Saturday, June 30, 2012


Insurgent by Veronica Roth
4/5 stars
Katherine Tegen Books, 2012
525 pages
YA Dystopia
Sequel to Divergent

Source: Library

Warning: possible spoilers for Divergent ahead.

Like many in the blogosphere, I have been awaiting the sequel to Veronica Roth's highly acclaimed debut Divergent.  Of course, as a second book in a series, I had some worries. Would I remember enough of the first book to get back in to the story? How much would Roth recap? Would things actually happen in this book? Would (blech) a love triangle develop? Would I end breathlessly anticipating the third book? The answers are: a moderate amount; I needed a bit more; YES; no; and yes.

We begin the book just after the end of the first with the same characters present. I remembered most of the characters but sometimes forgot important faction information about them as well as how they knew Tris. And there are a lot of characters with their own histories and loyalties, who I kept getting confused (especially Cara and Christina-it would be odd if there were only 52 characters, 26 of each gender, one for each letter of the alphabet but it would also probably be helpful as I tend to confuse characters whose names start with the same letter). It was also hard that Tris calls Four by his birth name Tobias because that makes me think of Tobias Funke from "Arrested Development" who is a very different character to say the least.

While I mentioned that stuff happened (there is a lot of movement in the book), I don't know if I would necessarily rate it all as absolutely integral. Sometimes it seemed like action was there just to give the impression of plot development. I love chunksters but I'm also a big fan of pruning out as much as possible. Furthermore, I thought the big ending reveal was drawn out a little too much and I would have liked more clues to have been given to the reading audience so that we could have put the pieces together better. Or maybe I'm just too obtuse; my brain went in a completely different direction.

I actually had two big problems with this book, both of which are my fault. One was that I just don't have the emotional connection I want to have. I have seen lots of comparisons of this story to The Hunger Games but whereas those books grabbed me by the heart, these don't. Sure, I find them exhilarating and entertaining but I'm not emotionally invested the way I was when Katniss volunteered for Prim. The other problem was that I had a lot of trouble falling back into the world. I know my sister devoured this in about two days but it took me four with very little reading done on the first two days. I wanted to know what happened next so that I could participate in blog conversations but the story was just not clicking for me. Happily it started to pick up and I really loved the end, which kind of left me with my mouth open, wondering where Roth will take the story next.

Reading this over, I feel like I had a lot of complaints about this book. But I do genuinely enjoy the writing and, once I was further along, I found myself flying through the pages dying to know what would happen next.

Overall: Of course, if you loved Divergent, you will need to pick this book up!

Cover: These covers just don't work for me. I appreciate something different from pretty dress (which I feel is more of a paranormal romance trend) and thankfully it's not creepy people staring at me but I didn't like Divergent's cover and I don't like this cover either.

Friday, June 29, 2012

7 Clues to Winning You

7 Clues to Winning You by Kristin Walker
3.5/5 stars
Razorbill, 2012
317 pages
YA Contemporary

Source: Library

After loving A Match Made in High School, Walker's follow-up was highly anticipated. I remember loving her hilarious dialogue and especially some swoony romance. After glancing over my review just now, I discovered that I found some aspects of the book infuriating though and that is also the case here. I mean, some things were absolutely maddening to me.

But first, let's start with what worked for me. Main character Blythe (love that name; makes me think of the actress Blythe Danner) finds out that she has to change schools to finish out her junior year. I am immensely sympathetic to that because I had to move across country in the middle of tenth grade (in short: it sucked). Blythe is lucky that she is just moving a short distance away where she can still easily communicate with her old friends, providing they all make time for each other. But Blythe already has a reputation at that school. Her father is the principal (with superintendent ambitions which is why they're moving) and the previous year, someone had taken a picture that happened to catch her picking her nose, which was spread across the school and exposing her to much mockery.

In her first day at the school, Blythe is taunted and mocked, leading her to make a charge of bullying and getting the big scavenger hunt cancelled, earning even more invective from her peers. This section was a roller-coaster for me because of course I want to sympathize with the main character and we're inside her head so we see all of her rationale for her actions. But it also seems overwrought-she goes in to the school prepared to hate it and immediately jumps on anything that will make it hate her more.

Really Blythe exasperated me. I can see that she has a good heart and I admire her being put together and well-spoken. But so many times, I just wanted to shake her for being so bull-headed. Her family inspired similar reactions in me and her love interest didn't do much for me (I like that he's well-read (they flirt using Shakespeare after all) and he made me think of Scott from Meg Cabot's Teen Idol, which is my favorite Cabot contemp but I didn't love him).

