Thursday, June 28, 2012

Waiting A Quick Read That Will Stick For A Good Long While

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London Castle misses her big brother every day.  Ordinary things—the sight of his car, the smell of his aftershave, the memory of his laughter—bring him back to her, but only long enough to remind her that Zach is gone forever.  Dead at sixteen.  London will never wrestle with him, never giggle with him, never fight with him ever again.  And it's all her fault. 

Zach's death has broken not just London, but her parents as well.  Her dad tries, but he's distant, always absorbed in his work.  And her mother?  She hasn't spoken one word to London since the day Zach died.  She won't even look at her remaining child.  London knows she deserves the silent treatment, but she longs for her mother's attention anyway.      

As London claws her way out of the well grief has dug in her heart, she finds strength in unexpected places.  With this new found power, she may finally be able to come to terms with what really happened the day Zach died and maybe—just maybe—find the redemption she's been seeking ever since.  

If you've read Carol Lynch Williams before, you know the YA author doesn't do light and fluffy.  Every book she writes makes a solid impact.  Her newest, a novel-in-verse titled Waiting, is no exception.  It might not be as lyrical as Glimpse, as haunting as Miles From Ordinary, or as memorable as The Chosen One, but it's just as affecting.  I would have liked more originality from this one, true.  Overall, though, I found it as well-written and powerful as Williams' other novels.  It's a quick read, but one that will stick with you for a good long while.      


Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), sexual innuendo and mature subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bess Crawford Series Continues to Delight

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(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for A Bitter Truth, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier novels in the Bess Crawford series.  These mysteries stand alone better than most, but, as always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

After nursing the wounded on the front lines in France, Bess Crawford travels home to London for a much-needed Christmas break.  A long winter's nap is the only thing on her mind as she heads to her flat.  Startled to find a battered woman shivering in her doorway, Bess does the Christian thing—she ushers her inside, out of the freezing December night.  

Soon, Bess discovers that her houseguest is not the vagrant she first appeared to be.  In fact, Lydia Ellis is an upperclass officer's wife, on the run from her angry husband.  She admits that fleeing her home may have been a mistake and begs Bess to accompany her back to her estate in Sussex.  Reluctantly, Bess agrees.  Spending the night at Vixen Hill assures her that Lydia is safe enough, in spite of her husband's brooding, impatient manner.  But just as Bess is preparing to take her leave, another of the Ellis' overnight visitors is found dead.  Detained by the local police, Bess finds herself stuck at Vixen Hill, where she's dismayed to discover just how entangled she's become in the family's affairs.  

Even when the police allow her to leave Sussex, Bess is haunted by what she's learned at Vixen Hill.  She can't stop thinking about the Ellis Family's biggest secret, one that has her scouring France in search of answers.  When the mystery follows her back to England, Bess once again finds herself running for her life while trying to solve a puzzle that could change one family forever. 

If you've read the first two books in the Bess Crawford series by Charles Todd, this plot may sound familiar.  Without a doubt, A Bitter Truth follows the formula laid out in its predecessors.  But, wait!  There's a twist—an intriguing subplot that turned this third book into my favorite of the series.  While Bess continues to get on my nerves a little and I'm (im)patiently waiting for sparks to fly between our heroine and the loyal Simon Brandon, I'm still quite enjoying these mysteries.  Clean, entertaining and well-researched, the series continues to delight.

(Readalikes:  A Duty to the Dead; An Impartial Witness; and An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd; also reminds me of the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for mild language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Bitter Truth from the generous folks at Harper Collins.  Thank you!    

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Meh, There Are Plenty of Other Freaky Mind Trick Novels in the Bookstore

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It's bad enough that 16-year-old Sylvia "Vee" Bell can fall asleep at any time, in any place and with very little warning.  What's worse is that her narcolepsy isn't really narcolepsy at all.  When Vee has one of her "episodes," she's actually sliding—slipping into someone else's mind, seeing the world through their eyes.  Her freaky little "gift" has shown her myriad images she wishes she could forget, like her sister cheating on a test, her teacher sipping booze before class and her best friend betraying her with chilling indifference.  She doesn't want to see anymore, but she can't stop herself from sliding.  Worse, she can't tell anyone about her ability.  Not unless she wants to spend the rest of her life in a straight jacket.  

When Vee slides into the mind of a cold-blooded killer, she's so freaked out she doesn't know what to do.  Everyone thinks Sophie Jacobs committed suicide; only Vee knows the truth.  But how can she tell the police what she knows without getting herself thrown into the loony bin?  There's only one thing to do:  she has to find the murderer herself.  She can't tell anyone what she's doing, not even her best friend, Rollins.  He's been acting strange lately, anyway.  When a hot new guy walks into her life, though, Vee wonders—has she finally found someone in whom she can confide?  Can she trust Zane Huxley enough to divulge her deepest, darkest secret?  Can he help her find Sophie's killer before it's too late?  Or will Vee have to watch helplessly as more of her friends die?

