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2022 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska (1)
- Arizona (1)
- Arkansas
- California (5)
- Colorado (3)
- Connecticut (1)
- Delaware
- Florida (1)
- Georgia (2)
- Hawaii (1)
- Idaho
- Illinois (2)
- Indiana (1)
- Iowa (1)
- Kansas
- Kentucky
- Louisiana (1)
- Maine (1)
- Maryland (2)
- Massachusetts (5)
- Michigan (2)
- Minnesota (1)
- Mississippi (1)
- Missouri
- Montana
- Nebraska (1)
- Nevada
- New Hampshire (1)
- New Jersey (1)
- New Mexico (1)
- New York (9)
- North Carolina (4)
- North Dakota
- Ohio (1)
- Oklahoma
- Oregon (1)
- Pennsylvania (2)
- Rhode Island (1)
- South Carolina
- South Dakota (1)
- Tennessee (1)
- Texas (2)
- Utah (2)
- Vermont (3)
- Virginia (1)
- Washington (4)
- West Virginia
- Wisconsin (1)
- Wyoming (1)
- Washington, D.C.* (1)


Antarctica (1)
Australia (2)
Egypt (2)
England (16)
France (1)
Greece (1)
Ireland (2)
Italy (1)
Malaysia (1)
Nepal (1)
Poland (1)
Portugal (1)
Romania (1)
Scotland (3)
Sweden (1)
Wales (1)

My Progress:

38 / 51 states. 75% done!

2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

19 / 50 books. 38% done!

2022 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

20 / 25 books. 80% done!

2022 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge

My Progress:

65 / 53 books. 123% done!

Booklist Queen's 2022 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

43 / 52 books. 83% done!

Aussie Author Reading Challenge 2022

1 / 24 books. 4% done!

2022 Nonfiction Reader Challenge

3 / 20 books. 15% done!

2022 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

My Progress:

36 / 50 books. 72% done!

The 52 Book Club's Reading Challenge 2022

The 52 Book Club's Reading Challenge 2022

My Progress:

39 / 52 books. 75% done!

2022 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

38 / 40 books. 95% done!

2022 Support Book Bloggers Challenge

2022 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lady Outlaw: Fun Premise Marred By Faulty Execution

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After her father dies, it's up to 21-year-old Jennie Jones to keep the family ranch running.  But, as her savings dwindle and rival ranchers continue to steal her cattle, she's growing desperate.  So desperate that she comes up with a money-making scheme that's as repugnant as it is successful.  With the help of a greedy rogue, Jennie waits for a profitable stage coach robbery, then steals the bounty from the hapless thieves.  She gives the calculating Nathan Baird his cut and uses the rest of the funds to keep her ranch going.  It's not like she's the one committing a crime.  Right?  Even though Jennie knows it's wrong, she also knows that if she loses the ranch, she, her grandmother and her younger brother will be homeless, with no other family to take them in.  

As Caleb Johnson, a former bounty hunter with secrets of his own, wanders Utah Territory looking for work, he happens upon the fiery Jennie.  He's intrigued by her courage, her passion and her determination to save her family's ranch.  Still grieving the loss of his fiancee, Caleb's looking for somewhere to lick his wounds while earning the rest of the money he needs to start his own freight business.  When Jennie offers him a job as a ranch hand, he takes it, despite the fact that the pay is low and he can't rope a calf to save his life.  

The longer the two work together, the closer Jennie and Caleb become.  As their friendship deepens into something more, Jennie knows she has to come clean about her secret Robin Hood-ing.  But she can't.  Not until she scrapes up enough cash to stave off foreclosure.  She can't lose the ranch, not after she's sold her soul to the devil in order to keep it.  And yet, she can't stand to keep things from the kind, trusting Caleb.  If Jennie tells him the truth, though, she knows she'll lose him forever.  Caught between the love of her land and the growing feelings she has for Caleb, Jennie must make an impossible choice:  give up her thieving ways, and thus her ranch, or lose the only man she's ever loved.  

Fun premise, right?  I think so, too.  Lady Outlaw, a debut novel by Stacy Henrie, sounds like a lively story, just brimming with adventure and charm.  And it is.  Kind of.  The problem for me exists in the build-up—Henrie launches right into Jennie's problem without giving the reader a lot of background.  We don't really understand what kind of person our heroine is or how much her land means to her before she goes about stealing other people's money to save herself.  Thus, I think Jennie comes off as not just immoral, but also prideful and unsympathetic.  Personally, I just didn't care for her all that much.  So, there was that.  Plus, the story's far-fetched, the plot contrived and the writing only so-so.  Again, I think the premise has a lot of promise—it's the execution that's the problem.  Overall, Lady Outlaw tells a fun, entertaining adventure story.  But, it's got issues.  So, for me, the novel ended up being just okay.        

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

Grade:  C

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

To the FTC, with love:  I bought an e-copy of Lady Outlaw from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  
Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's A First For Me ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

So, this is a first for me—I've never reviewed a book without first reading it from cover to cover.  I'm not even sure I should give you my opinion on The Fiction Writer's Handbook by Shelly Lowenkopf without doing so.  But, here's the thing—it's not the kind of book you read from Page 1 to Page 328.  That would be like reading the dictionary from beginning to end.  Because this "handbook" is more of a reference than a how-to guide, if that makes sense.  Let me try to explain ...

Lowenkopf, who is now in his 80s, has worked as a book editor for more than thirty years.  He's also spent three decades teaching in the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California.  I think it's safe to say he knows his stuff.  So, when he set about writing a book about writing, he decided to "produce the book I needed when I was setting forth as a writer, a book you could pick up at any page and be led by your own needs and curiosity ... I wanted a book that showed the connective tissue between the tools of storytelling instead of telling me how to construct separate damned chapters" (15).  Thus, he penned The Fiction Writer's Handbook.  

The book is set up like a dictionary, listing 350+ literary terms from A-Z.  Each entry offers a definition of the word/phrase/concept, along with a history of usage and examples from well-known books, movies and even television shows.  Many entries also include helpful hints garnered from Lowenkopf's vast experience.  I found lots of common terms, with which I was already familiar (cliché, nuance, subtext, red herring, etc.) as well as many, many I had never heard before (The Choking Doberman, macguffin, mise-en-scène, and the pathetic fallacy—just to name a few).  Lowenkopf gives each concept a thorough examination, indeed showing how different techniques work together to create an effective story.  It is, by far, the most complete literary handbook I've ever encountered.

If you're a writer—a budding novelist, a blogger, even just a student of literature—you want this book.  It's a fabulous resource to have on hand.  I'm sticking it on my desk, where it will be easy to reach every time I encounter an unfamiliar literary concept or need tips on how to best utilize a certain technique in my own writing.  I can already tell that it's going to be an invaluable resource for me.  

