Monday, April 30, 2012

Pre-Order Miracle @escottwrites

One of my favorite authors is Elizabeth Scott who recently posted on her blog about her push to have 1,000 preorders of her only release this year, Miracle. While I don't preorder many books, usually preferring immediate gratification by buying my local book store, in this case I was more than happy to oblige. I have read every one of Scott's books and enjoyed all of them.  And then I wanted to post about this to give you the opportunity to join in!

Here's the summary from website:
Megan is a miracle. At least, that’s what everyone says. Having survived a plane crash that killed everyone else on board, Megan knows she should be grateful just to be alive. But the truth is, she doesn’t feel like a miracle. In fact, she doesn’t feel anything at all. Then memories from the crash start coming back.
Scared and alone, Megan doesn’t know whom to turn to. Her entire community seems unable—or maybe unwilling—to see her as anything but Miracle Megan. Everyone except for Joe, the beautiful boy next door with a tragic past and secrets of his own. All Megan wants is for her life to get back to normal, but the harder she tries to live up to everyone’s expectations, the worse she feels. And this time, she may be falling too fast to be saved....
It comes out June 5 and I have included some links below so you can preorder:

Be sure to pass on this information to anyone who might be interested in it!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Discussion: Reading Reviews Before the Book

Recently I've been thinking about how blogger reviews affect my experience with reading. Generally I tried not to read reviews until I had already book in order to have the purest experience. I didn't want to have other people's impressions in my mind. But lately I have been peeking at reviews...with mixed results.

For example, there was Grave Mercy, a book whose hype overwhelmed it for me. I read so many rave reviews and while I did love the book, it couldn't quite live up to all the praise I saw heaped upon it. Would my experience have been different if I had read the book before the reviews? I think so because I would have found everything more surprising.

However I found it helpful in the case of Various Positions. I read several disappointed reviews and expected to find myself similarly unhappy. But I ended up actually kind of liking it because I was prepared for what the story was actually about instead of what I wanted the story to be about based on the cover.

Another kind of experience came with The Immortal Rules, which I was not initially very excited about because I don't like vampire stories. But I liked that this seemed to be darker with the MC grappling with her new nature in addition to not being a paranormal romance. I gave it a shot and found it very good, having been prepped by the many, many bloggers who had already read and reviewed it.

In general though I will continue trying to avoid reviews before the book especially if I know I will be reading the book soon. I can just bookmark the page and return at a later date (which may be why you sometimes get a comment on a very old post :) once I've had a time to digest the book and feel up to leaving a thoughtful comment.

What about you? Do you read reviews before the book itself? How has it affected your reading experience?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Immortal Rules

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
4/5 stars
HarlequinTeen, 2012
504 pages
YA; Dystopian Paranormal

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

Unlike most people, I did not enjoy Kagawa's Iron Fey trilogy. Firstly I mostly hate fae stories but I also really hated the romance of Meghan and Ash (want to punch his stupid face) so I was initially going to skip this because I mostly hate vampire stories and hadn't had a good experience with the author's previous work. But then everybody seemed to be reviewing it and I am very susceptible to hype. So I picked up a copy to give it a shot.

The beginning did not ease my suspicions as it seemed to drag on and on. I didn't really care about Allison and her gang's struggle for life on the Fringe and I was so fed up with weakling Stick and his inability to toughen up and care for himself. While I admired Allison for her unrelenting hatred of vampires, nothing much was keeping me engaged with the book. However I do like the main character's name (Allison (that's with 2 L's) is my favorite sister's name) and seriously pretty much everyone raved about this book. I kept going.

At the end of the first section is when Allison is almost dead and has the option to die forever or to become a vampire. She chooses to survive and is turned. This is when I was really drawn into the book. Her mentor is Kanin, an ancient vampire with many secrets who trains Allison in what she needs to know. She will forever have to battle her Hunger but she has the ability to decide what kind of monster she will be. I love Kanin and lament his disappearance from the narrative so early but the book actually got even better (and we should see more of Kanin in the next book-fingers crossed)!

After Allison is on her own, she falls in with a band of humans and must masquerade as one despite suspicion from several members of the group. One who accepts her almost unquestioningly is Zeke, the second in command in the party on the search for Eden, a human city entirely without the menace of vampires. As they journey, Allison continues to struggle with the monster within as she has to make many difficult choices such as how to feed to keep herself going and how far she needs to go to help everyone on their quest.

While the internal struggle of Allison hating her new nature as a vampire plays a big role, to my delight, there is also a lot of action, which was very exciting and helped keep the book moving. Vampires are impossibly fast and nearly indestructible which gives Allie an edge but sometimes she has to face other vampires and what then? Those who like a lot of action will be well-pleased.

Those who like well-developed characters will also be pleased though. As mentioned, Allison continues to be deepened throughout her narration but the other characters get the full-scale treatment too. Of particular interest to me were Zeke as the human love interest who is probably the nicest person Allison has ever met, giving without expectation and acting in what Allison might think is a naive way. And yet he has deep resources of strength and determination. I did like Zeke; he's just a good guy. His father is a strict man determined to protect the whole even if it means sacrificing an individual. And as mentioned earlier, Kanin was probably my favorite character.

Overall: Slow beginning but even this vampire story hater was won over by the masterful writing and plotting. I will definitely be back for the next book.

Cover: Not only is the model staring at me (something I find creepy), her eye is dripping blood (doubly creepy) so while it's appropriate (because vampires do cry blood in this world), it is not to my taste at all.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Mapmaker and the Ghost

The Mapmaker and the Ghost by Sarvenaz Tash
4/5 stars
Walker & Company, 2012
242 pages
MG; Contemporary Fantasy

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

In an effort to tame my tbr list, I have tried to become increasingly picky and I confess that while interested in this, I originally skipped over it on Netgalley in order to focus on YA titles. But then I saw that Small Review had gotten it (she's a bad influence ;) and I decided that I must read it too. So requested, read, and loved it!

