Monday, September 30, 2013

Casinos and Secrets and Magic, Oh My!

So, you may have noticed that I've been on quite the YA dystopian kick lately.  What can I say?  It's been one of my favorite genres ever since it became a thing.  Still, a lot of the time, reading post-apocalyptic novels is kind of like watching re-runs of a show you once liked.  The concept continues to appeal, but the delivery gets old pretty darn fast.  And yet, a few recent discoveries (The Hallowed Ones and The Outside by Laura Bickle; Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis) give me hope that there's still some originality to be had in this very saturated genre.  We'll see.

In the meantime, here's one that looks promising to me:  Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston.  My ARC of the book hasn't arrived yet, so you're going to have to settle for a little teaser/spotlight thing.

If you haven't heard of Frozen, here's a quick synopsis:
Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice.  Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing.  But some things never change.  The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.                                                                                                                                                                               At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out.  Like many, she's heard of a mythical land simply called "The Blue."  They say it's a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise.  Most importantly, it's a place where Nat won't be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.                                                                                                                                                           But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson.  Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other.  But can true love survive the lies?  Fiery hearts collide in this fantastic tale of the evil men do and the awesome power within us all.  

Okay, yeah, it sounds a wee bit like every other YA dystopian out there.  Except it's set in a Vegas that's frozen and dead, but still alive.  That's enough to grab my interest right there.  I also like the road trip aspect as well as the deep, dark secret element.  How about a little look-see at the trailer to pique your interest even more?  Here you go:


    
Cool, right?

Here's another fun fact:  Melissa de la Cruz—the best-selling author of the Blue Bloods series as well as lots of other books for teens—and Michael Johnston are married.  To each other.  They collaborate on all their books, from rough drafts to final edit.  Fun, huh?  To promote their newest venture, they've written a series of guest posts that will appear on a handful of blogs, one of which belongs to Yours Truly.  Here's what the authors have to say about creating characters for Frozen:


One of the pleasures of writing in the young adult genre is to create characters who are young in age but wise beyond their years. In the world of Frozen, because cancer is a matter not of 'if' but 'when', the life expectancy rate is in the thirties, which means that when you are fifteen, you are middle-aged. This was partly inspired by an article we had read about the former Soviet Union, where the life expectancy rates in 2000 for males was 58.  Compare that to the life expectancy in the U.S. which is 82. Twenty years shaved off your life just for living in a different country. It's mind-boggling.

It was fun to create Ryan 'Wes' Wesson, who at sixteen is a military veteran. He's only a boy, but he's seen so much of the world, survived wars, seen devastation and cruelty, but at heart, he's a softie. The brave new cold world expects its citizens to be tough, to be selfish, to be as cruel as their new environment, but Wes keeps his humanity intact. Mike and I fell in love with him from the first time he steps on stage in our book, when he turns down a mouth-watering steak because the price to eat it (giving up his soul) is too high. We love a good steak and we know how hard it was to turn it down! J

If you want to read more from Mel and Mike, you can check out their guest posts on these fantastic blogs:



So, what do you think?  Does Frozen sound like your kind of adventure?  I'm anxious to give it a go.  How about you?

(Book image from Barnes & Noble; synopsis and guest post provided by Penguin)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

352 Pages of Blood, Gore and Not Much Else

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When the world erupts in a sudden explosion of unimaginable violence, everyone's shocked and confused.  Well, maybe not everyone.  Some—those to whom the darkness speaks—know precisely what's happening.  They welcome the chaos, the destruction.  The rest cower in fear, not understanding how or why their neighbors, friends and families have turned into such vicious, blood-thirsty monsters.  They're not zombies or werewolves or vampires, but something else, something that looks human, but acts like a feral animal.  No one's safe from the creatures, so consumed are they by beating, maiming, torturing and killing anyone who shows signs of retaining even an ounce of their humanity. 

Four teenagers—Mason, Aries, Clementine and Michael—struggle for survival in this strange new world.  All are worn down by what they've seen, what they've had to do.  They're traveling the same road, ultimately heading to a place that's rumored to be safe.  But, what will they really find when they reach Vancouver, B.C.?  A refuge or just more death and despair?  Can the darkness be outrun?  Defeated?  With so few real humans left in the barren, empty world, it's up to the four kids to figure out how to not just survive, but also triumph against a powerful, ancient enemy.  How will they achieve such a lofty goal, though, when they barely know each other, let alone trust each other?  And will their efforts be in vain when they discover the secret one of the teens is desperately trying to keep hidden?