However I loved, loved, loved the supporting characters. First there is Jenna and Cy, who seem like goth druggie bad kids but are actually super sweet and welcoming to Blythe. Then there is Ms. Eulalie and Ms. Franny who live in the retirement home where Blythe volunteers. They are ever-bickering but they love each other and provide important support and wisdom for Blythe in addition to being hilarious. These side characters were definitely my favorite parts and I can unreservedly express my love for them.

Overall: A whirlwind of emotions for me-this definitely hit some nerves and aggravated me but I couldn't bear to stop reading, needing to know how everything would be resolved.

Cover: I really hope that guy is not supposed to be Luke because the Luke of my imaginings is much hotter.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

When You Were Mine

When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle
2.5/5 stars
Simon Pulse, 2012
334 pages
YA Contemporary

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

I came in to this book with a bit of baggage. Like many I read Romeo and Juliet in school and at the time, I was very into the love story. Rosaline was a non-entity, the girl that Romeo thought he loved because he didn't know what true love was. As I got older, I became more skeptical of that romanticized view but I still didn't care about Rosaline. Could this book make me do that? And second the title is the same as this Lady Antebellum song, which I love but which constantly gets stuck in my head (mostly just that one line) and which I sang many times while reading this book.

Alas this book did not make me root for Rosaline. She and her friends are the popular girls, with a significant amount of vapidity that I ate up because it was easy to read but hated myself for liking. Then there is Rob (the Romeo of the book) who was away for the summer. Before he left, the two seemed on the brink of a relationship and it seems like this might finally be the time that they get it together. After one date, Rose is convinced it's going to happen...until her cousin Juliet returns to her hometown and sets her sights on Rob. Being a fun vivacious person who goes after what she wants, the two are soon in a relationship and Rose is left weeping.

Given that the story hangs on loathing Juliet as the mean girl who steals Rose's true love and brings destruction, it was a problem that I didn't hate Juliet. In fact, I kind of liked her. She didn't receive much characterization but I admired her determination and ambition. Furthermore, Rose spends plenty of time outlining why she is not worthy and at some point the reader will agree with the narrator.

Then there was the fact that Rob was barely Rosaline's as claimed by the title. There was a bit of kissing but no official declaration of relationship status nor a serious discussion of their feelings. If Juliet likes Rob and wants to try for a relationship, Rose can protest but if she doesn't put up a fight, then she is just going to have to deal with the consequences of that.

Another problem was the family feud, the one that has been ongoing for generations in the original play but originates with the teens' parents in this version. Surely there could have been something more longstanding as a nod to the original? One other big change was a love interest for Rose; she goes from mocking a guy and finding him creepy to tentatively flirting and moving forward. If she hadn't been such a mean girl to him initially, I might have been more into the relationship. But she spent so much time talking about his weirdness, sometimes even to his face, that I didn't get what he saw in her.

Overall: A guilty fast read that did not endear me to an alternate hypothesis about R&J.

Cover: I'm not a fan of this cover with the close-up on the faces and the font over it. I think girl in a pretty dress would have worked well :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton

The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller
4/5 stars
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
407 pages
Historical Mystery

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

After finishing first book, The Return of Captain John Emmett, I was already craving this second book but knowing I would have to wait. Happily for me, the wait is over!

Unfortunately I barely remembered the characters although the main holdover is Laurence Bartram, Great War veteran and teacher with expertise in churches. He has been invited by a fellow veteran to visit the Easton estate to look at a church there that might have something pretty spectacular. As Laurence settles in, he discovers the terrible maze of secrets that threatens to overwhelm the inhabitants.

Most prominently featured is the mystery teased by the title: that of young Kitty Easton, heir to the estate who disappeared from her bed when she was five. No body was found and no trace of her has been seen. Her father died in France and her mother is a bundle of nerves caught in a debilitating disease who persists in believing in Kitty's continued life. But there are secrets everywhere: almost every resident of Easton Hall has something with key members of the surrounding village contributing their bits. Past residents leave behind secrets and even the hall itself has some surprises in store.

The ability to piece together the many layers eluded me but for the most part I was content to sit back and wait. It is definitely not a fast-paced read, with sections that seemed to completely ignore the mystery of Kitty, to the point where I was afraid we wouldn't get any answers. However Speller did weave everything together into a satisfying package, making the payoff worth it for me; a less patient reader might not be able to wait though.

The book does pull of some moments of suspense, particularly an extended passage with Laurence and another character in a claustrophobic space reminiscent of his time in the trenches and bringing back dreadful memories. I was almost biting my nails (but not quite because I have kicked that habit) during that scene; it went on for hours in the book and I felt myself growing weary along with them and wondering how they could possible get out.