The main character intrepid sixth-grader Goldenrod, so named by her garden-mad mother, has a deep love of maps as well as admiration for explorers Lewis and Clark who passed through what is now her hometown during their expedition. For a summer project, Goldenrod decides to make a map of that town that will include absolutely everything. She can present this to her best friend, who had to move away, and it will help occupy her time during her summer vacation. Of course, it would be better to explore brand-new territory entirely but this may be her best chance for adventure.

Until she sets off on her quest and discovers: a mysterious old lady who tells her about a rare species of rose, the ghost referenced in the title, and a gang of young hoodlums, for lack of a better word. Despite the "civilization" in which she resides, it seems like Goldenrod will be able to have an adventure after all!

This was such a cute book, leaving me absolutely charmed. Goldenrod is a fun kid; I appreciate her offbeat interest in maps and her dedication to doing right during her encounter with the gang. She has a sense of humor and is good to her family. In short, Goldenrod is an excellent main character. But she is joined by a quirky cast to supplement the charms. I especially enjoyed the ghost and Goldenrod's younger brother who idolizes his older sibling, as he ought.

Overall: A sweet and delightful story that is sure to capture your attention-great for a lazy afternoon read!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Selection

The Selection by Kiera Cass
4.5/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2012
327 pages
YA Dystopia

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

I honestly wasn't sure I was going to read this after the author's pique over Wendy at The Midnight Garden's awesome review but the concept kept calling to me and I am so glad that I did read it as it featured many of the things I enjoy in books. While not to everyone's taste, it really worked for me.

Basically in this dystopian future, America is chosen to compete with thirty-four other young ladies to become wife to Prince Maxon. While America has no interest in the position due to her love for the unsuitable Aspen, she grudgingly enters to benefit her family and finds out some surprising things along the way.

First, you really must ignore the names. I find them simply dreadful (and I only gave a small sample here). Once I trained my brain to blip over them, it was easier. I found the world building to be sufficient and the concept to be very attractive. The idea of groups of people gathered together to compete against each other is a very appealing one to me. It is a little like The Hunger Games as well as First Date, both of which I enjoyed and I've probably read other books with similar plot points. For people who like a lot of action, they will not find that here. But for people like me who enjoy reading about girls swanning around in pretty dresses as well as the machinations of a group of girls in competition against each other, this has a lot to offer.

What I didn't like was how this book kind of seems to be dragged out. Rebels with mysterious agendas against Illea have been attacking consistently on the search for something. I am really speculating that this story could have been told in one slightly longer book with some tighter editing. We shall have to wait and see. I also hated the love triangle. While Maxon and Aspen are both certain of how they feel about America, she has complicated feelings. I was not in sync with her; after the way Aspen treated her, I was ready for to become a princess. Maxon is not perfect by any means but Aspen's behavior was so low and I am not ready to forgive him. I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with America over this issue.

Recommended for: people who loved the Capitol scenes in The Hunger Games. It also made me think of the movie Clueless, one of my faves although this book is definitely not as good as that film. I also thought it felt a bit like a fairy-tale, which is always a positive to me. I was just pretty happy while reading this and I devoured it so that is what makes this such a good read for me.

Not recommended for: People who want a lot of action and excitement or a gritty dystopia-you will not find that here.

Cover: I believe I've mentioned that I love pretty dresses, yes? I'm not entirely sure about the position though-why is her arm above her head? And her hair could be redder to more accurately match the character description.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Nightmare Garden

The Nightmare Garden by Caitlin Kittredge
4/5 stars
Delacorte Press, 2012
417 pages
YA Steampunk Fantasy

Source: Purchased

The Iron Thorn was a surprise favorite from last year so I was very excited to pick this up. Unfortunately, due to poor planning, I had a huge stack of review books to get through first, meaning that this book has been staring at me for too long before I finally picked it up to read. Of course, it had also been about a year since I read the first one which mean that it took me a while to get back into the groove of the characters and the story.

While I remembered the uniquely named Aoife, I couldn't entirely remember the circumstances in which we last saw her. That made the beginning pages a struggle especially as I could not remember Conrad, who as Aoife's brother is actually an important character. Happily as the book progressed, most of the first book returned to me while Aoife's adventure in this book developed, giving her purpose and the book its own plot within the larger framework of the series.

That plot is Aoife's search to fix the damage caused by her opening the Gates in her world and specifically to find her mother who was lost in Lovecraft. To save her mother, Aoife would do almost anything, something I identified very strongly with. I would go to great lengths to protect my family and face the same things Aoife does.

However as the book progresses we focus almost entirely on Aoife. Understandably since she is the main character but sadly to me because I really liked Dean and Cal in the first book while they are almost entirely sidelined in this book. We also meet some new characters who do have bigger parts, most notably to me as Aoife's almost stepmother Valentina and the intriguing Rasputina, who gives Aoife a lift when she needs one.

Overall: I didn't like it quite as much as the first book but I wonder if that would be the case if I had saved them to read one right after the other. I bet that would have helped me to keep everything on track.

Cover: I don't think she looks quite human here; I guess her Fae side is being pulled out more but it looks really weird to me. I do really like the blues used though.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spirit's Princess

Spirit's Princess by Esther Friesner
3/5 stars
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012
449 pages
YA; Historical Fantasy

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

I wasn't really sure what to expect with this book although I knew that it was based on a real-life historical figure, known as Himiko, in ancient Japan. That is not a time period I am familiar with so that meant that everything would be new to me.