Although there are plenty of teen-girl-solves-crimes-with-freaky-mind-tricks books out there, I still find such premises intriguing.  Which is why I liked the sound of Slide, a debut novel by Jill Hathaway.  Unfortunately, the story didn't really deliver to me.  The action moved along swiftly enough to keep me turning pages, but the plot quickly became too predictable and melodramatic for me.  As much as I wanted to love this one, I just didn't.  Will I give the sequel a try when it comes out?  Meh.  Maybe, maybe not.  There are plenty of other series that do the freaky mind tricks thing better than this one—I'll probably just stick with them.

(Readalikes:  the Wake series [Wake; Fade; Gone] by Lisa McMann and The Body Finder trilogy [The Body Finder; Desires of the Dead; The Last Echo] by Kimberly Derting; also reminded me a little of Evermore by Alison Noel)

Grade:  C

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs that I remember), sexual innuendo/content, and depictions of underage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Slide from the generous folks at Balzer and Bray (an imprint of Harper Collins).  Thank you!

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's Not the Most Original Dystopian in the World, But Still ...

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Kaelyn Weber's lived most of her 16 years on a small island in Canada and she's never had any real desire to leave.  Until now.  With a mysterious virus sweeping through the coastal community, felling everyone in its path, her home no longer feels safe or comforting.  It's become not just dangerous, but deadly.  Especially when the government decides to quarantine the island, blocking all residents—sick or healthy—from leaving.  Anyone who tries, the people soon find out, will be shot.  

As the crisis rages on, food supplies dwindle, medication runs out, and tempers blaze as hot as wildfire.  Before long, the island—once an idyllic vacation spot—looks like a war zone.  It's so bad that Kaelyn doesn't dare go outside without a face mask and a weapon.  The safest thing, she knows, would be to stay inside and pray for a miracle, but Kaelyn's desperate to do something.  She can't just stand by while everyone she loves dies.  She has to help her microbiologist father find a way to stop the epidemic from killing everyone on the island.  But how?  What can she do, especially when something as simple as leaving her house can mean instant death?  When the virus hits too close to home, she must risk everything to save the people she loves.

Told in letters Kaelyn writes to a friend in New York City, The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe tells a tense, harrowing tale.  The story's nothing we haven't seen before, but the setting's a little different and the characters are vivid enough to make the novel compelling.  Although it's not the most original book in the world, I enjoyed The Way We Fall and am definitely looking forward to the sequels (it's the first in a planned trilogy).     

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a lot of The Last Survivors series [Life As We Knew It; The Dead and the Gone; This World We Live In] by Susan Beth Pfeffer; the Gone series [Gone; Hunger; Lies; Plague; Fear; Light] by Michael Grant; and Empty by Suzanne Weyn)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder invectives), violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Way We Fall from the generous folks at Disney/Hyperion.  Thank you!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Second Bess Crawford Mystery Keeps Me Entertained, If Not Enthralled

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for An Impartial Witness, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, A Duty to the Dead.  Novels in the Bess Crawford series stand alone better than most, but I still advise—as always—reading books in a series in order.) 

As the summer of 1917 begins, nurse Bess Crawford comes home to England with a convoy of wounded soldiers.  Among them is Lt. Meriwether Evanson, a pilot who's been severely burned.  Despite his extensive injuries, he clings to life, holding fast to the photograph of his wife that is pinned to his shirt.  The depth of Lt. Evanson's hope and love touches Bess, who knows the man will need every ounce of tenderness he can get in order to heal.  

When Bess steps off her train and spies a distraught young woman bidding a tearful goodbye to a handsome officer, she's shocked.  Not because it's an unfamiliar scene—in fact, it's an all too common one—but because the woman is Lt. Evanson's wife.  Bess has seen the pilot's photograph too many times to be  mistaken.  But what is Marjorie Evanson doing here with another man when she should be at the clinic, comforting her suffering husband?  Bess tries to shake the whole thing off, knowing such things happen often enough when men are at war and their wives are left alone and lonely, sometimes for years at a time.  With only 36 hours in England, Bess plans to spend her time resting, not sticking her nose into other people's business.

Bess returns to the trenches in France only to see Marjorie's face again, this time in a newspaper story asking for information about a murder in London.  It seems Bess may have been the last person to see Marjorie Evanson alive.  When Scotland Yard arranges for her to come back to England to help with the case, Bess becomes entangled in the dead woman's world.  As she questions Marjorie's friends and family members, creeping ever closer to the truth behind the woman's murder, Bess puts her own life in jeopardy.  If she can't figure out who the killer is—and fast—she may not live long enough to see him/her brought to justice.  And if there's one thing Bess can't abide, it's loose ends.  She'll track down Marjorie's murderer if it's the last thing she does.  And, with a cold-blooded killer on the loose, it just might be the last thing she does.  

