Saturday, October 27, 2012

Maybe I'm Predisposed to Love Adoption Stories, Or, Maybe Sara Zarr Just Really Knows How to Tell One

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Jill MacSweeney's mother announces her plans to adopt a baby, the 17-year-old can't figure out how she's supposed to feel.  Excited?  Angry?  Encouraging?  Sad?  All of those emotions and more ricochet around inside her, because although the adoption idea has come out of nowhere, Jill can see it for what it is—a lonely woman's attempt to replace her dead husband and college-bound daughter with someone who needs mothering.  Jill understands, but she can't quite get behind such an extreme decision.  Her mother won't be dissuaded, though, so, because she knows it's what her dad would want, Jill's trying her best to be supportive.  At least until she can convince her mom to vent her grief in some less drastic way.

Mandy Kalinowski knows the baby growing inside her will be safe with Robin MacSweeney.  Even though she's old (52) for an adoptive mother, Robin seems steady, stable—two adjectives that don't describe 18-year-old Mandy at the moment.  It's because of the woman's kind emails that Mandy decides to let Robin adopt her baby when its born.  Also, because she agrees to an unconventional adoption, with no contracts, no lawyers.  With Robin, Mandy can give her baby a better life and not have to let go of any of her closely-guarded secrets.  

Mandy's arrival in Denver leaves Jill even more convinced that taking in the pregnant 18-year-old is a bad, bad idea.  Mandy seems shifty, secretive—the exact kind of scam artist that could take her already vulnerable mother for everything she's got.  But the more Jill gets to know Mandy, the more she sees the scarred girl underneath the rough exterior.  And the more she observes her mom, the more she believes that a baby might be just what Robin needs.  At the same time, Mandy's got her own agenda, one that might dash every dream Robin has left.  With the baby's due date fast approaching, the three women must learn how to understand each other, trust each other and, ultimately, decide how to proceed when all of their hopes, dreams and goals are on the line.  

Well, I did a pretty shoddy job of describing the beauty that is Sara Zarr's fourth novel, How to Save a Life. Maybe, being an adoptive mother, I'm predisposed to like books that are about a subject that's so close to my heart.  Or, more probably, Zarr just knows how to write a story that's touching without being saccharine and sentimental.  Because, the truth is, I totally felt this one.  The characters are sympathetic, complex and genuine.   Same could be said for the story, which takes some surprising turns, but remains believable, true.  How to Save a Life is just one of those books that engaged me from its first word to its last.  It's a heart-wrenching, hopeful novel, one that reminds me why I love contemporary YA so much.  I wish I had the words to describe how much the story touched me, but I don't, so I'll leave you with these two words instead:  Read it.       

(Readalikes: Reminds me a teensy tiny bit of Chosen by Chandra Hoffman)

Grade:  A

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder invectives) and some sexual content 

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Mormon Mentions: Sara Zarr

If you're not sure what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:  My name is Susan and I'm a Mormon (you've seen the commercials, right?).  As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon or LDS Church), I'm naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Because this blog is about books, every time I see a reference to Mormonism in a book written by someone who is not a member of my church, I highlight it here.  Then, I offer my opinion—my insider's view—of what the author is saying.  It's my chance to correct misconceptions, expound on principles of the Gospel, and even to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

If these kinds of posts offend you, please feel free to skip them.  If not, read on:

In Sara Zarr's YA novel, How to Save a Life, a pregnant 18-year-old woman is traveling on a train from Nebraska to Colorado.  She meets a man, with whom she has a conversation, in which this exchange takes place:

[Mandy]:  "Are there going to be Mexican wedding cookies? ... I thought since they were called that, they'd be served at a Mexican wedding."

[Alex]:  "More like a Mormon wedding" (19-20).

- It should be mentioned that although Sara Zarr is not LDS, she does live in Utah, which presumably gives her a fairly good handle on many things Mormon.  Just sayin'.

Although Zarr doesn't go into any detail about Mormon weddings, I thought it would be an interesting subject for this post.  You've no doubt seen a Mormon temple somewhere in your travels.  You may have even wondered what goes on inside them (I assure you it's not human sacrifices—we do those in the meetinghouses*).  Since the temple is all about making sacred covenants, this is where LDS couples are married.  We believe that the bonds we form on Earth do not end when we die, but are, in fact, eternal.  Thus, there is no better place for a marriage ceremony to take place than inside a holy temple.

In order to enter the temple at all, individuals must be "worthy" to do so, meaning they've been interviewed by their local ecclesiastical leaders and found to be keeping the commandments, abiding by the tenets of the LDS Church, and trying their best to live lives that are honest and true.  If both the prospective bride and groom are found to be worthy, then they're allowed to be married in the temple.  Because not everyone can enter the temple, not all of the couple's friends and family members can witness the marriage ceremony.  Sometimes, couples with a lot of non-LDS friends and family may exchange rings outside the temple so that everyone can feel a part of the ceremony.  Couples who are not ready to enter the temple may be married in civil ceremonies that often take place at an LDS meetinghouse with a bishop (leader of a ward, or congregation).  After a year, if the couple is deemed ready, they can be sealed in the temple for time and all eternity.

Wedding receptions, on the other hand, do not take place inside the temple.  They can be held in meetinghouses, reception halls, backyards or wherever a couple chooses.  They are as individual as the people who plan them.  They are also where friends and family members of all faiths can come to celebrate the marriage.

In case you're curious, here's the temple in which I was married:


It's located in Lake Oswego, Oregon, which is near Portland.  It's a beautiful building, inside and out.

*I was totally kidding about human sacrifice.
**To see photos of temples around the world and learn more about their purpose, please visit temples.lds.org.
     




Friday, October 26, 2012

I'll Take More Human Drama, Less Zombie Gore, If You Please (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

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

Although Alex has lived in relative safety for the last few months, she knows she can't stay in Rule.  Sure, it's zombie-free, but there are other predators in the city.  And these animals are still in control of their brains—they know all too well how to manipulate teenage girls, to use them, to break them.  Alex can't let that happen to her.  She's already lost the people she loves most; she can't lose herself as well.  But outside the protected town are horrors she can barely fathom, let alone fight.  Captured by a sinister group of Changed, she waits ... to die.

