Monday, October 31, 2011

The Implosion of Aggie Winchester

The Implosion of Aggie Winchester by Lara Zielin
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2011
278 pages
YA; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I spotlighted this book on a Book Blogger Hop awhile back for "crazy book title" due to its inclusion of "implosion" which I don't think I've ever seen used for a title and for including the main character's full name. Having read the book now, I think the title is very apt as Aggie's life does seem to be falling apart.

During her first year in school, a popular girl made Aggie's life miserable due to her status as the principal's daughter. In turn Aggie became best friends with goth outcast Sylvia and has projected a tough outer shell. Now though Sylvia is pregnant with the most popular guy in school's baby and is determined to build a family with him; Aggie is skeptical but as she tries to gently warn Sylvia, she is only pushed away. Then there are the two guys with confusing intentions, Aggie's mom's cancer, and a huge school scandal that blows up to the national news.  And Aggie is deeply embedded in all of those plots-is it any wonder that she feels like her life is imploding?

I had some trouble bonding with Aggie, who's so angsty in the beginning but I quickly fell for her as she tries to navigate the minefields around her. It seems like she can do nothing right with almost everyone in her life turning on her on a dime. So glad my high school experience was better! The worst part for me was the mistrust of her parents. Her mother thinks Aggie is sexually active despite repeated assurances of the hospital and other attempts to talk about things end only in frustrated miscommunications. It was so sad.

In the whole, I thought there was a little too much going on (see my plot summary) but for the most part, all of the separate plot threads were juggled well and came together in coherent if mostly predictable ways. And even though I could see what would happen, I enjoyed Zielin's writing and the way she brought it all together.

Overall: A fine contemporary with a generally fast pace and an easy to root for main character.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Reluctant Queen

A Reluctant Queen by Joan Wolf
Thomas Nelson, 2011
375 pages
Inspirational Historical Romance
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: This is a retelling of the life of Esther, one of two woman to have a book named after her in the Protestant Bible. She marries a non-Jew and ends up saving her people from a massacre, inspiring the celebration of Purim.

I absolutely devoured this book as I found the romantic aspect so well-written and enjoyable especially after reading a couple of books where I thought the romantic aspect was mishandled. Esther is pushed forward by her uncle as a candidate to be the Persian King Ahasuerus' next wife after he disposes of his first. Her uncle foresees her saving the Jewish people in the empire from destruction but Esther fears the loss of her dreams of a life with a good Jewish man.

The book covers about the same period of time as in the Bible but it gives us insight in to the feelings of Esther as she embarks on this radically new life. She is shocked at the different cultural standards and feels unable to handle the expectations of the Jewish elders; she is but a woman. How can she do anything? But even as she no longer is allowed to worship with her people, she is able to draw closer to God and undergo big changes. 

One thing I was having trouble with was Haman, who ends up being the one to order the destruction of Jews throughout the empire. How does someone come to that point of wanting to kill so many people? Two things drive him: the refusal of Esther's uncle Mordecai to bow to him (Haman is an Edomite, an enemy of the Jews) and his jealousy over Ahasuerus' attention to Esther. Haman wants all of Ahasuerus' trust and this insane jealousy drives him to make some very bad decisions.

While I didn't notice the changes, other reviewers have mentioned that significant liberties were taken with the story of Esther as presented in the Bible. I can understand their qualms and if I were more familiar with the book of Esther, I would probably agree with them. Happily for me, I have only a cursory acquaintance with that book so I was able to immerse myself in the loving relationship of Esther and Xerxes and allow Wolf to weave her story.

Overall: A fantastic romance and an intriguing spin on the biblical story.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Grace of God

The Grace of God by Andy Stanley
Thomas Nelson, 2010
217 pages
Inspirational Non-fiction
5/5 stars

Source: Received a free copy from Booksneeze for an honest review.

Grace has long been a topic of fascination to me. "Amazing Grace" is my favorite song and I am so grateful to receive grace from God. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm good at extending grace to others...

I really liked this book and how it delved into some of the most famous stories of the Bible. Stanley presents them anew, embroidering and expanding on how the participants might have been feeling when they went through their trials and their triumphs. No matter how badly they failed at the task set before them by God, that did not disqualify them from receiving grace nor did it stop God from following the great promises He made. Stanley looks at figures from both the Old as well as the New Testament. I thought that was especially good because of the not uncommon view that the merciless Old Testament God is so different from the loving New Testament God. Stanley squares them as most definitely being the same! He also has a clever little chapter bridging the two different sections of the Bible and preparing the reader for another perspective.

Beyond the usual suspects like Abraham and David, I was especially thrilled to see a look at the woman at the well from John 4, which I have a special fondness for due to a conference I attended. She's probably my favorite personage in the Bible (after Jesus of course) and I always devour any writings relating to her.

Another aspect I appreciated was the emphasis on how grace cannot be earned; otherwise it is not grace! I still struggle with this, thinking if I read my Bible for an hour one day, it will make me more worthy of God as well as other wrong-headed thinking. I know I can't change my thinking overnight but I will continue to cling to this truth as I amend my behavior.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Operation Napoleon

Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indridason
Translated by Victoria Cribb
Minotaur Books, 2011
Originally published 1999
328 pages
4/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon's Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

This book was definitely me going out of my comfort zone. First it's a translation from Icelandic; second it's an adult book; and third it's a thriller. I don't read many of those! But after seeing Captain America, I was kind of primed for some WWII suspense so I took a chance.

