeling unsatisfied.  It may be a teen favorite, but it didn't do a whole lot for me ...

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), sexual content, and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

It's Shusterman And Yet ...No, Just No

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With no disease, no war, no government, no real pain, and virtually no death, life in MidMerica is pleasantly staid.  Ambition has become a thing of the past.  In fact, "with nothing to aspire to, life had become about maintenance.  Eternal maintenance" (44).  Citra Terranova is satisfied with her comfortable, unremarkable existence which she knows will evolve into a comfortable, unremarkable future.  As just one member of a very large family, 16-year-old Rowan Damisch isn't quite as at ease, but he's not unhappy with his life either.  What neither teen expects is to be given the chance to do something important, something extraordinary.  Becoming a scythe's apprentice—and eventually, a real scythe—is that kind of assignment.  In a pleasant world full of placid people, it's a chance to be stand out, to become something special.

As the harbingers—and executors—of death, scythes are universally feared.  Although the random killings performed by scythes are deemed necessary for population control, few are truly comfortable with their presence.  Citra and Rowan are no exception.  They don't want to become scythes, are appalled by the idea of spending the rest of their lives killing people.  Then again, they don't really have a choice, do they?  As the teens learn the "art" of performing sanctioned murder, they're awakened to the harsh realities and cruel costs of maintaining a perfect world.  Is it worth the heavy price?  And how can two kids possibly change things if it's not? 

First off, let me say that I love Neal Shusterman.  His Unwind series is brilliant, one of my favorites.  Shusterman has a way of examining contemporary issues in unique and surprising ways while, at the same time, telling an engaging, exciting story.  I'm a fan, for sure.  So, naturally, I got excited when I heard he was penning a new series.  Even though the book's premise sounded a little odd, I was stoked to read Scythe, the first installment.  What did I think?  Honestly, I was disappointed.  I expected the novel to be chilling.  I expected it to be disturbing.  I also expected to like it because, well ... it's Shusterman!  And yet, I just couldn't get on board with the story's premise (which is, indeed, chilling and disturbing).  At no point in the tale did I become convinced of the necessity of scything.  Nothing about the job seemed noble or necessary.  I mean, if you absolutely had to kill people off every now and then to control the population, why in the world would you make their deaths any more violent or traumatizing than they had to be?  Makes no sense to me, not even in a fictional world.  So, yeah, I had trouble stomaching the whole idea.  Also, considering all the blood and gore, Scythe actually gets boring in places.  I can't see teens sticking with it for all 435 pages.  The novel does ask some intriguing philosophical questions (Can one truly know pleasure without experiencing pain?  Can people really appreciate life if they know nothing of death?) that would make for some excellent discussion.  Overall, though, I had a hard time enjoying Scythe.  I'm still in awe of Shusterman's impressive storytelling skills, but his new series is just not for me.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of the Hunger Games series [The Hunger Games; Catching Fire; and Mockingjay] by Suzanne Collins and "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Monday, February 06, 2017

Twisty Murder Mystery Renders Me Riveted

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

At a park in Endleby—a small hamlet near Hereford—a devoted mother walks away from her two small children, leaving them alone.  Twenty hours later, she returns.  Where has she been?  No one knows.  Even Selena Cole herself claims to have no recollection of what she'd been doing while her daughters were left alone.  Is the wealthy psychologist telling the truth?  If she is, then where was she for those missing hours?  If not, then why did she leave her kids?  

Not far away, the body of Dominic Newell, a respected defense attorney, is found on a lonely country road.  Dead from a stab wound, his vicious demise shocks all who knew him.  Who would commit such a savage crime?  

Finn Hale, who's been a sergeant detective for 82 whole days, is tasked with solving the case.  His sister, DC Leah Mackay, is investigating the disappearance of Selena Cole.  Are the two events connected?  Or is it just coincidence that they happened at the same time in a quiet place that, as Finn is wont to say, isn't exactly Mogadishu?  As Finn and Leah look deeper into the disappearance and the murder, they discover some shocking clues about what really happened to both Selena and Dominic.

I don't want to say too much about The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh because I think it's one of those books where the less you know going into it, the better.  Suffice it to say, it's a tense, suspenseful psychological thriller with plenty of twists to keep the reader not just engaged, but riveted.  Someone recommended this to me (I can't remember who—so sorry!) and I'm so glad they did.  I enjoyed it.