Dark Inside, a debut novel by Canadian author Jeyn Roberts, offers readers an adrenaline-fueled, action-packed story that will engage even reluctant readers.  It's dark, though, and thick with violent, gory scenes.  In fact, that's about all there is to this tale—the writing's nothing special, the characters lack depth, and there's little that's original or surprising about the plot.  The kids spend all their time running from the bad guys, making no real progress toward solving the problem or saving the world.  Without that kind of plot development, Dark Inside is basically 352 pages of  blood-gushing, gut-spilling horror which, let me tell you, gets really old, really quick.  I checked the book's sequel, Rage Within, out of the library at the same time I did Dark Inside with the intention of reading the novels back-to-back.  When I finished the latter, though, I decided I'd had enough gore.  Since I didn't care enough about the characters to read on, I didn't.  'Nough said.  

(Readalikes:  Its sequel, Rage Within; also reminds me of The Road by Cormac McCarthy and other post-apocalyptic novels)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs) and violence/gore

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

In the After Not Quite In-Thralling Enough

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Amy Harris doesn't know from where They came.  She doesn't know why They chose to attack Earth.  She has no idea how to eradicate the plague that is Them.  All the 16-year-old can do is hide behind the electric fence that keeps the monsters away from her Chicago home, keeping the lights off and making as little noise as she can.  Silence isn't that difficult when you're alone in a vacant city, an empty world.  Still, Amy's learned to tiptoe and taught herself and Baby—the toddler she found in an abandoned supermarket—to communicate in simple sign language.  It's the only way to stay alive when they're forced to venture beyond the safety of the fence.  

When a new enemy threatens to invade their fortress, Amy knows it's time to leave.  But where will she go, especially with a small child?  Rescue comes in a most surprising way, landing Amy and Baby in a place that should feel safe.  So, why doesn't it?  As Amy discovers the shocking answers to her most baffling questions about Them, she begins to realize just how much she's risking by staying.  Leaving is suicide, but what choice does Amy have?  She'll protect Baby with everything she's got, even if it means forfeiting her own life.  The only question is where will the child have the best chance for survival?  And what will Amy have to sacrifice to get her there?

Even though the YA market is saturated with dystopian novels, most of which are clichĂ©d copycats, I can't stop reading them.  Occasionally, I stumble across one that makes me glad I haven't given up on the genre yet.  Unfortunately, In the After, a debut novel by Demitria Lunetta, isn't one of them.  The monsters are a little different, but everything else in the story is pretty much been-there-done-that.  Pacing-wise, the tale moves right along, making most of its 450 pages fly by.  Still, if the book had been shortened, the plot tightened up, the characters fleshed-out and the prose enlivened, it would have been a much more enjoyable read.  As is?  Meh.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of Orleans by Sherri L. Smith as well as other YA dystopian/horror novels)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
    

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Compelling, Well-Written YA Amish Horror Novel? Yes, Please!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Katie's lived all her life in a secluded Amish village, interacting very little with the "English" world outside of it.  She's content there.  Really, she is.  And while she'll probably do exactly what everyone expects her to do—be baptized into the Amish religion, marry her best friend, Elijah Miller, and stay in the community for the rest of her life—Katie just wants a little taste of the outside before making any big commitments.  That's what Rumspringa is all about.  She intends to enjoy the experience fully.  Then, and only then, will she be able to decide what she really wants for her future.  She should probably be terrified to leave the only life she's ever known—even temporarily—so why does the thought of it thrill her so?

Before Katie gets even a tiny taste of freedom, forces from the outside begin encroaching on her quiet, gentle world.  At first, it's just whispers, rumors of some nameless evil terrorizing the English.  Then, Katie gets her own glimpse, though of what she's not sure.  

To protect their people, the Amish elders close off their community, allowing no one in and no one out.  Katie wants safety as much as anyone else, but when an injured stranger is turned away without getting the help he so obviously needs, she hesitates.  Then, she hides the handsome Canadian, knowing full well that it could lead to her own banishment.  As Alex describes the horrifying things he's seen on his journey, Katie realizes that by hiding an outsider, she's putting herself and her people in more danger than even she can imagine.  Can she turn Alex out, even if it's for the greater good?  Can she risk telling the elders what she now knows, even if it leads to her own exile?  Will God protect them all from this unthinkable evil?  Or is it up to Katie to save herself and her loved ones?  As danger creeps ever closer, with everyone she's ever loved in its direct path, she'll have to decide whether to trust the elders or follow her own instincts—even if they lead her straight to hell.