Since I didn't read every word of The Fiction Writer's Handbook, I'm not going to give it a grade.  I'm just going to tell you that it's worth a look, especially if you have any desire to not just write fiction, but also see it published.  Lowenkopf's writing bible is thorough, precise and will be infinitely useful to myself and every other writer out there.  It's like taking one of the author's famous writing courses without having to pay thousands in tuition.  I call that a win-win situation.

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Fiction Writer's Handbook from the good folks at Premiere Virtual Author Book Tours.  Thank you!  

"Heyer-esque" Edenbrooke A Clean, Charming Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Marianne Daventry enjoys spending long, quiet days in Bath with her grandmother.  The peaceful interlude has been just the thing to help the 17-year-old deal with the untimely death of her mother.  Still, Marianne's getting antsy.  And that's not a good thing for a girl whose focus is supposed to be on turning herself into a proper young lady.  She's not at all envious of her vivacious twin sister, Cecily, who's enjoying a season in London, but Marianne wouldn't be adverse to experiencing a little excitement.  Especially when the alternative is listening to her grandmother's constant criticisms and—even worse—atrocious love poems from the dreadful Mr. Whittles.  

So, when Cecily invites Marianne to join her for a summer in the country, Marianne can't accept fast enough.  She's not looking forward to the social obligations she'll be expected to keep, but the vacation will certainly provide the diversion Marianne's been craving lately.  After all, Cecily's got big plans to woo and wed the Lord of Edenbrooke and she'll need her sister's help to make sure her scheming comes to fruition.  

But, when Marianne meets the infuriating, yet charming Philip Wyndham, everything changes.  Suddenly, what promised to be a sedate, sisterly summer in the countryside is becoming a whirlwind adventure full of danger, devilry and deception.  The man-catching madness has begun and Marianne hardly knows which to trust—the ambitions of her beautiful, fickle sister or the traitorous longings of her own heart?  Marianne must make a critical choice between love and loyalty, a choice that will mean betraying her sister or losing the only man she's ever wanted.  Forever. 

I don't read a lot of Regency romances, but when I do, I'm (almost) always thoroughly charmed by them.  There's just something about that gentle, bygone era that makes me smile.  And swoon.  Edenbrooke, a debut novel by Julianne Donaldson, provides plenty of chances to do both.  The plot's nothing super original, nor are the characters, but Donaldson's lighthearted prose keeps the story from feeling stagnant.  Most refreshing is the time the author takes to build the romance between Marianne and Philip.  Insta-love never feels authentic—this does.  Add in some intriguing twists and turns and Edenbrooke becomes a fun, romantic page turner that will appeal to teenagers and senior citizens alike.  Did the novel blow me away?  No, but still, I quite enjoyed this clean, charming read.

(Readalikes:  Although I've never read anything by Georgette Heyer, I keep seeing Edenbrooke referred to as "Heyer-esque."  It's also Austen-ish.  As far as modern comparisons go, it reminded me of books by Sarah Eden.)

Grade:  B

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Edenbrooke from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain (a division of Deseret Book). Thank you!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My First Ever Top Ten Tuesday: Auto-Buy Authors

I don't usually participate in Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish), but I think I'm going to start.  I love reading everyone else's TTT posts, so it stands to reason that I should be creating my own.  Yes?  Yes, I do believe it does.  So, here goes.  This week's list is about "Auto-Buy Authors," or authors you love/trust enough to automatically buy whatever they write.  Here are mine:

1.)  Kathy Reichs -- I love her forensic mystery series featuring the smart, snarky, Diet Coke-slugging Temperance Brennan.  Whenever I don't have access to free ARCs of Reichs' books, I buy them.  In hardcover.  That's how much I love her.

2.)  Jodi Picoult -- Even though Picoult's latest books haven't wowed me as much as her earlier novels, I still think this author on her worst day beats a lot of writers on their best.  Her books always keep me engrossed and make me think.  Definite auto-buys.

3.)  Maeve Binchy -- Unfortunately, this wonderful Irish author passed away recently, which means I won't be able to buy any new books from her.  I love all of her novels.  A Week in Winter recently arrived on my doorstep and I can't wait to read this last book from one of my favorite authors.

4.)  Neal Shusterman -- Although I'm way behind on my reading of this author's books, I have loved every Shusterman novel I've read.  I can buy his books with complete confidence, knowing I won't be disappointed.

5.)  Robyn Carr -- Adult romance is not a genre I read often, for lots of reasons.  Carr is my one exception to the rule.  I love the warmth of her novels and count them as definite auto-buys.

6.)  Tana French -- French is another Irish author whose books just blow me away.  Hers are very different than Binchy's, much more raw, but still, I've loved every one of them.

7.)  L.A. Meyer -- I love Meyer's Bloody Jack series so much that I'm reading it slowly so that I can savor each book.  They've got wonderful characters, vivid settings, fun plot twists, etc.  I'll buy anything Meyer writes, especially if it features Jacky Faber, one of my favorite characters in modern YA literature.

8.)  Marissa Meyer -- Meyer's a new YA author who's making a big splash with The Lunar Chronicles, a series of "rebooted" fairy tales.  I've loved the books she's written so far and hope to read many, many more novels by this talented lady.  

9.)  Cassandra Clare -- Clare's The Mortal Instruments series sucked me in so completely that I believe anything she writes will do the same.

10.)  Patrick Ness -- Even though I didn't love his A Monster Calls, I adored The Chaos Walking trilogy.  I know Ness has a couple novels coming out this year and you better believe they're on my Auto-Buy list.

Phew!  Now, it's your turn -- which authors do you love so much that you'll rush out and buy anything they write?  Do we have any favorites in common?  

At Least There's Chocolate ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

There are many words one could use to describe 25-year-old Jillian Parrish:  rigid, controlled, guarded, disciplined.  Flexible isn't one of them.  Adaptable or easily amused don't really fit either.  So, when Scott Gentry pulls a silly prank to get Jillian's attention, it backfires.  Big time.  Jillian's surprised by his sudden interest, but not at all impressed with his immature attempt at asking her out.  She'd rather spend the weekend cozying up to a bag of chocolate-covered cinnamon bears, thank you very much.

But a quiet weekend is not in the cards for Jillian, a would-be novelist who works for a small publishing company in Portland, Oregon.  When Jillian's long-lost younger sister shows up on her doorstep, cradling an infant, all chances of relaxing disappear.  On the run from her drug dealer boyfriend, 20-year-old Evie needs a place to hide.  Despite their estrangement, Jillian will do anything for her little sister.  Then, Evie disappears, leaving baby Shiloh behind.  Totally unequipped to deal with the situation, Jillian freaks out.  Her strictly-managed life is officially out-of-control.  

