Monday, October 24, 2016

Condie's Middle Grade Debut Tender and Touching

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It's been a year since the car accident that killed Cedar Lee's father and younger brother.  Still sick with grief, the rest of the family is trying to pick up the pieces.  For Cedar's mother that means moving on.  Literally.  For the rest of the summer, they'll be living in Iron Creek, their mom's childhood hometown in Southern Utah.  Cedar doesn't mind spending time there, it's just that summers aren't the same anymore.  Life isn't the same.  And it's hard to push forward when all she really wants is to go back—back to normal, back to how it was before the accident, back to the same she loved and misses so keenly.

Still, Cedar's interest is piqued when the 12-year-old sees a boy her age in strange, old-fashioned clothing pedal by on a bicycle.  Following him leads her into the magical world of the town's Shakespearean festival.  Cedar is immediately taken in by its enchanting atmosphere, the colorful theater people, and the enthusiasm of her new friend, Leo Bishop.  Soon, she and Leo are embroiled in a profitable—if clandestine—money-making business as well as solving a local mystery.  Cedar's also mystified by the small gifts being left for her on her window sill.  They're exactly the kinds of things her dead brother collected.  Is Ben reaching out to her from beyond the grave?  Or is the heaviness in her heart making her brain see things that aren't really there?  As Cedar tries to fill the hole in her heart with a new town, a new friend, and new adventures, she must come to terms with what she's lost and what she's found in order to figure out just who she's really meant to be.

Summerlost, Ally Condie's first middle grade novel, tells a gentle, but emotionally-rich story about a young girl's struggle to cope after a great tragedy rips her family in two.  It's a heartfelt, atmospheric tale that is both tender and touching.  The festival setting lends it an otherworldly magic that makes the novel uniquely spellbinding.  With humor, mystery, drama, and a whole lot of heart, Summerlost makes for a compelling read with cross-over appeal.  It enchanted me quite thoroughly, thank you very much.

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing is coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for intense situations and themes (grief, loss, bullying, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, October 17, 2016

Siddons Saga a Surprising Disappointment

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Stifled by the expectations of her proper Southern mother, there is only one place tomboy Thayer Wentworth really feels free—Camp Sherwood Forest.  Nestled in the lush North Carolina mountains, the place offers her a warm respite from her chilly home life, a chance to ride horses, run wild, and fall in love for the first time.  It also brings the kind of heartache from which she'll never truly recover. 

Now an adult, Thayer is married to Aengus O'Neill, a handsome professor of Irish literature and folklore.  Living in the grand river home she inherited from her grandmother, Thayer is content.  That is, until Aengus starts to sour on his new job at The University of the South.  When he's invited to a nearby summer camp to share folk tales around the campfire, it seems Aengus has found his true calling.  But, the more time he spends at Camp Edgewood, the more unsettled Thayer becomes with the situation.  Especially when it causes her to remember and confront some very dark secrets about her family, her first love, and her increasingly enigmatic husband.  

I always like juicy Southern family sagas and Anne Rivers Siddons usually delivers a good one. Burnt Mountain (2011) starts out like a typical Siddons novel, with its slow-building introduction to its characters and plot.  It's only around the middle that it starts to flounder.  That's where the story gets ... weird.  While I like the idea of an eerie, not-quite-right summer camp, Aengus' strange transformation comes way too out of the blue to be realistic.  It just feels ... odd.  And the novel grows more and more bizarre from there.  I wanted to like this one, but the story's themes and plot lines seem too disparate, creating an unbalanced tale that did not satisfy in the end.  Since I've enjoyed many of Siddons' novels, Burnt Mountain is a surprising disappointment.  I'd advise readers to skip it and stick the the author's earlier books, which are much better.

(Readalikes:  Other books by Anne Rivers Siddons)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I think I picked Burnt Mountain off a clearance shelf at Barnes & Noble or Changing Hands Bookstore.  Not really sure.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Adirondack Murder Mystery Satisfying, But Not Remarkable

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for A Cold and Lonely Place, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Learning to Swim.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Troy Chance, a freelance journalist in Lake Placid, New York, is shooting photos of the construction of an ice palace on Lake Saranac when she gets the shock of her life.  Encased in the ice is the body of a man she knows.  A 25-year-old itinerant, Tobin Winslow was an enigma, a man who kept his past hidden from his acquaintances in the small Adirondack town.  Assigned to write an in-depth feature about Winslow, Troy starts digging into the man's life and the mystery of his untimely death.  The more she uncovers, the clearer the message becomes—someone is determined to stop Troy's unofficial investigation.  Can Troy figure out what really happened to Tobin or will her corpse be the next to turn up under the ice? 