The market is so saturated right now with YA dystopian and horror novels that it takes a lot to make one stand out from the crowd.  So, how does The Hallowed Ones, Laura Bickle's first YA novel, manage to do just that?  Easy.  Bickle took an old idea, changed up the setting, added an intriguing heroine, mixed in a community of interesting folk, sprinkled on some compelling philosophical questions and molded it all together using the right tools: heart-pounding action, a twisty plotline, a forbidden romance and, most of all, tight, solid prose.  VoilĂĄ!  She crafted herself a winner.  But, The Hallowed Ones goes even further than that—its more serious, contemplative tone makes it even more unique, as does its ruminations on faith, religion, and the consequences of both obedience and rebellion.  I've heard other reviewers say that because of these things, this book feels more New Adult than Young Adult.  That may be true, but it really doesn't matter—I'd recommend this one to anyone (well, anyone over 16 or so) who loves a good horror story that's as substantial as it is satisfying.  It really is that good.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of its sequel, The Outside, also a bit of The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan)

Grade:  



If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I bought an e-copy of The Hallowed Ones from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Which Language Do You Speak?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Since I'm probably the last person on Earth to read this one, I'll try not to get too wordy with the "plot" description of Dr. Gary Chapman's popular book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.  Basically, Chapman—a long-time pastor and marriage counselor—believes that each person receives love most meaningfully through one of five approaches:  Touch; Words of Affirmation; Acts of Service; Receiving Gifts; and Quality Time.  This is his or her Primary Love Language.  The next most appealing one is their Secondary Love Language.  This means that while a wife may enjoy receiving jewelry or hearing how amazing she is, if the things that really melt her heart are her husband's offers to make dinner when she's too tired to do it herself or to fold the laundry so she doesn't have to, her Primary Love Language is probably Acts of Service.  Other "languages" may speak to her, but this is the one that really lets her know she's loved and appreciated.  

Why is knowing your own and other people's love languages so important?  As Chapman explains, this information can literally transform your relationships.  Speaking specifically to married couples, the author urges spouses to discover their own Primary Love Language as well as their partner's so that they can show love to each other more effectively.  Want to really show your husband how much he means to you?  Try doing it in his love language, not your own.  For such a simple concept, it's actually quite revolutionary.  Chapman offers numerous examples of how this knowledge helped couples he worked with create happier, more fulfilling marriages.  He offers suggestions on how to apply the same principles in your own home.  In subsequent books Chapman also discusses how this approach can be used in parenting young children and teenagers; dating; getting along with others in the workplace; and in dealing with a military marriage. 

The 5 Languages is quick, readable and uplifting.  It offers not just practical tips for improving relationships, but also hope that even the rockiest marriages can be saved with the unselfish application of the principles in the book.  Since even the most solid unions need strengthening sometimes, the book's information applies to all of us.  It truly is an easy, inspiring read and one I highly recommend.  

For lots of free, online information about The 5 Love Languages, visit:  http://www.5lovelanguages.com/

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Guess I should read more relationship-y books, eh?)

Grade:

       

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  I purchased a copy of The Five Love Languages from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  
   

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

TTT: What I'm FALLing For This Autumn


It's Tuesday again and, although I'm feeling a little under the weather, I'm excited for this week's TTT.  Especially since we've got a nice, easy topic this time around.  Sometimes, I can't think of one item that fits the weekly prompt, let alone ten, but when it comes to books I'm planning to read, that's easy as pie (although I don't even attempt to make pie because it's way too hard, so that's probably a crap analogy ... whatever).  So, without further ado (Wait! One quick ado—Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish), I give you Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List:


1.  Monsters by Ilsa J. BickThis is the final book in Bick's dystopian Ashes trilogy.  I adored the first installment in the series, was a little less impressed by the second, and can't wait for the third.  If you like zombie novels, definitely give these a try.


2.  More Than This by Patrick Ness—Ness' Chaos Walking series is one of my very favorites, so I was excited to learn that the author published TWO new books this year.  While The Crane Wife, an adult magical realism novel, sounds interesting, it's the YA novel that really interests me.  In it, a boy who's pretty sure he drowned wakes up in a strange, alternative world that vaguely resembles the place he lived as a child.  It's up to him to figure out what in the world is going on.  Sounds good, right?


3.  Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein—Like lots of other readers, I found Code Name Verity a unique and compelling read.  The author's much-anticipated new book is another WWII thriller that's supposed to be just as amazing as her debut novel.


4.  A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron—I just finished The Dark Unwinding, the first novel in Cameron's YA steampunk series about a girl who discovers the strange, but intriguing world her eccentric grandfather inhabits.  The next installment sounds just as entrancing.  I can't wait to read it!


5.  Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson—I enjoyed Donaldson's debut novel, Edenbrooke, and am glad to see that her newest is getting rave reviews.  Good, clean reads are difficult to find, so I'm excited about this one.


