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2022 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska (1)
- Arizona (1)
- Arkansas
- California (5)
- Colorado (2)
- Connecticut (1)
- Delaware
- Florida
- Georgia (1)
- Hawaii (1)
- Idaho
- Illinois (1)
- Indiana (1)
- Iowa (1)
- Kansas
- Kentucky
- Louisiana
- Maine (1)
- Maryland (2)
- Massachusetts (5)
- Michigan (2)
- Minnesota (1)
- Mississippi (1)
- Missouri
- Montana
- Nebraska (1)
- Nevada
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York (9)
- North Carolina (4)
- North Dakota
- Ohio (1)
- Oklahoma
- Oregon (1)
- Pennsylvania (2)
- Rhode Island (1)
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Tennessee (1)
- Texas (2)
- Utah (2)
- Vermont (2)
- Virginia (1)
- Washington (4)
- West Virginia
- Wisconsin (1)
- Wyoming
- Washington, D.C.* (1)


Antarctica (1)
Australia (2)
Egypt (2)
England (14)
France (1)
Greece (1)
Italy (1)
Nepal (1)
Romania (1)
Scotland (3)
Sweden (1)
Wales (1)

My Progress:

31 / 50 states. 62% done!

2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

19 / 50 books. 38% done!

2022 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

20 / 25 books. 80% done!

2022 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge

My Progress:

49 / 53 books. 92% done!

Booklist Queen's 2022 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

40 / 52 books. 77% done!

Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2022

1 / 24 books. 4% done!

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge

3 / 20 books. 15% done!

2022 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

My Progress:

31 / 50 books. 62% done!

The 52 Book Club's Reading Challenge 2022

The 52 Book Club's Reading Challenge 2022

My Progress:

39 / 52 books. 75% done!

2022 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

34 / 50 books. 68% done!

2022 Support Book Bloggers Challenge

2022 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bumpy Prose Aside, The Good Father Makes For A Compelling Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Travis Brown never planned on becoming a father at 18, let alone a single one, but ever since his daughter's birth four years ago, Travis has had only one goal:  to do right by Bella.  And he has.  It hasn't been an easy life or a glamorous one and yet, Bella's growing into a smart, healthy, sweet little girl.  Travis couldn't ask for anything more.  

Robin Saville shouldn't even be alive, but here she is, about to become the wife of the next mayor of small town Beaufort, North Carolina.  She should be thrilled about it all—her upcoming society wedding, her powerful in-laws, her new position as one of Beaufort's elite—it's more than her weak little heart could have taken.  Thank goodness for her heart transplant and the hope it's given her for a long, happy life.  Only, ever since her 17-year-old sister-in-law to be gave birth to a baby girl, Robin's felt unsettled.  Old emotions are rising to the surface, reminding Robin that, not so long ago, she brought her own newborn daughter into the world ...

Erin Patterson, a pharmacist in Raleigh, can't get over her own loss.  Four-year-old Carolyn was her light and her life, the sunshine that lit her entire universe.  When the little girl died, she might as well have taken her mother with her.  Torn up by her grief, Erin feels too paralyzed to work, to talk to her husband, or to move on with her life.  Then, Bella Brown walks into Erin's favorite coffee shop and all that starts to change.

When tragedy strikes, Travis doesn't know where to turn.  Construction jobs are difficult to find in a struggling economy and Travis is having no luck finding anything else.  With less than $20 in his wallet, he's hit rock bottom.  He can get by with nothing, but he's not about to let Bella starve.  Then, an opportunity in Raleigh presents itself.  Travis knows it's not exactly legit.  He also knows he can't take a child along on such a risky "job."  So, he does something crazy, something that goes so horribly awry that Travis could lose everything, including the only thing that really matters to him—Bella.    

As a desperate father tries to save his daughter, Robin and Erin are pulled into the mess, a catastrophe that will change all of their lives forever. 

The Good Father by Diane Chamberlain grabbed me from the first line, even though the sentence "It was nine-forty when I woke up in the back of the van" is only marginally intriguing.  It wasn't really the writing that got me, anyway, but the characters of Travis and Bella.  Their plight tore at my heart right from the start.  The rest of the story moves swiftly—although the writing and editing are a little bumpy—leading to a can't-put-it-down-until-you-know-how-it-ends conclusion.  The book definitely kept me entertained, although the story often feels contrived and the writing could have been much tighter.  Still, I enjoyed the read.  Because I liked it, I browsed through summaries of Chamberlain's other books and, let's just say, The Good Father won't be the last book I read by this author.  Her prose may not be perfect, but, oooh, a compelling premise will get me every time!

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of June Bug by Chris Fabry and The First Part Last by Angela Johnson)

Grade:  C+

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language, some sexual content and mature themes 

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Good Father by Diane Chamberlain from the generous folks at Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc.  Thank you! 
Wednesday, May 30, 2012

iPad v. New LDS Children's Book—My 3yo Makes the Ultimate Choice (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Deseret Book)

I don't review picture books very often, but I Believe in Jesus Too by Mark S. Nielsen kept catching my eye.  The last time I hit Deseret Book, I almost bought it.  When I saw it in DB's latest catalog, I circled it, planning to request it from the publisher.  But, then, a miracle occurred—out of the blue, I got an email from the author asking if I would be willing to review it.  I was, of course, thrilled with his request.  Even better, Mark happens to live very close to me and was able to deliver the book in person.  He's a nice man, it's a lovely book and, really, I couldn't be more excited to gush about it all to you.  