Unbeknownst to Alex, Tom Eden is alive.  Still recovering from the near death experience that led to his separation from Alex, he's hiding out in Wisconsin.  Although he's being sheltered by good people, he knows he's not completely safe.  The Changed are always out there, as are the bounty hunters who roam the ruined country looking for able-bodied men to kidnap and sell to the highest bidder.  Trekking through the snow to Wisconsin, where Tom believes Alex is still living in Rule, will not be an easy journey.  But it's one he has to take.  He can't live without Alex.

As Tom and Alex fight their individual battles for survival, they inch closer and closer to each other.  But in a world like theirs, where death lurks around every corner, there's little chance the two will ever meet again.  Especially when fighting to stay alive seems to be an exercise in futility.  Still, Tom trudges on.  Still, Alex fights.  Still, they hope—for a better life, for a better world and, however impossible it seems, for each other. 

So, the thing I loved most about Ashes, the first book in Ilsa J. Bick's YA zombie trilogy, is that it wasn't really about the zombies.  They were present, of course, but the blood and guts took a backstage to the human drama.  In Shadows?  Not so much.  This time, it's more about the gore.  Which got old.  And nauseating.  Really nauseating.  The story's exciting— it's an edge-of-your-seat, can't-breathe-'til-you-finish, thrill-a-minute horror extravaganza.  And because Bick wrote it, the book's so compelling that you can't stop yourself from reading it even though it's making you physically ill.  My overall feelings on this one, though?  It kept me totally absorbed, but I was a tad disappointed.  I wanted more humanity, less zombie action.  Still, I enjoy this series and I can't wait to see how it all ends up.  I really can't, because Bick always surprises me.  Even if it's with the kind of gore that makes me throw up in my mouth—and swallow it down because I don't want to waste time throwing up when I need to be turning pages to find out what's going to happen next.  Yeah, it's totally like that.    

(Readalikes:  Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick; also other zombie novels like The Passage by Justin Cronin; The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan; Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry; The Enemy by Charles Higson; etc.)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for language (a few F-bombs as well as milder invectives), violence/gore, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received two finished copies of Shadows from the generous folks at Egmont USA.  Thank you!

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Giveaway time!  The very generous people at Egmont USA have given me an extra copy of Shadows to give away to one of you.  It's a brand new, hardcover zombie book, just in time for Halloween.  What's not to love?  What do you have to do to win it?  How about this:  Leave me a comment telling me about the best Halloween costume you ever wore.  Please be sure to leave an email address along with your answer.  As always, I'll give you extra entries for spreading the word about the giveaway (1 extra entry per method of word-spreading).  I'll choose a winner on October 31st.  Giveaway is open to readers with U.S. and Canadian addresses only.  Good luck!




Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Girl's Good. Really, Really Good.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you've read my reviews of In the Woods or The Likeness or Faithful Place, you know I pretty much think that Irish novelist Tana French walks on water.  I mean, the girl's good.  Very, very good.  She's got a potty mouth, but still, I can't get enough of her books.  Every one of them boasts intriguing characters, complex plotting, and the kind of writing that sucks a reader in and doesn't let go.  Her newest, Broken Harbor, is no exception.  I admit it's not my favorite of French's books; even still, it kept me wholly absorbed and totally entertained.  The girl's good, I tell you, really, really good.

Like the other books in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, Broken Harbor takes a minor character from a previous novel and thrusts him into the spotlight.  This time, it's Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy (from Faithful Place).  The 42-year-old's tough-but-fair reputation has made him the squad's top detective, which is why a hot new case lands in his lap.  A family of four has been found dead in their home, a newly-constructed edifice in a half-built "luxury" community by the sea.  To Mick and his very green partner, 31-year-old Richie Curran, it seems like your everyday murder/suicide.  Except that something about the whole thing seems off.  If Patrick and Jennifer Spain were as happy together as everyone says they were, what's with all the holes in the walls of their otherwise well-kept home?  And what about the video cameras and baby monitors everywhere?  The details just don't add up.  Combined with the eeriness of the abandoned community where the Spains lived, the whole thing is just downright ... spooky.

Mick would like to get the case solved and get the heck out of Broken Harbor.  The place gives him the creeps—not just because of what happened to the Spains, but because of his own ties to the seaside spot.  Memories of his own family's Broken Harbor nightmare have already sent his little sister over the edge.  Will Mick be next?  Or will figuring out what happen to the Spains finally put his own ghosts to rest?

Although I had the killer figured out long before Mick did, I still found Broken Harbor compelling.  Not as compelling as the other books in the series, but still absorbing in the way that only a novel by Tana French can be.  I've heard other French fans say that this one felt a little formulaic and I agree, although I don't mind it as much with French as I do with less talented authors.  Still, I'm hoping she'll dazzle me with something new and original for the next book.  I have to admit, though, that I'll keep reading her anyway.  Whatever French writes, I'll devour.  Like I keep saying, the girl's that good.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of other novels by Tana French, especially Faithful Place)

Grade:  B

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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find       


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Like Melanie Jacobson? Then, You're Going to Love Smart Move, Her Best Yet (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Deseret Book)

If you're a fan of Melanie Jacobson's LDS romances, particularly Twitterpated, then the name Sandy Burke will definitely ring a bell.  No?  In case you're coming up blank, I'll help you out—Sandy's the snarky, redheaded fashionista who rooms with Jessie Taylor, the workaholic heroine of Twitterpated.  Yep, she's that Sandy, the girl who upstaged Jessie pretty much from Page 1.  If you—like me—wondered about the story behind Jessie's colorful roomie, then you'll be thrilled to know that all your questions are answered in Jacobson's new novel, Smart Move.  

After her adventures in Twitterpated, 27-year-old Sandy Burke is now living in the Washington, D.C. area where she runs a branch of New Horizons, an organization that provides job training for underprivileged women.  Not only has she returned to the church, but she's feeling confident about the vibrant LDS singles scene in her new town.  With her own place, a job that both challenges and satisfies her, and a fun set of girls to hang with, things are going better than Sandy ever could have expected. 