6.  SYLO by D.J. MacHale—This one's been out for a little while now, but I haven't gotten a chance to dive into it just yet.  It's about a boy living on an isolated island who witnesses several cold-blooded murders that lead him to try to escape.  It's supposed to be a "high-octane," apocalyptic thriller—how could I not be drawn to this one?


7.  The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason—Bram Stoker's sister and Sherlock Holmes' niece team up to solve the mystery of disappearing debutantes in this YA mystery/steampunk/romance.  Sounds fun, no?


8.  Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston—I just received an invitation to be on the blog tour for this one.  This dystopian thriller is about a young blackjack dealer who risks it all to flee post-apocalyptic Las Vegas for the mythical "Blue," a place where beauty still exists—if only she can survive to see it.  Sounds a little clichĂ©, but still intriguing.                                                  


9.  Dead Girls Don't Lie by Jennifer Shaw Wolf—I love novels about the terrible secrets that tear people apart (I'm just sadistic like that), so this one, about a girl who's trying to figure out how her friend really died, sounds like it will be right up my alley.


10.  Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller—Stories about kids raised in unique situations (cults, remote villages, etc.) trying to integrate into the "normal" world always intrigue me.  This one, about a girl who's been raised off-the-grid by the mother who kidnapped her and is released to her father after her mom is arrested, sounds super compelling.

What do you think?  Any of these sound good to you, too?  What's on your Fall TBR list?

* Book images from Barnes & Noble

Monday, September 16, 2013

Can a Newbie Author Pull Off Such an Ambitious Plot? Well, No, Not Really.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

School and 17-year-old Tyler MacCandless don't get along very well.  It's not that he doesn't try.  He does.  And it's not that he isn't smart enough.  He is.  It's just that his ADHD makes it difficult to sit still, impossible to concentrate.  It's a whole lot easier to pretend he doesn't care.  Blowing off class to spend quality time with his game console is more to Tyler's liking anyway.  And, if he does it well, it might even lead to a real job.  That's what Rick Anderson, an Air Force vet who's become Tyler's mentor and father figure, says.  He's given Tyler an amazing new game to test—if Tyler can reach a high enough score, he can earn his way into flight school.  At the very least, the game keeps his mind off his other problems: failing grades, his workaholic mother, and an older brother who's in rehab trying to get clean.  

Ani Bagdorian is a brilliant, 16-year-old computer programmer from L.A.  A freshman at Yale, she's feeling just a little out of place.  At least her secret job designing software for a mysterious company called Haranco pays for most of her tuition.  Even if the whole situation makes her feel a little uneasy.  Still, she doesn't dare quit, not if she wants to keep herself out of jail.  

When Tyler and Ani meet, the two are instantly attracted to each other.  Not that they're allowed to have any kind of relationship.  Haranco won't allow it.  But the more the two learn about the dangerous game they're both playing, the more sure they are of one thing:  something screwy's going on.  And they're going to get to the bottom of it, whether Haranco likes it or not.  With a powerful corporation tracking their every move, the pair will have to use every ounce of smarts, sense and courage they've got to solve the mystery before people get hurt—people who include not just themselves, but everyone they love.  

While the premise behind Playing Tyler, a debut YA thriller by T.L. Costa, sounded intriguing, it also seemed ambitious.  Maybe too ambitious for a newbie author.  Turning a plot that already sounds far-fetched into something believable—well, I just wasn't sure Costa could pull it off.  And she didn't, not really.  Still, there were things the author did right, things that surprised me, things that made the novel more entertaining than I thought it would be.  Tyler, for one—the thoughts constantly pin-balling around in his head, echoed in the stacatto rhythm of his narration, as well as his hot-tempered, half-baked ideas and actions just seemed right-on for a teenage boy with ADHD.  After reading a few chapters of the book, I actually said aloud to my husband, "Wow, no wonder [a kid we know]'s the way he is, if this is what goes on in his head all day."  So, that at least seemed authentic to me.  The rest?  Not so much.  Costa's prose definitely impressed me more than I thought it would, but Playing Tyler's still full of contrived plot twists, under-developed characters and a storyline that should have been trimmed in order to create a stronger, tighter narrative.  I ended up enjoying this one, more or less, but it's still a pretty average thriller, in my (oh, so humble) opinion.  And yet, Costa is an author on which I'll definitely be keeping me eye.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver)

Grade: 

If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual innuendo/content, depictions of underage drinking/illegal drug use, and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Playing Tyler from the generous folks at Strange Chemistry via those at BookSparks PR.  Thank you!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bookish Me, From A to Z

I've been wanting to do this fun A to Z Survey ever since I saw it posted over at The Perpetual Page Turner.  Everyone else's responses to the questions have been so fun to read that I decided to give it a go.  Enjoy!  Oh, and if you posted your answers, will you leave me a link?  I'd love to stop by and see what YOU had to say.