The book begins with these lines:  "Latter-day Saint children everywhere in the world believe in Jesus Christ.  I believe in Jesus too."  It then goes on to describe things that LDS kids do to show their devotion to their Savior.  Through the text as well as soft, gorgeous illustrations (by the incredibly talented Craig Stapley), readers can see children in 19 different countries doing things like attending church, saying their prayers and reading the scriptures.  The words and pictures work together to make an important point—no matter what culture, country, or background LDS people come from, they are united by their faith in Christ.  

Admittedly, I'm not the best judge of picture books.  My kids, however, are experts.  All of them (well, okay the 13-year-old didn't show a lot of interest) loved thumbing through I Believe in Jesus Too.  My 3-year-old listened with wide eyes as I read it to her and kept gazing at the pictures saying, "Look at all the people!"  Not surprisingly, she—being bi-racial—loved the illustrations of little girls in Africa.  "That's me!" she kept saying.  My 7-year-old's favorite part was the map that sprawls across the front and back covers, showing where each of the kids in the book lives.  And, if you need any more evidence of what a wonderful book this is, let me just say that when (in the middle of Sacrament Meeting, mind you), I offered my little girl a choice between coloring on the iPad and reading I Believe in Jesus Too for the second time, she chose the latter.  If that's not a ringing endorsement, I'm not sure what is!

If you're LDS, or know someone who is, definitely consider purchasing this one (you can find it in-stores or online at Deseret Book as well as online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble).  The book is sturdy, of great quality, and would make an excellent gift for a baptism, a birthday, or some other special occasion.  It's a nice everyday book, too, one that I will be toting to church to entertain my own kids as well as the unruly energetic 5-year-olds I teach in Primary.  Yes, I really did enjoy the book that much.  You will, too.   

Now for the exciting part ... if you want to enter to win your own copy of I Believe in Jesus Too, simply make a comment on this post.  Easy cheesy, right?  If you'd like to earn more entries, you can do one or all of the following:

Become a Follower of Bloggin' 'bout Books (+1)
Like Bloggin' 'bout Books on Facebook (+1)
Like Mark S. Nielsen on Facebook (+1)
Blog about, Tweet about or mention this giveaway on Facebook/other social media (+1)
*Initial comment on this post = 1 entry

Simple.  Just let me know in the Comments section how many entries you earned.  The giveaway will end at midnight on June 12 and is open internationally.  In addition, the author will autograph and/or personalize the book for the winner, if they would like.  Good luck!  

(Readalikes:  Um, I can't really think of anything)

Grade:  A

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  G

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of I Believe In Jesus Too from the generous Mark S. Nielsen.  Thank you! 
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Non-Stop Action Pandemonium Still A Bit Disappointing

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

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

Lena Haloway is dead.  That weak, clueless girl no longer exists.  After months of struggling to survive in the Wilds, all Lena's soft places have hardened and she can barely recognize the person she used to be.  She's now Lena Jones, a tough, ruthless fighter for the Resistance.  Posing as a twelfth grader at Quincy Edwards High School for Girls in Brooklyn, New York, she gathers intel, giving the information to the people behind the rebellion that's gathering strength in the United States.  

But Lena Jones is not, actually, as steely as she thinks she is.  Her mind won't stay away from thoughts of Alex, from torturing herself with the sure knowledge that she's at least partly responsible for his death.  As much as she wants to purge him from her memory, he's always there.  She just wishes he were here.   

When a political rally goes horribly awry, Lena has to focus on the task at hand:  saving herself and 18-year-old Julian Fineman.  Julian is the face of Deliria-Free America (DFA), the organization headed by his father.  He's also becoming Lena's friend and, maybe, just a little bit more.  The more she gets to know Julian, the more she's sure of one thing:  she can't let him get the Cure.  She'll save him—like she couldn't save Alex—no matter what it takes.

Alternating between "Then" and "Now," Pandemonium, the second book in Lauren Oliver's popular Delirium series, describes Lena's fight to survive after she escapes from the walled-in city of Portland, Maine and her subsequent work with the Resistance.  While it's pretty much non-stop action and emotion, which makes for an exciting read, the story doesn't actually go anywhere new.  It offers up a few plot twists, but nothing I didn't see coming.  So, while the plot kept me engaged, I still ended up feeling a little disappointed with this sequel.  It did make me anxious to see what will happen in the next book, though, and that's always a good thing.    

(Readalikes:  Delirium by Lauren Oliver; this series also reminds me of the Matched series [Matched; Crossed]by Ally Condie; the Uglies series [Uglies; Pretties; Specials; Extras] by Scott Westerfeld; and the Birthmarked [Birthmarked; Prized] series by Caragh M. O'Brien)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for violence and strong language

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Pandemonium from the generous folks at HarperTeen.  Thank you! 
Monday, May 28, 2012

Things That Make Me Go Meh

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Lula, a 26-year-old immigrant, is living the American dream.  At least, she thinks she is.  She's not sure.  All she knows is that her new life in the U.S. beats her old one in Albania any day.  In fact, Lula's got a lot to be grateful for: she lives in a wealthy New Jersey suburb; she earns money by looking after a 16-year-old boy who really doesn't need a babysitter; and thanks to her employer, the kind Mister Stanley, she's now legally able to stay in the country.  She really can't complain about it all, even if her new American life is a little bit dull.