A Cold and Lonely Place, Susan J. Henry's second book starring Troy Chance, is a compelling mystery with a few twists I didn't see coming.  Troy is a likable enough heroine, she's just not a very exciting one.  A little romance or family drama would go a long way toward making her a more complex, intriguing character.  The novel's plot is, likewise, a bit too straightforward—I would have enjoyed more suspense, more tension, more nuance.  Overall, then, the novel is satisfying, but not remarkable.  

(Readalikes:  Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and references to the consumption of illegal drugs

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Cold and Lonely Place from the generous folks at Crown Publishing Group (a division of Penguin Random House).  Thank you!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Paranormal YA Twin Peaks-Meets-Stars-Hollow Adventure Not Quite As Appealing As It Sounds

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you had the ability to steal pieces of a person without them knowing it, what would you take?  Would you pull out their bad memories, their anxiety, their fears?  Would you steal a little of their sobriety, a tiny bit of their fearlessness, a little affection?  How would these thefts affect you?  How would the victims' losses affect them?  

Aspen Quick has never thought much about his ability to snatch people's most intimate possessions.  The 17-year-old just uses it to his advantage when he needs a shot of courage, a bit of help with a girl he likes, or a wave of calm to soothe his nerves.  He knows his family's unique magic is ancient and important—after all, it's what's always kept Three Peaks, New York, safe from the cliff that looms over the quaint little town.  If his family didn't perform their secret rituals to hold back the danger, everyone in the hamlet would be buried under a sea of massive boulders.  Surely, that massive effort balances out the small thefts he performs from time to time.  It's his special right, isn't it?

When Aspen meets Leah Ramsey-Wolfe, he's intrigued with the bookish loner.  He becomes even more fascinated with her when he realizes she's the only person he's ever met who's immune to his reaching.  This epiphany leads Aspen to more startling revelations about his family's magic, its true potency, and the disastrous effects of unbridled greed and unlimited power.  As Aspen's eyes are opened to the truth, he must ask himself what it really means to be a good person.  And if he's brave enough to face answers that will change everything.  

I can't remember where I first heard about Rocks Fall Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar, but its premise has intrigued me ever since.  Its very appealing billing—"Twin Peaks meets Stars Hollow"—drew me in even more.  From these clues, I expected to absolutely adore this quirky paranormal adventure.  That didn't exactly happen, but I did find Rocks Fall Everyone Dies an intriguing read that asks important questions about how we treat other human beings, how we wield our own unique power, and how far we're willing to go to redeem ourselves.  Aspen is a selfish, manipulative character, which makes it somewhat difficult to connect with him.  As his eyes are opened, though, he becomes more sympathetic and it's easier to root for his success.  The magical world in which he is enveloped is fresh and intriguing, definitely different than the usual YA fare.  With plenty of twists, the plot moves along quickly, making the novel a fast, engrossing read.  The teenage cast members seemed a little too world-weary for me, as did their very cavalier attitudes about sex, drinking, etc.  Maybe those outlooks stem from the fact that they never had any adult supervision whatsoever?  The story's abrupt ending also irked me a tad.  I don't know if a sequel is in the works or not, but the tale felt unfinished—at least in some ways—to me.  Bottom line on this bad boy?  I liked Rocks Fall Everyone Dies, just didn't love it like I wanted to.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Don't You Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn and a little of Bruiser by Neal Shusterman)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Rocks Fall Everyone Dies from the generous folks at Kathy Dawson Books (an imprint of Penguin).  Thank you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Debut Thriller Not Quite Thrilling Enough

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Troy Chance is the only passenger not huddled inside the warmth of the ferry when the unthinkable happens—a small body falls from a passing ship into the frigid waters of Lake Champlain.  No one else seems to have noticed the unfolding tragedy.  Without stopping to think, Troy plunges into the lake, determined to save the child who will surely drown or freeze to death without intervention.  Barely getting them both to shore alive, Troy is dismayed to discover that the young boy she's just rescued refuses to speak.  The few words he does offer are in French.  Even more mysterious is the sweatshirt wrapped around the boy—knotted firmly behind his back, the garment immobilized the child's arms ensuring his fall overboard would be fatal.  Who would do such a monstrous thing?  And why is no one looking for the boy who says his name is Paul?