Author you’ve read the most books from:

I'm not a frequent enough user of Goodreads to look there for help with this one, so who knows if this answer's accurate or not, but I would guess Jodi Picoult.  I've read every book she's written except the two or three newest.  She's definitely one of my faves!

Best Sequel Ever:

I'm going to go with Scarlet by Marissa Meyer.  I loved Cinder so much that I was a *little* bit afraid to read the sequel.  Turned out, I had no reason to fear.  In Scarlet, Meyer introduced a whole new set of characters with their own storyline, which was disorienting for a second.  But only a second.  Then, it was awesome!  The new cast was just as compelling as the old, plus Meyer kept the action going strong and used the continuing plot from Cinder as a parallel, then intersecting, storyline in Scarlet.  I think I just made it sound a whole lot more confusing than it is.  Just trust me on this one, Scarlet's a fine example of a sequel that gets everything right.  

Currently Reading:

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron.  Why didn't I pick this one up earlier?  I'm devouring it.

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Most of the time, I go with a nice, big glass of ice water.  I'm just boring like that.

E-reader or Physical Book?

I used to rage endlessly against e-books.  Then I got a Kindle Fire.  And I didn't hate it.  In fact, I sorta loved it.  I still read more *real* books than e-books, but I like the flexibility that  owning a Kindle gives me.  This quote from Stephen Fry sums up my feelings on the subject exactly:  "Books are no more threatened by [e-readers] than stairs by elevators."

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:

I don't know, probably someone sweet and nerdy, like Simon from The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer.  This swashbuckling YA novel really didn't sound like my kind of thing, but lots of bloggers were raving about it, so I decided to give it a try.  It ended up being a huge favorite.  

Hidden Gem Book:

Can I cheat and use the answer above for this one, too?  

Important Moment in your Reading Life:

I didn't realize it at the time, but deciding to keep an online reading journal changed my reading life forever.  It was the earliest incarnation of this blog.  Creating BBB opened up my reading world in ways I couldn't even fathom back in the day.  

Just Finished:

Not A Drop To Drink by Mindy McGinnis -- It's one of the most frightening YA dystopians I've read in a long time because it presents a scenario that could actually happen.  Plus, it's intriguing, well-written and peopled with compelling characters.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

Erotica -- just, no thanks
Poetry -- usually I'm too dense to understand it
Boring Non-Fiction -- zzzzzzzzz

Longest Book You’ve Read:

Hm, I don't know for sure.  Probably something by Stephen King.  Or Brandon Sanderson.

Major book hangover because of:

A couple years ago, I had a thyroidectomy, followed by two rounds of iodine radiation therapy.  While radioactive, I couldn't leave my bedroom, so I spent lots of time reading.  During the first round, I read the first three books in The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare back-to-back.  The story definitely kept me entertained, but man, I was in some pain afterward: my eyes stung, my head throbbed and my hands hurt from holding those big, ole tomes.  

Number of Bookcases You Own:

I have bookcases all over my house, but there are 5 main ones.  I haven't posted pictures of my brand new, 9 feet tall x 12 feet long beauty, but heck, there's no time like the present.  Here's the unfilled version:

I'm about 5'5", so that gives you an idea of this bookcase's crazy bigness.  I LOVE it!  I'll post the filled and frou-frou-ed version later.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

I'm not much of a re-reader, although I've read both Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins twice—does that count?

Preferred Place To Read:

My reclining couch or in my adjustable bed.  Yes, I am a senior citizen.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:


I can't think of a book-specific quote, but I like this one from Stephen King:  "Books are a uniquely portable magic."

Reading Regret:
I regret not having re-read the Harry Potter books yet.  I enjoyed them all as they came out, but haven't gone back  to re-enjoy them yet.  I definitely need to do that—and soon!

Series You Started And Need To Finish(all books are out in series):

It would take me years to list all the series I've started and haven't finished yet.  'Course, most of them are still being written.  So, for this question, I'll choose ... the original Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books:

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

The Hunger Games series.  Even if the movie didn't quite capture its essence and my husband now thinks I'm a cold-hearted monster for loving the story, even then, I adore it.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:

I've been waiting and waiting to get my hands on The Shade of the Moon, a new entry in Susan Beth Pfeffer's YA dystopian series.  The story officially ended with This World We Live In, but we fans pressured her to continue the story and voila, she did!  The good folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently sent me an ARC and I can't wait to dive into it.