That all changes when three Albanian men come knocking, asking Lula to do her "brothers" a dangerous favor.  Lula knows she shouldn't oblige them, but she's been waiting for a little excitement and here it is.  Plus, there's Alvo.  He's good-looking and seems as interested in Lula as she is in him.  So what if he runs with a sketchy crowd?  She wanted a thrill—now she's getting one.  But, as things get complicated not just with her new "brothers," but also with Mr. Stanley's family, Lula must decide where her loyalties really lie.  What does she owe her countrymen?  Her employer?  Herself?  Who is she and what does being an American really mean?  

The ho-hum plot summary above reflects my disappointment in Francine Prose's latest novel, My New American Life.  As you can probably tell, it's not big on plot.  Which wouldn't have been a huge problem if the author had managed to make me care about the characters in the story.  Didn't happen.  Why not?  Well, none of them are particularly likable, least of all our heroine.  Lula lies to the people who have been kindest to her, disregards all of her employer's rules, and selfishly puts an already hurting family in jeopardy to satisfy her own lustful urges.  Annoying.  The rest of the cast irritated me, as did the story itself, which just got duller and more depressing as it prattles onward.  Without an interesting plot or engaging characters, this book just kind of goes nowhere.  It's not that Prose doesn't write well—she does—it's just that I didn't connect with My New American Life at all.  If I hadn't promised to review it, I wouldn't have bothered to finish it.      

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

Grade:  C

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language, depictions of underrage drinking and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of My New American Life from the generous folks at Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!  

Mormon Mentions: Francine Prose

If you're not sure what a Mormon Mention is, allow me to explain:  Every time I see The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also commonly known as the LDS Church or the Mormon Church) mentioned in a book authored by a writer who is not LDS, I post the passage here on my blog.  Why?  Because it's my blog and I can do what I want, of course!  Not really.  I actually do it because, as a lifelong member of the Church, I'm naturally concerned about how my faith is portrayed in books, movies and other forms of media.  Posting about it here gives me a chance to correct false information, offer my opinion, or just laugh about my crazy Mormon culture.  Plus, I just enjoy doing it.  If it's not your thing, feel free to skip this post.  If it is, read on.

I found this passage in My New American Life by Francine Prose:

"Water?'  The woman smiled, setting menus before them.  They nodded. "Beer?  Thai beer?"  Nod nod.  More smiles.  Lula watched her walk toward the kitchen door, where another Asian woman and two blond men in white shirts and ties waited tensely as if to debrief her after a top-secret mission.

"Mormons," Lula said.

"That's what I was thinking," said Alvo.

Lula said, "How did they get in?  Even under heaviest Communism you saw Mormons in Tirana."

Alvo said,  "Someone paid.  Someone always pays" (Page 126—italics were added by me).

I don't pretend to know anything about the history of the LDS Church in the Balkans, but I'm still pretty sure Church officials didn't bribe anyone in Albania to let Mormon missionaries into the country.  How did they come to be there, then?  I did find this explanation from Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  In February of 1992, he gave an address at Brigham Young University in which he said this:

Last April my Church duties took me to Albania. Elder Hans B. Ringger and I were some of the first Western visitors to that newly opened country. We conferred with government officials about the reception our church’s missionaries would receive in Albania, which had banned all churches in 1967. They told us the government regretted its actions against religion, and that it now welcomed churches back to Albania. One explained, “We need the help of churches to rebuild the moral base of our country, which was destroyed by communism.” During the past months I have heard this same reaction during discussions with government and other leaders in Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine.
In contrast, consider what we hear about religion from some prominent persons in the United States. Some question the legitimacy of religious-based values in public policy debates. Some question the appropriateness of churches or religious leaders taking any public position on political issues.

(See the full address here)

Interesting, no?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

TSS: Happy Memorial Day!

Outside my window:  It's a nice, quiet morning.  We're in the middle of a cool down (it was in the 80s yesterday and today, the temperature's only supposed to reach 90).  

I am listening to:  Nothing at all.  I always get up early on Sunday mornings so I can prepare my Primary lesson (I teach the 5-year-olds at my church) before anyone else wakes up.  So, I'm listening to the glorious sound of silence.

I am reading:  I stayed up last night to finish My New American Life by Francine Prose—not because it was such a page turner, but because, frankly, I was tired of reading it.  Maybe I'm missing its brilliance, because I thought it was dull and depressing.  At any rate, you can read my review of the book tomorrow.

I am going to read:  Next up is The Good Father by Diane Chamberlain.  I'm supposed to have a review of it up on Thursday for my good friends over at TLC Book Tours.  Then, I'll probably move on to two manuscripts I've been asked to beta read and then, I really want to read Between Shades of Gray (not to be confused with Fifty Shades of Grey) by Ruta Sepetys.  We'll see how much I get to this week!

On the blog this week:  I finished reviewing all the books that were finalists in this year's Whitney Awards competition.  I also talked about a YA dystopian and two books in a children's fantasy series that my daughter loves.  Good stuff.