I mostly ended up enjoying this. The characters didn't have a great deal of depth, being defined largely by one or two traits but I'm not sure I usually expect more in my thrillers. For one-offs, as I think this is, I want to be on the edge of my seat watching people narrowly escape dangerous and reading about things blowing up. The characters don't have to engage my sympathy or even much of my interest for me to be able to enjoy the book.  It's good that I wasn't very attached as several of the characters were casually dispatched by other characters in chilling scenes of murder.  There was no hesitation; just boom! Dead.

I thought it succeeded as a thriller because I was very much on the edge of my seat trying to piece together the puzzle of what is Operation Napoleon? However I'm still not entirely sure I understand it; whether that's the nature of the book or of the translate or possibly even my own slowness, I don't know. I would have preferred more answers.

Something that was very unique to me was that the villains were the Americans, who apparently have a very complicated relationship with the people of Iceland.  On the one hand, their military base pumps a lot of money into Iceland's economy; on the other hand, they are overbearing, arrogant, and rude, bossing around top Icelandic government personnel in order to pursue their own agenda. No wonder they're not popular.

Overall: A fine thriller with exciting scenes and a daring main character who manages to evade a lot of threats.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Beyond All Measure

Beyond All Measure by Dorothy Love
Thomas Nelson, 2011
313 pages
Christian Historical Romance
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really loved the cover for this with that lovely purple and the hat. I personally don't like wearing hats but I am interested in seeing other people wearing hats such as the lovely Ada Wentworth, main character in this book, and of course that is appropriate for the time period.

Ada is a destitute Bostonian who takes a position as a companion to the elderly Lillian in Tennessee. Upon her arrival, she is shocked to discover that her job is even more grueling as she will be maid, cook, and nurse to Lillian. She is also surprised by Lillian's handsome nephew Wyatt, lumber mill owner, the smallness of the town despite its flourishing in tough conditions, and the presence of the nascent KKK and its intolerance for black people and Northerners.  She is also haunted with "whys" in regard to her father's mismanagement of money and a broken engagement.

I mostly liked the characters although Lillian has a difficult temperament and there's another character who was very grating and outright mean to Ada. And as a Northern, I have soft feelings for someone who is from the North who is trying to make it in the South, especially in the post-Civil War years.  Wyatt is a good man, who cares for his family and longs for the land of Texas. The clashes between Ada and Wyatt at the start were interesting (Wyatt was kind of a jerk and unable to understand the difficulties of being a poor woman without a male protector).

While I liked the main characters, I thought the KKK aspects and the villagers' bigotry was shoehorned in a bit awkwardly although I appreciate the attempts to include them. I guess I thought they could have been more menacing and I didn't entirely buy that most of the characters we met denounced the KKK. Seriously? But it is Christian romance so I understand why those elements wouldn't be played up enough.

My least favorite part came when Ada's ex-fiance shows up and reveals the secret behind why he broke their engagement. I spent much of the book waiting for him to arrive because he was obviously going to show up and push her toward Wyatt although that whole sequence of events happened even faster than I had anticipated.

Overall: An okay historical romance; the faith elements were lovely though.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Flirt Club

Flirt Club by Cathleen Daly
Roaring Brook Press, 2011
281 pages
MG; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I loved the premise of this novel which is two geeky best friends communicating the story through notes and navigating the complicated world of middle school friendships and romances by forming a "Flirt Club." Over the course of the novel, they learn some surprising things about boys, old friends, and relationships.

This was a pretty cute book; I especially love that it's told through notes as I am a sucker for epistolary novels. Main characters Annie and Izzy were super tight best friends (except for a brief period of time) and I loved how they were usually on the same page and supportive of each other. They also make some more friends and spend a lot of time talking about drama including musicals. More YA books should have the main characters be in musicals!

I was a little surprised by some of the content, which involved 13-year olds drinking and coming very close to having sex. Is that what middle school is like now? I had none of those pressures although admittedly I was even nerdier than these girls. If it is like that, I'm very glad to be away. The other topic was one girl's semi-frequent constipation and discussions of such under euphenisms. Kind of gross to me but someone with a different sense of humor could find that hilarious.

Overall: A cute novel, recommended for 13/14 year olds.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

You Are My Only

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart
Egmont, 2011
240 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Some spoilers...possibly...

My first Beth Kephart was a mixed bag as I didn't feel much for the characters but I still thought she was a fantastic writer so I eagerly requested her latest when I saw it available on Netgalley. I confess, I thought almost thought this was a ghost or horror story as that is the imagine conjured by the cover for me.

Instead, told in alternating perspectives, this is the story of Emmy, a young mother whose baby is taken one awful day and Sophie, a young girl whose life is wrapped up in secrets as she and her mother constantly flee the No Good.

I'm not sure if the fact that Sophie was Emmy's daughter was supposed to be a surprise or not because it seemed really obvious to me (why else would their stories be connected?) but perhaps it would catch some people off-guard so that's why I marked this post as containing spoilers. Despite the fact that this wasn't suspenseful, I was able to really feel for both narrators, which is good because if I didn't, I would not have liked this book.  The focus is definitely on characters, not plot so it's super important to like them.

Both of the characters are really young: Emmy is just twenty, married and a mother of an infant while Sophie is fourteen and their innocence and naivety really shone through. Each is entangled with less than decent people (the former with a no-good husband, the latter with an often cruel mother) but they also end up having experiences that open up their worlds and lead them back to each other.