As Jillian struggles to cope, she discovers she's not as friendless as she believes herself to be.  With the help of her bishop's family and the (annoyingly) dependable Scott Gentry, she might just find her sister—not to mention the happiness she's been denying herself for so long.  But, with an angry drug dealer tracking her every move, a needy baby zapping all her energy, and a man she doesn't want to trust begging her to do just that, Jillian's becoming increasingly desperate and confused.  How can she wrangle herself and her niece out of the mess Evie's created for them?  The problem's too big to solve with chocolate, so the fiercely independent Jillian might just have to rely on the exact things she usually avoids—trust, love and the grace of a loving God.  

 It's no secret that I'm not huge on LDS fiction.  I want to be, I really do.  But the truth is, I can only stomach it once a year, when judging time for the Whitney Awards rolls around.  I wish it weren't so, but by nature, LDS fiction seems to lean toward the cheesy, the preachy and the melodramatic-y.  Of Grace and Chocolate, a romantic suspense novel by Krista Lynne Jensen, is just such a book.  The premise sounds intriguing, it does, but the plot relies way too heavily on coincidence and other contrived situations.  Flat characters don't help matters; neither does the far-fetched action or the tell-not-show writing.  Of Grace and Chocolate does move rather quickly, making it an entertaining enough read—as long as you don't care too much about character or plot development.  Which I, unfortunately for this book, totally do.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other LDS romantic suspense novels, although no specific titles are coming to mind since I usually avoid this genre like the plague)

Grade:  C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for scenes of peril/violence and references to illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Of Grace and Chocolate at last year's LDS Storymakers Conference with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  
Monday, February 25, 2013

Foster Mom Memoir Compelling Despite Dull Prose

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Cathy Glass, a British woman who's been a foster mother for over 25 years, is asked to take in an abrasive 8-year-old, she hesitates.  With a history of violent behavior, especially toward her mom, little Aimee Mason has been labeled "The Child From Hell."  Cathy's had plenty of experience with troubled children, but this one might be too much, even for her.  Still, she can't turn her back on a needy child, so she accepts the challenge of fostering Aimee.

The more Cathy gets to know her young charge, the more she realizes just how thoroughly Aimee has been abused.  As the little girl learns to trust her foster mother, Cathy hears stories that make her blood run cold.  Considering the horrifying home life Aimee endured, the only question is:  Why wasn't she removed from her home sooner?  How could the foster care system have failed a child whose name had been on their records since birth?  Cathy knows she can't let it happen again—she has to make sure Aimee never suffers that kind of abuse again.  But will the child's drug addict mother be sly enough to get Aimee back?  Or can Cathy save the child that everyone else has refused to give a second glance?  The life of a tortured young girl hangs in the balance ...

Cathy Glass has written a number of books—both fiction and non—based on the children she's fostered over the years.  The newest, Another Forgotten Child, is Aimee's story.  And it's just as appalling as it sounds.  Although the details Glass offers about the child's abuse are not as graphic as they no doubt could be, they're still plenty disturbing.  To think that a young girl had to endure all of it just boggles the mind.  Which is, no doubt, why Glass wrote this book.  She's obviously passionate about alerting the public to the abuse some children experience in their homes, encouraging healthy families to help by becoming foster parents, and inspiring adults to stand up for kids who are being mistreated.  Glass' cause is admirable, of course.  Her delivery needs some work, though.  Although the story chronicled  in Another Forgotten Child is compelling, Glass uses dull, tell-not-show prose, making the narration a bit bumpy.  All in all, I found the book impactful, I just wish the writing had been more dynamic.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the books Torey L. Hayden wrote about the children she helped while working as a teacher and therapist)

Grade:  C

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language, violence, and depictions of severe child abuse/neglect

Saturday, February 23, 2013

An Enjoyable Book for Mothers and Daughters? Voilá! Guilt Assuaged.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The readers in my family constantly complain that I never take their reading recommendations.  When I open my mouth to protest these vicious accusations, I often realize they're right.  It's not that I don't respect their opinions—it's really not—it's just that I often have more pressing reading assignments to which I have to attend.  Still, I have guilt.  Lots of guilt.  So, a couple weeks ago, when my 11-year-old daughter asked me to read the first book in one of her favorite series, I saw a golden opportunity to redeem myself.  And, while The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick didn't knock my socks off or anything, I'm glad I read it, if only so my young reader knows that I do value her opinion.  Very much.

The story revolves around four 6th grade girls in Concord, Massachusetts, who are thrown together when their moms decide to organize a mother-daughter book club.  Emma Hawthorne—who comes from a bookish family and wants to be a writer when she grows up—is okay with the idea.  In theory.  In fact, if her best friend's mother hadn't traipsed off to New York City to star in a soap opera, it might even be a fun thing for her and Jess Delaney to do with their moms.  But, for now, Jess only has a father, so awkward doesn't even begin to describe the situation.  Then, there are the other girls:  Megan Wong is a middle school A-lister, whose friends delight in making life miserable for girls like Emma and Jess, and Cassidy Sloane's a mischievous tomboy who can't talk about anything but sports.  How are four such different girls supposed to get along long enough to choose a book, let alone meet every month to discuss it?

Plenty of ups and downs mark the girls' lives as the year moves on.  And the silly book club isn't making things any better.  Or is it?  As the group continues to read and talk about Little Women, they learn some surprising truths about each other—and themselves.  

First off, I have to say that I love the idea behind this series.  It's a lot of fun.  The story in this first installment reflects that because, while it does deal with things like bullying and parental criticism, it remains both upbeat and lighthearted.  Frederick provides plenty of laughs to offset the more serious parts of the plot.  I did find the characters in The Mother-Daughter Book Club a little cliche, the writing a bit bumpy, and the ending way, way, way too neatly tied up.  Overall, though, it's a cute book that teaches some good lessons about family, friendship and the power of forgiveness.  My daughter has already stacked the next four MDBC books on my desk—and I plan to read them.  If the first installment is any indication, they're fast, fun novels that can be enjoyed by mothers and daughters alike.  Voilá!  Guilt assuaged.    

(Readalikes:  Other books in The Mother-Daughter Book Club series)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for nothing offensive—the book is just geared toward readers aged about 9-12

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed The Mother-Daughter Book Club from my daughter's personal library.  I believe she got it from her school librarian as a prize for reading lots of books (must be genetic :]).    
Friday, February 22, 2013

TGIF - Time to Hop!

It's Friday and that means it's time for the Book Blogger Hop.  If you haven't heard, the Hop is being revived by Billy over at Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.  It works the same way it always has -- sign up on the Linky at Billy's blog, the Hop around and visit the other blogs on the list.  The point?  To find new book blogs, visit old favorites and have a good time.  It's fun, trust me!

So, the question of the week is:  Do you prefer reading printed books or using an e-reader?