Coming up on the blog:  I've got a fun giveaway coming up.  Check in on Wednesday to get all the details!

Around the Book Blogosphere:  I just got my first issue of Ladies' Home Journal.  It's not a magazine I usually read—I'm getting it as a replacement for another publication that went bankrupt or something.  At any rate, I noticed that it has a small "Notes/Books" feature, in which there's a section (at least there is in the June 2012 issue) that asks book bloggers for their favorite titles of the past year.  Weirdly, I haven't heard of any of the bloggers and I only recognized one of the books they recommended.  Am I that out of touch?  Ack!

I am thinking:  Maybe I should go back to bed.  It's not quite 6 and I've already done my lesson prep and half of a TSS post.  I've accomplished enough, right?

I am grateful for:  Veterans.  Tomorrow's Memorial Day, so naturally, I'm thinking about the men and women in my family who have sacrificed their time, energy and even their lives in service of this great country.  I'm always humbled by their patriotism.  So, here's a shout out to my brother, who serves in the U.S. Coast Guard and my brother-in-law, who's a Naval officer currently on deployment in Spain.  Being the sister of a military wife also means that I have great admiration for the spouses and children who keep things together on the homefront while their spouses and parents are away.  That's an incredible sacrifice in and of itself.   

Around the house:  So, guess what?  Looking around, you'd never know there was a flood in this house just a couple short weeks ago.  The damaged rooms have been repaired, painted and carpeted.  All the rooms upstairs, in fact, got shiny new paint.  They look great.  We've still got to return furniture and other items to their rightful places, but it's definitely looking good up there.

In the kitchen:  Maybe you can help me with this one.  I joined Weight Watchers (for about the five millionth time) on Friday, so now I'm on the look out for some good, healthy recipes.  Do you have any you really recommend?  How about great blogs/websites that are chock-full of low-cal stuff to make?  I'd love some suggestions.

High of the Week:  Taking control of my health by joining WW (again) felt good.  I also had a good time this week playing with the kids in the pool.  

Low of the Week:  My kids' last day of school was Thursday.  My 7-year-old son had been home for all of 10 minutes before he moaned, "I'm bored."  Gah.  It's going to be a long summer ...  

Family Matters:  We spent a couple of hours yesterday cleaning together.  With Owl City on the iPod and all of us working in tandem, it was actually kind of fun.

The coming week:  Not a whole lot is going on.  We'll celebrate Memorial Day in the pool, no doubt.  Also, my 3-year-old starts swimming lessons this week as well as a little community dance class, so that will be fun.  

Words of Wisdom:  God bless America.  I love this country more than I can express with words.  Thank you to all who give so much to her every day.  Happy Memorial Day, everyone!  Have a great week.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

With Its Own Personality, Second 13 Book Even More Entertaining Than First

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for 13 Curses, it may inadvertently spoil plot surprises from its predecessor, 13 Treasures.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Rowan "Red" Fox has already lost her parents to a car accident.  She's not going to lose her baby brother, too.  But James hasn't simply wandered off, he's been abducted by fairies.  The creatures have taken the baby to their world—a magical realm where older humans are not welcome.  To get her brother back, Red will have to bargain with the fairies, who are not exactly known for their integrity.  They do, however, enjoy games, which is why the Fairy King gives Red a puzzle to solve.  Her prize for completing it successfully?  James.

Red's task is to find thirteen silver charms, special decorations that belong on an old charm bracelet owned by Red's friend, Tanya.  The charms represent important fairy treasures:  the Platter, the Cauldron, the Sword, the Heart, the Key, the Goblet, the Cup, the Staff, the Light, the Book of Knowledge, the Dagger, the mask of Glamour and the Halter.  As if locating tiny pieces of jewelry isn't hard enough, Red discovers that each charm has been enchanted to have a sinister affect on whoever possesses it.  If Red and her friends, Tanya and Fabian, can't gather the charms in time, everyone they know could be cursed.  And James will be lost to the human world forever.

While I enjoyed 13 Treasures, the first book in Michelle Harrison's middle grade fantasy series, I really liked the second, 13 Curses.  Why?  Because it combines the rich, compelling storytelling that made the first book intriguing with a clever treasure hunt that makes this second installment unique, while keeping it interesting.  The kids collect the charms a little too easily, sure, but I still enjoyed following along on their magical journey.  Since Harrison gave 13 Curses its own, distinct personality, I'm especially interested to see what she does with the next volume.  Michelle Harrison is one of those authors I'm definitely going to be keeping my eye on.         

(Readalikes:  13 Treasures and 13 Wishes by Michelle Harrison; also the series reminds me a little of the Fablehaven books by Brandon Mull)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for intense situations and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed 13 Curses from the library at my kids' elementary school and read it as part of my volunteer work for the same.        
Friday, May 25, 2012

13 Treasures More Chilling Than Charming, But Still Enjoyable

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

No one believes Tanya when she talks about the fairies.  Why would they?  It's too fantastical to be true.  But Tanya sees their ugly little faces, hears their menacing taunts, fears their potent magic.  As hard as she tries to ignore them, the fairies refuse to leave her alone.  