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

Grade:




If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and depictions of illegal drug use

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

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Untraceable Exciting, Entertaining

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When abused wives and other innocent people need to disappear, they contact Alexandra "Alex" Lovell.  The 29-year-old P.I. uses her considerable computer skills to build her clients new lives in distant places.  As long as they follow the rules Alex sets out for them, they remain safe.  Melanie Coghan, the abused wife of an Austin police officer, has broken those rules and Alex fears the worst.  Without a body, she can't be sure Melanie is dead, but it certainly appears to be true.

Desperate to find her missing client, Alex enlists the help of Nathan Devereaux, a sexy homicide detective.  He's skeptical of Alex's claims, but intrigued nonetheless.  With the aid of an elite group of scientists known as the Tracers, the pair make some startling discoveries.  Can they use the clues they've found to figure out what really happened to Melanie?  With Melanie's angry, possibly murderous, husband on her trail, Alex is not exactly safe herself ...

Untraceable, the first book in Laura Griffin's popular Tracers series, is a taut, exciting mystery filled with plenty of action.  It's not terribly original or surprising (it only offered one twist I didn't see coming), but the main characters are empathetic and likable.  There's definite chemistry between Alex and Nathan, which adds a fun subplot to the novel.  While I didn't absolutely love Untraceable, I found it entertaining and enjoyable.  I've already checked the next book in the series out from the library.

(Readalikes: I'm sure there are lots of similar books/series, but nothing is coming immediately to mind.  Help!)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual content, and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, February 03, 2017

Macmillan's Newest A Swift, Satisfying Page Turner

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

At 14 years old, Zoe Guerin lost her life.  Not literally, but the devastated piano prodigy went to jail for causing a car accident that killed three teenagers.  With a genius IQ and a promising musical career in front of her, Zoe threw everything away.  Three years later, her life has—improbably—gotten back on track.  Now 17, Zoe is living in a different city using a different last name.  She even has a new family: her stepfather, Chris Kennedy; his teen son, Lucas; and her infant half-sister, Grace.  Zoe's mother has put the past firmly behind them, not telling Chris or Lucas about Zoe's history.  Impossibly, Zoe's even performing again, this time with her stepbrother, who's also a talented pianist.  Although she'll be forever scarred by the accident, Zoe is trying to be hopeful about her future.

When the grieving father of one of the accident victims disrupts Zoe's concert, her secret comes quickly to light.  In the chaotic aftermath, her mother is found dead in the family's shed.  She's been murdered.  Why would someone kill Maria Kennedy?  As the police investigate the crime, scrutinizing everyone in the family, they discover that each member has been hiding incriminating secrets.  Did one of these secrets lead to Maria's death?  Or did a grief-stricken father finally get his revenge on the family who stole his child?  What really happened the night Zoe's mother died?

The Perfect Girl, the newest mystery/thriller by English author Gilly Macmillan, is an engrossing page turner with a tense, tightly-plotted storyline.  The characters are complex, sympathetic, and intriguing.  Twists and turns keep the tale suspenseful until the very end.  Even though I saw the murderer coming, the novel's finale still surprised me.  There's nothing really cheery or uplifting about this book (in fact, it's pretty depressing), but it is a riveting read sure to satisfy fans of British psychological thrillers (which I am and which it did).

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

Grade:


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:  Another library fine find

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Hopeful, Exciting The Forgetting a Perfect Read for the New Year

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The walled city of Canaan provides a safe, protected atmosphere for its small population.  Citizens go to school, work their jobs, care for their families, and—most important of all—write daily entries in the books they keep on their person at all times.  They're instructed to pen only the truth.  Fanciful scribblings will not help them when the Forgetting comes.  Only honesty will let them remember who they are when the veil of forgetfulness drops over Canaan and everyone's memories are wiped clean.  Without a book, a person has no identity, no family, no position in the community.  They are Lost, a fate almost worse than death.

Nadia, the dyer's daughter, is unlike anyone else in her isolated village.  Every 12 years, every person in Canaan loses their memories completely.  Not the quiet teenager.  She never forgets.  Nadia is the only one who knows that some people use the Forgetting to purposely erase their identities or to commit unsavory acts, the consequences of which they will never have to face.  Even the perpetrator won't remember what he/she has done.  With the time of Forgetting fast approaching, Nadia is wary.  What will happen on this night of danger and chaos?  Nadia's hateful older sister has a sinister plan—surely she's not the only one.  