Although I thoroughly enjoyed A Duty to the Dead, the first Bess Crawford mystery, I wasn't as impressed with the second, An Impartial Witness.  I'm not sure why, exactly, except that the cast wearied me a little.  Not Bess.  I still like her, even though she's a bit cold and she uses people (especially the long-suffering Simon Brandon) in a way that's efficient, but often callous.  Her passion makes her admirable.  Rather, it was Marjorie's cronies that bugged me.  Still, the story kept me entertained, if not enthralled.  An Impartial Witness is, so far, my least favorite installment in this series, but it was still intriguing enough to keep me wanting more Bess Crawford.  I like her—did I mention that?  And I'm pretty sure her adventures are just going to keep getting better and better.    

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Bess Crawford series, including A Duty to the Dead; A Bitter Truth; and An Unmarked Grave; also reminds me of the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for mild language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of An Impartial Witness from the generous folks at Harper Collins.  Thank you! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

WWI Mystery Series Intrigues With Compelling Characters, Atmospheric Setting

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


After being at the Front for so long, nurse Bess Crawford should welcome an easy week's journey aboard the hospital ship Britannica.  With no wounded soldiers on board, she's free to rest, enjoy the fresh sea air and catch up on her letter writing.  All of which equal a very boring journey, indeed.  As the ship steams toward Greece, Bess is lounging on deck, searching for something—anything—interesting to write home about, when an explosion knocks her off her feet.  Britannic plunges into the sea and Bess, who has just narrowly escaped her death, is sent home to England to recover from her injuries.

Unable to sit still for long, especially not knowing when next she'll have leave, Bess decides to make efficient use of her time at home.  She's waited long enough to fulfill Arthur Graham's dying wish; it's high time she kept her promise to deliver a message to his family.  Bess can't make heads or tails of the cryptic lines—Tell Jonathan I lied.  I did it for Mother's sake.  But it has to be set right.—she's only hoping it means something to the Graham Family.

And it does.  At least Bess thinks it does.  The more time she spends with the Grahams, the less she understands them.  It's obvious, though, that they're hiding something, a family secret so devastating that it haunted Arthur until his dying day.  Bess knows she shouldn't stick her nose in someone else's tragedy, but she can't help herself.  Before she knows it, she's so entangled in the doings of the Graham Family that she can't break away.  Even though a murderer is on the loose.  Even though she's next on his/her list.  The no-nonsense Bess Crawford will not fail to do her duty to the dead, even if it kills her.  And it just might.  

A Duty to the Dead is the first book in the Bess Crawford mystery series by mother-son writing team, Charles Todd.  I don't read a lot of historical mysteries, but this one intrigued me with its compelling characters, atmospheric setting, and absorbing plot.  It didn't have the most original of premises, true, and yet, the story sucked me right in.  Bess' forthright personality does get a little annoying—besides that, though, I enjoyed this one a great deal.  It's clean, it's interesting and, most of all, it kept me entertained.  You can't go wrong with a series that does that, now can you?  

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Bess Crawford series, including An Impartial Witness; A Bitter Truth; and An Unmarked Grave; Also reminds me of the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for mild language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Is It Battlestar Galactica? No, It's Partials by Dan Wells.

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In the not-so-distant future, a crippled U.S. fights for survival.  

In desperation, American scientists create an army of "engineered organic beings" to battle the country's enemies.  

These "Partials" look like humans, but are, in fact, super soldiers.  Super fast.  Super strong.  They don't love, don't hate, don't reproduce.  They are nearly indestructible.

When the Partials turn on their creators, a bloody war ensues.  
Only 40,000 humans survive.

Crammed together on Long Island, the people who remain live in fear of the next Partial attack.   

The super soldiers have not been seen in 11 years, but everyone knows they're out there.  Just waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

That moment is now.  

The human world is already in chaos.  Women are being forced to bear children at ever younger ages.  Not that it matters.  Babies don't survive in this new world.  Every one of them is born with RM, the deadly virus the Partials unleashed during their war with the humans over a decade ago.  And yet, the so-called "Hope Act" demands that women do their civic duty, birthing as many children as possible in the hope that a healthy new generation will emerge.

As the Voice—a group of rebels fighting for their right to procreate only when and if they want—sows discontent among the law-abiding citizens of East Meadow, the threat of civil war looms. 

Between the Partial menace, the dying babies and the in-fighting, extinction is only a matter of time for what's left of the human race.  

A very short amount of time.  

Kira Walker, a 16-year-old medic-in-training, can't let her people die.  She must find a solution.  But how?  How can she possibly succeed when so many others have failed?  Only by trying something that's never been tried before.  Something crazy.  Something dangerous.  Something impossible.   

No, it's not Battlestar Galactica (although I have to agree that the plots are a little too similar), it's Partials, the first book in a new YA dystopian series by horror writer Dan Wells.  As you can probably tell, the story speeds along, with plenty of action to keep it moving.  An exciting, entertaining ride, for sure.  Wells does take the time to build his dystopian world, fleshing it out with enough historical and political detail to bore some readers.  Not this one.  To me, all the background information makes Kira's world more believable.  It helped me not just to understand the society, but also to care about its salvation.     