Throughout I felt a third book was being teased as Laurence contemplated decamping to Italy for an extended period of time. As Mussolini rises in regard, there will be an exciting historical backdrop to whatever mystery Speller concocts and I will definitely return!

Overall: I feel like this cover captures the manor house setting and mystery with its maze, all relevant to the events of the book.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday 27JUN12

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.

This is my second week participating because I'm just so excited about the concept for this book. First though I must ask: who is a fan of "The Brady Bunch"? Anyone? Well, I love it (along with many other classic TV shows) and this book takes the names and, it seems, basic personalities from that show to create a historical romance series. I'm very excited that they are starting with Marcia because she was always my favorite. How cool does that premise sound? Here's the cover, summary, and relevant links.

In the House of Brady, three very lovely girls have hair of gold—and hearts to match—but finding a match among the gentlemen of London is one comedy of errors that could bring down the house…  

MARCIA GETS SCHOOLED…Of the three Brady sisters, Lady Marcia has always seemed the girl most likely to lead a perfectly charmed life. But after a handsome cad breaks her heart, she swears off love and devotes her life to teaching girls at a private school. In spite of her family’s wish for a London debut, Marcia is happy where she is—until terrible news sends her back to the Brady clan…and into the arms of an unexpected suitor.  

ON THE SUBJECT OF LOVEA dark and dashing earl who knows Marcia’s past, Duncan Lattimore is surprised by what a fascinating and independent woman she’s become. Marcia, too, is surprised—by the fiery attraction she feels for Duncan. But why—why—must he be the brother of the scoundrel who broke her heart? Why must Marcia’s rival at school forbid her from seeing him? How can this lady possibly resist this fellow—when they know that it’s much more than a hunch…?

Due August 28, 2012 
(and I was lucky enough to get an e-ARC on Netgalley so expect a review close to that date)

What do you think? What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Racing the Moon

Racing the Moon by Alan Armstrong
3/5 stars
Random House Children's Books, 2012
211 pages
MG Historical

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

I requested this book on a whim after seeing that it was a historical novel, a genre close to my heart. I thought I saw something about a female main character with a love of adventure and dreams of the moon, which sounded different from my usual read.

Well, this ended up being kind of a weird read for me. There were a lot of threads and things I thought would be explored more but then weren't and things that were oddly brought in. For example, I had expected a story about young Alex following her dreams to learn about space travel in the year 1947. Instead it seemed to be more about her older brother Chuck, straightening out his life and receiving an amazing opportunity to join the space program after much talk about being adopted, actions made out of spite towards other, and multiple endangerments of Alex's life (more about that later). Then there is the exciting Captain Ebbs, who helped feed Europe after World War II and is working to create new space food for the astronauts. Her interest in the kids gives them the amazing opportunities they experience, including meeting the brilliant Wernher von Braun, a Nazi-scientist who defected to the US to continue his pursuit of knowledge. She also is a descendant of John Smith (he of Pocahontas fame to us Disney fans) and shares his journal about exploration with parallels to the work of the day's rocket scientists.

First things first, Alex clearly adored her older brother but I was frequently appalled by his behavior and what he modeled for her. He encouraged thievery, looking before you leap, and trespassing on federal grounds where they could easily have been shot! I can see where Alex sought adventure but I just wanted to shake some sense in to that boy. Additionally Captain Ebbs offered them friendship and guidance and they went behind her back as Chuck doggedly pursued only what he wanted. I could not believe the way he repaid her hospitality.

There wasn't much about von Braun, whose membership in the Nazi Party has been debated as well as his feelings about the slave labor utilized under that regime for his work. Did he join under coercion? Could he have done something to end the slave labor without sacrificing his own life? These questions aren't really debated but they are something I'm thinking about as I do my own research after the book. Similarly the excerpts from John Smith have inspired me to look for more since, as stated earlier, I am most familiar with him from the Disney film despite its questionable relationship to reality. I wish there had been an author's note talking more about these figures although some suggested reading is provided in the acknowledgements.

As I read back over what I have written, I see that expectations played a big role in my dissatisfaction. I thought there would be more of a focus on a young girl instead of an almost adult male. Alex was a sweet inquisitive kid so to see her do her own exploring instead of being Chuck's shadow would have been more to my taste. Furthermore, the book seemed a bit overpacked with both von Braun and Smith, whose sections did nothing for me. I feel like the story I got wanted to be a YA tale focusing exclusively on Chuck and bringing in more historical detail.

Overall: Expectations not met but could still be a great read for a more prepared reader as there is lots of adventure and excitement.