Then, Sandy gets the shock of her life: Jake Manning.  That Jake Manning, the gorgeous guy she connected so strongly with when she met him at a dance club in Seattle.  The guy whose failure to call almost destroyed every ounce of Sandy's confidence.  Not only has Jake, by some crazy-weird coincidence, moved into her ward on the other side of the country, but he's still trying to put the moves on Sandy.  The nerve!  Sandy's prepared to flirt with every guy in sight to get revenge on the man who caused her such emotional distress, but the thing is, the more time she spends with Jake, the more she's remembering why she was so attracted to him in the first place.

When Sandy discovers what Jake's really doing in D.C.—representing a home owner's group in its attempt to stop New Horizons from building an annex in their neighborhood—she knows she has to stop thinking of Jake as anything but her enemy.  As Sandy braces herself to fight Jake on every front, a surprise visitor arrives to stir things up.  Dealing with her flighty, granola-girl of a mother while trying to save her job and resist the man who's growing more disarming by the day may be more than even Sandy Burke can handle.  It also might be the best thing that's ever happened to her.  

Because I've read and reviewed all four of Melanie Jacobson's novels this year, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on her work.  Which is why I can say with complete, unabashed confidence that Smart Move is the best thing she's written to date.  Yes, the novel's predictable.  Yes, it gets cheesy.  And yes, once again, Jacobson's leading man lacks a discernible personality.  BUT, this time around, Jacobson gives us a likable heroine who's complex, interesting and just a whole lot of fun (her mother's even more so).  The sparring between Sandy and Jake keeps things interesting, while the plot of Smart Move moves at a pace that feels perfect.  Overall, this is a light, funny ("scripture Twister"—I'm still laughing at that one!) romance with a contemporary feel that will appeal to both older teens and "new adults."  Because it's not at all preachy, Smart Move would also be a good novel to hand to non-Mormon fans of sweet, clean romances.  Even though I'm kind of a hater when it comes to LDS fiction, I can say this for sure:  If Melanie Jacobson writes it, I'll read it.      

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Jacobson's other novels—The List, Not My Type and, especially, Twitterpated)

Grade:  B

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

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

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Thanks to the very generous Melanie Jacobson, you can win your very own copy of Smart Move.  All you have to do is leave me a comment telling me about the smartest move (literal or figurative) you ever made.  Promoting this giveaway on Facebook, Twitter or wherever else will, of course, get you more entries (one per method of spreading the word).  I'll choose a winner (using Random.org) on November 6th.  Good luck! 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You Don't Have to Know Dali from Degas to Enjoy This Compelling Literary Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


In Boston's cutthroat world of professional art, forgers are not looked upon with even a modicum of respect.  Claire Roth should know.  It doesn't matter that the 31-year-old painter copies great works of art in a perfectly legal—and not unprofitable—manner.  Ever since the shocking betrayal that made her a pariah in the art community three years ago, she, and her work, have received nothing but disdain.  Until now.  When Aiden Markel, an influential art dealer, expresses interest in Claire's paintings (not her copies, but her originals), she can hardly believe it.  When he offers her a show at his very well-respected gallery, she's over the moon.  When he explains the catch, she's tempted.  Oh, so very tempted.

In exchange for a show at Markel's uber chic gallery (and $50,000), Claire will have to forge a painting.  Not copy a painting, like she does every day for Reproductions.com, but actually forge a painting.  As in, copy a masterpiece, that will be passed off as the original.  It's not just any painting either, but a Degas.  And not just any Degas, but one that was stolen from Boston's elite Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.  Claire knows Markel's proposition is unethical, immoral and completely illegal.  And yet, it's the chance of a lifetime, a chance to prove her worth to the community that has dubbed her "The Great Pretender."

With the stolen masterpiece as her guide, Claire begins to recreate the famous Degas.  But the more she studies it, the more concerned she becomes.  Something's not right with the painting.  Determined to understand the mystery before her, Claire begins researching the painting's origins and makes some very startling discoveries.  As her forgery makes its way into the world, she must decide what's most important—the truth or her future as an artist.

Although the painting at the center of The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro is fictional, the theft the book describes is not.  On March 18, 1990, two thieves really did rob the museum, making off with thirteen works of art, including pieces by Degas, Rembrandt and Vermeer.  The identities of the criminals remain unknown, as do the whereabouts of the stolen art.  Although tragic, the event makes a very compelling backdrop for a literary thriller.  You don't have to know a Degas from a Dali to become completely absorbed in this fast-paced, tightly-plotted tale about a tortured artist and her obsession to be recognized for her own talent.  With a whole cast of finely-drawn, realistically-flawed story people, The Art Forger will appeal to fans of both plot-based and character-based fiction.  It's that engrossing, that mesmerizing.  Easily my favorite read of the year, this one is not to be missed.

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

Grade:  A

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder invectives) and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Art Forger from the generous folks at Algonquin via ELLE Magazine's Reader's Jury program.  Thank you!   

Mormon Mentions: B.A. Shapiro

If you don't know what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, let me explain:

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the LDS or Mormon Church), I am naturally concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Since this blog focuses on books, every time I see my church mentioned in a book written by an author who is not LDS, I post it here.  Then, I offer my insider's view of the subject at hand.  It's a chance for me to correct false statements, elaborate on subjects important to me, and, a lot of times, just to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

If you're not interested in these kinds of posts, feel free to skip them.

Alright, here we go ... in B.A. Shapiro's literary thriller, The Art Forger, the heroine is trying to find information about a family using the Internet.  The passage reads:

Rik doesn't call until close to nine, and by then I've given up on Rendell's family for the night—even the Mormon Web site doesn't have anything—and fallen asleep on the couch" (310).

One of the things most people know about Mormons is that we're big into families.  Because we believe that family ties are eternal, we go to great lengths to preserve them.  Thus, we're known as the people to contact about genealogy (family history).  The LDS Church does, indeed, have the best genealogical resources around and anyone can use them.  Don't believe me?  Go to Family Search right now.  Type in the name of a deceased ancestor.  Watch what happens.  Cool, right?  Shapiro's heroine may not have found anything, but chances are, you will.  Give it a try.

What do you think?  Are you interested in family history?  Ever used the Internet to find your own kin?

(Please not that the text quoted above came from an ARC of The Art Forger.  It may have been changed in the finished novel.)  