Now I don't know if it was because of how new everything was or what the reason might be, but I really struggled to read this book. That would be mostly because of the characters. I could not get a feel for the young Himiko and none of the other characters really interested me. Honestly I thought Himiko was kind of a brat, quick to anger and selfish.  Most of her mishaps come from her bullheadedness and inability to listen to people unless they told her what she wanted to hear.

The setting was fine. Himiko is the only daughter of the chief of a secluded clan (not sure how big they are though they must be of some size) and somewhat spoiled. She desires to be like her eldest brother and also finds herself drawn to the shaman of their tribe. Through these twin desires, she wanders through the book, which takes place over some years (not entirely sure how many but she goes from child to adult woman ready for marriage).

Saying that, there were some cool plot points that relate to the fantasy aspect. The shaman educates Himiko but Himiko also seems to possess her own powers that infused some magic into the story. The descriptions around these experiences were very intriguing especially the final one toward the end, which I think will help guide Himiko in the next book in the series. However I will not be joining them because I did not enjoy this book enough.

Overall: A different kind of historical fiction (we need more non-Europe stories) but with lackluster characters and a meandering plot that made it difficult for me to concentrate.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie
4/5 stars
Bloomsbury, 2012
435 pages
Mystery; Historical; Short Stories

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

I like finding new detectives in mystery stories and the setting for this one, early 1950s, sounded pleasingly different. Our detective, as you might have surmised from the title, is Sidney Chambers, vicar of Grantchester, the quiet English village. Through the short stories in this collection, Sidney is induced to become involved in investigating several mysterious crimes. He is friendly with an inspector and his position in the church lends some authority to his actions while rendering his investigations relatively unobtrusive to the wrongdoer.

Despite the nature of the crimes (the violence of several murders and two thieveries), this is a very quiet book. This is perfect for those of us who like cozies, who don't necessarily want violence in their reading material but may not work for people who want suspense. I'll admit that there were times when it seemed too slow but I enjoyed the leisurely pace. It seems fitting for the time and place, where rationing is only finally starting to end, where televisions have yet to grace practically every household. We also get insight into Sidney's spiritual and personal life, from the way he feels about his preaching to potential wife material.  

The quality of the stories varies. I really liked the story of the missing engagement ring while I found the one about the missing portrait to be quite sickening and much darker than the other stories. Although each mystery provides the framing and ostensible purpose for the story, it does not always come across as the most important element. Sidney's romantic connections and his life in the church sometimes overshadow his investigations, drawing my attention and sympathy.  While each short story is self-contained, it is good to read all of them because the characters drift through, sometimes in London, sometimes in Cambridge. What we learn in the previous story provides additional color to the next.

Overall: Slower than what I had expected but not without its charms. Sidney is a fascinating character and I would definitely be interested to spend more time with him.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Music Obsession @thewantedmusic #theWantedEP2Days

Because who doesn't love cute British boys who sing?

From L to R: Tom Parker, Nathan Sykes, Jay McGuiness, Max George, and Siva Kaneswaran

This is kind of long but I'd really appreciate it if you read it and if you are at all a fan of TW, I definitely want to talk as the people who know me in real-life are maybe a little tired...

So in early February I started hearing this song on the radio a lot and I really liked the lyrics for the second verse, which went "Turn the lights out now/Now I'll take you by the hand/Hand you another drink/Drink it if you can/Can you spend a little time/Time is slipping away/Away from us so stay/Stay with me, I can make/Make you glad you came." I loved the repetition of the last word of the line as the first word of the line. So I took note that it was by some band called "The Wanted" and headed to youtube, where I discovered a. this was a boy band; b. said boy band was British and comprised of some attractive fellows; and c. they had a very active and passionate fan based mobilized via social media.

After watching the "Glad You Came" video about 3489514747 times (although admittedly the frenetic cuts kind of make me want to watch Citizen Kane), I started watching their other music videos. Then I watched the videos they posted themselves on their channel, simple flip videos featuring them answering (often-bizarre) fan questions and showing backstage stuff. I found myself wanting to watch the videos rather than read and really enjoying their different personalities and their friendships (and maybe doing a bit of ogling ;)

My personal favorite video that I've seen so far is this edited excerpt from the making of their "Lightning" video which features Nathan laughing (adorably) over some BMX tricksters:

And I'm officially obsessed. I went ahead and ordered the UK versions of their two CDs, The Wanted and Battlefield (links are to my reviews on Amazon.) I've already preordered my Fan Pack of their US Debut EP featuring new single "Chasing the Sun." And I'm trying to figure out my finances and schedule to ensure that I can see them some time...ideally soon!

And now I'm going to throw a bunch of links at you:

Follow on twitter: @thewantedmusic, @TomTheWanted, @NathanTheWanted, @JayTheWanted, @MaxTheWanted, and @SivaTheWanted

Visit their youtube channel
Official website
North American iTunes page
Order the US EP from Amazon

So what do you think? Were you already among the converted? Have I managed to pique your interest a bit?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Garden Intrigue

The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig
4/5 stars
Dutton, 2012
388 pages
Historical Romance

Source: Library

I have enjoyed the Pink Carnation series since the start, especially the last few titles, particularly The Orchid Affair. Like that book, this one is set in Napoleonic France and of courses continues to involves spies. But the Pink Carnation and her crew are not at the center of this book although she does play an important role. Instead our focus is British secret agent Augustus Whittlesby, who writes the most execrable verse to use as code conveying important secrets and Emma Delagardie, an American widow with close connections to Napoleon's family. 

Whittlesby has spent years in France undercover and is starting to tire of the role. He would like to make a change and perhaps form a real attachment to his muse Jane Wooliston, also one of his contacts. But he first has the opportunity to find out some important information about Napoleon's future plans by partnering with Emma to write a masque. Emma meanwhile is also struggling with her role. Her American mother wants her to return to the States and settle into the warm embrace of her family. But she still has commitments to her husband's estate in France even as she is uneasy with the new power shifts (Napoleon is claiming the emperorship for himself).