Cover: It definitely looks middle-grade to me, something about the close-up on the face.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kill Me Softly

Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross
4/5 stars
Egmont, 2012
331 pages
YA Fairy-Tale

Source: Library

As a long-time lover of fairy tales and their retellings, of course I wanted to pick this book up and I was further prompted by Mimi valentine calling this her favorite book so far of 2012-when a blogger you love highlights a book for such high praise, one has to sit up and pay attention. My (very picky) sister also read this and said it was good.

From the start I was a bit confused as main character Mira does not live in a fairy tale world. Instead she has to run away to find the place and that is where the plot really thickens. She is searching for her parents' graves, seeking some closure with their death before she reaches her sixteenth year of age. But along the way she meets some odd characters, all of whom have similar birthmarks as her. As we discover, the birthmarks represent that the person has a specific destiny in a fairy tale. Mira is the Princess in Sleeping Beauty. She also meets (among others) the Prince in Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Belle, the Beast, and assorted other characters in the stories. While they have this eventual destiny, for the most part they are just living ordinary lives waiting for the blessing or curse (however they consider it) to begin. This results in some humorous moments, my personal favorite probably being how the animals flock to certain characters. I just love picturing that and crack up every time.

Anyway back to the plot. Mira is immediately drawn to two guys who, it turns out, are brothers. One is Blue, a huge jerk, and the other is his older brother Felix, the smooth and charming guy. Their fairy tale fate is a big secret that Mira must unravel over the course of the book. I can definitely see why some people would find either or both of these guys charming but personally I preferred Freddie, her sweet Hero, because I happen to like nice men (and now I want to watch Star Wars).

There is a lot of time spent with each of the guys as well as the other fairy-tale characters. But you know what there isn't very much of? Mira looking for the graves of her parents. That is the whole impetus for her returning to Beau Rivage but once she's there, she almost forgets about it in favor of falling in love with Felix (she thinks) and bantering with Blue. Honestly I was disappointed that she allowed boys to get in the way of her quest for her parents even if in the end she manages to have both.

In between that though there is a lot of good talk about the implications of fate and destiny and if you can change yours. There are questions about family and how to behave and what you might sacrifice for the people you love. And there is a lot of looking at the dark side of fairy tales and life in general. While I tend to prefer a more humorous approach to fairy tales, I did enjoy this different twist on them.

Overall: A fairy tale retelling that does not shy away from the dark edges but instead confronts them and the challenges of escaping your destiny.

Cover: Really perfect with the rose and thorns although maybe some blue would have been nice.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ramblings 24JUN12

I have been reading up a storm lately (yay!) in hopes of reaching 150 books read by the end of June. I am very hopeful of reaching that goal while also enjoying reading across genres. I usually mix it up: fantasy, mystery, contemporary, dystopia, etc. so there's plenty of variety.

I have also been watching the Euro Cup, which is odd for me as I'm not a big soccer fan (I like lots of points being scored and violence so I'm a football fan although I do like to watch hockey during the playoffs and the games for the Stanley Cup). Currently I'm rooting for Germany, who are always my go-to country although I will also be rooting for England in its game today. Is anyone else following? For what team of you rooting?

Then in personal news, my mom and sister surprised me with this poster:

I'm still quite into The Wanted so it was an awesome surprise for me. I don't normally have a lot on my walls but I immediately tacked this up so I can look at my boys :)

How has your week been?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Renegade Magic

Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis
4/5 stars
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011
328 pages
Middle-Grade Historical Fantasy

Source: Bought

***Possible spoilers for first book Kat Incorrigible***

After loving Kat, Incorrigible, it was a no-brainer to pick up this sequel, looking for another delightful adventure with Kat who now knows about her Guardian powers and is eager to learn more.

The book dives right back into the mischief, beginning with Kat's eldest sister marrying the wealthy young man she had fallen in love with in the previous book; the ceremony is interrupted when the middle sister's love's mother storms in, hellbent on preventing an alliance with a family known for its association with the scandalous witchcraft. Given that I had forgotten about these romances, I was a little thrown but soon all of the characters came rushing back to me.

The story then moves to Bath with Stepmama insisting that middle sister Angeline needs to acquire a fiance to restore the family's reputation or else she will be left behind. Angeline has her own plans and Kat is determined to not be left out. Additionally her brother is caught up in some kind of ancient ritual and their dreamy father may have vital knowledge to prevent disaster.

I feel like this book was more madcap and manic than the previous book to its detriment. I was increasingly frustrated with the headstrong characters especially Angeline's refusal to educate Kat about her magical legacy and Kat's headstrong self continuing to do whatever she wanted. She acts on instinct, making a decision and acting on it, without considering potential consequences. She's only twelve but I remember her being a bit more mature in the first book so this felt like a regression to me. Fortuantely she learned to govern her temper somewhat at important junctures in the book but I was a little tired of her by that point.