- Well, not so long ago, I refused to even hold an e-reader in my hand.  I loved "real" books too much—I loved the feel of them, the smell of them, the whole bit.  Then, NetGalley came along and I needed a way to read e-galleys (I still won't read a book on my computer!).  So, I caved and bought a Kindle Fire.  And guess what?  I love it.  I didn't think I would, but I do, I really do.  These days, I still mostly read printed books, but I enjoy a fair amount of e-books (most of which are e-ARCs), too.  I'm no longer anti e-readers because I believe what Stephen Fry said:  "Books are no more threatened by [e-readers] than stairs by elevators."  Too true.

If you're new to BBB, welcome!  I'm so glad you're here.  Please take a moment to look around my blog, make a comment (or two or ten) and, most importantly, come back often.  I promise to return the favor.

Happy reading!
Wednesday, February 20, 2013

...And We Have a Winner!

Susan Holly is the lucky winner of a copy of Pam Jenoff's newest historical, The Ambassador's Daughter.  I've already heard from her, so her book will be on the way shortly.  Congratulations, Susan (love that name)!

Thanks to everyone who entered.  If you didn't win this time, no worries—I'll have lots more giveaways coming up soon.  Thanks, as always, for reading and supporting BBB.  It means a lot to me :)

Happy reading!

The False Prince Is Getting Lots of Attention and It's Easy to See Why

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Sage isn't planning on living in an orphanage his whole life, but that doesn't mean he's willing to leave his home with just anybody.  Especially not a man like Bevin Conner.  A nobleman who claims to be on the king's errand, Conner obviously has ulterior motives for gathering up orphans.  And, no matter how much he's roughed up for it, 14-year-old Sage doesn't plan to stick around to see what those sinister plans might be.  He's going to escape—now.  
When Sage hears Conner's idea, though, he's intrigued.  With the country on the brink of civil war, the nobleman, who truly is one of the king's regents, has a crazy plan to reunite it.  He's searching for a boy who can pass for the king's long-lost son, a boy who can impersonate a prince well enough to fool even the most discerning royals.  A boy to rule, a boy to become the next king of Carthya.  The catch?  In order to live in the palace, to sleep in comfort, to dine on sumptuous feasts, to act the part of a spoiled royal, Sage must prove he can act the princely part better than the three other orphans Conner has nabbed.  If he loses the competition, he'll be killed.  As little as Sage likes the idea of playing prince, he likes the idea of dying even less.  So, he agrees to participate in Conner's deadly little contest.

As the competition heats up, Sage realizes he's involved in a game far more complicated than he ever realized.  He can trust no one.  One false move can mean instant death, or worse.  With his life on the line, Sage must figure out what Conner's really up to—before it's too late for them all. 

With lots of buzz in the blogosphere, a Cybil for best book in Middle Grade Fantasy & Science Fiction, and now a Whitney Award nomination (as well as lots of other honors), The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen has been getting a lot of attention lately.  It's easy to see why—the book's a fun, action-packed thriller guaranteed to pull young (and old) readers in and keep them riveted until its very last word.  It's predictable in a lot of ways and I wasn't thrilled with the "big reveal" as it felt like cheating on Nielsen's part.  Still, The False Prince has plenty of action, adventure and intrigue, which makes it a fast, exhilarating read sure to appeal to anyone who enjoys a good yarn.  And, really, who doesn't? 

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

Grade:  B

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

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The False Prince from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.   
Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I Mean, C'mon, What's Not to Love?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for The Madness Underneath, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, The Name of the Star.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Ever since Rory Deveaux's explosive run-in with a ghostly Jack the Ripper-like killer, she's been kept in Bristol under the close watch of her parents.  She misses her friends in London desperately, especially her fellow Shades, with whom she could discuss the bizarre business of ghost-hunting.  No one in Bristol knows the truth about her.  No one can know.  Not her parents, not her therapist, no one.  Rory can't tell them that she sees ghosts and she especially can't tell them about her new-found ability to send apparitions away forever—all on her own.  Somehow, Rory has become a human terminus.  She carries inside her the very power the Shades need to eliminate London's malevolent spirit population.  The Shades need to know what's going on with Rory, but she's been told to keep quiet, not to contact her ghost-fighting colleagues.  Ironic, since she needs them now more than she ever has.  

When her therapist decides—seemingly out of the blue—that Rory needs to return to London in order to regain the control she's lost over her life, Rory's shocked.  And thrilled.  She needs the Shades and they need her, especially since there's a new killer in town.  Rory's convinced the grisly murders aren't what they seem, but the others aren't so sure.  Can she persuade the Shades to help her investigate before it's too late?  And, if it comes to that, will be able to use her new powers against another entity, no matter how sinister it might be?  As Rory struggles to understand herself and her place among the ghost hunters, she'll face her greatest challenges yet.  Maybe she'll even come out of them alive.

If you loved The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (like I did), you'll love The Madness Underneath (available February 26, 2013).  Everything that drew me to the first book—humor, strong voice, appealing characters, etc.—continued to charm me in the second.  Rory's as lovable as ever.  Her new adventures, while not wholly original, still intrigue and entertain me.  Again, while there's some gore in the story, the novel's surprisingly clean.  If you're hesitating on this series (I was, thinking it would be dark and bloody), don't.  It's fun, engaging, and getting better with each book.  I mean, c'mon, what's not to love here?

(Readalikes:  The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson; it also reminds me of Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake)

Grade:  B

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received and ARC of The Madness Underneath from the generous folks at G.P. Putnam's Sons (a division of Penguin Young Readers Group).  Thank you!
Monday, February 18, 2013

Gentle Family Drama Sprinkled With Pure Magic

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There are many things 39-year-old Abby Brink doesn't know about her father—like where he's been for the last 40 years and why he left in the first place.  She's heard stories about him all her life.  Some of them can only be myths, made-up tales to explain the great emptiness her mother's felt ever since Sam Winston disappeared.  Because, surely, the skies don't weep over human folly and walnut trees don't stop producing fruit when their favorite son vanishes, never to return.  These things can't be true, but Abby believes them because she, too, has a Sam-shaped hole in her heart.

When Abby finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she doesn't know how to feel.  It's not that she doesn't want a child, it's only that she thought her time had passed.  Like her relationship with the baby's father.  Not knowing what else to do, she heads home to Missouri.  She craves the quiet and calm she can only find at Walnut Ridge, the land once owned by the Winston Family, now cared for by Abby's mother, Gretchen.  

But, a mysterious tornado blows in just ahead of Abby, leaving something odd in its wake:  a man.  The stranger can't remember who he is or how he arrived in Walnut Ridge.  Abby, Gretchen and Gretchen's blind  aunts are all convinced he's Sam Winston.  Others believe he's a con man, out to steal Gretchen's heart, along with her land.  Is the man really Sam, or are the women just seeing what they want to see?  And if it is Sam, will he reveal the damning secret Gretchen's been keeping all this time?  What will happen if the truth comes out?  Can Gretchen survive having her heart ripped apart again?  Can Abby?  