Reluctant to hand Paul over to the police, Troy takes him to her home in Lake Placid.  As she makes her own inquiries, she finds herself becoming more and more attached to her young charge.  And more and more puzzled.  Why has no one reported the missing child?  When Troy locates Paul's father, she doesn't know what to do.  Can she trust the wealthy and powerful Philippe Dumond?  Or is he responsible for his son's near death?  Troy knows she's more than done her duty, so why is she so hesitant to return Paul to his privileged life?  She can't give up the boy she's come to love as her own until she's absolutely certain he's safe.  But protecting him means Troy is in just as much danger as he is.  Can she save the two of them once again?  Or will a cold-blooded killer finish them both off this time?

Learning to Swim, a debut thriller by Sara J. Henry, begins with a very compelling premise.  Troy's subsequent search for answers keeps the plot moving at a fast enough clip to keep it interesting, despite the fact that our heroine is not the most engaging of characters.  The pool of suspects in the novel is so small that the story's big reveal is not much of a surprise.  Bits of the tale also seem incredibly far-fetched, making the whole thing feel unrealistic.  Despite these flaws, I enjoyed Learning to Swim well enough to keep turning pages.  It's certainly not my favorite thriller of all time, but it's not a bad diversionary read.

(Readalikes:  Its sequel, A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Learning to Swim from the generous folks at Crown Publishing Group (a division of Penguin Random House).  Thank you!

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Kid Lit List Book a Fun, Easy Guide to Some Great Reads

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Like many bibliophiles, I'm also a big lover of lists.  Especially book lists.  Although I never totally agree with Top Whatever lists, I still think it's fun to peruse them.  Not only do they remind me of great books I've read, but they also offer recommendations for books I haven't sampled yet.  What's not to love?  

I enjoyed 101 Movies to Watch by Suzette Valle, so you can imagine my excitement when I was pitched another book in the same format, except about books.  Naturally, I had to snatch it up!  101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up by Bianca Schulze (available October 10, 2016), the Australian-born founder of The Children's Book Review, is a fun, easy guide to some great kid lit that can be enjoyed even if you're already (gasp!) a grown-up.  As you can see from the illustration below, each entry features a plot summary, colorful pictures (by illustrator Shaw Nielsen), readalike suggestions, trivia, and other information.  There's even a book review feature where you can record your thoughts on each selection as you read it.  

No two readers are ever going to agree on a "Best of" type list, but Schulze offers a wide selection of books that covers a lot of territory.  From time-tested classics like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea to "new" classics like Harry Potter to stories that teach about history and world cultures, all Schulze's selections share common themes:
Be kind, be brave, and make good choices.  Remember the struggles of those that came before you.  Always dream of the fantastical future ahead of you and those who will come after you.  Be true to yourself, and with every page you turn, live your life like an epic adventure.

The best part of reading this book as a grown-up is that it reminded me of some of the wonderful stories I experienced as a child.  It also inspired me to pick them up again and re-enjoy them as an adult.  As a lifetime book lover, I was surprised by how many of the featured books I hadn't read.  Now, I've got some wonderful recommendations to add to my TBR list mountain mountain chain.  

If you've got a young book lover on your Christmas gift list, this would be an excellent present.  It would also make for a fun parent/children book club project. Basically, anyone who loves books is going to love this book about books.  Seriously, what could be more fun? 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

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

Friday, October 07, 2016

So-So Psychological Thriller Compelling, But Lacking (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

From the outside, Zoe Whittaker's rags-to-riches life looks absolutely perfect.  The 29-year-old is the brand-new wife of an influential Wall Street tycoon, she's living in a sparkling Tribeca penthouse, her closet is stuffed with chic designer clothes, and the only work she does is volunteering for a prestigious, well-funded charity for orphans and foster kids.  No one knows Zoe's past, that she, herself, was abandoned as an infant.  No one knows about the terrible things she did as a young adult, the things that propelled her to assume a false name and flee California for the anonymous streets of New York City.  There are other things no one knows—that Zoe is bored with her charmed existence, that she's secretly searching for her birth mother, and that she's feeling stifled by her adoring but controlling spouse.