But as the pair writes their masque, they draw much closer but their relationship is not without complications. Augustus began their friendship under false pretenses, taking advantage of Emma's history with Napoleon's stepdaughter to gain useful information. And both are hiding behind frivolous masks that cover a genuine warm personality. They need to break through and come together to secure a happy ending for themselves. And it was delightful while reading. However I ended up preferring the present-day sections, which is not always the case.

This time I really loved the "present-day" (it's actually 2004 in the book) sections featuring Eloise and Colin residing at his ancestral home Selwick Hall. They are putting up with the inconvenience of hosting a film crew due to his jerky stepfather/cousin and spineless sister. Eloise also experiences a conflict that mirrors that of the book: return to her native land America, explore new frontiers on the continent, or stay with the swoonworthy Brit (I may be rooting for the latter option for Eloise as I did for Emma :)

Overall: Another strong entry into the Pink Carnation series with a lovely romance. If you've read the previous books, you'll definitely want to pick this one up.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mr. Churchill's Secretary

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
4/5 stars
Bantam Books, 2012
354 pages
Historical Mystery

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

This book caught my interest for two main reasons. One is the subject matter: WWII Britain, a fascinating time period. The other was that it was touted as a read-a-like to Laurie R. King's Mary Russell mystery series, Rhys Bowen's writing, and Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series. I love the first two and am interested in trying Winspear with the expectation of loving it as well. So I entered this with high expectations.

I was quite swept away by the main character Maggie Hope, an orphan who enters into the employ of Winston Churchill, newly seated Prime Minster of England as they face the threat of Nazi Germany bearing down on France. Maggie is definitely a heroine I can support: she's very smart (top of her class), funny, loyal, feminist, and all around a cool lady. Pretty much everything I learned about her made me like her more and more. Unfortunately the book does not just focus on her, bringing in a lot of other information.

For example, sometimes it seemed like the author included extraneous information just to show how she had done her research. This is especially noticeable in the beginning when I was trying to get into the story. Then, as if WWII were not enough, the main subplot is about an IRA conspiracy with a three pronged attack on Britain. But there is also Maggie's feminism, agitating against sexist male superiors who consign her to a typist position despite her brains and qualifications for other work. And Maggie's twisted family history, a thread which I imagine will run throughout the series. Also a bit of romance although not enough for my taste. I understand that this is an introductory book (and I definitely want to read more!) but it felt a bit overwhelming.

Overall: A satisfying debut with a very promising main character, someone I definitely want to know more about!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Various Positions

Various Positions by Martha Schabas
3.5/5 stars
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012
325 pages
YA; Contemporary

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

I approached this book with trepidation, having read a few reviews where people expected maybe a "Center Stage"-esque ballet story and instead received a fourteen-year old girl who spends a lot of time thinking and talking about sex. I requested this book expecting a dishy ballet story myself and wasn't sure I would be interested in what the author presented.

But I found myself fascinated with young Georgia even as I was horrified with the decisions she made. She is only fourteen and deeply entrenched in the world of ballet at an elite academy.  Over the course of the semester, she starts thinking she is seeing signs of sexual overtures from her much older male teacher and Georgia acts on those, exploring a new and exciting world for her. But those actions are not without serious repercussions as the people who care about Georgia do not remain uninvolved.

This book made me think a little of "Black Swan," another twisty ballet story that left me uncomfortable. Georgia is just so young and I could not understand how she made the assumptions she did. The teacher actually seemed to act appropriately in my reading but Georgia read deeply between the lines to come to a vastly different conclusion.

But the real standout is the writing, which is the main reason I continued to read. Schabas is obviously very talented and knows her way around words to create vivid pictures and emotions for the reader.  Admittedly most of those were unpleasant for me: a student's anorexia, adultery and emotional manipulation, messed-up ideas about romantic relationships.  This is intense stuff! But there are also many images of beauty revolving around the ballet. There is still a little part of me that kind of wants to be a prima ballerina and I greatly admire the athleticism and grace required to excel. Despite my lack of knowledge, I can still envision many of the ways the dancers moved.

Beyond the world of dance, there were a lot of issues relating to Georgia's home life. I would have liked a bit more in that regard as her parents were sketchily defined for me. Questions still remain and sadly Georgia has a breach with the family member she was closest to.  There are no easy answers or fast solutions in this contemporary novel.

Overall: Definitely not for everyone-I would not feel right offering a blanket recommendation. I feel like this is a book where the reader will benefit from doing some research on reviews beforehand in order to be prepared for what will come.

Cover: I really do like the black against the white; it's a stark cover unlike the busyness of other YA books since this one is very different.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Where It Began

Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler
4/5 stars
Simon Pulse, 2012
369 pages
YA; Contemporary

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

The early buzz I heard on this was that the writing was really good while main character Gabby was...not. I wanted to sample the writing no matter what the plot so I requested it.

The first thing I noticed was that the chapters were pretty short (with 70+ total) and the writing style was easy. I was able to move quickly through the story meeting main character Gabby who is stuck in the hospital, unsure of how she landed there.  This leads us to flashbacks on Gabby's life before a makeover, after a makeover, and eventually her life after the accident.

Her first life featured her as a disappointment to her social climbing aspirational parents. Honestly her life during this period didn't seem that bad, to me. She actually had two good friends even if her parents sucked and she secretly hoped for popularity. At least she had those friends, her art and the promise of a future through that.

After the makeover, championed by her mother, she attracts the attention of golden boy Billy Nash, earning some level of popularity, her mother's attention and approval, as well as leading to her fateful accident.  Her life was consumed with Billy-everything revolved around him, without letting him know so that he wouldn't find her clingy. She knows she doesn't live up to his mother's standards but she finds herself irresistibly drawn to Billy and his bad boy, probation-breaking ways.