There's much to praise about Susan McBride's newest novel, The Truth About Love and Lightning.  First, there are the complex, but relatable characters; then, the vivid, atmospheric setting; also the story's gentle, engaging tone; and, of course, the mysticism that lends an otherworldly magic to this compelling family drama.  I pretty much adored everything about the book.  It kept me reading, it kept me hoping, it kept me smiling, it kept me believing.  If you enjoy uplifting stories that renew your faith in the powers of family, forgiveness and love, then this is most certainly the book for you.  Give it a whirl and you'll see what I mean.    

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can really think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:  B+

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Truth About Love and Lightning from the generous folks at Harper Collins.  Thank you! 


More Proof That Cozies Just Aren't For Me ...

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(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Easter Bunny Murder by Leslie Meier, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier books featuring Lucy Stone.  As always, I recommend reading  books in a series in order.)

Spring in Tinker's Cove, Maine, just wouldn't be Spring without the annual Easter egg hunt at Pine Point.  Owned by Vivian Van Vorst, one of the richest widows in the country, the gleaming oceanfront estate screams luxury and wealth.  Everyone knows the eggs hidden all over VV's lawn are just as likely to contain pricey gift certificates as chocolate candies.  No one in the little tourist town would miss the annual Easter egg hunt, especially not VV, who looks forward to hosting the event every year.  So, when reporter Lucy Stone arrives at Pine Point with her 3-year-old grandson, she—along with many of her neighbors—is stunned to find the gates of Pine Point locked.  She's even more shocked when a giant Easter bunny stumbles across VV's lawn and drops dead just inside the gates.  

The man inside the bunny suit is Van Vorst Duff (nicknamed "Duff"), VV's 46-year-old grandson.  And, while it appears he died of natural causes, Lucy's not so sure.  Something's amiss at Pine Point, she's almost positive.  Then, Van's snooty sister and her husband move into the mansion, claiming VV can no longer care for herself.  When their shyster lawyer appears, expensive items start disappearing from the home.  Lucy's convinced the couple and their hired man are plotting ways to get their hands on the millions VV will leave behind when she dies—an event they seem intent on hurrying along.  Lucy refuses to stand by and watch VV, who's always given generously to community projects and charities, get fleeced out of her fortune.  But, sticking her nose where it doesn't belong is a dangerous pastime, one which is pushing Lucy right into a killer's path ...

I'm not huge on cozy mysteries.  That's common knowledge around here.  In general, I find them predictable, filled with lackluster writing, cliché characters, and far-fetched plot twists.  All of that is true of Easter Bunny Murder, the 20th installment in Leslie Meier's cozy mystery series featuring Lucy Stone.  The story moves along pretty quickly, so it's entertaining as long as you don't expect too much out of it.  Since I"m not big on these kinds of books in the first place, I won't be revisiting this series.  If you, however, are a cozy fan, you might want to give it a try.

P.S.  If you want a chance to win this book as well as others in the series and some chocolate-y Easter treats, click on the widget below and enter BookTrib's fun giveaway:

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other cozy mystery series, particularly Joanne Fluke's books featuring Hannah Swenson)

Grade:  C

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 Easter Bunny Murder from the generous folks at BookTrib.  Thank you!    
Friday, February 15, 2013

It's Baaaaaaack!

Once upon a time, the Book Blogger Hop was a huge, really popular weekly event here in the book blogosphere.  I had tons of fun with it, especially because it introduced me to awesome new blogs to read as well as keeping me up-to-date on some of my old favorites.  Then, for various reasons, it kind of lost steam. I forgot about it, you forgot about it, it was kind of forgotten (although never abandoned by its intrepid host, Crazy For Books).  Well, guess what?  The Book Blogger Hop is back!  It's gotten a teensy facelift as well as a new host.  I'm excited to see how this new-old Hop goes.

As for the weekly question, it is this:  What upcoming 2013 book are you most looking forward to reading?

- Well, there are tons, of course, but the one that comes to mind most readily is Orleans by Sherri L. Smith.  It's a dystopian YA by an author who usually sticks with historical YA (Flygirl) or contemporary YA (Lucy the Giant).  So, I'm interested to see how she does in this new genre.

I've actually had the ARC for awhile, but I'm holding off reading it until we get closer to the book's publication date in March.  It's been a tough wait, though!

How about the rest of you?  What 2013 releases are you most excited about?

For those of you who are new to BBB, welcome!  I hope you'll take a look around, leave a comment (or two or three or ten) and, most of all, come back often.  For you old reliables, thank you!  Your enthusiasm and devotion makes writing this blog so very worth it.

Happy Reading!    
Thursday, February 14, 2013

Slow, Snore of a Story Too Dull For My Tastes

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Still reeling from the unexpected death of his mother, the last thing 13-year-old Jack Baker wants is to be shipped off to boarding school.  But that's exactly what has happened.  Jack longs for Kansas and the home he's left behind.  Maine just isn't the same.  Even with his Navy captain father stationed nearby, Jack couldn't feel more adrift.  It's not like he really knows his father—a strict man who's been fighting in the European Theater for the last four years—but he'd rather be in Kansas with him than living on the shores of the Atlantic with a bunch of boys he doesn't know.  Jack's mother would have listened to his concerns; his father doesn't care.

It doesn't take long for Jack to realize he'll never quite fit in at Morton Hill Academy for Boys.  He's a hick, who gets nauseous just looking at the ocean.  Boats are as foreign to him as the moon—he certainly doesn't know how to row like the other boys.  And that's just the most noticeable difference between him and the others.  When Jack meets Early Auden, a strange kid who's mostly ignored by Morton Hill's staff and student body, he knows he's finally made a friend.  No one else hangs out with this oddest of boys, but with Early, Jack feels tolerated, if not accepted.  

When Early hatches a crazy plan to track an (allegedly) extinct bear, Jack wonders if his new pal might be not just weird, but actually insane.  And yet, Jack finds himself following his crazy friend on a wild adventure along the Appalachian Trail.  On the way, they'll encounter pirates, mountain men, and all sorts of other strange characters.  Will they locate the great Appalachian bear?  Or will the startling truths they discover about themselves be enough of a treasure to satisfy the young adventurers?