When Gray—the handsome glassblower's son—catches Nadia slipping over the wall into the forbidden beyond, he gives her even more reason to worry.  Not only are the pair growing closer, but they're discovering some shocking secrets about Canaan.  With the Forgetting only days away, Nadia is desperate not to lose Gray.  She needs him—not just to confront the Council with what they know, but also to fill the emptiness in her aching heart.  How can Nadia make him remember?  Can she survive if everything Gray knows about their duty, their friendship, and their love just ... disappears?  If a person doesn't live in another's memory, do they even exist at all?

The Forgetting, a new YA novel by Sharon Cameron, explores some fascinating issues about memory, truth, and identity.  While the story's set-up is a little confusing at first, the rules of Canaan society soon become evident, allowing the novel's tense, exciting plot to take center stage.  The characters are complex, engaging, and empathetic.  Nadia and Gray make an appealing couple whose love grows naturally.  Their romance offers an engaging subplot, but one that never upstages the real story.  All of these elements come together to create a taut, fast-paced tale with surprising twists and turns.  It's the unsettling philosophical questions it asks, however, that make The Forgetting so compelling.  Who are we now—and who will we become—if we have no memories of who we've been?  Without our memories, is life even worth living?  And, the most disquieting question of all:  What would you do on the night of Forgetting if you knew no one—not even yourself—would remember it come morning?  Despite the chilling implications proposed by these questions, The Forgetting is, at its heart, a hopeful tale.  A perfect read to start off the new year, I loved this book and recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who enjoys an engrossing yarn that truly has it all.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, blood/gore, and mild sexual innuendo

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

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Sweet Parisian Romance Uplifting and Enjoyable

(Image from author's website)

As an American in Paris, Chastity Whitmore finds herself charmed on a regular basis.  Just not by Viscount Charles Jean Anne Monorie de Brase.  The arrogant aristocrat thinks he can walk all over people just because he's wealthy, influential, and—okay, she'll admit it—dashing.  Chastity refuses to let herself fall under the viscount's spell.  As his son's English teacher, she's more concerned about Louis de Brase, especially since the boy seems to be ignored by his important father.  When the viscount pooh-poohs her concerns, Chastity is outraged.  Just who does the man think he is?

It's not until a tragedy brings them together that Chastity gets a peek beneath the viscount's slick veneer.  At the same time her impression of Charles is changing, she's becoming increasingly worried about Louis.  The teenager has gotten himself mixed up in a dangerous trade with men more vicious and calculating than he can possibly imagine.  Can Chastity convince the viscount to act in time to save his son?

The closer Chastity gets to Charles, the more attracted to him she becomes.  She knows a romance between them could never work.  With her ex-boyfriend begging her to get back together, she's confused.  Chastity wants to do what's best for herself and her young son, but what is that?  Her heart's already been shattered once—is she willing to give love another chance?  Or will she remain forever alone in the world's most romantic city?

The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte by Jennie Goutet is a modern love story with a strong Regency influence.  Although it deals with contemporary issues, at its heart the novel is a sweet, clean romance about two people with broken hearts who find healing in each other.  My favorite part about the book, in fact, is its hopeful overtones.  While the love story at its core doesn't offer anything unique, I do wish the plot had focused more keenly on the romance, less on drug dealing, art heists, and nefarious Parisians.  Too many subplots make the tale feel chaotic and melodramatic.  Still, I remained interested in the story throughout.  Yes, I wanted stronger characterization.  Yes, I longed for a more atmospheric setting.  Yes, I would have liked a tighter plot.  On the whole, though, The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte provides a pleasant, uplifting read that will be appreciated by those who enjoy clean, predictable romance in which two deserving people finally get their longed-for happily ever afters.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I don't read a lot of romance.  Ideas?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and depictions of illegal drug use/drug dealing

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte from the lovely and generous Jennie Goutet.  Thank you!

Happy New Year (Again)!


I know it's February 1st—not January 1st—but since I finally finished reviewing all the books I read in 2016, it feels like the blog is now ready to officially step into 2017.  So, Happy New Year!  