I was also disappointed that the relationship between the sisters was less prominent. Eldest sister Elissa is on her honeymoon and Angeline is so secretive. I wanted the sisters to be closer even when not physically near each other. Another problem was the villainous Lady Fotherington, an adult who seems determined to match wits with twelve-year-old Kat-um, maybe aspire higher? I supposed Kat is the most worthy opposition but you'd think Lady Fotherington could have waited until Kat was older and more appropriate competition.

Lest you think it is all negative, I still had a pretty fun time. Of course, I loved visiting Bath and the Pump Room as a long-time Jane Austen fan and the writing is as pleasing as before. I sped through the book and could barely put it down. I still love Kat's tutor Mr. Gregson and I found her stepmother more sympathetic in this book (the poor woman has to put up with a lot from her stepchildren); in fact, she was one of my favorite characters with her very understandable concerns and reactions. There are also some fun new characters including relative Lucy who accidentally plays a big part in the magical aspect. And Lady Fotherington, while infuriating, was fun for me to read.

Overall: Not quite as enjoyable as its predecessor but still a good read for fans of the series.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pardonable Lies

Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear
3.5/5 stars
Henry Holt and Company, 2005
340 pages
Mystery; Historical
#3 in Maisie Dobbs series

Source: Library

I've been eying this series for a while and recently decided to give them a shot. I usually prefer to start with the first but my library didn't have that available when I was looking so I started with the third. That may have been a mistake as there were several areas of Maisie Dobbs' character that frustrated me; my knowledge would have been supplemented by those first two books and perhaps I would have enjoyed this more.

This book is set in 1930 but the shadow of the Great War still hangs over everything from the men with physical disabilities sustained by fighting to those who never returned to those who can't escape from their dark memories of their time spent over there. All three are present in this as psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs has to face her darkest thoughts from her time spent as a nurse, seeking a man pronounced dead but whose mother never gave up seeking confirmation he lived and interfaces with several men injured on the field of battle.

Really three cases intertwine in this book. First is the aforementioned case of the boy declared dead whose mother believed him alive. Her dying wish was for her husband to confirm he lives; he wants nothing to do with the kid but asks Maisie to do a search anyway so that he can fulfill his word. Knowledge of this case prompts one of Maisie's friends to ask for Maisie to find the place where her brother met his death in France. Lastly there is a case in England of a young girl accused of killing her "uncle" (really, a pimp who met her when her cruel stepfather sent her away from home). And as one last item on Maisie's plate, it seems as if someone is trying to kill her. So there's a lot going on.

I thought Winspear did an excellent job juggling the different plots and even as I could see some of the threads coming together, I couldn't put everything in place, leaving me to marvel at how she did that. These mysteries had many delicate parts and they were handled with care. I liked most of the people we were introduced to over the course of the investigations.

But I was not a big fan of Maisie. I think if I had more of her background from the first two books, I would have liked her more. As it stands though, I thought she was a little odd especially with reference to her intuitive powers which just seemed supernatural and out of place in this work so grounded in painful emotional realism. I was also confused by her romantic relationship-I guess I'm used to something a bit more passionate than the feelings she has for the guy. Really though, I'd rather have her fully committed or involved with no one at all as it's not necessary for the story.

Overall: Interesting mysteries and plot but difficult to like main character for me. I will still try some more of the books to see if I can reconcile myself to Maisie's personality.

Cover: I like the art on this although the colors don't really work for me. That feels like an odd criticism but I just don't find them pretty enough, especially compared to some of the other covers.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Expert in Murder

An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson
4/5 stars
Harper, 2008
290 pages
Mystery; Historical
#1 in Josephine Tey Series

Source: Library

While browsing the new releases at my library, I came across a couple of interesting looking mystery series and went looking for the first book. I know that you don't necessarily have to read the first book in a mystery series but if possible, I do like to start at the beginning. Luckily this first book was available.

Why did this one seem so interesting to me? Because its amateur detective is writer Josephine Tey, author of Daughter of Time, which I read and which has been very highly praised. I love the idea of using a famous mystery writer as a detective as the basis for a series (has anyone ever done this for Agatha Christie? I would *so* read that.) And I'm not very familiar with Tey's actual life so I knew everything would be new to me.

The setting for this book is March 1934 with Tey's hit play Richard of Bordeaux in its final week and her coming to London to honor that. But a horrific murder of a young girl who adores the play and who had traveled with Tey casts a pall over the proceedings. When a second murder, seemingly also related to the play, occurs, the stakes are raised to stop a ruthless and meticulous killer.