Although it's not the most original series in the world, I enjoyed Partials.  Sure, it could use more surprises (the plot gets pretty predictable), better character development (especially of the guys), and something different to really distinguish it from other stories (thankfully, the humans don't take to space or it would have been a complete Battlestar Galactica ripoff).  Overall, though, it's an absorbing read.  And, truthfully, if you handed me the sequel right now (which isn't actually possible since Wells is still writing it, but whatever), I would clear my schedule to make room for it.  Today.  Right now.  Yeah, I totally would.       

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of other YA dystopians like Delirium and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver and Matched by Ally Condie)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Partials from the generous folks at Balzer and Bray (an imprint of Harper Collins).  Thank you!  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

YA WWII Novel Unique—In A Good Way

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There are two things books about World War II usually aren't:  snarky and upbeat.  Code Name Verity, a YA novel by Elizabeth Wein, happens to be both.  Maybe that's why it's such a different kind of read, one that's affecting and grim, but still almost funny.  You don't see that a lot—actually, you never see that—in stories about this time period.  Code Name Verity is unique and that's why I liked it.

The first half of the story is narrated by a young Scottish woman, whose ability to speak German makes her a perfect spy for England.  When the novel opens "Verity" has been captured by the Gestapo and is being held for questioning in Ormaie, France.  The Nazis have made it clear that if she does not reveal the nature of her mission, she will be executed.  After she's beaten and tortured, of course.  Given scraps of paper on which to write out her confession, Verity takes her time, spinning out tales like Scheherazade.  Since the SS officer in charge appreciates a good story, she gives him one.  As she writes about espionage, friendship, courage and cowardice, Verity fights for her life, one word at a time.   

Margaret "Maddie" Brodatt tells the second part of the story.  An English pilot, Maddie is used to making secret flights into enemy territory.  She's flown her friend Verity several times, always without incident.  Until now.  Now, Verity has been captured and Maddie's hiding out in a leaky barn in Nazi-held France.  Scribbling her own notes, Maddie talks about her childhood, her lifelong desire to fly airplanes, her friendship with Verity, her fears of being courtmartialed—or, even worse, being captured like Verity.  Although she doesn't practice her religion, Maddie's Jewish ancestry could still land her in a Nazi death camp.

As the two women write their histories, a remarkable story emerges—one of adventure, one of bravery, one of hope and one of friendship that transcends the horrors of war.

Although Code Name Verity is being promoted as a YA book, I don't see it appealing to teens really.  Not that it lacks action or intriguing characters or even a sarcastic, foul-mouthed narrator—it has all that.  But it's still kind of an old-fashioned book.  Action-packed and absorbing and entertaining, for sure, just in a vintage kind of way.  Does that make any sense?  Probably not.  No matter.  Suffice it to say, I enjoyed this unique and powerful WWII novel.  It's different—in the very best kind of way.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a bit of Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder invectives), violence/scenes of peril, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Code Name Verity from the generous folks at Hyperion.  Thank you!

       

Friday, June 15, 2012

Between Shades of Gray Absorbing, But Gloomy, Distant

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When the Soviet secret police storm into her home late one night, 15-year-old Lina Vilkas can hardly contain her shock.  She's heard of other Lithuanians stolen away in the night, but those were criminals, rebels.  Lina's father teaches at the university—what could the Soviets possibly want with him?  And where is he, anyway?  No answers are given the family, only orders to Davai (Hurry)!  Like cattle, Lina, her mother, and her 10-year-old brother, Jonas, are herded at gunpoint into a truck.  It's a terrifying beginning to a harrowing journey that will take the Vilkas', along with other Lithuanian refugees, to an isolated labor camp in the frozen wastelands of Siberia.  

As WWII rages on, Lina knows her chances of rescue—even of survival—dwindle with every passing day.  Between the hard, physical labor, the malnutrition, the brutal guards, and the diseases that run rampant through the camp, people are dying right and left.  Lina refuses to be one of them.  She won't give up, especially not until she's found her father.  Using her remarkable drawing skills, she risks her life to document her experience in pictures and words.  She hopes they will someday reach her father, somehow tell the horrifying story of her imprisonment if she does not live to tell it.   

I've read lots of WWWII books, but none that dealt with the occupation of Lithuania.  Although Lina's story is similar to others about the Holocaust, it's different in its location, its time period (the novel begins on June 14, 1941) and the fact that Lina and most of the people deported with her are not Jewish.  Still, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is an affecting novel that, once again, brings home the horrors that occurred to innocent people during the war.  As you'd expect, it's a grim and gloomy tale, one that speaks of hope, but doesn't really deliver it.  Overall, I found the book gloomier than others of its type, with a narrator who felt a little distant to me (if that makes sense).  Between Shades of Gray is, no doubt, an absorbing read—it's just not as powerful as other WWII stories I've read.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other WWII books, like The Diary of Anne Frank; Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum; Rutka's Notebook; The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne; etc.)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence, sexual innuendo, and mature subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Random.Org Has Spoken: The Winner Is ...

Congratulations, Candace Bairn, you won a copy of I Believe In in Jesus Too by Mark S. Nielsen.  If you'll email me at blogginboutbooksATgmailDOTcom (or message me on Facebook), I'll give you all the details on how to receive your gorgeous prize!