Thanks for your patience over the last few weeks while I posted 2-3 reviews per day.  I know how annoying that can be, so thank you for not just hanging in there, but also for reading my posts and commenting on them.  I so appreciate it!  Rest assured that we will now be going back to our regularly-scheduled programming with only a few reviews a week.  I'm going to try to stay on top of things better this year than I did last so I won't have to spend January 2018 catching up on 2017's reviews.  Hold me to that resolution, okay?

I've read 13 1/2 books this month and liked the majority of them.  So, lots of good things to come.  Stay tuned!

What have you read so far this year?  Anything of which I should take note?  I love reading recommendations, so give me your best ones 😀📚



Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Twisty Psychological Thriller Engrossing, But Not Satisfying

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

High school senior Hattie Hoffman appears to have it all.  She's beautiful, popular, smart, and a talented actress.  Maybe too talented.  Hattie is hiding a lot more under her innocent, girl-next-door facade than anyone would ever guess.  When the 18-year-old is found murdered in an abandoned barn, one question hovers the whole sad affair:  Who was Hattie Hoffman?  The answers are plentiful.  What's the truth?  

County sheriff Del Goodman is tasked with finding Hattie's killer.  A close friend of the Hoffmans, he's baffled by what he's finding out about their daughter.  Did anyone really know Hattie?  He's beginning to think not.  There's only one thing he knows for sure:  He will find her killer.  No matter what it takes.

Peter Lund, Hattie's English teacher, is hiding an incriminating secret—from his wife, from his colleagues, from the police.  What will happen when the truth comes out?  Will he find himself accused of killing his favorite student?  Did he?

Told from three perspectives—the victim, her English teacher, and the policeman investigating them both—Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia is a compelling psychological thriller.  The story twists and turns all over the place, making for a tense, engrossing read.  Hattie and Peter are complex characters, neither of whom is very likable.  The former is a manipulative brat (who seems WAY older than 18) while the latter is a selfish wimp.  Despite these less-than-desirable qualities, I did want to know what happened to them.  The ending of this one frustrated me, so in the end, I'm not sure quite what I thought of Everything You Want Me to Be.  It's an intriguing page turner for sure, but I can't say I really liked it.  Overall, it didn't leave me feeling very satisfied.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of The Secret Place by Tana French)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Everything You Want Me to Be from the generous folks at Atria Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!

It's A Book! It's A Film! It's Fantastic All Around!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I think most readers would agree that:

(1) It's better to read the book before seeing a movie based on said book.
(2) With a few exceptions, the book is always better than its movie. 

Am I right?  Thought so.  

Well, I adhere to Rule #1 the vast majority of the time since I prefer to "see" a book in my head before I view it on the Big Screen.  Hollywood and I rarely see eye-to-eye, so this technique has served me well.  I break this habit only on very rare occasions.  A movie date with my California sister and our daughters over Thanksgiving weekend seemed like a legit reason, so I went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them before reading the original screenplay by J.K. Rowling.  The shock!  The horror!  Actually, since the film follows the published screenplay exactly, it wasn't that big of a deal.  And you know what?  I loved the movie.  Loved it. 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them features Newt Scamander, a British magizoologist, who arrives in New York City in 1926 to perform a special mission.  Obsessed with magical creatures, Newt carries a number of them in his suitcase.  When Jacob Kowalski, a Muggle baker, accidentally opens the case, he sets the animals free.  As Newt's precious creatures escape and wreak havoc on the city, he tries to convince the Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA) that he can take care of the problem without any harm to either the creatures or American Muggles.  
MACUSA is already struggling to manage magical-Muggle relations.  It doesn't help that a dark force is causing trouble in the city.  MACUSA assumes it's the work of one of Newt's creatures; Newt refuses to believe it.  He thinks it's something much stronger, much more dangerous.  With the help of Tina Goldstein, a disgraced Auror; her sister Queenie, a skilled Legilimens; and Kowalski, Newt must find the culprit in order to pacify MACUSA and save New York City.  The job is a much more dangerous one than anyone could possibly have imagined ...