I did have some trouble getting in to the book as we jump around and spend time with several of the characters. I immediately liked Tey but wasn't necessarily as interested in the other characters. I'm also so used to first-person narratives in YA that third-person can be a transition for me. It took me some time but I did become immersed in the world.

Indeed, what a world! I love books with backstage drama and this one is full of it with conflicting egos and agendas and passions high. The closing of a hit play allows people to bring closure to their role but also sends them out to do something else that may not be as successful. But another theme comes from the war. Although over a decade has passed, the Great War still casts a pall over people's lives (which is not helped by the economic depression) and is something they may or may not have dealt with. This additionally complicates the plot and makes it harder to determine the murderer.

An exciting surprise for me was almost pinpointing the murderer and motive. I just had a suspicion about this character right from the beginning and I was right to assume that s/he was not what s/he pretended to be. Obviously I don't want to spoil who did it but I found it immensely gratifying as I am normally horrid at figuring such things out.

I wish I had read more Tey so I could compare this book to her work, to determine if it lives up to her standards. I don't feel confident enough to do that but I certainly enjoyed this book and recommend it to mystery fans.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Something Like Normal

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller
3.5/5 stars
Blomsbury, 2012
214 pages
YA Contemporary

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

I requested this book because I haven't read (or even seen) many YA books focusing on soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although I figured it would be an intense read and I'm more of a light reads girl, I also thought it would be worth it.

Well, I was certainly right that the parts dealing with main character Travis's military service would be great. Travis joined, not with a fervent desire to serve his country nor with a deep commitment for military work but more as an escape from his overbearing father and purposeless life. But he found a place where he survived and bonded with a group. As he returns home for a leave, he is processing the death of his best friend Charlie and preparing for a memorial service in honor of the man. There are flashbacks to Travis's experience and he suffers nightmares as one might expect. These sections were strong and engrossing for me.

What I didn't exactly like was all the time spent on relationships. First because I was expecting more about the military and second because there were some seriously messed-up relationships. Travis has very poor relationships with his overbearing father and jerky brother, both of which are touched on but not to the depth I would have liked. His relationship with his mother is also a little fractured but that receives more treatment.

Then there is Travis's romantic life with his ex-hookup Paige who is now with his brother and this one is seriously gross since she slips into his room with the brother just down the hall (repeatedly). Meanwhile there is Harper, whose reputation was ruined by Travis in eighth grade and who he constantly treats badly but who still hangs around him. So he's hooking up with Paige for lack of anything better while also pursuing Harper-dislike! I mean, I really liked Harper and I just wanted her to do better than Travis. Thankfully by the end of the book, he seems to have straightened out some and is on the way to (maybe) being worthy of her. Admittedly the cover does seem to hint more at this being a romancey book but lots of books have inaccurate covers so that doesn't necessarily mean much.

Warning: Language and sexual content make me recommend this for the more mature reader. Explicit violence is pretty minimal (a PG-13 movie would have way more).

Overall: If you can get over the ickiness of Travis's love life, there is some great stuff in here and I'm definitely hopeful of receiving a YA with more focus on the military life in the future.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday 20JUN12

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.

This is my first week participating because I'm just so excited about this book, which is the third in the Princess for Hire series. You'll have to be sure to come back on July 3 because author Lindsey Leavitt is making a blog tour stop while I will also be posting a review (and a giveaway!). In the meantime, here's the cover, summary, and relevant links. Lucky for us this comes out in just about a week-see the widget in my sidebar for an up to the second countdown!

Desi Bascomb is a princess substitute prodigy--she's the fastest employee ever to advance to level three in the Facade Agency, and the youngest to ever be a full-time sub. But now with all eyes on Desi, the only thing she wants is a moment alone to talk to Reed, who's a Facade legacy and secretly a sub for princes As Desi trains for her new role, she spies more than a few cracks in Facade's perfect appearance. But uncovering the agency's dark past might require more than a princess sub can handle by herself. Desi is no damsel in distress, but sometimes a girl needs a knight in shining armor.

Due June 26, 2012 

What do you think? What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Burn Mark

Burn Mark by Laura Powell
4/5 stars
Bloomsbury, 2012
405 pages
YA Paranormal

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

I haven't seen very much about this book around the blogosphere, which I would say is good as it allowed me to enter this book with very little preconceived notions, prepared to enjoy myself fully. What I did see left me happy as it seemed like a fun different twist on the witch story.