Overall: Beautifully written with sympathetic characters if a little light on plot.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dearly, Departed

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
Del Rey, 2011
471 pages
YA; Steampunk; Zombies
4/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

I was captured by the striking cover of this book so I requested it from Amazon Vine. Then I realized it was a zombie book so I opened it hesitantly as I haven't liked the few zombie books I've tried. However this one blew me away! It's a unique mashup of steampunk elements, zombie convergences, mystery, romance, and amazing world building.

Setting: New Victoria in 2195, living in a society that has reverted back to their idea of gentility and culture as epitomized by Victorian society in order to deal with the rebuilding of society after mass chaos and death. While the surface seems mostly calm, there's a secret roiling beneath the surface that the government is trying hard to repress. That secret is the existence of zombies, humans brought back to life for a limited period of time even as their bodies continue to decay. I'm not sure the steampunk elements were fully utilized but the world that was described fully captured my attention.

Characters: This novel is told in five alternating perspectives, which was a little much for me; not sure if they were all necessary. I'm not going to share two of them because it might spoil you but I will describe three of them. First is Nora Dearly, who I felt was the main character. She is newly orphaned and ends up kidnapped by a squad of zombies. Among those zombies is Bram, about two years undead but still in possession of most of his dignity and brain. Their star-crossed love forms a subplot. While I loved them becoming friends and hanging out, I can't really support a relationship between someone living and someone dead (this is why I don't support vampire romances either).  This is especially heartbreaking because zombies only reanimate for a couple of years so the clock is ticking on them.

A third character is Nora's best friend Pam, who originally doesn't seem like much but demonstrates tremendous strength of character as the zombies get out of hand. I think she ended up being my favorite character especially because I couldn't get behind the love story. I loved how kick-ass Pam was and how she didn't crumble despite having many reasons to do so.

Plot: I really don't want to give too much away but I felt like the plot moved at a decent pace and a lot happens over the many pages of this book. Admittedly some probably could have been cut such as the two perspectives I didn't describe but I was mostly absorbed and enthralled by this unique book.

Overall: A great introduction to a promising new series; there's so much in this book that I didn't touch on in this review so all I can say is go read!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

In My Mailbox 23OCT11

In My Mailbox is something I participate in very sporadically whenever I feel particularly satisfied with the books I've accumulated in the past week.

From Amazon Vine:
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi-I've been following her blog and added her book as soon as she mentioned that it was going to be published so of course I'm super excited to have scored an ARC. I won't be reading this for a while yet (other books call to me first) but I'm really eager to dive in.

From the Library:
Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown-I've read a couple of Griffin's other books and this one kept calling to me from the library shelf as I passed. Yesterday I gave in and checked it out!

Shut Out by Kody Keplinger-After loving The Duff, I knew I'd want to give her second book a shot. I've heard more mixed things about this one but at least it should be well-written and entertaining if The Duff is any indication.
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin-I am a little leery of this as I've heard a wide reactions to the love interest (so dreamy! so creepy!) and I think I'll probably fall in the dislike category. Still this has been hotly buzzed and since it's a library book, if I hate it, I can just return it.

So that's my mailbox! Have you read any of these? What books did you receive this week?


Ambitious by Monica McKayhan
Kimani Tru, 2011
234 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

New students Marisol and Drew negotiate the ambitious waters at Premiere School, following their respective artistic passions of dance and acting, making new friends, navigating academics, and flirting with each other. I loved the concept for this as I'm a sucker for "Step Up," "Center Stage," and other dance movies. But I was not very impressed with the book as a whole finding it lacking in plot and characters.

Marisol is a decent character. Her dream is to dance and she pursues that dream by auditioning for the prestigious Premiere School, even though her family and neighbors didn't think she could get in. She does and keeps pushing herself in dance to audition for a dance contest that could launch her into the big time. But she's also caught between new friends and old friends. This all sounds like a lot of drama and conflict but it's not really. Mari easily gets in to the school, despite little formal dance training and easily secures a place in the contest without much training or practice. The friendship drama was a little bit more drawn out but in the end they reconciled pretty easily. Still she was miles better than Drew.

Drew started out okay. He was a star basketball player trying to be like his dad when he decides that he wants to try acting. After a few chapters, he is more fully drawn as an arrogant player who expects everything to be given to him. He's constantly assessing the bodies of the girls around him and using them; he's greedy, cocky, and selfish; and I just disliked him so much. He had little depth, being a pretty rich kid who never really struggles despite the attempts to portray him as struggling. He easily wins the lead in the school play despite being a sophomore with little acting experience. And college scouts are still interested in him for basketball. His biggest trouble is his shyness with Mari, the one tiny area where he has to work a bit but even there he displaces her date, pleasing rather than outraging her.

One other thing I noticed was the presence of various brand names that set the book firmly in this time (Justin Bieber is huge for the girls-I do not get that boy's appeal).  They seemed to dominate the story: from food to clothes to singers. I noticed them so much more than in any other story I've read recently and I didn't really like that.

Overall: Flat characters with little depth and easy plot turns.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Deadline by Chris Crutcher
Greenwillow Books, 2007
316 pages
YA; Contemporary
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

What can I really say about this book? I just love Chris Crutcher's writing and so far, I've adored everything I've read by him.  Like the other books I've read, the main character is male, into sports, and doesn't kowtow to the established authority figures; instead he questions and pursues answers fearlessly. The big twist is that the MC in this book knows he has less than a year to live, which inspires him to upend his plans for senior year to aspire for something more.