When a series of suspicious events rocks Zoe's carefully-constructed world, she knows the game is up—after five years, her turbulent past has come calling.  Someone is determined to take revenge and they won't stop until she's dead.  How can Zoe protect herself without revealing the dark secrets she's never told anyone?  If the truth comes out, her glamorous life is over.  With a killer tracking her every move, everything Zoe's ever wanted and everyone she's ever loved are in the utmost danger ...

You all know I love me a good psychological thriller.  The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti is a psychological thriller, but is it a good one?  Well, it's tense, fast-paced and compelling.  A page-turner for sure.  The plot's twisty—it's also far-fetched, with some big plot holes.  Zoe's not a warm narrator, nor a particularly sympathetic one.  It's tough to care much about her.  That disconnect made The Vanishing Year less than satisfying.  Overall, though, the novel is compelling, just not anything really spectacular.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris; The First Wife by Erica Spindler; and Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, violence, sexual content, depictions of illegal drug use, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Vanishing Year from the generous folks at Simon & Schuster.  Thank you!


If you're interested in winning a signed copy of The Vanishing Year for yourself, fill out the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Spotlight: Echoes of Family by Barbara Claypole White

Things have been a little turbulent at my house lately and a heavy, 400+ page family drama just hasn't been something I can handle.  I wanted to at least spotlight Echoes of Family by Barbara Claypole White, though, as it sounds like something I would be interested in reading when life calms down a bit.  Here's the synopsis from the back of the book (mine is an uncorrected proof):

Marianne Stokes fled England at seventeen, spiraling into the manic depression that would become her shadow.  She left behind secrets, memories, and tragedy; one teen dead, and her first love, Gabriel, badly injured.  Three decades later she's finally found peace in the North Carolina recording studio she runs with her husband, Darius, and her almost-daughter, Jade ... until another fatality propels her back across the ocean to confront the long-buried past.

In her picturesque childhood village, the first person she meets is the last person she wants to see again: Gabriel.  Now the village vicar, he takes her in without question, and ripples of what if reverberate through both their hearts.  As Marianne's mind unravels, Jade and Darius track her down.  Tempers clash when everyone tries to help, but only by finding the courage to face her illness can Marianne heal herself and her offbeat family.    

I always find books about mental illness fascinating.  That, combined with the family secrets thing makes the premise of this book intriguing to me.  If you agree, be sure and grab yourself a copy next time you're at the bookstore or library.  If you've read Echoes of Family, what did you think?

(Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the ARC and to Barnes & Noble for the cover image.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

TTT: My Picks for Fall

It's been a rough few days around my house and I think Top Ten Tuesday is just what the doctor ordered!  The seasonal topics always generate my favorite lists.  I'm excited to share the Books on My Fall TBR List and I'm excited to see your selections.  If you want to join in (you do—it's fun!), simply click on over to The Broke and the Bookish, check out the rules of the game, create your own TTT post, then click around the book blogosphere to discover fabulous new blogs and get great reading recommendations.  

Here's what I'm looking forward to reading this Fall.  The Top Ten Book on My Fall TBR List are:

1.  The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware—I'm almost done with this psychological thriller, which is messing with my head in the best possible way.  Like In a Dark, Dark Wood, Ware's debut, this one features a woman in an isolated locale who's trying to figure out what really happened one fateful night.  It's twistier and altogether more intriguing than Ware's first novel.

2.  Danger Close by Amber Smith—I just received this one in the mail from the good folks over at Atria Books.  It's a memoir by a combat helicopter pilot who just happens to hail from my teensy tiny hometown.  I can't wait to read all about her adventures.

3.  Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly—I always like immigrant stories and because I lived in the Philippines for a year, the premise of this one really speaks to me.  