When Tanya's mum finally has enough of her daughter's wild stories, she sends Tanya to live with her eccentric old grandmother.  Tanya barely knows the woman, since Florence has never made any effort to keep in touch. As if living with a stranger isn't bad enough, Tanya now resides in Elvesden Manor, a creepy old mansion that sits alone in an isolated, overgrown corner of the Essex countryside.  A thick forest known as Hangman's Wood surrounds the house, making it feel even more sinister.  The only part of Tanya's new home that feels at all welcoming is Fabian, the groundskeeper's 12-year-old son.  But even he is just an annoying, bookish boy.

It doesn't take long for Tanya to realize Elvesden Manor is full of secrets.  It's not just the fairies, either—although the house is home to plenty of otherworldly creatures—it's something bigger.  When Tanya learns about a girl who disappeared in Hangman's Wood fifty years ago, she's determined to find out what happened.  But solving the mystery will not be easy.  In fact, following the clues will take Tanya and Fabian on a complicated and dangerous journey—one that will lead them right to the brink of the formidable fairy world.  And beyond.

If you're expecting 13 Treasures, the first book in Michelle Harrison's middle grade fantasy series, to be a nice, calm Fablehaven-ish read, think again.  There are similarities between the two books, for sure, but Harrison's has a sinister bent that's a little ... scary.  Still, although the story's not particularly original, it is rich and absorbing.  I enjoyed it.  I did find the book more chilling than charming, which isn't a bad thing, just not what I expected.  If your child's easily frightened, I would be cautious recommending this one, but my daughter really liked it and so did I.

(Readalikes:  13 Curses and 13 Wishes by Michelle Harrison; also reminded me of the Fablehaven books by Brandon Mull)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for scary situations and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed 13 Treasures from my kids' elementary school library and read it as part of my volunteer work with the same.                             

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ashfall Not the Most Brilliant YA Dystopian, But Not Bad Either

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Alex Halprin doesn't mind being left behind when his parents and younger sister go on vacation without him.  In fact, the 15-year-old is thrilled.  He's not planning any wild parties either; he just wants to enjoy a nice, quiet weekend without anyone bugging him.  It looks as if Alex is going to get exactly what he wants.  Then a supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park erupts, covering the Midwest and beyond in a thick, choking layer of ash.  Fires break out, looting begins, and people become frantic to find food, water, shelter, help.  As Alex watches his ordered world crumble into a brutal, post-apocalyptic wasteland, he forgets about video games and alone time—he just wants to survive.

After disaster strikes, Alex realizes he can't just sit around in small town Cedar Falls, Iowa, waiting for the world to go back to normal.  Normal no longer exists.  Alex decides to take action, to hike across 140 miles of ruined terrain in the hopes of reaching Warren, Illinois, the town for which his family was heading before the volcano blew.  What he doesn't realize is just how much the world has changed in such a short amount of time.  Alex thought the biggest challenge he would face on the road would be finding food, water and shelter.  Not so.  While those are certainly issues—vital, life-or-death issues—they're nothing compared to the monsters lurking around every corner.  Only they're not monsters.  Not exactly.  They're good, Midwestern folks turned hungry, desperate and dangerous by their increasingly hopeless situation.  Does a lone, teenage boy have any hope of surviving, let alone making it all the way to Illinois?  Alex is about to find out.

Like most YA dystopians, Ashfall by Mike Mullin paints a pretty bleak picture of humanity's hope of surviving a catastrophic ecological disaster.  It's not just lack of food and water that will destroy us, according to such stories, but our own selfish, savage selves.  In the world Mullin describes, it takes less than a month for humans to turn into wild, cannibalistic beasts.  While that may be far-fetched (let's hope), it does make for an exciting, action-packed story.  While Ashfall's not especially original or brilliant, it's definitely entertaining.  With a fast-paced plot, interesting enough characters and some food-for-thought situations, it's a decent YA dystopian. Not the best and not my favorite, but not bad either.        

(Readalikes: The Road by Cormac McCarthy; The Last Survivors series [Life As We Knew It; The Dead & the Gone; This World We Live In] by Susan Beth Pfeffer; and a little like the Gone series [Gone; Hunger; Lies; Plague; Fear] by Michael Grant

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence and some sexual content (not graphic)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find 
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Perry's Newest Satisfies Almost As Much As It Unsettles

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Acceptable Loss, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier books in the William Monk series.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

I normally write my own plot summaries, but sometimes I don't feel like reinventing the wheel—especially when a book's jacket copy does it appropriate justice.  So, I'm going to go ahead and cheat on this one (any typos/mistakes in the following are my own):

"Give her a good murder and a shameful social evil," The New York Times Book Review once declared, "and Anne Perry can write a Victorian mystery that would make Dickens's eyes pop."  And Perry's new William and Hester Monk story, a mesmerizing masterpiece of innocence and evil on London's docks, outshines all her previous novels in this successful and beloved series.

When the body of a small-time crook named Micky Parfitt washes up on the tide, no one grieves; far from it.  But William Monk, commander of the River Police, is puzzled by the expensive silk cravat used to strangle Parfitt.  How did this elegant scarf—whose owner was obviously a man of substance—end up imbedded in the neck of a wharf rat who so richly deserved his sordid end?