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway and to Mark for generously providing a copy of his book for the winner.  If you would like another shot at winning I Believe in Jesus Too, click on over to my friend Valerie's blog.  She's also running a giveaway at the moment and, as of now, the chances of winning are excellent.

I'll be doing more summer giveaways here at BBB, so stay tuned.

Becoming Bayley: Not Bad For A Newbie

(Image from Deseret Book)

When 17-year-old Bayley Albrecht is invited to attend an intensive summer soccer camp at BYU, she couldn't be more thrilled.  Determined to make her dreams of playing for the Y a reality, she heads to Provo with one goal:  impressing the women's soccer coach.  Catching the eye of a hot goalie isn't part of her plan, but Bayley's ecstatic when Matt Macauley proves he's just as interested in her as she is in him.  They promise to write each other during the two years Matt's on his mission.  After that, they'll both be at BYU, studying, playing soccer and, hopefully, falling in love.  Bayley can't imagine anything better.

Then comes a shocking diagnosis, one that rocks Bayley to her core—she has alopecia aereata, a skin disease that causes severe hair loss.  Bayley's never been one of those girls who obsesses over her looks, but now she can't stop worrying.  How long can she hide her condition from her friends?  How will they react when they learn the truth?  Will she be able to play soccer with her usual confidence if she's bald?  And, most of all, will Matt—a guy who makes every girl at BYU swoon—still want her without the hair he thinks is so beautiful?  

As Bayley struggles to come to terms with her alopecia, she'll have to make some agonizing decisions about soccer, about Matt, and about her dreams for the future.  And, in doing so, she'll discover the true meanings of faith, friendship and forever love. 

There's a lot to love about Becoming Bayley, a debut novel by Susan Auten.  For one thing, it deals with a unique subject, a disease I've never heard of, let alone read about before.  And it does it in a way that's both sensitive and believable.  While I initially thought, "What's the big deal?  It's just hair," Auten helped me understand how dealing with alopecia can be a very big deal, especially for a teenage girl.  Then, there's Bayley herself.  I don't see a lot of confident, athletic heroines in modern literature, so it's always refreshing when I do encounter one.  In addition, Becoming Bayley is a clean, uplifting novel, the kind that's appropriate for teenagers, even though it's geared toward a slightly older audience.  All of these things are major plusses in my book.

Now, I wouldn't be me if I didn't have a *few* complaints, right?  So, here goes:  it takes a while for the plot to get going, which makes the story feel a little clumsy and unfocused.  Also, because it covers over two years of time, the novel jumps around, giving too much detail in some places and not enough in others.  My biggest issue, though, is with Bayley.  While I liked her initial confidence, the all-consuming self-pity that plagues her throughout the rest of the story drove me crazy.  I sympathized at first because I thought her "Why me?" rants were realistic, but (and maybe this is totally insensitive of me), they got old.  Fast. Especially since Bayley spends almost the entire novel focusing only on herself and her problems.  As much as I wanted her to step outside herself a little, she never did, which made her seem whiny and self-centered, two qualities I don't appreciate in people, be they real or fictional. 

I know disease novels are notoriously difficult to pull off and, really, I think Auten performed well for a newbie.  While there are definitely things that irritate me about Becoming Bayley, overall it's a nice, heartwarming story about a girl overcoming the hardships in her life.  Her journey toward self-acceptance is both unique and familiar, one that will no doubt speak to every girl who's ever scowled at her reflection in the mirror (and isn't that all of us?).  Even better, the book's got a freshness to it that convinces me Auten is a writer to watch—one of those authors who has the ability to pen LDS novels I actually want to read.  And, coming from me, that's saying an awful lot.                    

(Readalikes:  The sports aspect reminded of the Dairy Queen series [Dairy Queen; Off SeasonFront and Center] by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, while the style recalls the novels of Becca Wilhite and Melanie Jacobson)

Grade:  C+

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Becoming Bayley from the generous Susan Auten.  Thank you!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Summer Novel's Got More Depth Than You'd Think

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ruth Wasserman should be content with her life.  Not only has she finally managed to burn off the extra pounds that have plagued her for most of her 19 years, but she's also living on her own and working hard to earn a college degree.  Now that she's returned home to Alabama for the summer, she should have only one thing on her mind:  relaxation.  If only.  It's not her lifeguard/swim coach job that's got her worried (she could do it in her sleep) or seeing old friends (she looks better now than she ever has), it's the fact that she'll be living with her parents (loving, but overprotective) and her older brother, David (the charming, soccer-playing wonder child).  How can she keep her secret to staying slim, well ... secret?  

Turns out, Ruth's not the only one hiding something.  David's never been all that chatty anyway, but now he's downright standoffish.  He's not acting like himself.  The question is why?  What's he hiding?  Then, there are Ruth's parents, who are also acting strange.  What's up with them?  As Ruth tries to figure out what's going on with her family, deals with drama at the pool, and tries to keep her eating disorder under wraps, she finds the summer becoming a whole lot more complicated than she ever dreamed it could be.  When a near drowning happens while Ruth and David are on the job, it will force them to face truths they've been ignoring for too long—truths about themselves, their family, and the quaint little town in which they've grown up.  