4.  Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens—This middle grade novel about two friends who form a detective agency to investigate the death of a teacher at their boarding school sounds fun.  I wonder how it will compare to The Scandalous Sisterhood of Pickwillow Place by Julie Berry

5.  Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead—I've never read anything by this award-winning author and her newest, a YA novel about friendship, sounds like an excellent place to start.

6.  The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz—I've been wanting to read this middle grade historical about a Pennsylvania farm girl who takes a job in Baltimore in order to make a better life for herself for a while now.  

7.  Factory Girl by Josanne LaValley—This YA novel has a similar premise to that of #6.  A 16-year-old girl from northern China who's forced to leave her home to work in a far-away factory learns how to survive—and thrive—in a foreign situation.

8.  Beautiful Affliction by Lene Fogelberg—The author of this memoir sent me this book about her journey to find answers about a mysterious medical condition from which she was suffering.  When she discovers what is happening, she's faced with an even bigger question: How much time does she have left?  Sounds intriguing, no?

9.  The Last September by Nina de Gramont—This murder mystery and family drama set on Cape Cod sounds compelling.

10.  The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter—An 18-year-old woman struggles to decide if she really wants a relationship with her mother, who forced her into a mental institution several years earlier.  Sounds interesting.

So, there you have it ... ten books I'm looking forward to reading sometime soon.  What's on your list?  Have you read any of the books on mine?  What did you think?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Leave a comment on this post and I will happily return the favor.

Happy TTT!  

*Book images from Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pride and Prejudice An Enduring Charmer

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Whenever anyone asked me if I'd read Pride and Prejudice, I'd always reply, "Yes, yes, of course!"  Not because I was purposely trying to make myself sound more literary, but because I truly thought I had read Jane Austen's popular work.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I realized during a recent "re-read" of the classic novel that I was actually experiencing it for the first time.  My only excuse is that I did turn 40 not so very long ago and my memory just ain't what it used to be ...

For anyone who hasn't read P&P yet, or who wants to sound like they have without actually expending the time to do so, here's a brief plot summary:

The Bennets have been "blessed" with five charming daughters.  As the family is not wealthy, it's imperative that the girls marry well.  Their conniving, manipulative mother has made it the "business of her life" (11) to see them all paired off to rich, influential men.  When Mrs. Bennet learns that nearby Netherfield Park has been let—and to an eligible bachelor of large fortune, no less—she determines to snag the unsuspecting Mr. Bingley for her eldest daughter.  In the process of wooing him, the family is introduced to Fitzwilliam Darcy, "the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world" (17).  Although he and the amiable Bingley are best friends, the two are nothing alike.  Much to the dismay of her mother, 22-year-old Elizabeth is drawn to the dark, broody stranger.  As events spiral on, true natures are revealed and Lizzy finds that there is much more to the unpleasant Mr. Darcy than meets the eye ...

So much has been written about P&P that I'm not even going to attempt to wax eloquent about its many charms.  Suffice it to say, Austen tells a delightful story full of warmth, wit, and wisdom.  Its magic lies not in plot, but in its lively characters.  Their interactions with each other teach great truths about human nature—and how little it's changed over the last 200 years.  The flirtation, flattery, and finagling feel as modern as an iPhone 7.  The novel's ability to transcend time is a large part of what makes it so appealing.  The plethora of spin-offs that are still being created every year prove that today's readers respond just as heartily to the story as they always have.  

Pride and Prejudice is not my favorite book in the whole world (that would be To Kill a Mockingbird); I'm not even sure it's my favorite Austen (I *think* I read Emma back in the day ...).  Still, I enjoyed it.  I read the Insight Edition from Bethany House, which is pictured above, and I'm not sure if this version's many footnotes added to the reading experience or distracted from it.  If I were to read the novel again for the first time, I think I would choose an un-enhanced edition.  The extra information in my book was fun, though.

Have you read Pride and Prejudice?  Are you a die-hard Darcy girl?  What's your favorite thing about the novel?  What's the best spin-off you've read/seen?  What do you think makes the story so enduring?

(Readalikes:  Does anything else compare?  Ideas?)