Worst Bookish Habit:

Probably eating while I read.  I can't count the number of times I've dripped something on a page or marred it with a greasy fingerprint.  Unforgivable, I know.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:

Since I have about a bajillion bookcases, I chose the behemoth that houses all my adult review books (see photo above).  The top left section houses non-fiction, so the 27th is Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman Cooks.  I've had this cookbook since it came out and haven't even cracked the spine yet.  What's wrong with me??

Your latest book purchase:

Probably The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.  I love his quirky, creepy stories, but this one's getting mixed reviews so I've been hesitating to read it.  I'll get to it eventually.

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts.  The book wasn't even that good, I just wanted to finish it, even though I knew reading it late at night was going to give me nightmares.  Which it totally did.  
So, what do you think?  Did you learn anything new about me?  Have you done this survey on your blog?  If so, let me know as I'd love to come learn more about you and your bookish life.  If you haven't done the A to Z survey yet, do, it's a whole lot of fun!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Miss Monk on the Small Screen? Never Fear—You Can Still Find Him in Your Library (He'll be the One Dusting the Lightbulbs).

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you've seen an episode of the t.v. show Monk (and who hasn't?) you'll understand why I love its title character so much.  Adrian Monk, especially as portrayed (to perfection) by the incomparable Tony Shalhoub, is quirky, fun, hilarious and just all-around charming.  If you're not familiar with OCD-afflicted Detective Monk, never fear, you can watch the series on Netflix.  If you've seen every episode and still can't get enough, no worries, you can check out the 15 Monk mysteries Lee Goldberg wrote.  Bummed that Goldberg's moved on?  Not a problem.  Hy Conrad, one of the original writers of the t.v. series, has taken over where Goldberg left off.  Mr. Monk Helps Himself is the first of Conrad's Monk novels and, guess what?  Reading it is just as delightful as watching Monk solve cases on the small screen.  

Like the other Monk novels, this one is narrated by Natalie Teeger, Monk's assistant.  Having returned from a sojourn in New Jersey, she's back in California helping Monk keep his OCD in check long enough to aid the San Francisco Police Department with their toughest cases.  Determined to become more than just Monk's babysitter, she's studying for the exam that will make her a licensed private investigator.  Once she's legal, Natalie will become her boss's partner.  Until then, she's the "unlegendary, underpaid and overworked ... assistant to a brilliant and very stubborn six-year-old" (2).  

To get a little breather from her hectic life, Natalie sneaks off to a seminar led by a successful self-help guru named Miranda Bigley.  She purposely lies about her whereabouts so her boss won't pester her to dust his already spotless lightbulbs or call fifty times to moan about his newest phobia.  And yet, somehow, he finds her.  Monk's raving about cults when Miranda walks right off a seaside cliff, plunging to her death.  The police call it a suicide, but Natalie knows better.  How could someone who spent her life helping people find happiness be miserable enough to kill herself?  It makes no sense.  No one else seems to care about poor Miranda, especially not Monk, who's hard at work trying to catch a serial killer.  Natalie won't give up on it, though.  She's going to find her heroine's killer if it's the last thing she does.  With two cases to solve, an exam to study for and Monk to hand-hold, Natalie's got a lot on her plate.  Can she do it all and pass her P.I. exam, too?  Or is she destined to be Monk's babysitter forever?

As you can probably tell, the book remains true to the lighthearted tone of the t.v. series.  Not that it doesn't have its gory parts.  It does.  But, overall, Mr. Monk Helps Himself is a quick, enjoyable read that won't tax too many of your brain cells.  If you're looking for a complex, nuanced mystery, look somewhere else.  If, on the other hand, you simply want a funny, upbeat story, well, you've found your next read.  Whether you're an old Monk fan or a new one, chances are, you're going to enjoy the ride.     

(Readalikes:  I haven't read them, but I assume the Monk mysteries by Lee Goldberg are very similar)

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


 for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and sexual innuendo/references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Mr. Monk Helps Himself from the generous folks at Obsidian (a division of Penguin) via those at Premier Virtual Author Book Tours.  Thank you!