The best words I can think of to describe Navigating Early, a new middle grade novel by the Newbery Award-winning Clare Vanderpool, are the same adjectives with which the boys of Morton Hill labeled Early—strange, odd, weird, etc.  It really is a different kind of book, one that I'm just not sure its target audience is going to appreciate.  The story starts slowly, drags through the middle, and finally picks up at the end.  The question is, will young readers stick around that long?  Because, like I said, it's a strange little book.  And the tale pretty much centers around math.  I mean, its real themes are friendship, loyalty and overcoming grief, but there's a lot of talk about the number pi.  Odd for a children's book.  The writing itself isn't bad, it's just that the story scoots along at such a snail's pace that I grew bored with it very quickly.  Honestly, if I hadn't been reading it as part of my volunteer work at my kids' school, I wouldn't have gotten past the first couple chapters.  I just can't imagine young readers seeing it through to the end either.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain)

Grade:  C+

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

To the FTC, with love:  I borrowed a copy of Navigating Early from my children's elementary school library as part of my volunteer work with the school's homegrown reading program.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Promise of Stardust A Thoughtful, Decent Read

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Astronaut Elle McClure walked away from a threatened space mission unscathed—Matt Beaulieu is pretty sure his fearless wife can survive anything.  But when Elle suffers a traumatic brain injury after falling off a ladder, she slips into a coma from which, experts say, she's unlikely to awaken.  As much as he hates to let her go, Matt knows Elle had strong opinions about prolonging the lives of people in vegetative states.  She didn't want to suffer a slow, agonizing death, the way her mother did.  Maybe Elle never put her wishes in writing, but Matt is 100% sure his bright, adventurous wife would not want to waste away in a hospital bed.  And he's prepared to honor her wishes, however difficult it might be for him to take her off life support.  
Then, Matt receives news that changes everything:  Elle is eight weeks pregnant.  After suffering through multiple life-threatening miscarriages, the 38-year-old is carrying a baby who appears to be healthy.  Matt knows there's only one thing that would have made Elle reconsider her desire not to have her life lengthened by artificial means—the chance to bear a child.  It was the one thing she wanted above anything else, the one thing she longed for, hoped for, would have sacrificed her own life for (and nearly did).  Matt knows this and he's determined to make the decision in her place, no matter what anyone else thinks of his choice.  

Living with himself, though, is an entirely different thing.  As Matt watches his wife's body shut down, he's wracked with torment.  How can he do this to the woman he's loved since childhood?  It doesn't help that his plight has turned into a media circus, bringing all kinds of journalists and protesters right to his front door.  Even his mother doesn't trust his judgment.  With a court case looming, Elle's body shutting down, and Matt's emotional state becoming more fragile by the hour, it's a race against time to save the person that matters most to Matt—but is that his wife or his baby?  

In her debut novel, The Promise of Stardust, Priscille Sibley puts her characters into an impossible situation.  Through them, she examines complicated themes like love, family, and the rights of comatose people and unborn children.  Hot button issues, all.  As a neonatal intensive care nurse, Sibley obviously has strong feelings about the issues, as well as the knowledge and compassion to address them in an open-minded, yet sensitive manner.  Still, the situation felt a little unconvincing to me.  The characters who opposed Matt's decision to keep Elle alive came off as callous and cold-hearted.  Maybe this comes from the story being told by only one narrator (Matt), but I found myself unable to sympathize with anyone but him (and Elle, of course).  And I didn't even find Matt particularly likable!  So, yeah, I would have liked a better rounded story with a cast I cared more about.  Having just read Lone Wolf, a Jodi Picoult novel with a similar premise, I've decided I like Picoult's multiple-narrator approach a lot more than Sibley's Matt-only format.  The former just provides a fuller, more thought-provoking story.  

So, what did I think of The Promise of Stardust, overall?  It's decent.  The characters didn't do a lot for me, the writing's a little bumpy and the main situation just didn't seem all that convincing to me, BUT the novel was still thoughtful and interesting.  It definitely kept me turning pages.  Did it knock my socks off?  No, but it held my interest well enough.  For the most part, it's a decent read.   

(Readalikes:  Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult)

Grade:  B-

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Promise of Stardust from the generous folks at Harper Collins.  Thank you!
Saturday, February 09, 2013

Online Gaming Meets the Apocalypse in New Dystopian Thriller

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Pandora Walker's as plugged in as the next teenager.  Like all her friends, the 17-year-old spends hours texting on her cell phone, scrolling through Facebook updates, and playing her favorite virtual-reality games.  But when her laptop starts interacting with her—well, that's when things get really weird.  
It all begins when Pandora opens a mysterious e-mail, supposedly from her long-lost father.  Downloading the included attachments triggers a chilling message from her favorite online game:  Beat the Game.  Save the World.  Pandora's sure the whole thing is just some elaborate prank, but when the Internet crashes, the phone lines quit working and cities around the nation go dark, she's convinced that this is no joke.  She has to believe what she's reading on her computer screen—in ten days, life as she knows it will end.  The only way to save it?  Beat a terrifying, very real version of Pandora's Box, the most popular virtual reality game in the world.  Pandora hasn't even mastered the original—how is she supposed to conquer this one?  It's impossible, but she has to play.  And win.

When the FBI shows up on her doorstep, accusing Pandora of cyber terrorism, she realizes she's going to have to save the world on the run.  Along with her neighbors, two stepbrothers she barely knows, Pandora's racing across the South trying to figure out game clues that are astonishingly personal.  With chaos reigning on the streets, surviving in the real world's becoming just as dangerous as fighting monsters in the game.  Even if she can level up enough to beat Pandora's Box, she might not survive looters, street gangs and the government agents who won't give up until they have her behind bars.  As the world falls to pieces around her, Pandora plays as well as she can, as fast as she can—but it may not be enough to save herself, let alone the planet, from total annihilation.

Although the plot of Doomed, a new YA dystopian thriller by Tracy Deebs, gets confusing, it's engrossing enough to keep readers engaged.  The gaming aspect keeps the story (somewhat) fresh, although there's plenty of the same ole, same ole as far as dystopian elements go.  I found Pandora sympathetic, but annoying, especially since her affections kept flip-flopping between her two travel companions.  Fickle much, Miss Walker?  Also, the story gets a little far-fetched (okay, a lot far-fetched).  Overall, though, I found Doomed to be a fast-moving, action-packed thriller compelling enough that I digested it pretty much in one sitting.  It didn't bowl me over or anything, but I still enjoyed the read.     

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a bit of The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken and Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon)  

Grade:  B-

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of Doomed (via NetGalley) from the generous folks at Bloomsbury.  Thank you!
Friday, February 08, 2013

Frozen A Tidy, But Decent Historical Mystery

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Eleven years ago, in the middle of a fierce snowstorm, 5-year-old Sadie Rose was found in a snowbank, frozen almost to death.  She hasn't uttered a word since.  Only vague memories of that night remain, which is just as well.  Why would Sadie Rose want to remember the night she wandered into the blizzard looking for her mother, only to discover the woman had drunk herself to death?  It was better this way, wasn't it?  Instead of growing up in the brothel where her mother worked, she's being reared in a senator's home, enjoying all the luxuries his wealth can buy.  So what if the Worthingtons won't officially adopt her?  This life is infinitely better than the one Sadie Rose would have had otherwise.  Isn't it?