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

for mild thematic elements

To the FTC, with love:  This copy of Pride and Prejudice is from my personal library.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Carr's Signature Warmth Shines Through in First of New Series

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Stress is an everyday part of Maggie Sullivan's high-pressure life as a Denver neurosurgeon.  It's so ingrained in her the 36-year-old almost doesn't notice that she's heading straight for a nervous breakdown.  Dreading the results of a malpractice lawsuit against her, grieving a recent miscarriage, and trying to find her way after the break-up of a long-term relationship, Maggie's reached the end of her rope.  There's only one place that can heal her broken spirit: Sullivan's Crossing.  

A family campground near the intersection of the Colorado and Continental Divide Trails, Sullivan's Crossing has been in Maggie's family for generations.  Now run by her estranged father, the place offers everything she needs—peace, quiet, distraction—even if it comes with a side of cantankerous old man.  When Sully suffers a debilitating heart attack, Maggie finds herself sucked into caring for her father, his booming business, and a horde of needy tourists.  It's a different kind of stress than she's used to, but it may be just what the doctor ordered for both Maggie and Sully.  

Maggie can't turn down help right now, but she's still suspicious of Cal Jones, a handsome vagabond who's staying at the campground.  She suspects he's not who he appears to be.  She's right.  As the two work together to keep the campground running, they discover surprising commonalities between them—and a passion with the potential to turn into more than just a fleeting campground romance.  Can a summer fling heal two broken people?  At Sullivan's Crossing, anything is possible ... 

I'm not big on the genre as a whole, but I am a sucker for a good Robyn Carr romance.  Carr is a warm, generous woman and those personality traits come through in a big way in everything she writes.  I love her series set in snug little towns filled with good people who cherish their friends, family, and community.  Fiery romances blossom continually in these locales—of course—echoing the cozy glow that emanates from the roads and rills of places like Virgin River, Grace Valley, and Thunder Point.  

Like its fellows, Sullivan's Crossing is a place of beauty and belonging.  The campground has its own personality, though, which makes it a fun setting.  Its residents are warm and down-to-earth, characters who are both compelling and likable.  Although the romance between Maggie and Cal is inevitable, I like that Carr gives it time to build into something that feels real.  Sullivan's Crossing may not have the same place in my heart that Grace Valley and Virgin River do, but I enjoyed What We Find.  It's the first book in a new series—I'm excited to see where it goes!

(Readalikes:  Other books by Robyn Carr.  She's too prolific for me to list all her novels, but you can learn about them on her very informative website.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives), sexual content, violence, and references to the consumption of illegal drugs

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of What We Find from the generous folks at Mira Books via those at Little Bird Publicity.  Thank you!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Jacobson's Love Letter to Louisiana Will Hit Y'all Right in the Feels (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Once upon a time, my husband and I took a very last-minute flight from Phoenix to New Orleans.  Since neither of us had ever been to Louisiana, we planned to do a little sight-seeing when we arrived.  Didn't happen.  As soon as we landed, we got a call from the paralegal who worked for our adoption lawyer, telling us we could pick up our new baby a day earlier than planned.  Needless to say, we high-tailed it to Baton Rouge.  We flew out of tourist mode straight into the parents-of-a-newborn frenzy.  By the time we flew out of the state, we'd seen little of Louisiana except for hospital and hotel rooms.  Although I was ecstatic about our new baby girl, I was a little disappointed that we hadn't gotten to experience any of her birth area's colorful culture. 

Reading about a place can never match experiencing a place, but after sinking into Southern Charmed by Melanie Jacobson, I feel like I've spent a week being romanced by my daughter's hometown, with all its many enchantments.  Although there is plenty to love about Jacobson's newest, it's the setting that makes it stand out.  A native of Baton Rouge, the author has penned a passionate and persuasive love letter to the city of her birth.  And it's lovely.  

The story revolves around Lila Mae Guidry, a 24-year-old high school teacher who loves her life in Baton Rouge.  Although eligible LDS men of a certain age are a rare species in the city, she's prepared to remain single forever if that's what it takes to avoid yanking up her deep, deep Louisiana roots.  What Lila's not prepared for is the return of Max Archer, the boy who humiliated her at her first Stake dance.  At 26, her teenage tormentor is smart, successful, and full of the good graces he lacked as a kid.  Not everything about him has changed, though—Max still thinks Baton Rouge is a redneck, backwater town where he would never consider settling on any kind of permanent basis.  Lila can forgive him for most things, but not for that.  Trouble is, she's falling for him.  Hard.  When push comes to shove, can she abandon the city she adores for the man she loves?  Or will her Louisiana-love be the thing that tears the couple apart forever?