Then she wakes up in the hospital and cannot remember anything. It seems as if she stole Billy's car keys and crashed his car while drunk. But Billy loved that car-could she really have stolen it? What isn't she remembering? I was honestly shocked when I found out the truth; namely that Gabby was forgetting several key points and the other students all knew what she had forgotten. They assumed that Gabby was lying in order to protect Billy when she truly couldn't remember. I was just flabbergasted with how the entire student body knew that Gabby was so into Billy, she'd do pretty much anything for him.

And that obsession with Billy is definitely the hardest part of the book. The reader deduces much faster than Gabby that Billy is a jerk, unworthy of her time and it makes it hard to understand why Gabby can't figure it out.  I understood her position somewhat; he makes her feel desirable and pays her attention beyond what her previous contacts could.  But he was obviously unworthy and selfish. I can see why some reviewers could not get past that. Still I found the writing absorbing enough that I read through to the conclusion.

Content Warning: Language, drugs, and sexual situations with drugs being the most prevalent.

Overall: I found this to be a well-written contemporary that I imagine would appeal to fans of contemporary books. I would not necessarily recommend this as a book to get someone hooked on the YA contemporary genre though; it is not the best example.

Cover: Really not a fan of books where the model is staring at me; I find it creepy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Island of Vice

Island of Vice by Richard Zacks
4/5 stars
Doubleday, 2012
366 pages
Historical Non-Fiction

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

This is a hard review for me to write because I do not read much non-fiction. And most of what I have read in the past years was for academic research, not for fun. While I could produce an academic paper on this book, that would be decidedly not fun and it would not fit the content of my blog and general review style. But I still would like to be informative so here's my attempt :)

I was attracted to this book due to the presence of a certain Mr. Roosevelt, aka my favorite president and inspiration for my user name. 1858 is his birth year and TR was also a voracious reader, although I expect he read much more non-fiction than I did. This book covers the years of Roosevelt as a police commissioner on a mission to rid New York City of its vice, something that the people of NYC don't really want to do. Sure they don't want murderers, destruction of property, or burglaries but drinking, gambling, and prostitution were immensely popular activities and corruption within the Tammany Hall dominated police force was rampant.

Spurred by (mostly) Republican, native-born, wealthy Protestants though a crackdown on vice began enthusiastically by Roosevelt. As the city resisted reform though, Roosevelt began looking for an escape, which he found as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in William McKinley's cabinet on the way to the presidency.

As you might have guessed, I was most interested in the parts with Roosevelt, which made the beginning difficult as he is not really present. First we need the reformers to start agitating but for me, it was a slog. Happily Roosevelt is such a dynamic presence that once he arrives on the scene, the book picked up for me. Still as someone now more used to fiction, I found this book difficult to read.

But the information provided about Roosevelt's stint as police commissioner was fascinating. It is not a period of his life I've studied much, preferring his governorship and presidency generally, so the information presented was new to me while also demonstrating how this period of time laid a lot of groundwork for Roosevelt's future success. He certainly refined his speechmaking abilities and we see his rigid combative self that would continue to impress and enthrall us.

Overall: Definitely a great read for those interested in TR or late-nineteenth century New York City/urban centers but not a must-read in any sense for those who are not.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood
Katherine Tegen Books, 2012
375 pages
Middle-Grade; Fantasy
3.5/5 stars

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

I love books that have something to do with cooking or baking; I find it very comforting just as I love to watching shows featuring those activities.  Plus the cover is bright and cheerful, which had me anticipating a fun story with family, food, and magic.

The Bliss family has a cookbook that has been handed down for generations and is filled with all sorts of secrets that are not shared with the Bliss children, Thyme (Ty), Rosemary (Rose), Sage, and Parsley (Leigh). While for the most part they don't mind as they are too self-absorbed or young, Rose does bristle at this. She has a natural talent for baking and is an awkward stage of adolescence. She is starting to notice boys but feels too plain; she feels overshadowed by her superstar older brother; she also alternates between feeling stifled by her home and never wanting to leave. It's a lot of complicated feelings, she's at a difficult age, and I understood where she was coming from.

All of these feelings come to a head when the Bliss parents leave town and the mysterious but glamorous Aunt Lily sweeps in to town. Buoyed by the absence of their parents and the encouragement of Aunt Lily, the kids start to experiment with some of the recipes in the book, causing havoc in their town. But Aunt Lily is also dangerous with a hidden past and her magical influence over people. She encourages the worst in the Bliss children even as Rose fights to do the right thing.  Lily especially tempts and targets Rose with beauty and fame; Rose must rely on her own sense of right and wrong to determine the correct course of action.

For me, the book was pretty predictable, which is not a bad thing. But waiting for Rose to discover Lily's true colors was agonizing for me. I'm not sure why I felt so strongly about that plot point but it was on my mind through the whole book. I didn't even really enjoy the love spell Ty casts on the girls in the town or the crazy backwards spell that leads to a disco party because of my dread. This dragged down my enjoyment of the story and my overall rating but is obviously a very weird, personal thing.

Overall: A fun magical story with family and baking.

Cover: Delicious with yummy food in the window and pretty swirls on the words.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


I've seen several posts recently about how people schedule and I thought it might be fun to share mine. I used to use a written calendar with different colored markers denoting source so I'd know whether it was a library book that would need to be returned or an ebook that would require me to charge my nook. But it was hard to move posts around whenever I changed my mind and wanted a post to go live on a different day (I used to be about two weeks ahead, now it's barely one week although I do schedule my reading a month in advance.) So I started looking around at other methods.

I soon hit upon using iCal on my mac. I assigned different colors to the sources and it is very easy to move posts around. If you look below, you will see my schedule for February of this year with blue representing library books, green for Netgalley, orange for books I own, and pink for Amazon Vine books. Purple stands for these Sunday "ramblings" posts.