Monday, October 22, 2012

YA Reincarnation Novel Nothing You Haven't Seen Before ... Dang It.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Cole Ryan tours the Tower of London, startling images swamp her mind.  The vision is so vivid, so real that it feels almost like a memory.  Which isn't possible, of course.  The 16-year-old has never been to England before and she's certainly never time-traveled back to the days when beheadings were a common form of punishment.  An overactive imagination—that's the only explanation.  Except that lately, Cole's been haunted by other images.  Everything she sees and touches seems to trigger fuzzy memories of places she's never been and things she's never experienced.  If it's not just her imagination, then the only other possibility is that she's going stark, raving mad.  

Enter Griffon Hall.  Cole's mesmerized by the gorgeous 17-year-old, but she's absolutely dumbfounded when he explains what's happening to her—Cole, he says, is Akhet.  Like him.  These special people not only remember the lives they've lived in the past, but they're tasked with using the wisdom they've gathered over many lifetimes to do good in the present.  Cole wants to dismiss the explanation outright—it's crazy—but everything Griffon says feels true.  She doesn't want this strange ability, but she can't figure out how to make it go away either.  The only way she can really understand it is to embrace it.  

The more Cole remembers, the more apprehensive she grows, especially when her memories seem to warn of danger from her past encroaching on the present.  Cole doesn't know who to trust, especially when she makes a shocking discovery about Griffon.  But how much faith can she put in her murky visions of the past?  Are they reliable?  Is Griffon?  With her life on the line, Cole has to decide what to believe, whom to trust, and how to proceed in a world that is growing increasingly dangerous.

After reading—and loving—C.J. Omololu's first book, Dirty Little Secrets, I couldn't wait to see what the author would do for an encore.  When I read a description of Transcendence, her sophomore effort, I was a little ... surprised.  The plot sounded so generic, so overdone, that I couldn't help but wonder if I really wanted to waste my time on yet another ordinary-teenage-girl-discovers-she-has-supernatural-abilities-and-is-really-a-vampire/angel/werewolf/mermaid/demon hunter/etc.  Since I like Omololu's writing, I figured if anyone could make a stale premise original, it would be her.  And I was right.  Sorta.  The story still felt very familiar, but the writing, at least, seemed above average.  Still, the plot didn't blow me away and I didn't feel any big, cosmic connection to the characters.  The twist at the end did catch me by surprise, so that was nice.  Other than that, though, Transcendence lacked the originality and the heart to really grab me.  I wanted a story as powerful as Dirty Little Secrets and, unfortunately, didn't get it.  Is Transcendence worth the read?  Sure, just don't expect anything you haven't seen before.

(Readalikes:  Every other book in the contemporary-YA-with-a-little-paranormal-thrown-in genre)

Grade:  B-

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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, October 19, 2012

Turn of the Screw Retelling for Teens a Creepy Halloween Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Jack Branch is offered an obscene amount of money to babysit two kids for a couple of months, the soon-to-be high school senior is elated.  Summer jobs aren't exactly plentiful in his city, especially not the kind that pay more than minimum wage.  So the situation is a little ... strange; the money makes it worth it.  If Jack can build up a nice, big nest egg, he'll be able to move out and join his girlfriend at college the minute he graduates high school.

The situation really is bizarre: Jack will be watching two orphans—siblings Flora (age 8) and Miles (age 10)—who live on a remote island with only their housekeeper.  Without t.v. or Internet access on the island, the kids need some entertainment.  Jack's it.  Their uncle hires him to organize sports and games for the kids so they can get some physical exercise while awaiting the arrival of Flora's full-time tutor and Miles' return to boarding school.  While it all seems straightforward enough, Jack's shocked at the kids' uncle's insistence that he not be contacted concerning the children no matter what.  It's only when Jack starts to experience the strangeness of Crackstone's Landing and its only occupants that he begins to understand why ...

The Turning, a new YA novel by Francine Prose, is a short, spine-tingler about things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day).  It's an eerie adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, kind of a ghost story and psychological thriller, all rolled up into one.  Told through the letters Jack writes to his girlfriend, Sophie, the story traces his quest to understand what's happening on Crackstone's Landing as well as his growing confusion about his own sanity.  While I didn't love the book, it's definitely a creepy little read that'll be perfect for teens on the hunt for Halloween reads that are scary without being totally terrifying.

(Readalikes:  I should be able to think of lots of similar stories, but I'm coming up blank.  It does remind me a bit of And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and of the movie The Shining, which is based on a Stephen King novel I haven't read yet.  Any other ideas?)

Grade:  B-

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Turning as well as a finished copy (which I donated to my local library) from the generous folks at HarperTeen.  Thank you!  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New 39 Clues-ish Series Off to a So-So Start

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I'm used to people asking me what I'm reading.  Happens all the time.  But, I can honestly say that I've never gotten that question from a young boy (one I didn't birth, anyway).  I had to chuckle when I saw this kid sneaking covert glances at the cover of my book—A Mutiny in Time by James Dashner.  When I showed it to him, he gasped.  "Is that like, a new 39 Clues book?"  he asked.  I told him the Infinity Ring series was like 39 Clues, but not the same.  To which the skeptical youth replied, "It really looks like a 39 Clues book."  I proceeded to give him a point-by-point compare/contrast lecture on the differences and similarities between the two series (I didn't, really).  Maybe I should have though, because I could tell the kid remained unconvinced.  He really believed I was holding out on him.  The encounter made me smile, not just because of the boy's hardheaded refusal to accept the fact that Scholastic might really be publishing a new 39 Clues-ish series, but because I could see the naked book hunger in his eyes.  If I had been closer to finishing A Mutiny in Time, I swear I would have handed it over to the kid, just because I love putting shiny new stories into the hands of eager readers.

If you, like this boy, doubt my book smarts, let me tell you for sure and certain—the Infinity Ring series is not a 39 Clues spin-off.  It's a brand new adventure series.  Yes, the books are the same size and shape as the 39 Clues ones and yes, each volume will be written by a different children's author.  Like 39 Clues, the Infinity Ring also has an online game that lets you interact with the story even more.  I'm sure there are even more similarities, but since I haven't actually read any of the 39 Clues books (Shhh—don't tell the kid), I don't know what they might be.  