That kid is Ben Wolf who also makes the decision not to tell anybody about his illness in order to be able to live life to the fullest. That choice is challenged throughout the year as Ben as unimaginable highs (scoring an amazing touchdown, having sex with the wildly out of his league Dallas Suzuki) and incredible lows (a bigoted teacher, came face to face with some dark facts).

And of course this is all narrated in what I am coming to think of as the trademark Chris Crutcher style. Smart-alecky, passionate, principled, and excited about life and maturation. Ben is not content to just accept the easy answer; instead he pushes and pushes. He made me think and he made his classmates and fellow neighbors think whether they wanted to or not.

Of course the end is hard as you grow attached to Ben although it's foretold from the beginning. Even so, I kept hoping for something else. Still the ending is lovely albeit sad.

Overall: Not much I can say beyond, read it!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Epic Fail

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik
HarperTeen, 2011
295 pages
YA; Contemporary; Austen
4/5 stars

Source: Library

This was completely off my radar until I happened upon a review that mentioned that it was a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen's best known (and my favorite) book, Pride and Prejudice. So I went to my library's website, saw that they didn't have it, requested that they purchase it, and voila now I have read it.

Unfortunately it did not quite live up to my expectations although it was a mostly enjoyable story. There are four sisters, the eldest Juliana, then Elise, our narrator, Layla, and lastly Kaitlyn, who's mostly a nonentity since she's so young. On their first day at a new school, Juliana quickly pairs up with Chase Baldwin while Elise is stuck chatting to Derek Edwards, our Mr. Darcy, whose tough outer shell conceals his fears that people are only interested in using him because his parents are famous actors.

I thought Elise's pride issues were very well-done and the Wickham character was appropriately creepy and remorseless about how his actions hurt people. Elise's family was also suitably embarrassing especially brat Layla and her desperate attempts to appear more mature, often giving the complete opposite impression, and their mother who likes to drink and fawn over celebrity children. The father was also good with his obvious favoritism of Elise and his skepticism about anyone being good enough for her. I also loved Elise's first time at Derek's house-very easy to see how she could fall for that house!

However this story lacked in several ways, when comparing the incidents to the original book. Of course there should be changes but I thought these were particularly egregious. Where was Mr. Collins? A third suitor for Elise could have been fun and Mr. Collins is usually good for some laughs. Also I was not able to identify a Lady de Bourgh character, another shocking omission. Secondly there were not enough obstacles separating Juliana and Chase. And I thought that Elise and Derek got together too quickly, meaning that the last few chapters petered out. There was nothing driving them forward as the main couples were paired up and the ending itself does not read like one. I turned the page and was surprised that it was over.

Overall: An okay reinterpretation but I've read better. Give Prom and Prejudice a try or better yet, read the real thing!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Maid

The Maid by Kimberly Cutter
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
283 pages
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

So I don't really read a lot of adult books anymore, having chosen to mostly focus on YA and thus I don't read quite as much historical fiction as I have in previous years. But this looked quite intriguing on Netgalley so I requested it and read it.

Now I'm not super familiar with Joan of Arc and all of the stories around her so almost everything was new to me. And I was quickly drawn in to the story by Joan or rather Jehanne's confession that she was on fire for God. I was surprised by that religious content because it was my understanding that this was secular fiction (and it definitely was as I realized later). Her passion and devotion to God, her desire to be a saint, her reaction to her visions: all of those were my favorite parts. But they only appeared sporadically especially as Jehanne's fame grew and she became separated from the Lord.

The other part I really liked can be described in a line taken from the synopsis: "Rich with unspoken love and battlefield valor, The Maid is a novel about the power and uncertainty of faith, and the exhilarating and devastating consequences of fame." I would definitely agree with this especially the part about the consequences of fame. Jehanne achieves so much with her limited time and resources but the power that comes from her fame threatens almost all of the men around her who will eventually betray and/or abandon her in order to protect themselves. 

On a practical level, it was hard for me every time she was called Jehanne because as an American, she's always called Joan. Also this is a very violent book (surprise!) There's a lot of killing, rape, and pillaging as the British and even the French ride through and destroy France. There is also a lot of swearing that reminded me that this was an adult book.

One other thing I didn't like was the writing which often used short fragments mixed in with sentences. It also was a little confusing when Jehanne's present imprisonment was next to her past; sometimes the line wasn't clear. However I think for the most part, it was well-researched (although I'm not familiar enough with Joan of Arc) and a pleasant diversion for a few hours.

Overall: A good historical fiction novel that captures the darkness of the period while also bringing some hope.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

As I Wake

As I Wake by Elizabeth Scott
Dutton Books, 2011
269 pages
YA; Paranormal
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Scott (I believe I've read all of her books) so of course I wanted to pick this one up. Weirdly, I haven't seen much about this around the blogosphere which meant that I came into the book with little idea of what it was about. I think that was a good thing because everything caught me off guard.

Ava wakes up with no memory of who she is. She meets a woman who claims to be her mother and is integrated into a school system. Yet these personalities don't seem familiar. The one person she does remember is a boy whose presence may mean everything to her.

Honestly this book made me think of "Fringe," which is not a bad thing as I love that show, because of the freaky happenings referenced in the book. Not to be too spoilery but there seem to be other worlds just like in Fringe where different decisions allow different aspects of personalities to bring about totally different outcomes. The world in which Ava wakes up seems pretty contemporary although cell phones don't play a big role while the other world she remembers is more dystopian. Thus this is kind of a blend of contemporary, dystopia, and science-fiction; an intriguing mix.

However while it was easy to follow (the memories are clearly distinguished by being italicized), it was hard for me to really connect to the characters.  I was able to root for the romance because I'm a die-hard romantic and Morgan is a pretty decent guy. But the rest of the characters didn't really work for me.

Overall: An intriguing concept with solid writing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Simon Pulse, 2011
288 pages
YA; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-ARC through Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab program.

I was really excited about this because I play viola but haven't read many books where characters play instruments, let alone ones where that is the focus. Carmen is the main character here and she's a brilliant violinist who is preparing for the most important competition of her life so far. If she wins, she'll get to borrow a gorgeous violin, earn significant prize money, and perform around the world. But to win, she'll have to power through her stage fright, her reliance on pills, her stage mother, and face down the competition in the form of hot Jeremy.

I really liked parts of this book. Carmen's performance anxiety was wonderfully described as were her performances. When the music clicked and flowed through her, I felt so happy for her and elated for the audience that got to listen to her.  I also loved her struggle with taking pills for stage fright-both whether it was morally right and then through her decision to stop taking them, although I think she should have struggled more as she was dangerously dependent on them.

But my very favorite part was Carmen's conflict with her mother, a soprano whose voice was destroyed and now has all of her hopes and dreams pinned on Carmen's success-what pressure! Her mother micromanages everything about Carmen, going so far as to commit an unthinkable act that is the final push for Carmen to uproot her entire life.  As a former teenage girl, I know that the relationship with your mom during that time with can be difficult; but their relationship had even more difficulties than most. There were some painful scenes as Carmen rebels and tries to think for herself while her mother becomes ever more controlling.

There was something that blindsided me though. Based on my skimming in the blogosphere, I thought it was mostly about Carmen's interaction with violin and performance but there is actually a significant component involving a romance with a male competitor. This can be seen from the actual synopsis which I didn't read. The synopsis asks: "But what if Jeremy isn't just hot...what if Jeremy is better?" And as someone who has read this book, I say that Jeremy is not better. I didn't think much of him and his character for the most part is not good for Carmen. I thought he was scummy and her innocence allowed her to fall for him. A more experienced girl would have past him by and not wasted any time with him.

Overall: Some unique subject matter for YA with decent writing in this debut marred by a lame love interest who comes to dominate the pages.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Exile by Anne Osterlund
Speak, 2011
295 pages
YA; Fantasy
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: In this companion to Aurelia, Aurelia has managed to escape the palace walls with her life and has embarked on a tour of her country accompanied by the ever loyal Robert and a guard. As she begins exploring though, she discovers deep miscarriages of justice, extreme poverty and violence, and fears about her future and the future of her country.

This is the sequel to Aurelia, a book I mostly enjoyed but thought it was lacking something to really make it sing. And at first I thought this book would be the same way. Happily it soon picked up, bringing me deep in to the story and then leaving me hanging. When is the third book coming?!

Anyway back to the story. In Aurelia, I loved Robert and his growing feelings for Aurelia as he fought to protect her from the many threats on her life that she suffered due to her position as the Crown Princess, presumed heir to the throne. But Aurelia herself didn't interest me. She did though in this book. Her compassion for her people as she travels in exile without pomp and circumstance drew my admiration. And the descriptions of her beauty, strength, and how she seems to glow with an inner light gave me additional reasons to like her. As Aurelia's character became more defined and vibrant, I was drawn into the story more!

Then there is the romance, of which I am a BIG fan! I loved Aerin and Dane in this author's Academy 7 and was similarly enthralled with Aurelia and Robert in this book.  It's not instant; it's deeper based on getting to know each other. And while each thinks the other is attractive, they are also drawn to the inner qualities such as his knowledge and how he can follow through on difficult decisions and her desire for justice for all of her people. They have many obstacles to overcome (different classes and the continued threats on her life) but I'm rooting so hard for them!

The plot itself is something that had the potential to go very astray for me. It's about Aurelia and Robert journeying through her lands. That can be so boring: arrive at place, have adventure, leave, repeat. But that did not happen here as the adventures varied so greatly and added to the suspense over Aurelia's precise situation. Of course I do enjoy court intrigue, which isn't much in play here because they are away but does reemerge later in the book.

Overall: A slow beginning almost lost me but it soon picked up and the ending has me begging for the third book to yesterday! WANT NOW!

Cover: That girl is really pretty although she's supposed to be darker-skinned.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Ripple by Mandy Hubbard
Razorbill, 2011
260 pages
YA; Paranormal
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I've had mixed experiences with Hubbard's previous books Prada and Prejudice and You Wish so I was a bit leery of this. However lured by the beautiful cover and Mimi Valentine's endorsement, I decided to take the plunge into this book.  I ended with mixed feelings, some things really pleased me but I thought that others didn't work.

What I loved was the idea of incorporating sirens into contemporary YA. Lexi is a siren whose family has been cursed for generations; on her sixteenth birthday, she called the boy she loved into the ocean and drowned him without being aware of what she was doing. My favorite part though was the romance between Cole and Lexi. She is unable to trust anyone and yet he wants to be the one she lets in. They were so cute together and Cole was super swoonworthy as he tried to get to know her and help her get over her guilt.  I also liked her commitment to protecting her grandmother-I'm big on family relationships.

But he couldn't quite overcome the things I didn't like. Namely the long stretch where nothing paranormal was happening; it was just Lexi complaining about high school cliques and vacillating between sadness at being an outcast and determination that she had to be an outcast in order to protect people from finding out her secret and dying. She was SO annoying and wishy-washy.

The other part I didn't like was the emergence of the villain. It was patently obvious who the villain was because who else would it be? He appeared late and his evil motivation unraveled fast, a little too fast but then I'm glad it wasn't drawn out.  Happily this is a standalone and I don't think that anything else needed to be added; I was satisfied with the ending.

Overall: Not quite as satisfying as I wanted but there were some good things.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Jane Austen Made Me Do It ed. Laurel Ann Nattress
Ballantine Books, 2011
328 pages
Austen; Short Stories
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

So whenever I read a collection of short stories, I break it down into a LONG review so that I can cover every single one. Like most, this was a grab bag with some stories that really worked for me and others that most decidedly did not. Here goes:

Jane Austen's Nightmare by Syrie James-characters from five of Austen's novels approach her as if they were real people, challenging her portrayals of them. Characters are too perfect, too flawed, and Austen comes to question her own judgment in creating them. Really fun concept and good writing: 4/5

Waiting by Jane Odiwe-Captain Wentworth comes to ask Sir Walter for his blessing on Anne and Wentworth's marriage; also includes flashbacks to their first meeting and engagement. Although I love Persuasion, I didn't find this very exciting so 3.5/5

A Night at Northanger by Lauren Willig-A camera crew for "Ghost Trekkers" is exploring the legend of the ghost at Northanger Abbey; main character Cate discovers her own ghost, that of lady novelist Jane Austen. This was an okay story but it was the last line that really clinched this story for me: 4/5

Jane and the Gentleman Rogue by Stephanie Barron-This read like an excerpt from Barron's mystery series about Jane Austen as a detective and I felt like a ton of characters were thrown at me without the chance to sort them out. They also all seemed to have nicknames and it was just very confusing: 3/5

Faux Jane by F.J. Meier-a The Thin Man-esque story with a married couple and winks to the story investigate someone buying a signed first-edition Pride and Prejudice. An okay story but not one of my favorites: 3/5

Nothing Less Than Fairy-Land by Monica Fairview-A post-Emma story. Emma and Mr. Knightley have gone on their honeymoon but face troubles as they attempt to move Mr. Knightley into Highbury. Mr. Woodhouse is a huge pain as you might expect. But Emma is adorably charming and Mr. Knightley also shines: 4/5

Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane by Adriana Trigiani-a letter from Jane Austen to her niece Anna upon the latter's engagement to Declan/Benjamin. This was weird in that the fiance's name changed, he is referred to as both Declan and Benjamin and because there are references to modern technology, which threw me. 2/5

Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss by Jo Beverly-at first I thought this was a post-S&S story as the MC is Elinor; but it is not although it does have some connections to it. Imagine if Colonel Brandon had decided to court Mrs. Dashwood instead of Marianne and that somewhat captures how I viewed the story. Definitely one of the more romantic stories: 4.5/5

When Only a Darcy Will Do by Beth Pattillo-Elizabeth is attempting to earn some desperately needed cash in modern day London by giving tours about Jane Austen's life. One day Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy shows up and takes her tour, listening to her passion and fears and worries. So sweet; loved the ending! 5/5

Heard of You by Margaret C. Sullivan-a backstory for Persuasion, how Admiral and Mrs. Croft were "matched" by Captain Wentworth; I loved how this filled in the blanks of some lesser-known characters and I felt it was consistent with the original: 4/5

The Ghostwriter by Elizabeth Aston-Sara has lost her love but finds instead the ghost of Jane Austen who provides inspiration and helps her with her love life. I loved the tartness of ghost Miss Austen but I'm not in love with this story: 4/5

Mr. Bennet Meets His Match by Amanda Grange-backstory for P&P; I really enjoyed this look in to how Mr and Mrs. Bennet met and decided to marry. It also features his snobbish parents, her social climbing parents, and the extremely odious parents of Mr. Collins. I appreciated that while Mr. Bennet knew he didn't have a marriage quite like Lizzie and Darcy, he knows that he got laughter and five daughters so in the end, he did pretty well: 4.5/5

Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! by Janet Mullany-A mashup of two incredibly popular phenomena from the UK: Jane Austen and the Beatles set in 1964. Three teenage girls are obsessed with the Fab Four and one savvy teacher uses that interest to explore Sense and Sensibility. A really clever concept and great for me as I love both; very thought provoking on my opinions of the characters in S&S: 4/5

Letters to Lydia by Maya Slater-I didn't have very high expectations for this one seeing as the title involves Lydia Bennet, one of my least fave characters. Then I realized the narrator was Maria Lucas, someone I always forget about due to her absence from the Keira Knightley film adaptation (oops!) However I soon found myself engaged as we get another perspective on P&P with someone who's right there and can clearly see the love that Darcy and Lizzie have for each other even when they can't tell: 5/5

The Mysterious Closet: A Tale by Myretta Robens-This one was weird. A modern story involving Gothic intrigue and referencing Northanger Abbey. I didn't really like it: 2.5/5

Jane Austen's Cat by Diana Birchall-Jane Austen weaves stories for two of her young relations, taking her classic stories and using cats as the characters. Of course, I'm predisposed to like any story involving cats so this rating might be a bit high: 3.5/5

Me and Mr. Darcy, Again... by Alexandra Potter-I think this is a sequel to Potter's novel, which I read but don't really remember. Em, with the intervention of Mr. Darcy, realizes that real men are better than fictional men 4/5

What Would Austen Do? by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway-this story is notable for featuring a young protagonist who just happens to be male. James Austen accidentally enrolls in a class for English Country Dancing and develops a love for Jane Austen that enables him to be himself instead of a mindless follower like the other kids at school. Surprising and sweet-loved it! 5/5

The Riding Habit by Pamela Aidan-a post-P&P story with Darcy attempting to teach Lizzie how to ride but also tackling Georgiana growing up and Lizzie's fears about being inadequate in Darcy's London crowd. Okay-I'm not the biggest fan of what happens next for Darcy and Lizzie: 4/5

The Love Letter by Brenna Aubrey-this story also features a male protagonist in modern-day USA who is inspired by Persuasion. I liked the idea but thought there were some plot inconsistencies that made me like the plot a bit less: 3.5/5

The Chase by Carrie Bebris-this story was so random. It's about Austen's brother Francis William Austen, who was a captain in the navy. I kept thinking we'd see how he inspired Wentworth or something but no. It's just the story of some of his exploits at sea. I thought it was very out of sync with the rest of the stories in the collection: 1.5/5

Intolerable Stupidity by Laurie Viera Rigler-another really clever concept. Writers of Austen sequels and film adaptations are on trial with Judge Lady Catherine de Bourgh presiding and Darcy as the key plaintiff. I think it's very funny to think about such a concept and it reminded me of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. A great end: 5/5

Overall: Mixed but there were some standouts and I mostly enjoyed myself even when I didn't love the story.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fairer Than Morning

Fairer Than Morning by Rosslyn Elliott
Thomas Nelson, 2011
389 pages
Christian Historical Romance
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was very excited to dive into this as it's the first of several Christian historical romances I have on tap for October/November and this one had gotten a lot of positive reviews. Sadly I wasn't as impressed as others although this was mostly due to my expectations.

I thought romance would be the main focus of this book but instead there are a lot of historical details. Ann and Will didn't even spend that much time together; it seemed like they both spent more time with other potential matches and being shaped by their experiences.  However if I hadn't been expecting more romance, I think I could have appreciated this more. Let me back up and start from the beginning though.

At the beginning Ann Miller has lost her mother and must now step in to her shoes to care for her younger sisters while they father alternates between being an itinerant preacher and saddler in Ohio. She receives a proposal from her dream man but her father won't let them marry because she's too young.  Meanwhile Will is orphaned and becomes apprenticed to a saddler in Pittsburgh; although the saddler masquerades as a good man, he soon reveals his true colors, abusing and beating Will through the five years he essentially owns him. Their connection begins when Ann's family receives a barrel with letters from Will's family. The saddler had destroyed them in his display of power but it gets Ann thinking about Will. Eventually the pair meet in Pittsburgh and a lot more happens but I don't want to spoil too much.

As you might be able to tell, there is a lot in this book besides the romance, which I had thought would be the main element. There is anti-slavery rhetoric, insight into the awful conditions of the poor in an industrializing city like Pittsburgh, the twisting of Bible verses to support ill treatment of others (done by slave owners and Will's sadistic master), and a lot of difficulties for Ann and Will to work through both individually and together. And for large portions of the book, Ann and Will seem destined to end up with other people as marriage proposals are tendered and accepted. When they were together, I enjoyed the story much more...but I didn't think they were together enough.

Overall: I wish this had been more of a romance but it was an interesting Christian historical fiction novel so if you don't like a lot of romance, then this could be a good book for you.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wrap-Up to Contemps Challenge!

I have completed the original Contemps Challenge: 18 contemporary books covering a variety of topics and I just wanted to share my opinions again. I have divided the books into 4 categories, from favorite to least.

Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt-hands down favorite out of all the contemps. I was totally surprised by how much I loved this book and I cannot recommend it enough to you.

Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
The Duff by Kody Keplinger
Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith
Want to Go Private by Sarah Darer Littman

Girl, Stolen by April Henry
Freefall by Mindi Scott
Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler
Fall For Anything by Courtney Summers
Family by Micol Ostow
Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott
The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder

Not entirely to my taste but that is not to say that you wouldn't like them:
Losing Faith by Denise Jaden
Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
Trapped by Michael Northrop
Sharks and Boys by Kristen Tracy
Pearl by Jo Knowles

What about you? Were you participating in the Contemps Challenge? Have you read any of these books? Do you have a favorite?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Small Town Sinners

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
Bloomsbury, 2011
273 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

Source: Library

This was the last book in the original Contemps Challenge (check back later today for my wrap-up of all the books) so I was excited to dive in. I was also intrigued by the presence of religion, something so important in my life but something that doesn't usually appear in many YA books and by the plot element of "hell houses," something I find *so* creepy.  But first a brief summary.

Lacey lives in a small town as an only child of conservative Christian parents.  Church is a big part of her life and she's thrilled that she's finally old enough to a. drive and b. take an acting role in their annual Hell House, performed around Halloween time to scare youth into Christianity. Her dream role would be Abortion Girl, whose regrets about her abortion have proved very effective in past hell houses.  But while she thought this year would be great, there are obstacles.