This is a great method for me as I always blog from my laptop and thus always have easy access to my calendar unlike when I had a paper calendar that I would have to remember to bring with me when I traveled if I wanted to keep track. It is also zero mess for changing the dates of posts.

It's not perfect; I haven't figured out a way to note which reviews are done and which are not so I have to consult my drafts section in blogspot but that's not too bad. I am also using the To-Do list section of the calendar to remind me of what books still need to be read. But so far, this is the system that works best for me.

How do you schedule? Or, if you don't schedule, how do you work out your posts? Any tips for iCal or other recommended (free) programs?

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson
Carolrhoda LAB, 2011
304 pages
YA; Contemporary; Paranormal
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I had seen this around a little but didn't have much of an idea about its plot or characters. I love the gorgeous purpley cover and the fact that I'm not entirely sure what is going on.

I don't want to share too much as this is a book that has some surprises. If I shared any of them with you, your enjoyment might be lessened. But we can discuss the plot a little bit. Main character Alison is checked into a mental hospital after what appears to be a mental breakdown as well as confessing to murder of popular girl Tori Beaugrand. This story follows Alison as she tries to make sense of her circumstances, her discovery that she has synesthesia (a neurological phenomenon that causes a variety of perceptions such as some people seeing A as purple or to see a color when hearing a sound), and unraveling the disappearance of Tori.

I was struck most by the incredible writing. Although I do not have synesthesia, I felt that I had a strong understanding of what a person who does have it experiences. This is definitely the standout element especially as Alison is the narrator and you are in her head. If you could not connect with her, if you could not feel at least a little of what she experiences, then you would find yourself estranged from the MC.

As for those surprises mentioned, they actually did detract from my reading. They took me completely into left-field in a way I did not appreciate. I'm not sure how else the author could have handled this and there was some foreshadowing for the twist (please also see my note above about "paranormal"). I honestly cannot imagine anyone predicting what happens in about the last third of the book.

Overall: Amazingly descriptive writing pulls you into Alison's world and takes you on an exhilarating ride through her mind.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Academie

The Academie by Susanne Dunlap
3/5 stars
Bloomsbury, 2012
354 pages
YA; Historical

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

I was taken with the cover for this book and requested it without even looking at the synopsis. It looked like French historical fiction and that sounded promising enough to me. After reading April at Good Books and Good Wine's review though, my enthusiasm waned. I had the sinking feeling that I would agree with her thoughts on the characters. 

But she was not wrong, in my case. I do adore books with multiple narrators but in this case I could not really connect with any of them. First is Eliza Monroe, daughter of future US president James Monroe, who is quite young and consequently a huge spoiled brat. Next is Hortense, step-daughter to Napoleon, then only the most eminent general in France. She was slightly more appealing. Last is Madeleine, a young mulatto actress who has found herself in love with Hortense's brother. The way their lives intersect in 1799 during a critical time in the history of the French Republic is the overarching story.

The tidbits we get into the lives of the powerful, particularly the dynamics between Napoleon and Josephine were fascinating. I also loved spoiled mean Caroline, sister of Napoleon and peer of Hortense and Eliza; although she is self-serving and often cruel, she was also dynamic and leapt off the page. But that is not the main story. Instead it was about the girls, none of whom I liked. They were bratty, boring, and overly dramatic at alternating points.

As for the historical details...this is not my time period so I can't really comment on accuracy. I did think the girls were allowed an extraordinary amount of freedom and liberties although that might just come with the time frame. It is post-revolution with a weak government at the head.

Then on the very first page of my e-ARC (something I hope was corrected for the finished copy) was a glaring error. Eliza Monroe is told this: "your father was first minister to France when Jefferson was president." Now it is true that James Monroe served in France, representing US interests but this book is set in 1799 before Jefferson had even been president yet. I believe Washington should be the president namechecked.

Overall: It really comes down to the characters, plain and simple. They didn't work for me and thus I did not enjoy the book.

Cover: This is what I first noticed so obviously it is eye-catching and appealing to the people who like covers with pretty dresses :)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
4/5 stars
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
549 pages
YA; Historical

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

This book has received an amazing publicity push as I have seen it reviewed on a ton of sites, almost universally positive. People have really taken to this book. I see two great things about this: 1. Hopefully more people committing to tackling chunkster books as this book is quite long for YA and 2. More interest in historical fiction and historical fantasies, genres I love but yet ones that don't seem to get the attention that paranormal and dystopia does. I would love to see loads more reviews of YA HF in the coming months, prompted by people's love for this book.

Unfortunately for me, I read a lot of reviews beforehand and I had crazily high expectations. While I enjoyed this book a lot, it couldn't quite live up to all the hype. This serves as a lesson for me and I have avoided reviews for a few other books that I am anticipating this year in order to better manage expectations. Still overall I thought this book was great and very enjoyable.

A simple plot summary is that this is set in late 15th century Brittany, a sovereign country attempting to fight off the encroachment of the rapacious French. It is a difficult time with war everywhere and loyalties ever changing. Anne, duchess of Brittany, is only a child (by our standards) but her choice of husband is the main question on everyone's minds. Political intrigue abounds.

But this book does not focus on these historical figures, introducing us to someone entirely new. She is Ismae, daughter of Death who has been trained in a convent to be a deadly assassin working for Death, known as St. Mortain. As part of her first assignment outside of the convent walls, she is assigned to work with the mysterious Duval, posing as his mistress in order to discover who is betraying Anne and threatening Brittany's future.

Obviously I don't want to go too far into plot spoilers but I think this gives you a taste, hopefully enough to tempt you if you have not already procured a copy for yourself. Now I love world-building and historical writing so I found all of those details in the beginning absorbing. I know some people found it slow going but it worked for me. I was definitely a little confused by all of the people introduced but found that it was easy to keep the main characters straight in my head.