Hey Bessica, You Want a Little Cheese With That Whine?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Bessica Lefter just wanted a new look for the first day of sixth grade.  That's all.  The 11-year-old never thought she'd lose her best friend, Sylvie Potaski, over one unfortunate haircut.  But Sylvie's mother has declared Bessica a bad influence and enrolled her daughter at a different school.  Left to figure middle school out on her own, Bessica's not exactly adjusting well.  She can't get her locker open, let alone deal with the psycho-bullies who torment her daily.  It doesn't help that her grandmother, the one person she can always talk to, is off on some cockamamie, six-week long RV trip with her dorky boyfriend.  Bessica's miserable—why aren't her parents and her beloved grandma getting this?  No one seems to understand.  If only she could convince Sylvie's mother to let the girls hang out again, or find some way to sabotage Grandma's trip, or find a way—any way—to fit in at her new school.  Joining the cheerleading squad seems to be the way to go, but what if that ends up just as disastrously as everything else?  Can Bessica find a way to survive middle school?  Chances are not looking good ...

I picked up The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter by Kristen Tracy because it looked like a quick, cute read.  And it was, just in kind of a generic, been-there-read-that kind of way.  Bessica's a fun narrator and sympathetic—at least to a point.  After a while, though, her constant misery starts to get old.  As she continues to wallow in her own self-pity, never reaching outside herself for a solution to her unhappiness, she just gets more self-centered and whiny.  In a character-driven novel, an annoying heroine is not a good thing.  In the end, The Reinvention of Bessica Lefter teaches a valuable lesson about finding your own way, but the uplifting message wasn't quite enough to counteract the book's irritating main character.  

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

Grade: 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find 


Saturday, September 07, 2013

New Dairy Queen Novel as Satisfying as an Oreo (Or Two, Or Three, Or Four ...)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Sarah Zorn and Curtis Schwenk (yes, he's one of the sports-obsessed Schwenks from Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen series) are such good friends that people tease them all the time about being boyfriend and girlfriend.  They're not.  No one else needs to know that, though, so they pretend to be madly in love.  It's their "Brilliant Outflanking Strategy."  The only problem with the plan is that 14-year-old Sarah's played her role a little too well—she's developing some real, but definitely inconvenient boy-liking feelings for Curtis.  Her out-of-whack emotions are messing with her head.  Good thing her zany Grandma Z just presented her with a blank journal in which to chronicle all her adventures (which, so far, only exist in her imagination).  She'll use it to figure out her wonky relationship with Curtis, her best friend or maybe more-than-a-best-friend (although that one might be an only-in-Sarah's-dreams kind of thing, too).  

When Grandma Z begs Sarah's parents to let Sarah accompany her on a vacation in Rome, she's a little nervous.  As fun as her grandma is, even Sarah knows she's not the most responsible adult in the world.  Plus, Curtis worries like no one's business—will her BFF (or maybe-more-than-a-BFF) survive without her?  In the end, she goes despite her concerns, deciding the trip will offer her not just an adventure, but also a chance to clear her head without Curtis around to mess with her pinballing thoughts.

As it turns out, though, she's just as confused in Rome as she is in Red Bend, Wisconsin.  Her grandma's acting strange—well stranger.  Which isn't helping Sarah figure anything out.  But, as she delves into some deep family secrets, she learns a lot about her grandmother and herself.  Maybe the answers to her problems with Curtis are in there somewhere, too.

If you enjoyed the Dairy Queen books (like I did), you'll find lots to love about Murdock's newest YA novel.  It's geared toward an older middle grade/younger teen audience than the other books, so it's tone is a little bit lighter.  Nonetheless, it's full of Murdock's signature upbeat, witty style.  Sarah's a fun, enthusiastic narrator, one to whom it's easy to relate.  Heaven is Paved With Oreos is a quick, appealing read that's sure to please Murdock's many fans while gaining her legions of new ones.   

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Murdock's Dairy Queen novels [Dairy Queen; The Off Season; and Front and Center

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for some mild sexual innuendo and brief references to sex, including homosexuality 

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Heaven is Paved With Oreos from the generous Catherine Gilbert Murdock.  Thank you!

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Queen's Vow Another Rich, Compelling Historical From a Master of His Craft

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When her father, the king, dies, 4-year-old Isabella of Castille is cast out of the royal residence along with her mother and brother.  Her much-older half brother, Enrique, takes the throne.  The crown supports Isabella's family, but only just.  They're given a new residence, but live in relative poverty, wholly dependent on King Enrique for living expenses.  Not that Isabella's complaining—she enjoys living at ArĂ©valo, where she rides horses and pals around with Beatriz de Bobadilla, her feisty lady-in-waiting.  Some believe she's the rightful heir to Castille's throne, but Isabella's content with her less dramatic lot in life.