Although Southern Charmed is a light, breezy romance like this author's previous novels, it has more depth than the others.  Take Lila, for instance—she's a typical Jacobson heroine, but the fact that she cares so much about both her underprivileged students and her mother's grief makes her infinitely more likable than her successors.  Her story is fuller than theirs as well, giving it more substance.  Add in the vibrant, Technicolor setting and I think it's safe to say that Jacobson has upped her game in a most satisfying way.  Like its predecessors, Southern Charmed sparkles with warmth, romance, and the witty banter that Mel does so well.  The ending is predictable, even cheesy, and yet I found myself sniffling and applauding at the same time.  All the feels, I'm telling you, all the feels.  I've always liked Melanie Jacobson, but Southern Charmed is her best yet.  I adored it, y'all.  

(Readalikes: Reminds me of Until Summer Ends by Elana Johnson; also of other novels by Melanie Jacobson, including The List; Twitterpated; Second Chances; Not My Type; Smart Move; Always Will; and Painting Kisses


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for very mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Southern Charmed from the generous folks at Covenant in exchange for participating in the book's blog tour.  Thank you!


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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

TTT: It's a Genre Thing

It's time again for my favorite weekly meme, Top Ten Tuesday.  If you're up for some bookish fun this morning, join in.  Click on over to The Broke and the Bookish for more information, then make your own list, and bop around the blogosphere to get some great reading recommendations.  Easy peasy. 

I feel like I'm always talking about the same beloved authors and genres around here, so I decided to change things up a little for Top Ten Tuesday.  Today's topic is: Top Ten Favorite Books in X Genre.  Not gonna lie—I considered dystopian, British crime lit, family secrets novels, etc.  In the end, though, I decided to talk about a genre that I enjoy but don't actually read that often.  So, here's my list of my Top Ten Favorite Books-in-Verse:

1.  Death Coming Up the Hill by Chris Crowe—This award-winning haiku novel about the Vietnam War is set here in Arizona.  It touched me deeply.

2.  Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson—I'm a big fan of Woodson's YA and MG books, so I was excited to read this memoir-in-verse.  It's a lovely, National Book Award-winning contemplation on race, identity, and discovering one's voice.  

3.  The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf—This haunting, evocative novel is about the Titanic tragedy, a subject I find endlessly fascinating.

4.  Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill—The Salem Witch Trials are another historical topic that is always interesting to read about.  Hemphill manages to tell a very rich story despite the limits of a verse structure.

5.  Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate—Applegate's novels always seem to hit me right in the feels.  It's been a while since I read this one, but in my review I called it a "quick, touching story."

6.  Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse—I read this impactful, atmospheric novel about the Dust Bowl recently and it has definitely stayed with me.

7.  Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham—This one isn't based on historical or world events, but it is a compelling novel that tells an interesting Soul Surfer-ish story.

8.  Crank; Glass; Fallout; and other novels by Ellen Hopkins—Hopkins' YA novels in verse are so graphic and raw that I have a hard time labeling them "favorites."  Still, they're powerful in their unflinching examination of contemporary issues like illegal drug use, prostitution, sexual abuse, etc.

Okay, I'm going to cheat on the last two (actually, three) and share a couple novels-in-verse that are on my TBR pile mountain mountain chain:

9.  Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank—This novel about two very different girls who share an illness and a hospital room sounds intriguing.

10.  Witness by Karen Hesse—After Out of the Dust, I'm definitely up for another Hesse book.  This one is about a small town in Vermont and how it changes when the Ku Klux Klan moves in.  Set in 1924, it's another historical novel-in-verse, a subgenre I usually enjoy.

11.  Sonya Sones—I have several of this author's novels-in-verse on my TBR list.  I'm intrigued by Saving Red; One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies; and Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy.

There you have it.  What do you think of my list?  Have you read any of these?  What are your favorite books-in-verse?  Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor.

Happy TTT!  
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