Basically it's modern times very similar to our world but in this world, witchcraft is very real and threatening. There is an inquisition in place to track down unlicensed and malevolent witches as well as a registry to keep track of confirmed witches. But not all witches are content to live like that with groups of them forming covens that are similar to gangs. Needless to say, suspicions are high and danger lurks around every corner. Witchhood usually starts in the teens or early twenties; the earlier it appears, the more powerful the witch will be. He or she will see a tiny mark appear on the skin.

The story is told mostly through alternating between two characters with additional sections filling in the gaps. One character is Glory, descendant of famous powerful witches, who fully anticipates becoming a witch and a powerful one at that who can lead her coven back to its days of glory. The other is her near opposite: the posh Lucas Stearne whose father is an Inquisitor leading an important prosecution. Both of them receive their marks on the same days and their paths soon intertwine to uncover a great conspiracy that threatens the very stability of the nation.

One of the cool things, for me, was that this book was set in London and its author is British. This meant there was quite a bit of slang that went past me (chav is something I've seen but is most definitely not American slang) as well as descriptions that helped create a distinctly British world. Most of the books I read are set during Regency times so it was also neat to see an alternate contemporary world. This world is fully realized; there are a lot of details packed in to this book and I feel like I can see exactly what Powell envisioned. While sometimes this was overwhelming, I love details so that aspect worked great for me.

Next I actually really liked both of the characters. Oftentimes, I end up preferring one main character vastly more than the other but I could not pick a favorite in this case. I loved Glory's toughness and her strong ambitions while Lucas underwent a stunning transformation in his thinking about witchkind because of his induction into that category. I would have liked a bit more about Lucas' difficult relationship with his father whose career is of more importance than his son but you can't have everything.

Overall: An exciting alternate world is displayed here with lots of possibilities for future stories; I, for one, am along for the ride. Highly enjoyed!

Cover: Kind of reminds me of Divergent actually with the big circle. I do like that it's dark with just the fiery hints but it's not exactly to my taste.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Iron Witch

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney
4/5 stars
Flux, 2011
299 pages
YA Paranormal

Source: Library

I was very intrigued just by the title of this one when I first heard about it last year so I kept my eyes open and was able to pick up a copy from my library, especially relishing the short length, which suggested to me a fast-paced story.

The book is told alternating between first-person journal entries from main character Donna (which I loved-I'm a big fan of epistolary books) and third-person narration. It was hard for me to switch between the two and it was also hard in that I preferred the journal entries more. They only occur every few chapters so I spent most of my time anticipating their return.

Despite the title suggesting it (and honestly I didn't read the summary), I was a little surprised to discover that this was a fey book. I am on the record as someone who usually doesn't like fey books but I did enjoy this one. I think I prefer it when the fey are pretty unambiguously evil. I can't handle the manipulations of fae in a lot of books where they present their beautiful faces and words while secretly plotting malicious actions toward the main character. Here they are dark dangerous creatures as everyone who knows about them recognizes. They killed Donna's father and destroyed her mother's mind so she has no sympathy for them. In fact she would really rather just forget about them except for the fact that they kidnap her best friend and require her to step in.

The kidnapping is mentioned on the back cover so it's not a spoiler but I assumed it would happen much earlier in the book than it did. Honestly it felt like half the book was buildup and establishing the world and then the other half was Donna rushing to save him. I wish it had happened earlier but this looks to be the first book in a trilogy so the whole thing will be part of a larger story. But this book does wrap up on its own without a cliffhanger almost as if it was entirely self-contained-I appreciate books like that as I am sick and tired of cheap cliffhangers to get me to pick up the next book. If the first one is well-written and enjoyable, I will be back! Which I am planning to do in this case as I think there is promise in the characters and world created.

I also really appreciated the author's note at the end where she discussed her inspiration for this book as well as some of the big themes. We don't usually get such insight into the author's mind and it was fascinating to reflect back on the book with what she shared there. Even if you don't usually read such additions, you will definitely want to in this case.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Murder Most Persuasive

Murder Most Persuasive by Tracy Kiely
3.5/5 stars
Minotaur Books, 2011
293 pages
Mystery; Austen
Book 3 in the Elizabeth Parker Mystery Series

Source: Library

While browsing through the new releases at my library, I came across this title and immediately wondered if it was a modern Persuasion retelling. After reading the synopsis, I knew it was and as a long-time Austen fan, I thought I would enjoy this so I snatched it up.

And I did mostly enjoy this. Main character Elizabeth Parker has aided in two previous murder investigations (see the previous books in the series) and fancies herself somewhat of an amateur detective, perhaps along the lines of Golden Age detective Adela Bradley. She is also a huge fan of Jane Austen and is always quick with a quip, providing for some of the most entertaining lines of the book.  The Persuasion subplot comes in the form of her cousin Ann whose ex is now the police detective investigating the murder that is at the center of this book.