When Sadie Rose finds some old photographs of her mother, a powerful curiosity is awakened inside her.  Who was her mother, really?  What led her to succumb to a life of prostitution?  And what really happened on the night she died?  As Sadie Rose tries to make sense of the blurry images that haunt her memory and learn the truth about her past, she makes an even more powerful discovery—her voice.  But what she has to say could ruin reputations, if not lives.  And there are people out there who would gladly silence her forever ...

Set during a tumultuous time in history—a time of Prohibition and dirty politics—Frozen by Mary Casanova is a stirring drama about the eternal struggle between the powerful and the powerless.  Sadie Rose is a sympathetic heroine with a worthy goal.  It's easy to root for her success.  The novel's plot moves swiftly, keeping the story chugging along.  It feels contrived in places and the ending's too tidy, but all in all, it's a decent mystery that's both atmospheric and affecting.        

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little bit of Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)

Grade:  B-

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of Frozen from the generous folks at University of Minnesota Press (via NetGalley).  Thank you!

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Ambassador's Daughter Another Absorbing, Atmospheric Thriller From Jenoff (With a Giveaway!)

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Paris, 1919—Even as the world's leaders gather to discuss how to proceed after the Great War, Margot Rosenthal's growing weary of the city.  Brought to France by her father—a German Oxford professor who's been granted diplomatic status in order to attend the historic conference—Margot is bored and lonely.  Still, the 20-year-old's not in any great hurry to return to her home country.  The moment she steps onto German soil, she'll have to face her fiancee, Stefan.  Although he's still recovering from serious battle wounds, Stefan wants to proceed with their marriage as soon as possible.  He's waited four years to make Margot his bride; he refuses to delay it any longer.  Margot knows it's cruel to prolong their separation, but she hardly knows Stefan anymore.  Does she love him?  She's not sure.  Can she marry him, even if it's only out of guilt and pity?  She knows she must.  Just not yet.

When Margot meets Georg Richwalder, a handsome German naval officer, she can't deny the attraction she feels toward him.  Offering to help him translate important documents for the conference is a way to not only get closer to him, but also to alleviate her boredom and do something valuable for a change.  Working so closely with Captain Richwalder puts her in an awkward position—and not just because she's engaged to another man.  Paris is filled with would-be saboteurs who would do anything to get their hands on the papers to which Margot has access.  Even threaten her father.  

Torn between her feelings for Georg, her concern for her father and her anxiety over her impending marriage, Margot must decide what—and who—she really wants.  How much is she willing to sacrifice in order to chase her own dreams?  In days as tumultuous as these, is it smarter to play things safe?  Or is it the perfect time to take a few risks?  

The Ambassador's Daughter, a new historical novel by Pam Jenoff, is a fast-paced romantic thriller set in the tension-filled days that bookended the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.  Although it gets predictable in places, the novel's plot moves fast enough to keep the story interesting.  My biggest beef with the book is actually Margot.  While I felt some sympathy for her, I mostly thought she was too selfish to be truly likable.  Plus, she's a little slow on the uptake.  Those irritants notwithstanding, I enjoyed this atmospheric and suspenseful tale.   

(Readalikes:  The publisher compares The Ambassador's Daughter to Anna Karenina.  I haven't read the Tolstoy classic, so I don't know how apt that comparison is.  The story reminded me a little of other Jenoff novels, especially The Kommandant's Girl and The Diplomat's Wife

Grade:  B-

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Ambassador's Daughter from the generous folks at Harlequin/MIRA via those at Book Trib, for whom this review was written.  Thank you!


Thanks to the good people at Harlequin/MIRA, I have one copy of The Ambassador's Daughter to give away.  If you're interested in entering the drawing, please leave a comment on this post.  Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win.  The giveaway is open to readers with U.S. and Canadian addresses only.  I will choose a winner (well, will) on February 20th.  Good luck! 
Tuesday, February 05, 2013

So. Much. Fun.

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At first glance, The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women looks like any other East Coast boarding school.  But that's just its cover.  No one would ever guess the school's real purpose—to train the next generation of super spies.  Gallagher Girls may look like ordinary teenagers, but they're not; they're the best, the brightest, the most elite spies-in-training on the planet.

The daughter of two legendary spies, 15-year-old Cammie Morgan can't wait to put the skills she's learning at Gallagher Academy into action.  She just never imagined she'd be practicing covert operations on the hot guy she meets in town one evening.  If only she could talk to Josh without sounding like an idiot, Cammie wouldn't have to hack into his computer or tap his phone to get to know him better.  But she can't.  She's tried.  And, she definitely can't "be herself" around him because everything about who she is is classified.  What's a love struck super spy to do?  Get her man by any means possible, of course!  Will her first mission be a roaring success or a miserable failure?  How about a little of both ...

Considering the book cover and title, it doesn't take a genius (or a super spy) to figure out that I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter is a whole lot of fun.  It's one of those light, funny stories that just makes a person smile.  The tone is upbeat, the story moves swiftly, and there are some plot curves to keep the reader guessing (a little).  Yeah, yeah, it's predictable, but who cares?  This is a delightful beginning to a popular series that I should have picked up a lot sooner than this.  Did I mention how totally fun it is?  

(Readalikes:  The other books in the Gallagher Girls series [Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy; Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover; Only the Good Spy Young; Out of Sight, Out of Time] and Heist Society by Ally Carter)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  PG for mild language and a (very) little innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
Monday, February 04, 2013

My Dirty Little (Reading) Secret—Brace Yourself!

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"We don't have to be monsters.  We still get to choose" (17).  

As much as I love dystopian novels, I've been a little reluctant to venture into the grittier side of the genre.  I'm just wimpy that way.  Because while I enjoy walking on the dark side once in awhile (fictionally speaking, of course), I can only handle so much bleakness in my reading.  Thus, I've mostly stuck with YA dystopians, leaving the adult versions to hardier readers.  I have fewer nightmares that way.  