How about this—I'll give you a little plot summary and you can decide for yourself:

Junior high school students Dak Smyth and Sera Froste are best friends and fellow geniuses.  One day, they decide to sneak into the lab of Dak's scientist parents.  There, they discover the Infinity Ring, a gadget that seems to be designed to catapult a person backward and forward in time.  Theoretically, anyway.  The device doesn't actually work.  That is, until Sera gets hold of it.  With her super brain, she manages to make the gizmo work, a feat which astonishes the adult Smyths.  Not to mention freaks them out, because now that the invention is functioning, it's bound to bring them all kinds of unwanted attention.  Which is exactly what happens.  Several different organizations want the Infinity Ring so badly that they're willing to do almost anything to get it.  In order to save Dak's parents, who are now lost somewhere in time, Dak and Sera agree to help the Hystorians, an ancient group whose members are tasked with fixing moments in history that have gone awry.  Mending these little errors turns out to be no small job.  Are Dak and Sera up to the challenge?  Or will the Smyths be lost in time forever?

Although there's nothing especially original about A Mutiny in Time, it's still a fun, fast-moving adventure that's going to keep young readers entertained while teaching them a little history at the same time.  I would have liked better developed characters, snappier dialogue and some surprising twists and turns, but, yeah, I guess I'll have to wait for the next few books in the series to get that.  Overall, I'm not blown away by the series start.  It's got potential, though, so we'll see where it goes ...

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other time travel series for kids, like The Magic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne [although the Infinity Ring series is geared toward a little bit older readers])

Grade:  C+

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of A Mutiny in Time as well as a finished copy (which I donated to the library at my children's elementary school) thanks to the very generous folks at Scholastic.  Thank you!  





Monday, October 15, 2012

Misplaced Climax Makes For Dull, Predictable Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Alison Kraft's 9-year-old son chooses a fishing expedition for his special birthday trip, she's less than thrilled.  The third grade teacher would prefer almost anything to hanging out in a rustic lodge on a remote island in the middle of Lake Superior.  Knowing how important the trip is to Jimmy, Alison decides to take one for the team.  When she sees just how primitive the accommodations really are, Alison's ready to bolt.  Even if she wanted to leave, though, she couldn't.  The last boat off the island has gone and a storm is already setting in.  Like it or not, Alison's there to stay.

Meanwhile, a quartet of violent criminals is stranded on the choppy water in a malfunctioning boat.  When they spot the fishing lodge, they see a place to wait out the storm and maybe find themselves a new mode of transportation.  The fact that the lodge is filled with fishermen/women is of no real consequence—collateral damage can't always be avoided.

Seasick and miserable, Alison's locked in the bathroom when the criminals storm the lodge.  With everyone else tied up, it's up to her to stop the ex cons from killing everyone in sight.  But how is a school teacher with no survival skills supposed to do that on a remote island in the middle of a storm?  And, even if she can defeat them, will she ever be rid of them?  Or the terrible memories from a family fishing trip turned deadly?

The weird thing about Primal, a debut thriller by D.A. (Deborah) Serra, is that the story ends almost before it begins.  While it's fairly riveting while it's happening, all the big, life/death action happens in the first third of the book.  By about Chapter Seventeen, I figured Primal must be a novella because the story was basically over.  I was wrong.  It is, in fact, a full-length novel.  However, since the story reaches its climax around Page 100, the last 160 pages of the book get very dull and very predictable.  Some plot rearrangement would have made this a much better novel because, really, it has pretty good bones.  A good editor could have reworked the whole thing into a decent thriller.  As is?  Meh.  The first 100 pages kept me entertained, but the rest just seemed to drag on and on and on.  Serra needed to build the story up better, make me care more about the characters, move the climax to the end of the book, and then keep the intensity up throughout the entire story because that is how you craft a can't-put-it-down thriller.  

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

Grade:  C-

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-copy of Primal from the author via the good folks at Premiere Virtual Author Book Tours.  Thank you!



Saturday, October 13, 2012

Gentle Dystopians? Not For Bloodthirsty Me.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Remember about a month ago when I said this book was the gentlest dystopian I'd ever read?  Well, I might have lied.  The Age of Miracles, a debut novel by Karen Thompson Walker, is also a quiet, mostly anticlimactic story about the end of the world.  It's dystopian, but (mostly) without all the violent intensity of most books in the genre.  It's a slow, ethereal kind of story, one that's deep, ponderous and, well, kind of boring.  After reading two books like this, I'm finding that I need my dystopians to be taut and suspenseful.  Otherwise, they just don't work very well for me.

At any rate, the story goes a little something like this:  Julia, an 11-year-old California girl, wakes up one morning to find that the earth's rotation is slowing down.  While the phenomenon seems to spell certain doom for the world at large, at first not a lot changes.  Julia still attends school, hangs out with her friends and tries to make sense of her eccentric grandfather.  As time crawls along, however, time becomes an unpredictable thing, a change so momentous that it leads to chaos, hate and even violence.  Meanwhile, Julia's dealing with the usual tween woes—friend fights, tension between her parents, and trying to get a cute boy to notice her.  While life moves slowly on, Earth's inhabitants are well aware that it's only a matter of time before life as they know it disappears forever.  

Like I said, not a lot happens in The Age of Miracles.  The book boasts some lovely writing and the subject matter is thought-provoking; all in all, though, it's just kind of dull.  Depressing, too.  A ho-hum read for me, this one failed to leave any big impressions, leaving me pretty much ambivalent.  Yeah, 'nough said.     

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a teensy bit of Safekeeping by Karen Hesse and of The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta)

Grade:  C+

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder invectives) and mild sexual innuendo/content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find         

Mormon Mentions: Karen Thompson Walker

In case you don't know what a Mormon is, let alone a Mormon Mention, allow me to explain:

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly referred to as the LDS or Mormon Church.  Naturally, then, I'm concerned with how my religion is portrayed in the media.  Since this is a book blog, I pay special attention to mentions of the Church in literature.  When I find a reference to LDS religion, culture, etc., written by a non-Mormon, I highlight it here, along with my own commentary.  I use my "insider's view" to correct misconceptions, add insight using my own experiences and, sometimes, just to laugh at my (sometimes) crazy Mormon culture.