Dockside informers lead Monk to what may be a partial answer—a floating palace of corruption on the Thames managed by Parfitt, where a captive band of half-starved boys is forced to perform vile acts for men willing to pay a high price for midnight pleasures.  Althugh Monk and his fearless wife, Hester, would prefer to pin a medal on Parfitt's killer, duty leads them in another direction—to an unresolved crime from the past, to blackmail and more murder, and to a deadly confrontation with some of the empire's most respected men.

To a superlative degree, Acceptable Loss provides colorful characters, a memorable portrait of waterfront life, and a story that achieves its most thrilling moments in a transfixed London courtroom, where Monk faces his old friend Oliver Rathbone in a trial of nearly unbearable tension—in sum, every delectable drop of the rich pleasure that readers expect from an Anne Perry novel."
I know what you're going to say and, for the record, I absolutely agree: the subject of this novel is repugnant.  So much so that, at times, it made me feel physically ill, even though Perry steers away from describing all the lurid details of the so-called "pleasure" boats.  Still, she gives enough of it and implies enough of it for readers to get the whole, sickening picture.  For that reason, Acceptable Loss is not an easy book to read.  There were several times I wanted to put it down for good, but I didn't for two reasons:  because it was nominated for a Whitney Award and because, in spite of its distressing topic, it's an enthralling read.  Why?  Well, the paragraphs above sum it up nicely—Perry creates deep, interesting characters; vivid, carefully-drawn settings; and a plot twists that are unexpected, but masterfully executed (the Epilogue of this book is an especially brilliant example).  So, while Acceptable Loss is disturbing in the extreme, it's also a rich, compelling story that satisfies almost as much as it unsettles.  I'm not going to say I loved it, but it definitely pulled me in and kept me turning pages because I had to know how it ended.  And, let me say, it ended well, my friends.  Very, very well.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the William Monk series; it also reminded me a little bit of Y.S. Lee's The Agency series [A Spy in the House; The Body at the Tower; and The Traitor in the Tunnel])          

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for violence, language (no F-bombs), and very mature content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bloodborne Too Bogged Down With Plot/Character/Writing Issues

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Reclusive Dr. Erin Cross, the 29-year-old scientist in charge of research and development at Timpanogos Research Industries in Lehi, Utah, lives an uneventful life.  She works, she reads, she does little else.  Until an ordinary lunch at her favorite deli goes horribly awry.  When a shooter bursts into the restaurant, Erin assumes it's random violence.  That assumption melts when she discovers the lab where she works has been locked down and her townhouse has been ransacked.  Someone's trying to get to her.  The question is who?  And why?  

Erin's terrified, but has no idea to whom she can turn.  She has few friends, none of whom she's willing to put into danger.  There's only one person she can think of who could possibly help her—Sean Flannery, the ex-Marine who took on the shooter at the deli.  Before she knows it, she's on the run with the handsome, enigmatic Sean.  He makes her feel safe and maybe something more.

As the two of them try to figure out who's behind the threats and violence toward Erin, a greedy virologist is up to no good on a remote island in Hawaii.  Can Erin and Sean figure out what's going on in time to stop Dr. Krantz, saving the lives of a small group of indigenous people, or will their own lives be snuffed out by a powerful organization bent on ruling the world?

In general, I like medical-type thrillers and one set in Utah—which seems (though maybe just to outsiders) to be the most placid place on Earth—sounded especially intriguing to me.  Unfortunately, Bloodborne by Gregg Luke just ... isn't.  The story could have been very compelling, but it gets bogged down by cliché characters, contrived situations, plot holes the size of Alaska, and a whole lot of telling vs. showing.  If I hadn't been reading it for the Whitney Awards, I would have put Bloodborne down without reading past the first chapter.  Sad, but true.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a lot of MICRO by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston and a little of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown)

Grade:  C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Bloodborne from the generous folks at Covenant Communications via the Whitney Awards Committee.  Thank you!    

Saturday, May 19, 2012

LDS Suspense A (Surprisingly) Enjoyable Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Smokescreen, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier novels in the Saint Squad series.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Studying art in Europe has been a dream come true for 24-year-old Taylor Palmetta.  Not only has she learned a ton about painting, but she's almost—almost—forgotten all about Quinn Lambert, the Navy SEAL who broke her heart.  But when someone breaks into her Paris hotel room, targeting her for some unknown reason, Taylor's so shaken up she's not sure what to do.  Returning to her home in Virginia Beach seems to be the only solution, the only thing that makes her feel safe. 

Until she can find her own apartment in Virginia, Taylor moves in with her sister, Riley, who's married to Tristan Crowther, a member of the same SEAL squad as Quinn.  The fact that Tristan and Quinn are not just co-workers, but also best friends, means Taylor's thrown into the latter's company way before she's had a chance to prepare herself.  And she really should have taken more time to steel her heart because as soon as she sees Quinn, she realizes her feelings for him have not cooled one bit.  He obviously doesn't feel the same way, so, once again, Taylor's got to figure out how to move on. 

In the meantime, Taylor's not feeling any safer.  Even so far from Paris, she's still being harassed.  She just can't figure out why.  She needs answers—and soon.  With the help of Quinn and Tristan's "Saint Squad," she'll get them, but knowing why only makes Taylor more terrified.  And while the SEALS are figuring out how to save the world, she's got an even bigger mystery to tackle:  Quinn.  