I should have known Megan (of Leafing Through Life fame) would lead me astray.  Her reviews are just too darn convincing.  She tempted me with this intriguing recap of White Horse by Alex Adams and like the proverbial lamb, I was led right to the slaughter.  Believe me, I tried to resist—I even put the book down several times.  Not for long, though.  The story Adams tells is just too dang compelling.  I had to read it.  And fast.  So I did.  I liked it, too, even though I'm kind of ashamed to admit it.  Because as absorbing as the  novel is, it's also very raw and extremely graphic.  Disturbing in the extreme.  It's like a Stephen King novel, just with more succinct and clever prose.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's back up and talk plot:

White Horse revolves around Zoe Marshall, a 30-year-old widow, whose life has been pretty ordinary up until now.  Now being the end of the world.  A vicious plague has swept the planet, killing 90% of Earth's population.  Zoe's one of the few survivors, although she's feeling anything but lucky.  Without electricity, medical supplies, gasoline or any of the "necessities" she's used to having, she might as well be living in the Dark Ages.  What's left of the world's population has gone mad, willing to steal, maim, even murder in order to ensure their own survival.  It's all so hopeless that Zoe probably would have given up long ago if it wasn't for a man.  She's fallen hard for her psychiatrist, Nick Rose, and she refuses to die until she finds him.  But trekking through a bleak, broken Europe is not easy, nor is it safe.  Danger lurks around every corner, hiding in the shadows of this empty, changed world.  Zoe can't trust anyone because, diseased or not, they've all become monsters ... Clinging to her tattered faith in humanity, she soldiers on, wondering how long it will take before she, too, turns into something completely unrecognizable.  

Yeah, I know.  The book sounds interesting—it is interesting.  Too interesting.  And well-written to boot.  Adams knows how to manipulate language so that it's both raw and beautiful, violent and lovely.  She's creative, too, able to twist a plot in ways the reader never sees coming (the last line of the novel is brilliant, I tell you, absolutely brilliant).  And, while White Horse is relentlessly gory and graphic, it's also unyieldingly hopeful.  Overall, it's a complex, convincing novel that makes me eager for the next installment in the series (I know, I know!).  I can't emphasize this point enough, though:  White Horse is not for the feint of heart.  Proceed with caution because, once you start reading it, you will not be able to stop.  You've been warned.  

(Readalikes:  Although I haven't actually read the book, The Road by Cormac McCarthy comes to mind.  Also, The Passage by Justin Cronin.)

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language, violence, gore, sexual contact and all-around disturbing content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of White Horse from Barnes & Noble with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  
Saturday, February 02, 2013

YA Murder Mystery Set in the Big Easy? Yes, Please!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I've tried and tried to write a plot summary that does justice to Out of the Easy (available February 12, 2013), a new historical YA novel by Ruta Sepetys, but it's just not happening.  The jacket copy says it well enough:
It's 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in a police investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.

Should she avoid Jesse, the mysterious motorcycle boy? Can she trust Patrick, her best friend at the bookstore? Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in a quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.
What the blurb doesn't quite capture is the richness that just oozes out of this very compelling novel.  From its colorful setting to its memorable characters to its heartbreaking plot twists, it's impossible not to feel this one.  Deeply.  I empathized with Josie from the very first page of her story to the last, which made her plight both personal and affecting.  The tale is a gritty one, to be sure, but it's also engaging, engrossing and inspiring.  Bottom line:  I loved it.

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

Grade:  B+

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Out of the Easy from the generous folks at Penguin.  Thank you!
Friday, February 01, 2013

Winner, Winner Cinder Dinner

So, my Cinder giveaway has come to an end.  I know, I'm sad, too.  It's been my most successful contest of all time!  I'm so glad it's brought new readers to BBB and introduced this great YA series to more people.  Sharing the book love is the whole reason I write this blog.  Passing on my excitement and enthusiasm for something I love just makes me happy :)

You have no idea how much I want to give you ALL a copy of Cinder.  Alas, I can't.  But, Rafflecopter has chosen one lucky winner.  That would be:

Rachel Girard

Congratulations, Rachel!  If you will please send me your mailing address (blogginboutbooksATgmailDOTcom), I'll pass it on to the Macmillan publicist who's running the whole Lunar Chronicles show (and doing an amazing job at it!).  She'll be mailing out the book.  

Thanks to the rest of you for entering the contest.  I appreciate your comments, your support, and your giddy, geeky book craziness!  It makes everything I do here so very worthwhile.  If you didn't win this time, please stay tuned—there will be lots more giveaways to come in 2013.  Promise.  

Oh, and if you haven't noticed it yet, check out the review I posted today.  It's Scarlet—squee!  I can't wait until this one comes out so you can all read it and geek out with me.  Have I mentioned that I love this series?  Maybe just a time or two ...

"Rebooted" Fairy Tale Series Just Keeps Getting Better

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

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

Scarlet Benoit has always loved her grandmother's farm near Toulouse, France.  From the earliest years of her life, it's been the 18-year-old's home, her sanctuary, her paradise.  The quiet, country life suits Scarlet, just as it does her grandma.  Which makes the elderly woman's disappearance even stranger—Michelle Benoit never would have left her farm, or her granddaughter, voluntarily.  The police may not agree, but Scarlet knows this to be true.  Something sinister has happened to her guardian.  And Scarlet intends to find out what.  She won't rest until her grandmother, the only real parent she's ever had, is back at the farm, safe and sound.

When Scarlet meets Wolf, a mysterious street fighter, she's intrigued—and not just because she thinks he might know about her grandmother's disappearance.  Something about the dangerous stranger makes her heart beat a little faster.  She doesn't want to, but trusting Wolf may be her only chance to rescue her beloved guardian from the clutches of a bloodthirsty gang.  Can Scarlet make it in time to save her?  And what do these people want with gentle Michelle Benoit?  Wolf says the old woman is keeping secrets, but that can't be.  Can it?  

Meanwhile, miles and miles away, Linh Cinder—the world's would-be savior—has been imprisoned by the ruthless Lunar queen.  To stop the evil woman from brainwashing the entire populace into submission, Cinder must find a way to fight.  With the help of charming "Captain" Carswell Thorne, a 20-year-old airman on the run, she'll give it her best shot.  But will that be enough to save Earth from a power-hungry queen with limitless power?  Will it be enough to rescue the man she loves from the woman who would make him her slave?  

As the fates of Scarlet and Cinder intertwine, the tug-of-war between the Lunars and Earth's population continues—with control of the planet as the ultimate prize.  Cinder holds the key to victory, if only she can figure out how to use it.  In the meantime, there's a grandmother to locate, a prince to rescue, and a deadly plague to stop.  It's a race against time, which is quickly running out ...

You may remember back in December when I gushed about Cinder, the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer.  Well, guess what?  Scarlet (available February 5, 2013), the second novel, is just as good.  How often does that happen?  Not often at all.  It starts with a new character, sure, but that doesn't matter as Scarlet's plight soon becomes just as compelling as Cinder's.  Plus, the viewpoint alternates between Scarlet and Cinder, guaranteeing the reader will never get bored with either story line.  With intriguing characters, plenty of action, and some fun plot twists, Scarlet keeps up the intensity that makes the Lunar Chronicles such a delightful series.  The only downside?  I have to wait another year to read more.  Boo.    

(Readalikes:  Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

Grade:  A

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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Scarlet from the generous folks at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan).  Thank you! 
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