Other than the historical elements, we also have the fantastical part, which is related to the special powers Ismae has inherited, ones that make her uniquely qualified for her position. I loved seeing Ismae develop and discover more. She grew up in a broken, hateful home but finally begins to find her own place in the world with a purpose and a man she loves.

Speaking of Duval, I was really hoping I had found a hero that both Small Review and I really loved because we seem to have diametrically opposed feelings about male characters. He started off fine but he never really had that something extra special that makes me swoon. I love his sense of honor and loyalty as well as sense of strategy and tactics that make him a fearsome opponent. I enjoyed seeing Ismae find love and peace in his arms. But he's not my hero.

Another positive of this book is the resolution. Although there is a planned sequel, it will focus on a different one of Death's handmaidens as well as (it seems) one of my favorite characters from this book who didn't receive much page time. Ismae's story is basically concluded, making this reader very happy.

Overall: Yes, everything was pretty great but the hype overpowered the book for me.

Cover: I am so used to seeing just the thumbnail of this book, which makes it hard to distinguish the crossbow. That element is what really makes the cover though; otherwise it's just a medieval maid standing there.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lexapros and Cons

Lexapros and Cons by Aaron Karo
4/5 stars
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012
230 pages
YA; Contemporary

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

This book caught me very off-guard from the opening sentence, which may be realistic for the life of the average teenage boy but is also very different from what I usually read. However I persisted and found myself charmed.

Main character Chuck Taylor has a few issues. Well, more than a few, such that he could be classified as having OCD. One of his main compulsions is checking if the stove is on or not and getting up in the middle of the night to pee. Another one is pairing his massive collection of Converses (Chuck Taylors) to his mood. The beginning of the book has Chuck coming to grips with the fact that he does have these compulsions and getting him to a psychiatrist for treatment. A new character is also introduced, the lovely Amy, who Chuck is sure would have no interest in him.

Chuck ends up becoming pretty single-minded in his pursuit of Amy, alienating his long-time best (and pretty much only) friend. Then his compulsions cause him to seriously hurt Amy's feelings, jeopardizing any future relationship. This is his ultimate impetus to start tackling his problem and the progress he makes is tremendous, culminating in a senior year camping trip with several story lines overlapping.

Throughout there is some seriously snarky humor. I especially enjoyed Chuck's sessions with his therapist who has a tendency to end her sentences with a question mark instead of a period. And I liked seeing Chuck struggle but ultimately overcome. He ends the book in an optimistic frame of mind and that always makes me happy :)

Warning: Vulgar language and sexual content may make this inappropriate for the younger YA reader; if possible, definitely read a sample.

Overall: A pretty funny contemporary novel featuring a boy and his Chucks.

Cover: Wow-the mix of orange and green is bright! But the green Converses are part of the plot so I must give points for the accuracy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Obsidian Blade

The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman
3/5 stars
Candlewick Press, 2012
308 pages
YA; Science-Fiction/Fantasy

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

When I started reading this, I only got through the first two pages before having to put it down and wondering if I had made a mistake in requesting this. The language, featuring many made-up words, was not working for me AT ALL and I was very confused.  However I don't think two pages is a very accurate representation of the book as a whole so I kept going.

Still it did warn me because I ended up being very very confused. The beginning was okay, planted in a contemporary setting with teen Tucker who lives with his reverend father and stay at home mother. Then one bizarre day, his dad disappears, returning a few hours later a changed man with a strange girl. Over the next few months, Tucker sees his father and mother radically change before leaving him in the care of his uncle. Then the book gets really bizarre as Tucker begins to slip through time, going both very far into the past as well as the future. I can in no way sum it up because I am not really sure I understand what happened myself. I did feel like the book ended on a cliffhanger, which is appropriate as this is the start of a trilogy.

While the first section of the book is just a contemporary, I found it the most engaging as I am familiar with the language and descriptors for that world. As we journey through the book, we meet so many other people and places that I was just overwhelmed.  Furthermore, sometimes we only spent a little bit of time in each location, meaning that just as I was getting my bearings, we moved somewhere else. It might have helped to take some notes or draw a timeline but well I don't want to work that much while I'm doing my fun reading. If you do choose to read this, don't be shy about giving that technique a try!

Overall: Probably better suited for someone who enjoys science-fiction more and has the patience to wade through the many changing settings.

Cover: I have seen this classified as science-fiction but I feel like the cover is more fitting for a fantasy, which I feel this book definitely features.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves
3/5 stars
Flux Books, 2012
340 pages
YA; Historical; Paranormal

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

Lately I have found myself seeking out and enjoying stories involving Jack the Ripper. Due to the unresolved status of the case, there are lots of ways for the author to take the story. She can assign any murderer and motivation and bring in any details she chooses. Thus I entered this book with high expectations.

Main character Arabella lives with her grandmother in London after the death of her mother. Said grandmother is determined to provide Arabella with the "right" kind of lifestyle and encourages her to volunteer at Whitechapel Hospital for a week, taking care of prostitutes and their children. That is exactly the kind of life Arabella enjoys to her grandmother's dismay and Arabella also hopes to pursue a medical career. But her fear is heightened when several former patients of Whitechapel are discovered brutally murdered by a killer who earns the name Jack the Ripper.  I really enjoyed the historical aspects especially the looks at Victorian attitudes toward sex, violence, and charitable actions.

But I had two areas of concern, which unfortunately played big roles in the story and meant that I finished dissatisfied.  One aspect was the romantic plot lines. Early in the story, Arabella is introduced to two different guys who are pretty similar. They are both young doctors working at Whitechapel Hospital with interesting social connections (one upper-class, the other affiliated with the Pre-Raphaelites). I had so much trouble telling them apart so I was not invested in Arabella's struggle. She definitely prefers one over the other and I just couldn't bring myself to care.