As you can probably tell from the reviews I've been posting lately, I'm not big on LDS suspense.  True, I don't read a lot of it, but when I do, I remember why I don't (if that makes any sense).  Thus, I was surprised by how much I did enjoy Smokescreen by Traci Hunter Abramson.  It could have used stronger writing, better character development (although, in the author's defense, I didn't realize Smokescreen was part of a series and, therefore, didn't read the first books in which the characters were introduced and, presumably, fleshed out), and tighter plotting.  Still, Abramson, who worked for the CIA, seemed knowledgeable and surprised me with some of her plot twists.  All in all, I found Smokescreen an entertaining read, although certainly not a flawless one.    

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Saint Squad series by Traci Hunter Abramson)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for violence and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Smokescreen from the generous folks at Covenant Communications via the Whitney Awards Committee.  Thank you! 
Friday, May 18, 2012

Whitney Award Winner Doesn't Do Much For Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Mia Hardy dies in a car accident, it almost destroys her college roommate, Fiona Claridge.  If it hadn't been for Fiona's impatience, the tragedy never would have happened.  Even now, 8 years later, she can't quite forgive herself for the part she played in her friend's death.  She's trying to move on, but it's difficult, maybe even impossible.  Fiona's busy with her job as an assistant English professor, the renovations on her 83-year-old fixer-upper, and ... not much else.  Still, she is moving forward.

Then, Fiona receives a sinister "gift" that tells her someone else can't forget the accident or her part in it.  She tries to laugh it off—it's probably just a ticked off student trying to get revenge for a poor grade—but when the threats continue, Fiona hardly knows what to do.  It doesn't help that travelling back to her hometown brings back memories of Mia and—even more disconcerting—of her old flame, Alan Taylor.  Alan's wife isn't thrilled to see her husband's old flame and neither are several other townspeople who still blame Fiona for Mia's death.    All the emotion stemming from these events leaves Fiona feeling weak, hopeless and scared.

As Fiona gets even more tangled with the people from her past, the threats against her get worse.  Are they really just pranks from an upset student or something much, much more dangerous?  Fiona must figure it out in order to save her sanity—and her life.

Rearview Mirror, an LDS murder mystery by Stephanie Black, just won a Whitney Award for best mystery written in 2011 by a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  So, apparently, I missed something because, for me, this book just bugged.  It's predictable; full of big, gaping plot holes; and features a heroine who is not just depressing, but helpless and annoying.  The writing never engaged me, the characters annoyed me, the dialogue sounded unnaturally stiff—so yeah, Rearview Mirror didn't do much for me.  Other people found it enjoyable, though, so this could just be another case of me being way too picky.  It's been known to happen (okay, it happens all the time).  All I know is that if I hadn't been required to finish this one in order to vote for the Whitney Award winners, I wouldn't have.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything right off the top of my head.  Can you?)

Grade:  C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Rearview Mirror from the generous folks at Covenant Communications via the Whitney Award Committee.  Thank you!   
Thursday, May 17, 2012

Historical Adventure Series Good, Clean, Well-Written Fun

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for The Pharaoh's Daughter, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from Legend of the Jewel, the first book in the Isabelle Webb series.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Former Pinkerton spy Isabelle Webb thought she was retiring from the adventurous life.  Not so.  After a harrowing adventure in India, she's now in Egypt, along with her 16-year-old ward, Sally Rhodes, and her boyfriend, 33-year-old blacksmith James Ashby.  Although Isabelle is anxious to save Sally from any further mishaps (one kidnapping is more than enough, thank you very much), she's intrigued when a woman from her past offers her the chance to join a real archaeological dig.  The opportunity is simply too intriguing to miss.

Isabelle is fascinated by the excavation site, a cave near Luxor that is rumored to be the tomb of a shamed pharaoh's daughter.  But strange things are happening—Isabelle's hearing sinister voices near her tent at night; Alice Bilbey's birthmark burns like fire; and locals keep giving the Americans dire warnings and protective charms.  The longer the group stays, the more danger they seem to be finding.  Is finding treasure, even if it is more magical jewels, worth the risk?  Is it worth their lives?  Isabelle and her friends will soon find out.

I loved N.C. Allen's Legend of the Jewel, so I knew I'd be delighted with The Pharaoh's Daughter as well.  And guess what?  I was.  There are so many things to like about this series—a tough, but vulnerable heroine; quick-paced plotting; fun, likable characters; mystery; even a little twist of the paranormal.  It's good, clean, well-written fun and, believe me, that's not an easy combination to find.  I never would have picked up this series if The Pharaoh's Daughter hadn't been nominated for a Whitney Award, but I'm so very glad I did.  N.C. Allen's found a very devoted fan in Yours Truly.

(Readalikes:  Legend of the Jewel by N.C. Allen; also reminds me of the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters)

Grade:  B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG

To the FTC, with love:  I bought The Pharaoh's Daughter at Deseret Book with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Second Book Blogger's Cookbook A Delicious Offering

There's nothing better than a good reading binge to nourish the soul ... unless, of course, it's accompanied by some delectable, book-inspired munchies.  Author and book blogger Christy Dorrity understands how delicious this pairing can be, which is why, for the second year in a row, she's published The Book Blogger's Cookbook.  Like last year's edition, the 2012 cookbook features bookish recipes inspired by popular novels, most of which are YA and MG.  For each featured book, Dorrity includes a plot summary and—best of all—quotes about the story from some of the Web's most active book bloggers (including Yours Truly).