When I heard about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter screenplays, I wasn't sure what to think.  All Potterheads long for more from the HP universe, but I've been hoping for novels.  It's only in this format that the real color, charm, and depth of Rowling's world-building can truly come alive, right?  Right.  Sort of.  The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay definitely lacks the fullness that would no doubt be found in a novel version.  With short stage directions instead of meaty description, it's difficult to really visualize the setting, characters, and creatures that appear in the story (at least I assume this is true since I actually saw the film before reading the screenplay).  What this format does offer is a reading experience that is fast, exciting, and unique.  Readers— especially young, reluctant ones—who want to delve into the Harry Potter books but shy away from the weighty tomes might find this format more to their liking.  It also helps that they can enjoy this story without having read any of the Harry Potter books.  Personally, although I enjoyed reading Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I would have preferred it in novel form.  Still, this is a fun, magical tale that translates perfectly to the Big Screen.  I loved both the written screenplay and the film version.  

(Readalikes:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; Quidditch Through the Ages; and The Tales of Beedle the Bard)

Grade:


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


for brief, mild language, violence, and scary images

(Note: The actual movie is rated PG-13)

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha. 

*Movie image from www.fandango.com

Quiet WWI Drama Engrossing (Enough)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"... Our time was wartime ..." (235).

Longing for adventure, 23-year-old Pearl Gibson is thrilled to secure a position as a lady's maid to wealthy, glamorous Ottoline Campbell.  The Scottish estate where the aristocrat spends her summers is peaceful, but full of its own quiet dramas.  As Pearl becomes acquainted with the staff and grows closer to her employer, she begins to see the cracks in the Campbells' careful veneers.

With the threat of war creeping ever closer, life at the estate changes.  As the men leave for the front lines, the women are left to fend for themselves.  With fear and anxiety hanging over them, Pearl and Ottoline must figure out how to survive.  Pearl is closer to Ottoline than to anyone else, but she's harboring a secret that could shatter her employer's frail existence ...

It's difficult to describe the plot of The Echo of Twilight by Judith Kinghorn because it doesn't have one.  Not really.  Episodic and character-driven, the novel meanders about with little focus.  Which isn't to say that it's not engrossing.  It is, but there also isn't a point in the story where I couldn't have put the book down and walked away.  Kinghorn's prose is strong.  I found her characters lacking, though.  Besides Rodney and Mrs. Lister, none of them are very likable.  Pearl has no real personality, which makes her story a bit dull.  Overall, the novel's quiet, depressing, and not all that memorable.  In the end, it was just okay for me.  

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

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

Monday, January 30, 2017

YA Jack the Ripper Novel Just Okay

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Audrey Rose hides a secret desire behind her high-born Victorian facade.  The 17-year-old is fascinated by science, specifically forensics, the science of crime and death.  As often as she can, Audrey Rose sneaks away from the home she shares with her paranoid father and protective older brother to her uncle's laboratory.  An unofficial apprentice, she watches and learns all she can from her Uncle Jonathon's study of recently-deceased bodies.  Disguised as a young man, she even attends his lectures on forensics at a local boy's school.  

When Jonathon starts receiving the corpses of women brutalized in similar ways, it becomes apparent that a serial killer is on the loose in London.  With the help of a handsome schoolmate, Audrey Rose is determined to find the killer.  To her shock, the clues lead her in the one direction she doesn't want to go ...

I find books about forensics, especially in the earliest days of the discipline, intriguing, so naturally I wanted to give Stalking Jack the Ripper, a debut novel by Kerri Maniscalco, a go.  What did I think?  Well, it tells a compelling story.  Familiar, yes.  Predictable, yes.  But I still found myself engrossed.  Even though I could tell where the plot was going, I wanted to know how it all wrapped up.  My biggest problem with the novel was with our heroine, Audrey Rose.  A wealthy Victorian young woman flitting off to a bloody lab and gory crime scenes frequently without raising many eyebrows seems extremely far-fetched.  The fact that she cares nothing about her reputation or family name means she risks little by dabbling in the "dark arts," making her story less tense and urgent than it could have been.  Audrey Rose also seems more interested in science than humanity, which makes her difficult to empathize with at times.  Considering all this, I didn't end up enjoying Stalking Jack the Ripper nearly as much as I thought I would.  It kept me reading, but in the end, it was just okay for me.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis)

Grade:




If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Stalking Jack the Ripper from Changing Hands Bookstore with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin