Saturday, December 31, 2011

December Stats

Looking Back at December: I read a good deal of books but the quality was not very high. Many books left me with a "so what?" feeling, that there was potential in the plot/characters/writing but that it wasn't executed to appeal enough to me. It's not the best way to end the year, but what can you do?

Looking Forward to 2012: Another Netgalley month with Wilow Red House...Lots of reviews (got some great YA ARCs through Amazon Vine) and fun. Check back tomorrow for a wrap-up and plans for 2012!

Monthly Stats:
Books Read This Month: 27
Pages Read This Month: 8528 pages  
Average Length of Book: 315 pages
Average Rating of Book: 3.72
Favorite Book: There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones (so amazing; need to read more by her!)
Longest Book: Mastiff by Tamora Pierce at a massive 581 pages
Shortest Book: The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss, an accordion style book with only 77 pages

By Genre:
Science Fiction/Fantasy-1
Historical Fiction-1
Short Stories-0

Challenge Updates:
Cozy: 0 read, 5 total
British Books: 0 read, 41 total
YA Debut: 6 read, 63 total
Ebook: 12 read, 145 total (a resounding success!)

Home Library-9
Other ebook source-1
Amazon Vine-4

Stats for Previous Months: January; February; March; April; May; June; July; August; September; October; November 

387. The Orphan of Awkward Falls by Keith Graves
388. Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
389. The Merchant's Daughter
390. A Little Friendly Advice by Siobhan Vivian
391. Tankborn by Karen Sandler
392. A Mortal Terror
393. Legacy by Molly Cochran
394. It's a Wonderful Life by Jesse Goossens
395. The Girl Is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines
396. Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher
397. Flyaway by Helen Landalf
398. Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim
399. Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder
400. The Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky
401. Kiss Crush Collide by Christina Meredith
402. There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones
403. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
404. Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban
405. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
406. Forever and a Day by Delilah Marvelle
407. Saving June by Hannah Harrington
408. The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss
409. Tina's Mouth by Keshni Kashyap
410. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
411. Chime by Franny Billingsley
412. The Lady Most Likely by Julia Quinn, Connie Brockway, and Eloisa James
413. Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

Check back tomorrow for an End of the Year Wrap-Up!

Friday, December 30, 2011


Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Barnes & Noble, Inc, 2005
Originally published 1853
176 pages
Classic; FITG
4/5 stars

Source: Mom's copy

I honestly don't have much to say about this book as I mostly read it for my Fill-in-the-Gaps challenge and to further my acquaintance with Elizabeth Gaskell (I've read and seen North and South and seen Wives and Daughters as well as the miniseries from this book). Usually I read YA books in part to be aware of the hyped books as well as lesser-known gems. Not much really happens in this book, which is set in approximately 1830s small-town England. While the world around seems to be modernizing and industrializing, Cranford seems to remain steadfastly the same: ruled over by ladies and filled with compassion and kindness.

Of course that is somewhat revolutionary in a book as most seem to focus on the masculine sphere or else have a love story. While there are elements of "manly" commerce as well as marriages, they are not the focus. There isn't much driving the story either; it kind of just meanders mostly centered on Miss Matty, an elderly spinster, and her closest circle. Miss Matty is just the sweetest person and all of the characters are pretty nice people. But there wasn't much excitement for me.

In fact, this book took me a rather long time to read considering the length. Just one chapter seemed to take me forever to read. And I guess that contributes to my lack of enthusiasm in reviewing. I would like to say that this is NOT a bad book by any means but it is not the book for me.

Recommended: For fans of Gaskell and if you've seen (or plan to see) the miniseries.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kiss Crush Collide

Kiss Crush Collide by Christina Meredith
Greenwillow Books, 2011
313 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC through Amazon Vine.

I wanted to read this book due to its comparisons to Sarah Dessen's writing and I can definitely see echoes of that in this book. There needs to be some work to create more depth in the characters and plot but the possibility is there. I also see some Jennifer Echols in regards to the love scenes; I feel that Echols writes some of the best for older readers and that skill is a large part of my four star rating here.

Leah spends a considerable amount of the book either making out with or thinking about it doing it with Porter, a boy who is not her boyfriend and who does not fit her mother's idea of the picture-perfect life. Despite the fact that she has a boyfriend and feels basically no guilt over cheating on him (and little intention of dumping said boyfriend), I still got very involved in the steaminess of those scenes. Leah and Porter also don't have much character development (what do they see in each other?); they mostly just make-out but I could deal with that in this case.

I also felt there was promise in the familial dynamics situation. Leah is the youngest sister, part of a color scheme and one of three in her mother's eyes rather than an individual person in her own right. I love sister stories and there were places to explore those dynamics in the story (eldest sister is getting married, middle sister is studying abroad in France) but it felt very shallow overall.

Actually most of the book felt that way. I think this book might be an example of why some people don't like contemporary YA; compared to a dystopia, for example, which has the MC awakening to her situation and fighting back, Leah doesn't do much and the book largely meanders. I kind of like that so this book worked better for me than others although I still don't really like Leah and her entitled, privileged, cheating self.

Overall: Love scenes as their own contained situation are great but the rest is a bit of a mess.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why We Broke Up

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
Art by Maira Kalman
Little, Brown and Company, 2011
338 pages
YA; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

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

While the cool concept of this book may have caught the eye of some, I was drawn by Daniel Handler. As you may or may not know, his pseudonym is Lemony Snicket and he is thus author of the beguiling Series of Unfortunate Events. I loved the first couple of books but still haven't got around to books 12 or 13 as the fun ran out.  A similar event happened here.

The concept is that Min is writing to her ex-boyfriend Ed, telling him why they broke up while detailing the objects and events of their relationship.  My first flag was that their relationship lasted from October 5-November 12, just over a month. Is a relationship of that length really worth a book-long screed? Especially a relationship of high-schoolers who are ostensibly restricted by school, extracurriculars, and parental guidance.

But I was swept away by Min's charming narration. Ed and his gang of athletes think of Min as different and compared to them, she is. She's whimsical, passionate about movies, and she seems like her own person. While the basketball players (and their girlfriends) are just like the all-too-typical depictions of popular kids, Min stands apart with her witty quips and her unusual object associations.  She viewed the world differently.

I assume that is also part of the reason why she meticulously detailed the history of their relationship through the rather large collection of items she amassed during their short relationship. Alas as the possessor of an ARC, the artwork was not fully complete. That will be a reason to pick up the finished copy as I look forward to seeing what is only hinted at by the words.  The words that do go on and on and on; frequent run-on sentences and a chatty tone originally charmed me but by the end, I was ready to break up with the book itself.

Overall: Ended up being too much: in style and length.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Saving June

Saving June by Hannah Harrington
HarlequinTeen, 2011
322 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

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

I'll admit that I wasn't totally enthused to pick this book up, having seen that it revolved around a girl dealing with the death of her sister. I've read several of those books in the past year and while I'm a sucker for the sister-sister dynamic which can be explored through them, they're not my favorite. Especially because the surviving sister is often really mean and resentful of her "perfect" sister (the dead sister always seems to be eulogized as just perfect and living up to expectations).

And at the start that is sort of how Harper seemed; she rebelled against the perfection of her sister June and slacked off at school, cultivating an appearance diametrically opposed. She also cursed and smoked a lot, two disgusting habits in my opinion. But in this case, a lot of the book focuses on a road trip from Michigan to California which leads to other insights and was very captivating to me.

Accompanying Harper on this trip are best friend Laney, definitely one of the best friends I've read in a YA book, and bad boy Jake Tolan who has his own mysterious relationship with June. Along the way, they meet some awesome college students (who have some great discussions that were among my favorite parts of the book) as well as several side trips. Admittedly I'm a bit more organized so while I could appreciate what happened at these stops, it also grated against the control freak in me who would have just wanted to reach California.

Once I got past those feelings though, I was really absorbed in the road tripping. It seemed to take a bit too long to reach that point but the pages flew by once I was immersed. I do think that Harper made some dumb decisions but she's only a teenager and she has a lot of problems; she's not perfect. Laney also has her problems, BIG ones but she still supports Harper and can almost anticipate what Harper needs-applause for her! Jake was a bit cliched with his rebel ways but I did like his near-encyclopedic knowledge of music (I'm a sucker for trivia).

Besides the great depiction of a best friend, an awesome part of this book is that it introduced me to another song with my name in the title, Velvet Underground's "Stephanie Says," as well as featuring some great classic rock and other genres of music. Track lists are included at the back for you to explore for yourself-I thought they were great lists!

Overall: An unexpected delight with moments of levity interspersed with the seriousness.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Forever and a Day

Forever and a Day by Delilah Marvelle
Harlequin, 2011
352 pages
Romance; Historical
3.5/5 stars

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

I've read two of Marvelle's previous romances and enjoyed them even though they're a bit darker with heavier subject matter and language than the fluffy Regency romances I usually peruse. This one looked to be in a similar vein to Marvelle's other works so I boldly took the plunge.

It ended up being sort of a mishmash with lots of great individual parts that didn't completely cohere for me.  First there's Mrs. Georgia Milton, an Irish-American widow, meeting a posh aristo on the streets of New York City; minutes later, he's unconscious and in hospital.  This was a very short part and it didn't really endear the male to me as he seemed extremely forward but I suppose it speaks of their instantaneous connection, which will be referenced later.

Then the male wakes up with near-complete memory loss; he calls himself Robinson Crusoe and can remember parts of that book as well as others but not his own name or life story. Georgia agrees to room him while a search is conducted for his identity. Here we learn Georgia's story, how she's fought for everything she has. We see how she was married and widowed and she and Robinson forge a passionate relationship. This only lasts about a day before "Robinson"'s father shows up and announces him as an heir to a dukedom who needs to return to England. This part had its moments but was fairly boring as they're just living an ordinary life in a rough part of New York City. I confess a weakness for society balls in Regency romances rather than "ordinary" historical life.

Robinson or Roderick as he is actually named is willing to return but, after confirming his bachelor status, wants to bring Georgia as his bride, an idea his father rejects. What would the ton think of this rough American woman? They would rip her to shreds.  Roderick hesitatingly gives Georgia up. But she's not through with him yet as the final part demonstrates. We also learn Roderick's backstory-in fact there's a lot of flashbacks throughout to sketch out the main characters. I didn't hate that but it's not my preferred idea of how a romance story should be told. I also didn't really click with either main character, which is bad for a romance.

Hands down, my favorite part was the ending when Georgia shows up after about nine months, thoroughly transformed into an American heiress and boy does she make Roderick crawl and pay for the pain he had put her through! It was a very short section but also the most enjoyable in my opinion. While I wasn't super invested in their love story, I still like to cheer when two people fall and fight for each other.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I'm taking the day off to hang with my family and read! I'll be back tomorrow and through the rest of the week with more reviews and a sum-up of my reading year including favorite book of the year (tough decision!) Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins
Hyperion, 2011
396 pages
Non-fiction; High School
5/5 stars

Source: Library

After reading some of Robbins' previous work, I knew that I would want to give this a read especially with the intriguing title. Although non-fiction works can be difficult (ie boring) for me, I didn't fear that in this case due to my previous experience and interest in the subject matter. As you might deduce from the rating, I was right and I adored this book!  It's everything I could want in non-fiction: well-written, gripping, practically like a novel.

We are introduced to seven people, representing different cliques and outlooks on life from across the USA. None of them know each other and outwardly they seem super different: the popular girl, the new girl, the loner, the nerd, etc. But each is dissatisfied with the role of cliques in their lives and at their school. Robbins follows them over the course of a year but she also hands each of them a challenge to see if they can change outsiders' perception of them to more truly reflect how they view themselves.

Besides following those seven personal stories, Robbins also shares psychological studies about how brains work, how to improve school life for the millions of schoolchildren, and examines "popularity" and "outcasthood."  Of particular interest was how our brains use classifications to simplify the time spent thinking about other people. It's much easier to see a person once as a freak and to continue to think of them that way instead of spending time to get to know them.  It can also take very little to get humans to conform, especially in the developing brains of adolescents. The science behind this was simply presented and easy to understand.

The main thing I take away from this is actually something I feel I can apply to my present day life (although there are things I'll want to keep in mind when I (hopefully) have children). I've often felt myself to be somewhat of a loner on the outskirts, looking at other people's fun including other bloggers as they tweet and share. But I want to be bolder and get more involved as we already share one common interest and probably many more! This is part of my New Year's Resolutions; if you're on Twitter, hopefully we'll be able to interact and have fun together. Otherwise I plan to comment more on blogs and explore more to find new ones (something that I've mostly stopped doing as I've been busy).

Friday, December 23, 2011

Two Moon Princess

Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban
Tanglewood Press, 2007
319 pages
YA; Fantasy
3/5 stars

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

Based on the cover and title, I thought this was going to be a fantasy along the lines of maybe a Tamora Pierce story. I should have examined the cover more closely to notice the girl's contemporary wardrobe, foreshadowing how main character Princess Andrea travels between her world of historical fantasy and our world of the 2000s. While this is an interesting concept, it wasn't what I expected and that contributed to my disappointment.

The other disappointment was the characters, especially Andrea who is 14 in her world, which translates to 17 in ours due to different measurements of time and who seemed to waffle between those ages, making many incomprehensible decisions. She didn't seem like a coherent character. First she wants to be a squire, then she is adjusting to California life, then she's back in her world, trying to avert war. I can connect her actions in my mind but the dialogue and description painted her in vastly different ways over the course of the novel. And not because she was growing but because of author convenience, it seemed.

The other characters were also a tangle of personalities, with either abrupt personality changes or not enough background.  For example, Andrea has three sisters, all of whom could have been potentially interesting but who were really sidelined. The sisters do have an impact on the plot but at the expense of their character development, at least in the eyes of this reader. Andrea's mother was also a confusing figure; she was actually from our world but she gave that up for love with a man who seemed more cruel and unworthy of her love, at least in his behavior to their daughters.

There were some nice points against war and about male pride, that I tend to agree with. And the story itself had some cool threads. Two worlds colliding and a girl struggling to find her place could be a great story. But because of the characters, this one just didn't hang together and left me frustrated with them.

Overall: Interesting story but weak characters.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

There You'll Find Me

There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones
Thomas Nelson, 2011
303 pages
YA; Christian; Contemporary
5/5 stars

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

Summary: Finley is going to Ireland as an exchange student, hoping to feel closer to her brother who was killed in Afghanistan and who had also spent time there; she is lost, adrift from friends on earth and angry at a God who doesn't seem to hear her. But her plans are radically altered when she ends up sitting next to movie star Beckett Rush on the plane. As the pressure in Finley's life mounts,

So I was sitting, getting ready to write this review and trying to come up with something I didn't like about this book. Not because I want to be negative but because I find myself being very particular now about books and I want to provide good guidance to potential readers of this book.

Yet, I find myself incapable of thinking of something. There were some characters I didn't like...but I wasn't supposed to like them as their superficiality and meanness toward the main character (Finley) would have them classified as antagonists.  I didn't like the main character's refusal to realize her eating disorder...but again I think the reader is supposed to be worried about her health even as she stubbornly claims to be "fine, just fine" and that her eating habits will go back to normal once one moment of stress passes.

I guess I could complain about the bickering relationship between the romantic leads but I totally fell for it. The running joke of Beckett calling Finley various names that start with "F" always made me giggle. I actually didn't even think they would end up together (a la my beloved Teen Idol); they could have just been friends but they ended up really challenging each other. Beckett called Finley on her need to control and how she pushes away; Finley helped Beckett with his career choices and therefore impacted his whole life.

Maybe I could complain about the pacing? But no, I thought that was pretty great too. The reader's slow realization of Finley's eating problems and the pain at seeing her war against God got me good. I wanted to force her to put her trust in Him but of course I could only wait. I guess some parts were a little predictable but it still packed a satisfying emotional punch.

Overall: Just an amazing book, with a very flawed main character whose journey has only just begun and who I would love to get to spend more time with.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Legacy by Molly Cochran
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011
418 pages
YA; Paranormal
3/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC through Simon & Schuster's Galley Grab program in exchange for an honest review.

To be honest, I thought this book was messy. Half-formed characters and concepts thrown together with abrupt changes and insufficient background beyond knowledge of YA cliches. Main character arrives at a boarding school that seems to encourage special talents, which she may or may not possess. She is not at all taken aback to discover that she does in fact possess them and is soon wielding power as if she's always known she's a witch. Katy is remarkably blase about the whole witchcraft angle, spending most of her angst on her father, his new girlfriend, and her mother's death years prior.  While I understand those feelings, I do think more time could have been spent acclimating her to being a witch instead of it appearing so suddenly.

Then there's the male love interest who is super popular and immediately reviles her upon first sight, leading to her ostracization by her schoolmates. Then he quickly reverses his position and fights their being together despite their mutual attraction. It was A. so cliche and I didn't feel like he was interesting enough to overcome that and B. only understandable due to the many other YA books with this trope.  Most of the books I've read don't have that many random personality changes.

There are a lot of other aspects packed in to this book too: the history of their version of magic and treatment of witches, within their community and from outsiders; single father-only daughter dynamics; the intrusion of a new girlfriend for the daughter; the pain of losing one's mother so young; what a person will do for family; fighting against chaos. But the book jumped around and pulled me this way and that without capturing my attention or giving me any reason to suspend disbelief.

Her father especially frustrated me as he is painted as just awful, under the sway of his new girlfriend and ignorant of anything about Katy. And it's not just Katy rebelling against parental interference; I really thought he was a bad dad. Then he seems to have a personality transplant and becomes more of a decent person. Again these huge shifts in personality and motivation are standard for the text and created a disorienting effect.

Overall: Poor writing and an abundance of YA cliches led to confusion about characterization and a general indifference to the story. It's not a bad book but it could have used some editing to tighten up the story and a bit more insight into the characters.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

#NetGalleyMonth Sign Up @WilowRedHouse

For my official sign-up, I wanted to list the books I'm planning to read (hopefully will get to a few more but we'll see!)

1. Cinder by Marissa Meyer, which I've been saving for 2012 so it can count toward the Debut Author Challenge. I love Cinderella retellings so I have high hopes for this one!

2. Ditched by Robin Mellom, this one looks like a cute contemporary and I've enjoyed a lot of Disney-Hyperion books so I think this one will be right up my alley.

3. The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani, deals with the very timely topic of what happens with a parent is out of work and how that affects the whole family as well as featuring a bi-cultural MC.

4. Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic, a contemporary I've been saving to count toward the Debut Author Challenge.

5. My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan by Seth Rudetsky, the ah-mazing host of a show on Sirius XM Broadway Channel. I've read his columns and seen him on that Legally Blonde reality show. I think he's hilarious and I can't wait to read his YA debut for more laughs!

6. The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe, another Disney-Hyperion book I'm excited about.

7. First Date by Krista McGee, about a reality show to become the President's son's prom-date. A. this makes me think of this hilarious Disney Channel movie called "My Date with the President's Daughter" and B. Meg Cabot's All-American Girl, while C. still being its own concept. I'm really looking forward to this one.

8. The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, one I don't know much about but the cover captured my attention so that's enough for me to give it a try.

What books are you planning to read for Netgalley January? Are you planning to read/have you already read any of these? Remember, head over to Red House Books to sign up for all the fun!

Touch of Power

Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder
Mira, 2011
392 pages
4.5/5 stars

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

I am a big Snyder fan (Poison Study is one of my top 5 books of all time) so it was a no-brainer that I would be picking up this book. And I ended up being so satisfied, getting a heroine with plenty of similarities to my beloved Yelena from Poison Study while being a completely different character.

In this world, Avry has tremendous power being a Healer; however she also has a bounty on her head, due to the anger felt by the populace against healers after a devastating plague wiped out most of the population while healers did nothing. Avry has been on the run for three years but is caught after healing a little girl; she calmly faces her execution only to be taken by a group who desperately need a Healer. The leader, Kerrick, demands Avry's assistance in healing Prince Ryne, someone she loathes. Despite her refusal, she is brought along, fending off mercenaries, rival leaders, and her own attraction to the dashing Kerrick.

I'm not really sure how to start this review because there was so much I loved. Maybe I could start with the writing, which flows so well and absolutely swept me away. I meant to read only a few chapters to get a taste but I ended up reading nearly half the book, sleeping while my Nook charged, and then diving back in to finish. I did not want to put it down; I just wanted to know what Avry would do next.

Of course the characters were a big reason for my loving the book. Avry was always proud to be a healer and it pains her so much to be unable to heal people; it's what she is meant for. Happily we get to see several instances when she does get to exercise her powers and it's so exciting to see her live the life she was meant to. Besides that, she is fiercely intelligent and eager to learn more, something I always support in a MC.

I also loved Kerrick, the brusque and competent leader of the pack. He takes good care of his men and is fiercely loyal to Ryne. Although he starts out exceedingly cruel to Avry, he begins to reform. I loved every instance when she challenged him, forcing him to consider other ideas (usually ones that were better!) The other men in the gang (Belen, Flea, Quain, and Vinn) were also great personalities. Belen is probably my favorite as the "poppa bear" of the group while Flea's irrepressible spirit brightens up the group; Vinn and Quain are also reliable supporters.

There are also a whole host of other characters as Avry remembers her family and mentor and we get a picture at the stakes. There are three major rivals for control over the fantasy land created here: King Tohon, a power-hungry mage with evil intentions; Estrid, the religious dictator; and Ryne, who could be a real player if he weren't in stasis to ward off death. Ryne is presented as the best choice while Tohon comes off as the worst. Estrid is somewhere in the middle and hopefully the second book will touch on her more.

As for the setting, we have a crazed world with so many dead and power vacuums. Much of the book is spent journeying around as they try to reach Ryne with lots of different locales and adventures. This contributed to my flipping the pages as I just had to find out what came next.

It sounds like I love this book, right? So why not a perfect 5? Well, I was very uncomfortable by one of Tohon's powers, which was the ability to force Avry's desire for him. He repeatedly kisses her and has the ability to make her want him such as she almost sleeps with him, if not for other interfering circumstances. If she had a genuine interest in him, I'd be okay but the element of coercion makes me so sick.

Overall: Highly recommended for fans of Poison Study!

Monday, December 19, 2011


Flyaway by Helen Landalf
Harcourt Children's Books, 2011
168 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

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

I think this ended up being a book where my age and personality severely clashed with the book. I tired of the immaturity, the extremely poor decisions, and the blinders the main character wore, which hindered my ability to enjoy it.

Main character Stevie lives with her flighty mother, who is also under the sway of an abusive boyfriend and drugs, and is practically failing out of school. She is totally out to sea without adult supervision or any purpose in life. However her Aunt Mindy intervenes, taking guardianship of Stevie and getting her mother sent to rehab despite the protestations of both. And Stevie starts to learn what life is like when she has an appropriate parental unit and what it is like to have someone support her.

There were some good things: the main character's name is Stephanie even if she prefers to go by Stevie as in Stevie Nicks. This is obviously not a decision I support but it really is the least of her problems.  The positive adult main characters (Aunt Mindy and tutor Rick) were wonderful; I certainly wouldn't mind a story featuring them more. The writing is fine and the story flies by (it is very short).

I really struggled to connect with Stevie when she rebelled against her Aunt Mindy. I understand that her mother didn't like Mindy and that would color Stevie's perception. But Aunt Mindy is stable and possesses the ability to follow-through. No matter how much Stevie pushes her away, she keeps trying to get through to her.  I just thought Stevie was so immature even though she tries to act so mature and she seriously makes a lot of bad decisions (some examples: stealing her aunt's car despite possessing no driver's license or formal training; making out with a jerk; encouraging her mom to leave rehab early).

There's also a lot of talk about drugs, seriously in the case of Stevie's mom but rather casually in the case of Stevie and her contemporaries. While drugs are not presented in a positive light, I didn't think they were denounced enough. I guess the author didn't want to be preachy but I feel like some stronger anti-drug sentiments could have been written. There are also some odd plot twists around a love interest for Stevie. There are two possibilities and the situations change rapidly with little sense.

In the end, this was a fast to read story but there was so much stuffed in that nothing received the treatment it deserved and I was left unfulfilled.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life by Jesse Goossens
Originally published 2008
Translated by Erik J. Macki, 2010
Lemniscatt LLC, 2011
241 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

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

This book grabbed my attention due to sharing a title with the beloved Christmas movie as well as a blurb touting a main character with a love for movies, a love that I share. I'm partial to the classic old ones but I can enjoy a modern blockbuster too.

It's different from most of the YA I read as it is actually a translation from a Dutch novel, featuring a Dutch teenager who instead of partying in Spain with her friends is sent to Pennsylvania for what might be the dullest vacation ever. Except that the people she meets are genuine and kind and might be exactly what Anna needs at this crossroad in her life.

There are a lot of bizarre occurrences in this book: an eighteen year old funeral director, another young funeral director who is in competition with the first, both for business and for Anna, the vintage store which has a steady supply of famous movie props if you believe Anna's stories, a yearly toast to the "hoax" of the moon landing, and more. Looking back, the events seem odd but in the context of the story, they create a quirky small town where Anna finds a place to belong.

Another part of the charm of the story is Anna herself. Although disappointed about not going to Spain, she accepts her parents' directive and throws herself into small-town life, learning how to drive, taking up responsibilities, and building connections. The other characters are also sweet although as the book is quite short, there isn't much time spent on them.

Overall: An offbeat story that will take you someplace different from the typical, mainstream YA novel.

Cover: I liked the girl looking at the lovely dress but it's a little plain for my taste.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Mortal Terror

A Mortal Terror by James R. Benn
Soho, 2011
345 pages
Mystery; Historical
4/5 stars

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

I was a little nervous about picking this up as I could see that it was part of a series; however I could also see that it was set during WWII and I thought that premise had so much promise so I bit the bullet and requested it. I am so happy that I did as I received a solid mystery, even if it was a bit outside of my ken. I also think there are tremendous possibilities for this series. Yes, it is already on its sixth but there is still so much that can be included and explored in future outings.

The book opens in Switzerland with Billy Boyle covertly meeting his love Diana, who is an undercover agent stationed as a nun in the Vatican, with news about atrocities being committed by the Nazis in Poland.  Much as he would like to just be with her, he is soon commanded to follow a different path to Anzio, Italy, investigating the murders of a lieutenant and a captain. Each was found with a playing card (10 and Jack of Hearts), leaving those in the next rank, that of major, on edge. To compound his anxieties, Billy's younger brother is being shipped overseas to serve as a replacement in a dangerous post.

While I am very interested in World War II, the military life itself is not something I read much about. Mostly that is because I prefer books with female leads and most military stories feature males exclusively. Thus military hierarchy and procedure is always a bit confusing to me. No exception here as I kept forgetting if a lieutenant or captain was higher; I did know that major was above captain. Happily while that is a plot point, human nature is far more the focus here.

Combat fatigue has hit many of the men hard; understandable as they've been fighting almost nonstop with heavy casualties and insufficient replacements. Psychoanalysis also plays a big role as some doctors are evaluating those experiencing combat fatigue while some leaders refuse to admit the possibility of such a thing, dubbing the men cowards.  There is also the idea of the psychopath, the kind of man who will be able to resist combat fatigue as he glories in the duties of war.

This background helps to identify the murderer; or it could help if you were a better detective than me. I only caught on when it became blindingly obvious. There are many possibilities, which left me feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.  And while I was happy to identify the murderer and read how Billy caught him, I was much more interested in the other subplot, revolving around Diana. I hope the previous stories feature her as I would like to read more about her-hey, I like female MCs!

Overall: A solid historical mystery, delving into the complexities of the historical period and warfare itself.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Mastiff by Tamora Pierce
Random House, 2011
581 pages
YA; Fantasy
4/5 stars

Source: Library

In the conclusion to the Beka Cooper trilogy, we come to this massive doorstop book. I was so intimidated picking it up from the library and realizing its size. Additionally it opens with Beka at the funeral of her fiance, Holborn, who I didn't remember! Luckily after some searching, I realized that he had not been introduced before, which creates a jarring effect. Why start honoring the death of a character we don't know?

But then it does move into the story, which puts Beka, her partner Tunstall, her scent hound Achoo, and constellation-in-cat-form Pounce on the hunt for the kidnapped prince, a tangled web of disgruntled mage and nobility deception. Along the way we also meet a new character, a mage Farmer Cape, who is brought onto the Hunt to counter the many magical challenges they face. In short, he is delightful. He is full of curiosity and is very inventive. He's funny and sweet and I obviously fell for does Beka.  We also see some of the other characters from the previous books such as Tunstall's lover Lady Sabine and Beka's patron Lord Gershom but the focus is on the core group hunting the prince.

And despite its bulk, this book does move fairly fast. Part of that is due to Pierce's confident writing style and the engaging characters. Then there is the nature of the story, which is tracking clues and attempting to piece disparate elements together. That kind of story usually compels me to read as fast as I can to discover what happened.

One of my favorite parts was the end, which returns to time of Alanna and shows George Cooper, descendant of Beka, as he begins his reign as the King of Rogues and just after he's met "Alan." Great shout-out for fans of the Song of the Lioness Quartet and hopefully intriguing enough to get any one who hasn't read those books to pick them up.

However this book is far from perfect as you might surmise from my rating. First as already mentioned is the opening, which made it hard for me to get in to. Holborn meant nothing to me and while Beka had disengaged from her fiance, meaning that she wasn't in mourning, it made the whole start awkward.  Additionally Pierce seems to have wanted to focus on the devastating effects of slavery but it is a little heavy-handed rather than naturally included. One last point is the reveal of a traitor to Beka; other readers have been very upset with the twist. I could see why that person was chosen but I really wish it hadn't happened.

Cover: Beka's head seems at a really awkward angle; I can't imagine that it is comfortable. I do like seeing Pounce and Achoo though.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

With a Name Like Love

With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo
Margaret Ferguson Books, 2011
249 pages
MG/YA; Historical
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

This is another book by a blogger I follow and a book that was receiving rave reviews so I felt fairly confident diving into this that I would love it. I've also had really good luck with middle-grade novels this year so that made me extra excited.

I'll start with only two minor complaints about this book as the rest was very pleasing to me. First is the setting is indistinct. I don't think it's important to know that the location is a small Southern town but it bothered me that we didn't learn until halfway through that the year was 1957; it seemed like a historical but I didn't have enough information to declare it so until then.*** The other was a rather graphic depiction of an event involving animal blood. It made me a little queasy and seemed a bit adult for a middle-grade even if it wasn't gratuitous.

But otherwise, I was very enchanted. Main character Ollie is the eldest of five daughters whose father is a traveling preacher named Everlasting Love (that's seriously what his parents named him). Ollie has been longing to quit the road and settle down for a while and she finally gets her wish when she meets Jimmy Koppel whose mother has been arrested for the murder of her husband. The Love family hunkers down as Ollie frantically tries to prevent the separation of Jimmy and his mother and battles against the deeply engrained prejudices of a small-town.

Ollie was such a lovely heroine; I really sympathized with her desire to plant roots in to one place as well as to her tight-knit family. Although there are five girls, each received a vivid sketch and came to life interacting just like bickering sisters who deep down do love each other. Their parents are also great-they are parents who are involved in their children's lives even if some things are past them, such as one daughter's desire to be a preacher; a girl, as preacher? That's crazy talk ;)  Jimmy is also a pretty sweet kid. There is also a mix of good and bad people in the town who create a real cast of characters.

Overall: Filled with love, family, and friendship overcoming overwhelming odds, a sweet read for most ages!

***As pointed out in the comments, the first sentence does mention the year. So I supposed I should revise this to state that the first sentence did not stand out to me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Happy birthday to me!

Today is my birthday, which is always one of my favorite days! I originally had some ideas about something to post today but time ended up getting away from me so just rest assured that I will return tomorrow and through the rest of the month with reviews. Have a great Hump Day!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Merchant's Daughter #Review @Netgalley

The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson
Zondervan, 2011
270 pages
YA; Fairy-Tale; Historical; Christian
4/5 stars

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

I read Dickerson's previous novel, The Healer's Apprentice, and came out of it with mixed feelings. Still I'm a sucker for retold fairy tales so I requested this one from Netgalley.

At some point, I decided it was a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin (no idea) but it is actually Beauty and the Beast in medieval England. The choice of England for the setting is an interesting one to me as B&B is traditionally French; however I didn't feel very immersed in England. For the little I know about that time period, it might as well have been set in France.

While I deem the setting less important, the characters were very well done. The "beauty" is Annabel, whose merchant father was lost at sea and whose proud mother has led the family to crumble under their debts. As punishment, Annabel will become a servant to the new lord, the beastly (in appearance and temperament) Lord Ranulf. Although a fall in social status, it is certainly preferable to marriage to the loathsome bailiff who does not understand the word "no."

Through their time together, Ranulf and Annabel begin to learn each other's character and fall in love. Annabel has a heart for God and dreams of entering a nunnery. Her pure heart helps to heal Ranulf's pain from the rejection by his beautiful wife, who found his appearance horrifying. Meanwhile Ranulf provides Annabel with a Bible (that she can read...because she can read Latin!) and encourages her spirituality as well as her independence.

Like the other Dickerson novel I've read, the Christianity aspect is very strong; I thought it was handled much better here although non-Christians might find it overwhelming. As a Christian, I appreciated Annabel having the chance to read the Bible herself (although I do think she was far too educated for her position) and the weaving of Christianity into the story.

Overall: A sweet romance, not based on just knowing, but based on getting to know each other and a shared love of Christ.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Orphan of Awkward Falls

The Orphan of Awkward Falls by Keith Graves
Chronicle Books, 2011
338 pages
Middle-Grade; Fantastical
4/5 stars

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

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book, other than hopefully a charming MG story. I was also pleased to discover that there were illustrations included as I read through this weird tale.

Josephine has just moved to Awkward Falls, location of an insane asylum housing cannibal Fetid Stenchley, who manages to escape through a very poorly planned event. That is unknown to her when she stumbles upon the titular orphan, Thaddeus, a mad scientist who lives with his grandfather's robot servant (awesome!) and a talking reanimated cat, among other oddities. These people and more collide in a crazy adventure.

I have to say that I was somewhat reminded of the Series of Unfortunate Events while reading this. I'm not sure if it's because of the presence of an orphan, the presence of a sauerkraut factory in the town, or if it's the odd happenings or something else. But, whatever it was, I liked it.

Josephine and Thaddeus are sweet kids with understandable motivations and desires. The aforementioned robot servant is wonderful: loyal and brave. And Josephine's parents even get to play an important role in the book-yay for parents who care about their children, who believe and trust even when the truth sounds crazy!

Boo on mad scientists as Thaddeus' grandfather is revealed to be. Boo on cannibals, even though Fetid is revealed to be a bit more complicated than that. He does have his own loyalty system but he spares no hurt for innocent people and too singlemindedly pursues his own desires instead of considering others.

Don't worry though! In the end, our heroes will end well while the cannibals receive a just punishment. A quirky story with good characters and some imaginative escapades.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tankborn #Review @Netgalley

Tankborn by Karen Sandler
Tu Books, 2011
372 pages
YA; Science Fiction
3.5/5 stars

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

I didn't know much about this book but the summary looked interesting so I requested it through Netgalley. What I did know was that it was YA science-fiction, which I don't read a lot so I was excited to be immersed in a brand-new world.

Unfortunately as is sometimes the case when a new world is built, it can be hard for the reader to enter it. The new words and slang for most everyday objects had me struggling to envision what was happening. The world here is tightly structured with highborns, lowborns, and GENs aka tankborns, who are essentially slaves for the highborns. They are genetically created with specific attributes such as nurturing and strength to make them ideal helpers for the rich leaders of the society. Additionally there was an abrupt change of perspective that was not well delineated so I spent a couple of pages very confused and wondering who certain characters were. Those shifts continue throughout the book but they make more sense as the book progresses and various plot threads come together.

The first main character is Kayla, who is about to start her service to an elderly highborn. Once there she discovers that his great-grandson is the highborn she had met earlier in the book and shared an awkward encounter. At this place, she begins to feel valued and unravels dark secrets about her world. The other perspective is Kayla's friend Mishalla, a nurturer who is unwittingly caught up in some seriously evil doings.  I really liked trying to piece everything together and the characters were well drawn-sympathetic with believable emotions and actions despite the unfamiliarity of the world.

I also appreciated the themes about constructions of society and about what it means to be human, although sometimes they seemed overdone.  One other great aspect is that the book is a wholly contained book; there is still a lot of potential for future stories, such as Kayla (or others) leading a revolution to overthrow the present government but the the main threads are completed and there is no cliff-hanger.

Overall: A good story, one that just took too long to pull me in.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Irena's Jars of Secrets

Irena's Jars of Secrets by Marcia Vaughan
Illustrated by Ron Mazellan
Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2011
35 pages
Children's Historical Picture Book

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

I was actually first interested in this book because of another blogger, Irena at This Miss Loves to Read, because she shares a name with the focus of this book. Thus even though this book is aimed at a younger audience, I requested it from Netgalley.

It tells the story of Irena Sendler who, during World War II, headed a group that saved the lives of about 2500 Jewish children.  She had a special dispensation to enter the ghettos where Jews were forced to live and helped smuggle out children where they were then placed with other families under false identities. The families were promised that information would be preserved so that everyone could be reunited. Irena did this by storing the papers in various jars buried under a tree. She ended up arrested and almost executed but other members bribed her release and she spent the rest of the war in hiding...but still helping as she could!

At the end of the war, Irena dug up the jars to help reunite families. While most of the children survived, the majority of their families had been sent to camps and died. Irena received the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest honor and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I was not familiar with this story but it ended up bringing tears to my eyes through the bravery and selflessness of Irena and the other members of the groups as well as the bravery of the adults who sent their children away, never knowing if they would see each other again. It was so inspiring to read about ordinary people doing their part against human evil. And although the topic is a difficult one, the book is still appropriate for younger readers due to the care taken with language.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tall, Dark, and Determined

Tall, Dark, and Determined by Kelly Eileen Hake
Barbour, 2011
319 pages
Christian Historical Romance
3/5 stars
Second in Husbands for Hire series

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

This book has its first chapter introducing a new character, the male lead, and then it switches back to refresh the reader about what happened at the end of the first book, Rugged and Relentless. This was a little confusing for me but it soon moved in a new direction, starting the new story. Unfortunately I did not really like that story for most of the book although the ending helped a little.

The focus in this book is on Lacey Lyman, whose idea it had been to travel West with her three closest friends to nurse her brother back to help, to find good husbands, and to build a successful saw mill town.  Lacey loves to wear beautiful clothes and bristles at being treated as if she is a delicate female incapable of doing anything, as many men are wont to treat her.  As this is a romance, she does have a male opposite, hunter Chase Dunstan who suspects Lacey's brother of mischief and arrives with false intentions. They two instantly clash and continue clashing.

I was almost completely in Lacey's camp on this one. Chase is arrogant, rude, and overbearing; additionally I, as the reader, knew what secrets he was hiding, and did not appreciate his false cover. I hated knowing that Lacey was falling for him as he did not seem deserving. I also thought he was rather cruel. To compound my dislike of his character, nothing much seemed to be happening. They were just walking around Hope Falls, bickering all the time. I could have stomached, that had there been more scenes with the ladies together, which is what had enchanted me about the first book.

This was going to get a much lower rating despite the smooth writing and easy reading until the ending when there's a bit of suspense and I almost became reconciled to Dunstan.  I must say it is bothersome that two of the women fall for men who arrived under false pretenses. Can't one of them just be honest? Presumably there will be a third book with Naomi, a character I would love to get to know more and hopefully her love interest will be more honest.

Also despite its publication from Barbour, I didn't feel much Christian content. Now I don't want to be preached at of course, but God was not much of a presence, receiving only a few token mentions.

Overall: Mostly boring with an unpleasant male lead until the last dozens of pages when something finally happens and moves the character development along.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How to Save a Life

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Little, Brown and Company, 2011
341 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

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

I've only read one of Zarr's books but was impressed by its depiction of religion and having seen buzz in the blogosphere for her in general I knew I wanted to read another book by her. Thus I requested this book. However this one didn't work for me.

The main reason would be that it is a character-driven novel, told in alternating points of views between Jill and Mandy. Jill's father died months ago, hitting especially hard due to their similar personalities. Her way of coping has been to shut people out and be even more mean than she already was. One of her targets is her mother who has decided to move forward by adopting a baby. Specifically Mandy's baby. Mandy has had a tough life with her mother, moving between the mother's various boyfriends and being raised with very sexist attitudes about relationships and how to comport one's self. My main impression of the girls was that Jill was mean and Mandy was embarrassingly young and naive; however the girls also had other unpleasant traits. I just couldn't stand them, which is unfortunate as I found most of the supporting characters quite likable.

Jill's friends and coworkers as well as her mother were extraordinarily patient with her even as she tried her hardest to push them away. The few people shown in Mandy's life were awful but they show how she was shaped even I would have expected her to be a bit smarter due to their treatment of her.

Still the writing is quite good even if the themes about family were a little overdone and the events of the book were predictable. Perhaps if the narrators appealed to me more, I would have been more swept away with the journey and less concerned about when the end would come.

Overall: A character-driven novel with awful characters, who annoyed me. Not the book for me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Washington Square

Washington Square by Henry James
Signet Classic, 1979
Originally published 1880
232 pages
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Although I've heard of Henry James as an intimidating literary figure, I actually had a very pleasant experience with The Portrait of a Lady and was thus eager to pick up another book by him. When at the library, I narrowed my choices down to two (short) books and selected this one due to my love of the awesome film adaptation, The Heiress, starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift (I cannot recommend this production to you enough-amazing acting!) Although I had no reason to do so, I assumed that the film was fairly accurate and approached the book with expectations about what it contained. While the film is pretty faithful, I found its ending much more satisfying although I won't spoil exactly why.

This novel is pretty simple and straightforward. A young woman named Catherine Sloper is plain but rich. Her father, Doctor Sloper, laments the loss of his beautiful wife giving birth to Catherine but does bring up Catherine. Their household is completed by his sister, the widow Penniman. The fourth main player in this drama is Morris Townsend, who pays many fine compliments to Catherine with the ultimate end of acquiring a fortune. Doctor Sloper sees this and promises the couple that if they wed, they will not receive a penny of his not insignificant fortune. This leads to Townsend breaking their engagement and Catherine remaining a spinster for the rest of her days. Several other characters play pivotal roles in this novel but overall it is a small, focused story, heavily reminiscent of a play.

Although I was familiar with the film, I still was not expecting the overwhelming sadness I felt. The comparisons to Jane Austen made me think there could somehow be a happy ending; but how do a simple young woman and a fortune hunter get a happy ending? But Doctor Sloper's obvious dislike for his daughter and her continued admiration for him and his knowledge left a sickening feeling in my stomach. The movie made Catherine even more sympathetic since she is played by the lovely Olivia de Havilland, who did her best to look plain.

And honestly my impressions of the film also overshadowed the book as a whole. I feel so bad saying that and I'm not going to say that the movie was better. But I do prefer the movie. I struggled with some of the writing as James employed some extremely long, convoluted sentences. And the characters are just so awful. When I watch the film, I at least have the ending to look forward, an original ending that James did not script.

Overall: My impressions of the film overpowered my desire to slog through James' prose and bleak outlook.

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