Now, I love to try new recipes, but I have to say that my favorite part about Dorrity's cookbooks are always the books.  Even though I've been around the book blogging block a bit, The Book Blogger's Cookbook helps me discover not just new titles to read, but new blogs to explore as well.  Nothing makes me happier than that!

Since my life has been a *little* bit crazy lately (flooding, head lice, a nasty cold AND end of the school year insanity), I haven't had a chance to try any of the recipes yet.  I will, though, and I think I'm going to start with the Lost in Love Alfredo Pizza, which was inspired by Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith.  I adored the book and from the looks of it, I'll do adore this pizza. too.

Cookbooks can be expensive, but this one is available as an e-book (print copies are not available) on Amazon for only $4.99.  You also have a chance to win not only a copy of The Book Blogger's Cookbook, but copies of all the novels featured in it (22 books—a $200 value).  All you have to do is follow along on the cookbook's virtual tour (see all the stops here).  Every person who comments on one of the blogs during the tour will be entered to win the grand prize.  There are other ways to get extra entries, too.  Easy cheesy, right?  Go and enter right now because, trust me, you want a copy of this fun, bookworm-y cookbook in your kitchen.

(Readalikes:  The Book Blogger's Cookbook, 2011 by Christy Dorrity)

Grade:  A (especially those amazing reviews by the brilliant lady who writes Bloggin' 'bout Books :])

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  G

To the FTC, with love:  I received a free copy of The Book Blogger's Cookbook from the very generous Christy Dorrity.  Thank you!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

TSS: The Extreme Home Makeover Edition

The Sunday

Wow, it's been ten days since I posted anything.  That might be a record for me.  In case you're wondering, I do have excuses.  Good ones, too.  Things like a 3-day writer's conference, a flooded upstairs, head lice, and a needy 3 year old.  See?  I told you they were good.  

I think a new Sunday Salon post is about the perfect way to dive back into regular blogging.  It's Saturday evening, but whatevs.  I'm flexible.  Here goes:

Outside my window:  The sun is going down, but it's still very, very warm outside.  I believe today's high was 100 degrees.  Boo hiss.  My girls did convince me to go swimming today.  It didn't last long as I very un-gracefully fell off a floatie and scraped up my foot.  As I was bleeding out, we saw a mongo spider.  Plus, the water was still pretty cold.  So, yeah.  

I am listening to:  The very annoying background music to a video game my son is playing.  Also, my kids arguing.  It's lovely.

I am reading:  Thanks to all the chaos going on in my life (see my good excuses listed above), plus the fact that I was so inspired after attending LDS Storymakers that I've been working on a novel of my own (not the one I've been taking to Boot Camp/Publication Primer for the last three years, but a BRAND NEW one) I haven't actually been reading much.  I am, however, just about done with Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver.  It's non-stop action, with not a lot of actual plot.  Entertaining, though. 

I am going to read:  Excellent question.  I don't know.  I'll decide when I finish Pandemonium.  

On the Blog:  Um, yeah ... did I mention I've got excuses?  Really, really good ones?

Around the Book Blogosphere:  I've barely had time to think about my own blog, let alone anyone else's.  Sorry.

I am thinking:  That once my house gets put back together (See Excellent Excuse #2: a flooded upstairs), it will look fabulous.

I am grateful for:  Mothers.  I've got a great one.  So does my husband.  Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there.  Keep doing what you do because, frankly, you're awesome.

Around the house:  I mentioned the flooded upstairs.  Yeah.  I'm not sure what happened exactly (I was out of town), but the bathroom flooded causing $10,000 worth of damage.  After 4 days of heavy duty fans blowing 24/7, it's all dried up, so this week, we'll be having guys come to do drywall upstairs and in the garage, paint three bedrooms, and lay down new carpet.  It will look great when it's done.  I just want it to be done now.  I'm tired of living in a construction zone, you know?

In the kitchen:  The only thing that has happened in the kitchen this week is a pan of chicken enchiladas.  It's one of my standard meals—we all love it.  Other than that, we had some yummy sandwiches from Steve's Krazy Subs, Blizzards from DQ and I believe the kids had Panda Express while I was out of town.  Yeah.  We should probably eat real food sometime soon.

High of the Week: I've been on a creative high, writing like mad.  It's been fun.

Low of the Week:  Picking lice and nits out of my daughters' hair.  Not.  Fun.  

Family Matters:  Since the girls' bedrooms were both damaged in the flood, they've been bunking together in the guest room.  Neither of them are getting much sleep, but it's funny to hear them chatting together at night.  The boys went on a Father/Son campout on Friday/Saturday, so the girls and I had a sleepover in my room.  Good times.

The coming week:  Besides the aforementioned home repairs, I'll be cleaning, catching up on book reviews, and getting end-of-the-school-year stuff together.  My kids only have 9 days of school left.  Yikes! 

Words of Wisdom:  Don't sweat the small stuff.  I've really learned that this week.  A sense of humor goes a long way in times of chaos.  

Have a wonderful week, everybody! 
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