Isabella's summoned back to court when she's 14.  King Enrique, it seems, now desires to know his estranged family.  While Alfonso, Isabella's younger brother, is delighted with this turn of events, Isabella's less enthusiastic.  She's not impressed by "the gilded deception of the court, the furtive whispers, barbed glances, and constant plotting that made the alcazar seethe like a viper's nest" (211-12), especially when she realizes she is only a pawn in a much larger game.  With King Enrique's (probably) illegitimate daughter set to ascend the throne after her father's death, pure-blooded Isabella's got a viable claim to the throne.  She doesn't want it—until, after years of being pushed around by the kingdom's different factions, she's ready to take control of not just Castille, but also of her own future.

By the time Isabella ensures her place as Castille's next queen, her kingdom is falling apart.  Beset by corruption, violence and war, it's quickly running out of money and lies vulnerable to invaders from every corner.  Isabella must somehow unite her people, while protecting Castille from enemies both within and without her kingdom.  Heartbreaking, difficult decisions must be made in order to keep Isabella on the throne—just how much will she risk to keep her position?  Everything.  And more.

The Queen's Vow, C.W. Gortner's second book about Spain's queens (The Last Queen concerns Isabella's mother, Juana) is, like his other novels, rich with historical detail, rife with courtly drama and intriguing in its every facet.  Not only does Gortner know how to make a setting come to life, but he is especially skilled at portraying history's great queens as, above all, complex, passionate, flawed human beings.  It's impossible not to feel for Isabella, who manages to carve out her own destiny despite all the forces that try to control her, silence her, imprison her, dethrone her and even kill her.  Her story's an exciting one, perfect for readers who enjoy compelling, well-written novels based on royals who really lived and breathed.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Gortner's other novels, especially The Last Queen)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Queen's Vow from the generous folks at Ballantine Books (a division of Random House) via those at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  Thank you!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

New Proper Romance Enjoyable Despite a Few Wrinkles

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

The Great Famine devastated thousands of Irish families, causing widespread starvation, disease and death across the Emerald Isle.  Katie Macauley knows the horrors of that dark period only too well.  Though but a wee lass during its most miserable points, the 26-year-old can't forget the terrible losses the Famine brought to her family.  Or the suffering she herself caused them.  Her only hope is to rectify her mistakes.  The harder she works, the more money she can save to put toward that goal.  As soon as she earns enough, she will return to Ireland, buy back her father's land, and set everything she ruined to rights again.  That trip can't come soon enough for the determined Katie.

In an effort to earn money faster, Katie accepts a position as housekeeper in the home of a farmer living in the Wyoming Territory.  From the correspondence she's received from her employer, Katie's expecting to wait on an elderly gentleman.  She's shocked to discover that "elderly" Joseph Archer is less than 10 years older than she and is the father of two young girls.  She's even more incredulous when he refuses to hire her the minute he hears her broad Irish brogue.  Unbeknownst to Katie, she's landed herself in the middle of a vicious town feud between Hope Springs' American residents and its Irish immigrants.  When stubborn Katie manages to secure the position she came to fulfill in spite of her roots, she earns the ire of one side of the conflict and the respect of the other.  The Irish housekeeper doesn't want any of it—all she cares about is collecting the paychecks that will buy her passage on a ship home.

Whether she likes it or not, Katie must choose a side in the brewing battle.  It doesn't help that her heart's torn between two men, one Irish, one not.  Katie knows she can't give her loyalty to anything or anyone, not until she's paid her debt to her family in Ireland.  But, with each day she spends in Hope Springs, it becomes harder and harder to leave.  In the end, she can only follow her heart.  The question is: Where will it take her?

The second novel (after Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson) to be published in Shadow Mountain's new Proper Romance line, Longing for Home by Sarah M. Eden does what a proper romance should—it tells a wholesome love story in a pleasing format that's not going to make anyone blush.  It's clean, it's fun, it's readable.  The story's vintage Eden, just in a more modern setting and with a tragic back story that makes it a more serious novel than her others.  Eden's gift for writing amusing banter between her male and female characters shines especially bright in Longing for Home.  Overall, it's an enjoyable book.  I would just leave it at that, but of course, I had a few issues.  My biggest beef was Katie herself.  Although she's a sympathetic and courageous character, she's also a very self-absorbed one.  I'm still not quite sure why all the other characters loved her so much—she didn't really do anything and the things she did do mostly just benefited herself.  Add that to a few other irritants—the story's ending is pretty anti-climactic, one arm of the love triangle doesn't get any kind of resolution (I know there's a sequel in the works, but still ...), Katie's inner conflict seems really weak, etc.—and I ended up liking, but not loving this one.  I remain an Eden fan, I just hope she works out some of these story wrinkles in the next book (Hope Springs, coming in Spring 2014).  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Borrowed Light by Carla Kelly)  

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for some violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Longing for Home from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain.  Thank you!
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