If these kinds of posts offend you, please feel free to skip them.  If not, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Here we go—

The narrator of Karen Thompson Walker's new adult dystopian novel, The Age of Miracles, is an 11-year-old girl named Julia.  Her best friend is Hanna, a Mormon.  The following passages are about her:

"She hadn't brushed her hair, and hers was hair that demanded attention, having grown uncut since second grade.  All the Mormon girls I knew had long hair" (11).

- Like many people, Walker's image of Mormons seems to have come through the television screen straight from Colorado City, Arizona,  home of a polygamist splinter group known as the FLDS Church.  In the mainstream church (of which I am a part), girls and women (boys and men, too, for that matter) are allowed to wear their hair any way they please.  Mormons are—generally speaking—a conservative lot, so you won't see a lot of mohawks or dreadlocks, but still ... there are no rules about how hair can, or cannot, be worn.

"Hanna's house was full of sisters, but mine was the home of only one child.  I never liked it when she left.  The rooms felt too quiet without her" (11).

- If there's one thing you know about us Mormons, it's probably that we tend to have large families.  This is because we value family above everything but God himself.  We believe that our family relationships are binding not just on the earth, but in heaven as well.   As Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the church's general authorities, once put it, "I don’t know how to speak about heaven in the traditional, lovely, paradisiacal beauty that we speak of heaven–I wouldn’t know how to speak of heaven without my wife and my children.  It would not be heaven for me."  Because of this doctrine, we feel that it is our duty to not just raise a family, but to nurture it in love and righteousness.  Forever.

"As I would later learn, thousands of Mormons gathered in Salt Lake City after the slowing began.  Hanna had told me once that the church had pinpointed a certain square mile of land as the exact location of Jesus' next return to earth.  They kept a giant grain silo in Utah, she said, to feed the Mormons during the end times.  'I'm not supposed to tell you this stuff because you're not in our church,' she said.  'But it's true'" (25).

- Like I've said before, I'm no scholar or theologian.  I don't claim to be any kind of expert on LDS doctrine, history or beliefs.  But, I've been a member of the church for almost 37 years and I can tell you what I've learned in that time:

The "certain square mile of land" is a reference to Adam-ondi-Ahman, a section of land in rural Missouri that, as the Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied in 1838, would be a place where in the future, Jesus Christ would meet with His people (see reference from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism here).  The significance of Adam-ondi-Ahman isn't something that's widely discussed in the church or seen as a big deal, really.  It just is.

If the world appeared to be ending, I can definitely see Mormons flocking to Adam-ondi-Ahman, although we have never been told to do so.  Personally, I wouldn't head for Missouri or even Utah, for that matter, unless the current prophet advised me to come.  

Obviously, it would be impossible to gather every one of the more than 14 million church members worldwide in one place, so we are told to make sure we are always prepared for disaster by storing food and other supplies in our own homes.  Self-reliance, as you can tell from the paragraph below, is definitely something the church preaches and encourages.

Although I have never visited the site myself, I know that there is a giant (178 foot tall, as a matter of fact) grain elevator as well as other storehouses and processing operations in Salt Lake City, Utah (see LDS Historic Sites: Salt Lake City Welfare Square for more information).  The Church has always preached self-reliance to its members, so its own preparation for hard times should come as no surprise.  Still, whatever stores the church has can only be seen as a back-up measure.  LDS people have long been advised to store food and other supplies, simply so that they can be self-sufficient in case of natural disasters, unemployment, and economic crises—whether they come next year or when the world ends.  Of course, not every member of the church has a year's supply of food crammed under their beds (although many do), whether because they lack the money to buy it, the space to store it, or because their country's laws prevent them from doing it.  Still, if the world starts to tank, it would be an excellent idea to cozy up to your nearest Mormon!

You may wonder what happens if church members cannot support themselves financially in the here and now.  In that case, help is available via a well-organized church welfare system, which you can read about here.  

Another huge principle taught by the church is helping the poor and needy, whether they belong to the LDS church or not.  This includes distributing food to those in trying circumstances, as well as shelter, clothing, medical help, education, etc.  Practicing self-reliance not only helps the individual, but that person's friends, neighbors and community.

Welfare Square is hardly a secret, as Hanna implies.  In fact, you can see photos using the link above and, if you happen to be in the Salt Lake area, you can take a free tour of Welfare Square.

"As the sun made its way up into the sky, Hanna told me a little bit about Utah.  Her life there was not nearly as bleak as I had pictured.  She told a complicated story involving a Mormon boy who lived next door to her aunt.  One night this boy had popped the screen on Hanna's window and climbed into her bedroom.  They'd kissed while her sisters slept" (99).

- Another thing you may know about LDS people is that we're told not to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.  Because we believe that marriage is an eternal principle, we treat it, and procreation, as something serious and sacred.  We are counseled to treat their bodies as temples, to keep them clean and pure for our future spouses.  Married couples are taught to be true and faithful to their spouses.  Does this mean there is no infidelity in the church?  No divorce?  No teenage pregnancy?  Of course not.  But compared to other groups, Mormons have lower rates of all of the above.

Phew!  We covered a lot of ground.  Any comments?  Questions?  Ask away.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ditched: Shallow Heroine = Shallow Story

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Justina Griffith wakes up in a ditch, her prom dress tattered and covered in mysterious stains, she can't fathom how she got there.  The massive bump on her head explains her memory loss.  Other than that, nothing makes sense.  Crawling out of the ditch, the 16-year-old hobbles to the 7-Eleven down the street in search of food and a phone.  What she finds is Gilda, a kindly cashier who offers not just a Snickers bar, but also a listening ear.  As she waits for someone to come rescue her, Justina spills out the whole story of her crazy prom night.  What she can remember anyway.  Together, she, Gilda and a handful of early-morning convenience store customers figure out exactly what happened on what was supposed to be the most magical night of Justina's life.  And wasn't.  Or was it? 

Using the stains on her gaudy blue dress as her guide, Justina works her way through all the zany adventures that led to her (literal) ditching.  Woven through all the craziness is the truth she's seeking.  And, maybe, the kind of love of which she's always dreamed.