One of her best friends' older sister is pregnant and is shuffled off to a home while her boyfriend/the father continues his usual life. Her other best friend might be gay, not that he could ever share that with their church and is being bullied by a mean-spirited guy. Her parents no longer seem so infallible with all of the answers. And a former classmate named Ty returns to town with a shaken faith and encourages Lacey to question her own.

I really appreciated Lacey's questioning of her church, mostly because it's much more conservative than me. In particular, they are gay-hating, "slut-shaming," and male-elevating.  I also think it's just a great idea in general to question what you think you believe especially during those crucial years as a teenager. However Ty, her main encourager, really annoyed me. I felt like he was leading her to have the same doubts as he did despite her very different experiences.  There were some good things about him; for example he seemed much more open-minded than many of the other characters in the book. But something about him grated on me.

Additionally while she was questioning, she was also lying to her parents and sneaking out of the house, which I can't condone.  Did I think her parents were too overprotective? Yes. Did I think they handled Lacey's questions and doubts poorly? Emphatically yes. Does that justify her blatant disrespect for the rules, which it is their responsibility as parents to have and enforce? No! In fact, as YA parents go, these are very close to the top of the heap. They obviously care about their daughter and are involved with her life; they know the names of her friends and about her dream to star as Abortion Girl.

Overall: I liked some of the themes and the writing was easy to read but this will not be a favorite of mine.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tris and Izzie

Tris and Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison
Egmont USA, 2011
262 pages
YA; Paranormal
2.5/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I've never been a big fan of the myth of Tristan and Isolde, which I am familiar with due to the Wagner opera. Drinking the love potion, being married to someone else, death: it never appealed to me although I admired Wagner's music. Still the cover for this was striking if somewhat baffling (Why is he shirtless?) and there was  a lot of buzz.

In the end, I didn't really enjoy it. Izzie is dating popular Mark  but in a misguided attempt to find love for her best friend Brangane, ends up drinking a love potion and falling for new guy Tristan. She also discovers a huge secret about her past and must face an ancient and terrifying enemy.

So while the beginning hews to what I know about T&I, the middle and end take on a life of their own. Sadly I found that beginning immensely unenjoyable. First there is the fact that Brangane is so in love with Mark and her loathing for Izzie was palpable to me if not to her. I hated Brangane and had such a low opinion of her; she did not make a play for Mark so it's not Izzie's fault that they weren't together.  Not that Izzie was a great character; she's kind of mean to outsiders and I didn't think she was very smart. Then there is the fact that the two pairings end up being so sure that they belong together and will be so forever. I'm so tired of YA couples who are sure they found their soulmate in high school especially when they're so immature as these characters were.

The middle/end picked up as Izzie had to confront her destiny, which was fighting a serpent who killed her father and has been terrorizing her hometown almost her whole life. This was more interesting but what wouldn't be after the dull high school drama of the first part? Additionally I wasn't very impressed by the characters and I thought the characterization was poor.

So to sum up: Aggravating characters, unbelievable plot twists, and unexciting writing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sweet Venom

Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs
Katherine Tegen Books, 2011
345 pages
YA; Sisters; Greek; Paranormal
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free copy from Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

I was first captured by the cover, which I saw featured on many blogs. It's not my personal favorite but many other bloggers were struck by it and that brought it to my attention. The Greek myth and sister aspect were what really drew me in. Of course I love mythological stories (especially ones that aren't focused entirely on romance) and my love of sister stories is pretty well-documented throughout my reviews, I think.

In this instance, the Greek twist is that we have descendants of Medusa, not an evil Gorgon whose stare turned men into stone but a selfless guardian who protected mortals from monsters and has been the victim of a vicious and thorough smear campaign by Athena. Though Medusa is gone, every generation since has given birth to three girls who inherit powers and abilities to continue to protect mortals. This time, those girls are triplets who were separated at birth to protect them as they grew. As they reunited, they realize the tremendous task before them as the prophesied Key Generation.

The first daughter we meet is Gretchen, who was inducted into this kind of life at the age of 12, and has spent the four years since battling them and pushing everyone out of her life. Then we meet Grace, the cheery and crazy optimistic vegan who has just moved to San Francisco, where the entrance to the monsters' world lies. When the two come face to face, they are struck by their identical appearance but pleased to have blood family. The third sister is not introduced for a long time (I think a little too long). Her name is Greer and she's the perfect society sister who instantly clashes with Gretchen, leaving Grace to be the bridge trying to bring the triplets together.

There were some really great action sequences as the sisters individually and together battle the increasingly dangerous monsters and other threats to their person. The mythology is also tantalizingly being unwound; I, of course, always want to know everything immediately but I think we received some good clues in this book that will be further enhanced in the next one.

I was a bit worried about being able to tell the sisters apart (their names all start "Gr") and they alternate first-person chapters. Although it was a bit hard at the beginning, I was soon able to tell them apart due to their very different outlooks on life (Gretchen-cynical; Grace-optimistic; Greer-snobbish). Other characters also enlivened the narratives including potential love interests for each and Grace's brother Thane with his own secrets.  There are also two mentors for the girls although they are not able to take full advantage of their resources yet. And happily while the book doesn't end fully resolved, there is not a massive cliffhanger; I've had quite enough of those this year, thank you very much.

Overall: A pretty light and comedic story about three wildly different sisters and the destiny they share. Not heavy on romance or melodrama so recommended.

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