Although Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman looks like a nice, fluffy summer read, it really isn't.  The pool setting gives it a nostalgic setting, true, but the subjects tackled in the novel (eating disorders, racism, family conflict) make it a deeper read than it might appear to be at first glance.  That being said, I actually think the book tries to cover too much territory as the racist subplot seems tacked on to me.  Also, there's Ruth.  Usually, I love me a snarky underdog of a heroine, but something about this one rubbed me the wrong way.  Actually, none of the characters really spoke to me, especially not the college-age ones who only seemed to be interested in drinking, smoking pot and working on their tans.  Maybe that's true-to-life, but to me Ruth and her buddies acted like immature slackers.  So, yeah, the overreaching plot, plus the unappealing characters left me feeling pretty ambivalent about this one.  I didn't hate Saving Ruth, but I didn't love it either.  Overall, I'd have to say:  meh.    

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

Grade:  C

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Saving Ruth from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of Harper Collins) and TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!    

Mormon Mention: Zoe Fishman

I don't do Mormon Mentions all that often, so let me explain what this feature is all about.  As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the LDS or Mormon Church), I'm naturally interested in how my religion is portrayed in the media.  So, every time I see my church mentioned in a book written by someone who is not of my faith, I mention it here, along with my thoughts on whatever the author has said.  It's my chance to clear up misconceptions, add an insider's perspective, and, often, just laugh at my sometimes crazy Mormon culture.

If you're not into this kind of post, feel free to skip it.  If you are, read on ...

This Mormon Mention comes from Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman, an adult novel about a Jewish woman trying to conceal her eating disorder from her family and friends.  Toward the end of the book, she's at the beach with a date and is nervous about wearing her swimsuit in front of him.  Here's what happens:

He put his arm around me and pulled me to him.  I was keenly aware of his bare chest pressing against my tank top.  There was only so much longer that I could keep my shirt on without feeling like a Mormon (225).


This one made me laugh because it's so true, especially for people like me who are conservative even for Mormons!  Here's why, though:  LDS kids are taught from the time they are tiny that their bodies are temples— sacred gifts from God—and should be treated as such.  This is why we're told not to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, get tattoos, take illegal drugs or sleep around.  It's also why we're taught to dress modestly.  Boys and girls as well as men and women are encouraged not to wear clothing that is tight or revealing.  Swimsuits are allowed, of course, although it's suggested that we choose the most modest styles we can find.  It's not like you'd get excommunicated for strutting around in a bikini or wearing something slinky for an evening out, it's just very much discouraged.  Don't get me wrong—we're not required to drape ourselves in ugly, old-fashioned clothing that hides everything from our necks to our ankles.  Not at all.  We're just counseled to dress ourselves in clothes that are modest.

Now, you might be thinking that you've never heard of a notion so ridiculously prudish and outdated.  To that, I say, go inside any public school in this country and take a look at what kids are wearing.  Despite "rigid" dress codes, you'll see girls as young as 11 or 12 in skin-tight jeans, low-cut tops and teeny, tiny shorts.  Guys aren't as bad, but still, you can't walk through the halls without getting a flash of somebody's boxer-clad behind looming above a pair of saggy jeans.  Doesn't it bother you just a little bit that so many kids are strolling through the corridors looking like they belong on a street corner in Vegas?  And that's at school!  Worst of all, their parents let them out the door looking like that.  It's frightening.

Because of the whole modesty issue, I think LDS women are even more self-conscious than most about revealing their bodies in public.  Or maybe it's just me?  I don't think so, but you never know.  Regardless, I appreciate modest dress, especially here in blazing hot Arizona where people like to strut around wearing next to nothing.  I say, leave something (or how about everything?) to the imagination.  Please!

Whether you agree that "Modest is Hottest" or think the whole idea is rubbish of the vilest sort, it explains why the main character in the novel feels like a prudish Mormon (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course).

So, y'all, what are your thoughts on the subject?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

TSS: All Is Quiet on the Southwestern Front



Outside my window:  It's a bright, beautiful morning.  Yesterday, we discovered a cute little (well, not little) quail family in the backyard and watching them has kept us smiling.  There are two adults and seven (SEVEN!) babies.  It's fun to watch the babies toddle all over the place, although they gave us a scare yesterday when they decided to jump into the pool.  To our surprise, they glided around in the water for a little bit, then hopped right back out!  No harm done.

I am listening to:  The glorious sound of silence.  With three of my four kids gone, the house has been quiet all week.  Almost too quiet.   

I am reading:  I'm scheduled to review An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd in July, so I'm trying to read the first three books in the series before then.  I finished A Duty to the Dead the other day and am now working on An Impartial Witness.  If you haven't read this series about a forthright WWI nurse who can't stop getting entangled in the lives of the patients she tends, you should.  I'm really enjoying it.    