A debut novel by Robin Mellon, Ditched: A Love Story is a madcap mash-up of adventure, mystery and romance.  The stain-by-stain storytelling device gives the novel a clever format, echoing its fun, lighthearted tone.  Unfortunately, that's about it for the positives.  Mellon's characters (the teen ones, anyway) are—almost without exception—totally shallow.  They live to party, drink, do drugs, and make out (or more).  Maybe this is a completely accurate portrayal of today's youth (if so, then heaven, help us!), but I really don't think it is.  Regardless, fictional characters need to have some depth.  Redeeming qualities are also helpful.  And it's kind of a requirement that heroines care about someone besides themselves.  You've probably guessed by now that Justina Griffith doesn't fit any of those descriptions.  She's an irresponsible, easy, self-absorbed airhead.  I couldn't find anything to like about her, let alone to sympathize with or admire.  Since all of the teens in this book (pretty much) are Justina clones and the plot zooms beyond zany to just plain old silly, the entire novel (pretty much) feels as shallow as its heroine.  I give it points for a clever format, a quick story and above average writing, but that's about it.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of The DUFF by Kody Keplinger)

Grade:  C-

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Ditched: A Love Story from the generous folks at Disney/Hyperion.  Thank you!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Green Is My Favorite Color

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Cancer books aren't supposed to be funny or quirky or romantic.  They're supposed to be sad, sentimental tearjerkers, right?  Not according to John Green.  The enormously popular YA author's newest, The Fault in Our Stars, deals not just with the Big C, but with kids afflicted by the disease.  Nothing says sad and sentimental quite like that combo.  Except, in Green's hands, it's somehow not.  Instead, it's a bright, swoon-y novel filled with love, life and laughter.  Which doesn't mean you shouldn't have a tissue handy.  You should, because The Fault in Our Stars can also be brutal in all its raw tenderness. 

The story goes a little something like this:  Hazel Lancaster, a 17-year-old suffering from Stage IV thyroid cancer, has given up on trying to live any kind of normal life.  She knows how to face the facts.  It's just something you learn as a kid with terminal cancer.  Hazel's not normal, so why pretend?  Lugging her oxygen tank around the mall while being stared at by curious onlookers really isn't worth the trouble.  She'd rather hang out at home and watch t.v. with her mom or re-read her favorite book.  Really, she would.  

Sick of watching her daughter waste away what's left of her life, Hazel's mother pushes Hazel to join a weekly support group for kids with cancer.  The meetings are totally depressing, of course, not exactly the fun-filled social activities Hazel's mom envisioned.  That is, until one of the group members brings a friend to the meeting.  Augustus Waters, a 17-year-old with osteosarcoma, catches Hazel's eye right away.  Not only is he great looking, smart and funny, but he gets Hazel in a way that no one else does.  It doesn't take long for the two to become inseparable.  But, a love story between two cancer kids can never be simple.  Theirs isn't.  What it is is a beautiful adventure, one that can't be fully described, only experienced.

Toward the end of the book, Hazel says, "You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice" (209).  I couldn't have described The Fault in Our Stars any better than that.  The book is humorous, it's honest, it's heartwarming, it's heartbreaking.  It's gorgeous.  I adored it.  Amen.   

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick)

Grade:  A-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG-13 for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder invectives), sexual innuendo and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

A Break on the Lake


Just a little head's up—I'm going to be MIA on the blog for the rest of the week.  Why, you ask?  Because I'll be houseboating on Lake Powell.  Cell reception out there is spotty, let alone Internet access, so I'll be letting the blog run itself until I come back.  You won't even notice, unless you try to email me or comment on one of my posts.  Never fear!  I'll only be gone a few days and then I'll return emails and approve comments.  In the meantime, I'm going to be playing with my kids, stargazing with my husband, speeding across the water on my jet ski, and, of course, enjoying some nice, relaxing reading time.

That is, of course, if I can find Lake Powell.  My husband's already on the lake with my sons and a group of other guys, so I'm going to have to drive there myself.  I've made the trip plenty of times, just not from behind the wheel.  Here's hoping Mapquest knows what it's talking about!  Seriously, I'm not all that worried, but apparently my daughters are—the 3-year-old just said, "But, Mommy, we can't drive without Daddy!"  Oh, we can, baby girl, and we will.  I hope.

How 'bout the rest of y'all?  Any fun plans for the week/weekend?  Whatever you're doing, have a great rest-of-the-week.  I'll catch you when I get back.  'Til then, happy reading!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Gripping Legal Thriller More Than Just a Murder Mystery. Much More.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Prosecuting criminals is all in a day's work for Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber.  It's what the 51-year-old does.  It's been his job for the last 20 years.  And he's good at it.

Violent crime isn't usually on the menu in Newton—a quiet suburb of Boston—so when a teenage boy is murdered in the park, Andy is as shocked as the rest of the community.  Shock turns to anger when his own son, 14-year-old Jacob, becomes a prime suspect in the case.  Andy refuses to believe his child is capable of committing such a heinous act and vows to defend Jacob with all he's got, for as long as it takes.

As the police investigate the murder and Jacob's lawyer questions his family and friends, Andy does his own digging.  What he turns up shocks him, proving how little he actually knows his unassuming son.  Still, how much of Jacob's disturbing secret life is just normal angsty teenage stuff and how much is indicative of a very troubled kid?  While everyone else seems ready to convict Jacob, Andy stands by him.  Even as the town turns against the Barber Family, even as his marriage crumbles, even as the evidence stacks up against his son—even then, Andy refuses to give up on Jacob.  Yet, he can't help asking:  Is his boy innocent or guilty?  Does it even matter when it's your own child?

Although the plot of Defending Jacob by William Landay sounds simple, it's not.  In fact, the story grows more complex by the page.  Rich in both character and plot, the book is a compelling blend of murder mystery, family saga and legal thriller.  I love this blurb from crime writer Stephen White:  "More than a terrific legal thrill ride, Defending Jacob is an unflinching appraisal of the darkest, most poignant consequences of the love that binds, and blinds, families.  It's one of those rare books that call for contemplation and insight along with every breathtaking surprise."  I couldn't have said it better myself.  While I didn't absolutely love this one, it definitely kept my attention with sympathetic characters, tight plotting and plenty of food for thought (It's been over a week and I'm still trying to digest the surprise ending).  If you love meaty legal thrillers, you won't want to miss Defending Jacob.