The other main area was the introduction of some paranormal elements. I don't want to go too in-depth since this is mostly saved for the ending and would be full of spoilers for you. But I find the mystery of Jack the Ripper so intriguing that I didn't feel the paranormal elements added much. And while there are some terrifying sections, I found the pacing pretty slow especially in the beginning which made it hard to keep my attention on the story.

Overall: Some strong historical aspects but the paranormal felt unnecessary to me.

Cover: I'm not really a fan of the girl staring out at us although I like the coloring, which seems dark and mysterious befitting a story featuring Jack the Ripper.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

End of Lent and Looooong Movies

For everyone:

Today is Easter, which also means that it is the end of Lent. For this season, I decide to abstain from my very favorite food, popcorn. Now I only eat popcorn maybe 2-3 times a week because I have difficulty with portion control so I really didn't think it would be that hard. But is has been SO hard. Whenever my family made popcorn or I went to the movies, I craved popcorn. I even had dreams twice that I caved in and ate popcorn. It was a very hard experience for me.

But now it is Easter and to celebrate, I am going to eat a whole microwaved package of popcorn by myself while watching Titanic on my home TV. I wanted to see it in the rerelease but my theater only has 3D showings (I had heard that some theaters would have non-3D showings). There is no way I am going to wear those stupid glasses over my own glasses for 3+ hours.

In addition to Titanic, I also watched The Ten Commandments, a tradition in my household. Usually we would watch it on TV and I would only see about half before I had to go to bed. But now we have it on DVD so since we started it at 6, we had time to watch the full 220 minutes. It is a crazy long movie but after watching it so many times over the years, there are such great familiar parts. Personally I really love Anne Baxter's Nefretiri; she's pretty much always been my favorite character. Does anybody else watch The Ten Commandments annually as part of the Easter festivities?

To any Christian readers: Happy Easter-Christ has risen!

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Torn by Stephanie Guerra
4/5 stars
Marshall Cavendish, 2012
263 pages
YA; Contemporary; Issues

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

For some reason, I had gotten the impression that this book was about a girl in an abusive relationship, torn between the love she feels for the sweet boyfriend and the intense emotional and physical pain he inflicts upon her. It is definitely about strong internal conflicts but romance is only part of the plot.

Main character Stella assumed some adult responsibilities early on in life when her drug-addicted father abandoned the family; as the eldest child, she stepped up to help her mother look after her two siblings. She seems like the typical good girl with good grades, friendly to people, and a spot on the soccer team. During her senior year, she meets new girl Ruby Caroline, a brash, exciting girl and Stella finds herself caught up in Ruby's orbit even as the danger gathers.

How is Ruby trouble? Oh, let me count the ways.
1. She is possessive of Stella, alienating the pair from the rest of the school population
2. No real adult supervision or caring, allowing her to do pretty much whatever she wants.
3. Messed-up ideas about relationships
4. A penchant for older men
5. Her drug consumption. Let's talk about that a little.

I may be am a bit sheltered and I was absolutely overwhelmed by the consumption of alcohol and other drugs in this book. First because it's far beyond my ken, nothing at all resembling my high school experience. But also because of Stella's family history. I had an alcoholic family member who died before I was even born and that combined with school education against drugs has been more than sufficient to keep me away from all of it. But Stella drinks a lot even as she draw a line at the "harder" drugs like heroin and Ruby is constantly seeking a new thrill through various drugs.

In addition those, we have Stella in a pretty serious relationship, struggles over her Mexican heritage, family conflict. and her applications to colleges (or rather application to one college).  I didn't feel that they received proper attention as the magnet that is Ruby drew most of the attention. She was a compelling character who popped on the page even as I saw some of her negative influences on Stella.  Ruby herself is incredibly lost and the book does not neatly wrap everything up although there are optimistic hopes that these two young ladies will be able to work it out.

Overall: The sparkling Ruby helped keep me engaged in the plot even through frustrating parts and the ending was highly amusing if tonally a little different from the rest of the book.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Candlewax by C. Bailey Sims
3.5/5 stars
Terabyte Press, 2012
367 pages
YA; Fantasy

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

This was another one of my "adventurous" picks on Netgalley, meaning that I did not know anything about it going in. However I love fantasy and saw a comparison to the stories of Kristin Cashore, which is definitely a positive so I took a chance.

Main character Princess Catherine runs away from home to escape an arranged marriage. Before getting very far, she is assaulted and robbed, finding solace in the supposedly mythical fairrier cat Spelopekos (Pokos) who needs her assistance on a quest to find him a mate. As the last of his species in their kingdom, he is the only power keeping away the destructive trodliks. Pokos guides Catherine over an epic journey to fulfill an ancient prophecy and save the kingdom.

For the most part I liked this. There are some cool worlds and magic introduced with some exciting action scenes. There is a lot of movement as Catherine and her motley crew of traveling partners move around, narrowly escaping dangers. Catherine also is a decent young woman with the making of a leader and queen.

However I did end up with some confusions about characters especially as the end neared. There are just so many introduced that I struggled to keep them all straight. Once I reached the end, I discovered that there is a comprehensive list of characters so that may be helpful for a future reread or for you to know if you choose to read this. I also found the characterization lacking; if more of the characters had distinctive personalities, I would have been less likely to confuse them.  As the first book in a fantasy series, significant time must be spent creating the world, but there are inevitably gaps. I personally would like to know much more about the fairrier cats.

Overall: An interesting fantasy story with a strong heroine.

Cover: It's okay; not my favorite (although I have an admitted weakness for girls in pretty dresses which would not be the best cover for this book). The sword conveys power and epic fantasy to me but it also seems overdone and similar to other covers.

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