I am going to read:  I'm going to finish An Impartial Witness and probably move right on to A Bitter Truth.  Although, I just got an ARC of Crewel by Gennifer Albin, so I *might* have to read that one first.  We'll see.  

On the blog this week:  I (well, random.org) will be picking the winner in my giveaway of I Believe in Jesus Too by Mark S. Nielsen on June 13th.  Lots of my IRL friends have entered, so I'm excited to see who will win the book.  If you haven't entered yet, do it now!

Around the Book Blogosphere:  I didn't officially sign up for Armchair BEA this year, but I enjoyed reading lots of posts about it.  I still dream of attending BEA for real.  Maybe next year?  Better start saving my pennies ... 

I am thinking:  I need to go wake up my 13 year old.  He's been at Scout camp all week and now he's flying off to Utah to join his grandparents and two of his siblings in Happy Valley.  This is the first time he's ever flown alone—I'm nervous for him, but he's been cool as a cucumber.  He'll be fine, I know he will be, I just can't stop worrying.  I'm a mom, it's what I do.  

I am grateful for:  My in-laws.  They graciously volunteered to have my three oldest stay with them in Utah for about three weeks.  It will be a nice break for me, I just worry (see, there I go again) about how my mother and father-in-law will survive all the excitement.   

Around the house:  Like I said, it's been pretty quiet.  The husband and I have had only one kid at home all week.  It's weird.  She's three, though, and very busy with swimming lessons, dance class, princess movies, etc.  She misses her siblings, but she also seems to be doing just fine having all of her parents' attention to herself.

In the kitchen:  Not much going on there.  It's too hot to turn on the oven.  I'm also trying really hard to stick to my Weight Watchers eating plan, so I've been dining on lots of fruits, veggies and chicken.  My blood sugar has been excellent ever since I (re)started WW—I'm trying to keep that in mind when the chocolate/ice cream/Mt. Dew cravings strike. 

High of the Week:  Listening to my husband and son talk about all the fun they had at their respective Scout camps.  Also, taking the 3-year-old to Olive Garden.  She was hilarious!  Wiggly, but really funny.  

Low of the Week:  So, I got Poopendous by Artie Bennett in the mail the other day.  My daughter was so excited to see a children's book ("Is it for me?" she kept asking) that she insisted I read it to her right away.  Guess what our new gotta-read-it-before-every-nap-and-night-night book is?  Yep.  Poopendous.  

(I know that's not much of a low, but, really, it's been a good week, so I had to work hard to come up with something to fit the category.)

Family Matters:  We're planning our upcoming road trip.  First, we'll stop in Utah to retrieve our kids, then we'll head to Washington State to see my parents and then, after a week or so, we'll head back to Provo for the 4th of July.  Eventually, we'll wander back to Arizona, possibly via Nevada.  At any rate, I haven't been "home" in about four years, so I'm excited to visit the Motherland.  

The coming week:  Not a whole lot is going on.  Basically, my busy three-year-old and I will be keeping each other entertained while the husband works.  I foresee lots of swimming, baby bird-watching, reading about poop, and watching movies. 

Words of Wisdom:  Have a great week, everybody!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Just As I Feared, Things Are Not Well in the FAYZ ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

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

The FAYZ is many things—violent, scary, strange, dangerous—but there's one thing it never is:  peaceful.  And yet, four whole months have passed without any major problems.  It's almost ... boring.  Sam Temple, leader of the kids at Tramanto Beach, can't quite handle it.  He should be thrilled with the relative calm, but he feels jittery, too keyed up to just relax and enjoy the unexpected break in the chaos that usually defines life in his crazy, domed world.  Maybe it's because Astrid, the one person who keeps him sane, has decided to strike out on her own.  Or, because he doesn't really trust Cain, the self-appointed king of Perdido Beach, to not be up to something.  More probably, it's because Sam, like every other kid trapped in the FAYZ, knows nothing good ever lasts in the nightmare land they call home.

When Astrid returns to Tramanto Beach bearing disturbing news—a weird darkness is crawling up the walls of the dome that encloses the Perdido Beach area, slowly squeezing out all available light—chaos returns in full force.  The thought of eternal night scares everyone, especially Sam.  Desperate to control his own fear, Sam throws himself into finding a solution to the dwindling light problem.  In the meantime, there's plenty of other things to worry about, among them Diana, who's pregnant with a very powerful baby; an out-of-control Freak playing lethal mind tricks; the ever-present Gaiaphage; and a little boy who's playing God with the "avatars" in Perdido Beach.  So much for peaceful.  

But that's life in the FAYZ.     

It's no secret that I love the Gone books by Michael Grant.  It's not the best written YA dystopian series out there, it's true, but the story never fails to engage me.  And surprise me.  Just when I think the author must be out of horrifying ways to torture his characters, he comes up with something—or someone—even more sinister.  Fear, the 5th book in the series, also offers a glimpse of what's happening on the outside, which creates greater chaos, bigger risks and an even more absorbing story.  I know I'm not going to shock anyone when I say I loved it.  Because I did.  I do.  No matter how bleak and awful it is, I adore the Gone world and can't wait to see how Grant wraps it all up in the next—and last—book.   