(Readalikes:  I've seen it compared to Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow; also reminded me of books by John Grisham and Jodi Picoult)

Grade:  B

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

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Defending Jacob at Changing Hands Bookstore with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.      

Friday, October 05, 2012

Fiction Frolic: Fun and Prizes

There are always cool bookish online events this time of year. This one sounded fun to me, so I agreed to help promote it on my blog. Here are the deets:


Help Raise 1,000 books for charity and enter to win $200, signed books and swag!

We are excited to share about an ambitious blog tour—Fiction Frolic for All Hallow's Read—where ten authors from several genres are working hard to raise 1,000 books in three weeks for Books for America.

From October 1st to 19th, donate a new book (or books!) and earn extra bonus points in a huge giveaway that these authors are hosting.

Two winners will each receive the following PRIZES!

$100 Amazon G.C.
5 signed books from the authors hosting the event
A swag bag
Plus—in honor of All Hallow's read, gift a signed copy of one of our books to a friend!

With a total of $200, 12 signed books (including the gifted books) and major swag, what better way is there to raise books for charity and celebrate All Hallow's Read?

Each author participating is also donating signed copies of their books to Books for America, an awesome charity that is officially sponsoring their event and excited to be involved with All Hallow's Read. In 2011, Books for America donated more than $800,000 worth of books and materials to DC area schools, shelters and dozens of other educational programs and organizations.

The authors are blogging throughout the event at The Fiction Frolic Blog.

  • 10/1-5 Read about how books shaped their love for reading and writing.
  • 10/8-12 Read their scariest, funniest or craziest Halloween experiences, or learn about their favorite Halloween themed book or movie, or favorite work of "dark" literature.
  • 10/15-19 Enjoy some flash fiction, short stories and novel excerpts.

So donate, share, and look for daily ways to enter to win. Donate to charity for bonus points!.

This event is sponsored by:
Eleanor T Beaty, author of the YA paranormal Veiled Mist
Brewin' author of the supernatural horror, The Dark Horde
Andy Gavin, author of the fantasy horror, The Darkening Dream
Laxmi Hariharan, author of the YA fantasy, The Destiny of Shaitan
Kimberly Kinrade, author of the YA paranormal thriller/romances, Forbidden Mind & Forbidden Fire
Richard Long, author of the supernatural thriller/horror, The Book of Paul
M.C. Mars, author of the mind-bending novel, Burner
Melissa McPhail, author of epic fantasy Cephrael's Hand
Sheryl Steines, author of She Wulf & Days of First Sun
Pavarti K Tyler., author of the Lit Fic Shadow on the Wall and the erotic horror Consumed by Love


Enter here:


a Rafflecopter giveaway



"Really, Really, Really Good" Sums This One Up Perfectly

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you love to cook, you've no doubt visited Our Best Bites, an enormously popular recipe blog written by young LDS moms, Sara Wells and Kate Jones.  If you're a fan of the site, you probably know that the pair published their first cookbook, Our Best Bites: Mormon Moms in the Kitchen, in 2011.  If you've experienced its fabulousness, then you've certainly been looking forward to the newest offering from the Wells/Jones team.  I certainly have.  I may have even let out a squeal of delight when it landed on my doorstep courtesy of the kind people at Deseret Book.

Like its predecessor, Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites is a beautiful, hardcover cookbook chock-full of scrumptious-looking recipes.  As indicated by its title, the book is divided into four sections:  Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.  Each section contains recipes appropriate for the given season as well as full-color photographs and helpful hints.  One of my favorite features from the last cookbook—the Rollover Ingredients list—is also present in this one.  Savoring the Seasons offers a new feature called Crafty in the Kitchen, which gives step-by-step instructions for creations like Peppermint Fudge Cupcake Jars, Thanksgiving Oreo Turkeys, and various Halloween party foods.  Just flipping through this gorgeous cookbook made my eyes pop and my stomach grumble—you better believe I'll be making tons of these fun recipes!

If you're looking for holiday gift ideas or a little something-something for a birthday girl or bride-to-be, look no further than Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites.  It's a lovely, gift-quality cookbook.  Retailing at around $17, the price may seem a little steep, but I really believe it's worth it.  I love both of my Our Best Bites cookbooks—they're beautiful, durable and packed with excellent, easy recipes that turn out wonderfully every single time.  No matter how many cookbooks you own, I guarantee you'll keep coming back to Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites and its sister, Our Best Bites: Mormon Moms in the Kitchen.

(Readalikes:  Our Best Bites: Mormon Moms in the Kitchen by Sara Wells and Kate Jones)

Grade:  A

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Savoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites from the generous folks at Deseret Book.  Thank you!



(Makes 2-3 dozen cookies)

2 cups flour, spooned lightly into measuring cups and leveled with knife
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled until lukewarm
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips
1 cup coconut (toasted or untoasted)
1 cup roughly chopped, toasted macadamia nuts
1/2-2 tablespoons grated lime zest (1-2 limes)

1.  Heat oven to 325 degrees F.  Mix flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium-sized bowl; set aside.

2.  Combine butter and sugars with electric mixer until thoroughly blended.  Mix in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients and mix until combined.  Add white chocolate chips, coconut, macadamia nuts, and lime zest and stir to distribute.

3.  Scoop cookie dough into balls and place 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Bake until cookies are set around outer edges, yet centers are still soft and puffy and appear slightly underbaked, about 9-10 minutes.  (All ovens are different, so keep an eye on them!)  Cool cookies on cookie sheets for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.  Store in an airtight container up to 2 days.

My thoughts on the recipe:  Um, yum!  All of us liked these.  My husband even pronounced them "really, really, really good."  And guess what?  Since I'm kind of an airhead, I didn't even make them right.  Somehow I ended up buying lemons instead of limes, so I used 3 teaspoons of lime juice instead of the fresh lime zest.  Didn't matter—the cookies were still delicious!  Unfortunately, macadamia nuts are not the cheapest or easiest nuts to buy, so this isn't a recipe I'll be making super often, but still, they're delish.

Since food photography is not my specialty, I decided to go with "cute kid eating food" instead.  The cute kid in question was way more interested in eating her cookie than in posing for her mother, so it took a few tries—






—but, we finally got this one, which is pretty darn adorable if I do say so myself:

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