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Gone series [Gone; Hunger; Lies; Plague] by Michael Grant)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), violence and sexual content (more implied than graphic)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find      

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

When the Butterflies Came Cover Reveal: Isn't it Pretty?


One of the things I like best about my "job" as a book blogger is that it gives me the chance to know and work with some wonderful authors.  Kimberley Griffiths Little happens to be one of my favorites.  Not only is she incredibly sweet and personable, but she's also a very talented writer.  She's published several middle grade novels, two of which (The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets) I've raved about recently here on the blog.  Her next, When the Butterflies Came, will be available in April 2013.  Forbidden, her first YA novel, also releases in 2013.

When I saw Kimberley in May, she gave me a sneak peek of the beautiful When the Butterflies Came cover.  I'm excited to be able to share it with you now:

 
Isn't it pretty?

The story sounds intriguing, too, don't you think?:

Everybody thinks Tara Doucet has the perfect life. But in reality, Tara’s life is anything but perfect: Her dear Grammy Claire has just passed away, her mother is depressed and distant, and she and her sister Riley can’t seem to agree on anything. But when mysterious and dazzling butterflies begin to follow her around after Grammy Claire’s funeral, Tara just knows in her heart that her grandmother has left her one final mystery to solve.

A strange butler shows up to take Tara and Riley to Grammy Claire’s house, where Tara finds a stack of keys and detailed letters from Grammy Claire herself. Note by note, Tara learns unexpected truths about her grandmother’s life. As the letters grow more ominous and the keys more difficult to decipher, Tara realizes that the secrets she must uncover could lead to mortal danger. And when Tara and Riley are swept away to the beautiful island of Chuuk to hear their grandmother’s will, Tara discovers the most shocking truth of all — one that will change her life forever.

In conjunction with the big cover reveal, Kimberley's also hosting a giant giveaway on her blog.  She's giving away THREE autographed copies each of The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets.  Also, if you're a blogger with a significant following of your own, you can enter to win one of THREE When the Butterflies Came ARCs.  Awesome, right?  Visit Kimberley's blog to throw your name into the hat.

Even if you don't win, you definitely want to check out Kimberley's books.  The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets are both beautifully written and wonderfully atmospheric (they're set in the bayous of Louisiana)—they're excellent stories for readers of any age.    

Monday, June 04, 2012

Depressing Hoarding Novel A Ho-Hum Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Trish Dietrich, a divorced mother of two boys, knows she has a clutter problem.  She also knows it isn't that bad.  After all, she's the daughter of a hoarder—she's only too well aware of what a real problem looks like.  It's true that her husband, Ron, left partly because he could no longer stand Trish's mess.  And that her oldest son, 17-year-old Drew, bunks at his girlfriend's house since his own bed disappeared under his mother's piles a long time ago.  So, okay, maybe Trish is a tad untidy, but what single working mom has time to keep a spotless house?  

It's only when a social worker shows up on Trish's doorstep demanding that she clean up her act (literally) or lose her 7-year-old son, Jack, that Trish begins to realize just how serious her hoarding has become.  Jack is the only one who still loves Trish unconditionally—she can't lose him.  But cleaning up her home is a huge, overwhelming project, the very thought of which causes Trish to tremble with anxiety.  How can she let go of so many treasures, so many memories?  She can't.  And yet, in order to keep her son, she must.  

Trish isn't thrilled about accepting help from anyone, especially not her self-righteous younger sister.  Neat, meticulous Mary can't abide hoarding—she fled their mother's packed-to-the-rafters home when she was only 15 and she hasn't set foot in Trish's house in rural Michigan for almost 20 years.  But Trish is desperate.   So—in her own way—is Mary.  As the two dig their way through Trish's mess, they'll uncover more than just years worth of junk.  They'll unearth the anger, the hurt, the bitterness and the dark family secrets that drove them apart in the first place.  Can caustic Trish and sensitive Mary put the past behind them long enough to create a healthy home for Jack?  Or will the attempt be the very thing that tears them apart forever?

Here's the thing about hoarding:  it's depressing.  Fascinating, but depressing—a phrase that could also describe Keepsake by Kristina Riggle (available June 26).  Only the author's fourth book is more of the latter, less of the former.  The story definitely kept me reading, but I struggled to really empathize with the characters, most of whom are unlikable.  Trish, especially, is so confrontational and whiny that it's difficult to feel much for her.  Even Mary, with whom I identify much more than Trish, isn't particularly warm or sympathetic.  Because of this, I had a tough time really getting into this novel, even though I find the themes it explores (not just hoarding, but sister/sister relationships as well as the effects of parental obsessions/addictions on children) interesting.  So, yeah, I'm kind of ho-hum on this one.          

(Readalikes:  Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu; parts of Keepsake also reminded me of The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for language and intense situations

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Keepsake from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of Harper Collins) via Netgalley.  Thank you!   
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