The writing style was easy and I read this book very quickly. There is a good cast of characters with distinct personalities so I never confused anyone with anyone else. Nor was I able to solve the murder with its many pieces. The threads of the mystery were a little confusing although I guess that is partly the point. There are several pieces that seem to be unconnected as the murderer seems to be trying to make them be, to cast suspicion on anyone but him/herself. I do think we could have had a few more clues about whodunnit but maybe other readers thought we were given plenty so that is simply a matter of personal preference.

Overall: I enjoyed my introduction to the world of Elizabeth Parker. I definitely want to check out the first two books as well as the fourth which sounds like it will be set in Bath at the Jane Austen Festival!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cold Kiss

Cold Kiss by Amy Garvey
3/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2011
293 pages
YA Paranormal Romance

Source: Library

I was drawn in by the unusual cover but ended up delaying reading this after seeing that it was classified as paranormal, which is not my preferred genre. Not that I don't enjoy paranormals; I just tend to like contemporary and historical stories more. But after reading positive reviews from bloggers I didn't expect to like this book, I decided to check it out for myself.

It started out very promisingly with main character Wren so broken after the sudden death of her boyfriend Danny that she calls upon her extraordinary mysterious powers to bring him back to life where she keeps him hidden in her neighbor's garage. For a while, it seems okay. Wren gets Danny before and after school while drifting through the rest of the day in a fog. She has isolated herself from her best friends and her family but at least she has Danny. Except increasingly he is not her Danny but a Danny who is remembering the terrible night of his death and how he no longer belongs with Wren. And then a new guy arrives at school with his own powers and he discovers her secret, prompting her to clean up the gigantic mess she made.

This sounded different and the writing was very smooth and easy. I was able to move through the book fairly quickly. However while the beginning was good, I found myself liking the book less and less. Why? Several things. I was uncomfortable with Wren moving on with mysterious new guy so quickly while still entangled with Danny. It felt like cheating to me as Wren wanted her Danny in addition to this second guy. I also did not like the new guy, who seemed like a very convenient plot device to bring everything to a head while also giving Wren a new love interest.

Then Wren's mysterious powers are inherited from her mother but it is not something that is talked about. She does not call herself a witch although that seems to be the correct descriptor and it is all very hush-hush. I understand that there is a complicated history there but as a reader, I was disappointed with the information I received. The last problem I'll mention was just a general dislike for Wren. Besides what felt like cheating to me, there was just a general selfishness on her part and her overly self-reliant stance. She couldn't really handle everything and her refusal to recognize that drove me up the wall.

Overall: The more time I spent with Wren, the less I liked her although I ended the book with a lot of questions about her powers. Although there is a sequel, I do not anticipate picking it up unless pressured by many rave reviews.

Cover: Seems a little different from the usual (no girl in a pretty dress) and I love the blue-green which is shiny in person but the giant lips are creepy!

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Illuminated by Erica Orloff
4/5 stars
Speak, 2011
244 pages
YA Romance

Source: Library

I remember seeing this book come out at the end of last year but since it was December, I feel like it got a bit overshadowed by end of the year wrap-ups and holiday times. So I never heard much about it but remained interested in the story based on the lovely cover.

When I read the summary, I was skeptical because it's supposed to be an epic love story against the tragic love story of Heloise and Abelard (wikipedia page if you're not familiar with it although by reading this book, you would get a pretty good basic understanding) and in my experience, I tend to find those kind of YA stories unpalatable and unable to live up to the mythical passionate society-defying love stories of the past. And well I would say I was right in this case but this book is not without its charms.

First it was a delight to read about history loving Callie who is spending the summer with her uncle while her father is off on business (her mother being deceased). While examining a manuscript for auction, they find a palimpsest and begin investigating its legitimacy eventually leading to the story of Abelard and Heloise as well as a trip to France.

Second, the inclusion of the story of Abelard and Heloise was great. Although I think it's a pretty famous story, it's not the most famous and I've never read a YA story incorporating it (unlike say Romeo and Juliet, which is also referenced on the back cover). The couple were separated in life until resuming a passionate letter correspondence, cementing their intellectual connection as their physical connection had already culminated in a son. There's an optimism around the story that made me smile.

What I ultimately found most interesting was Callie and August's fears stemming from their parents' many mistakes but choosing to still believe in themselves and their love. Neither set of parents is still together and toxic is a word that could describe both of those relationships. Callie only learns about the bitterness of her parents' relationship during the course of the book, adding a double whammy with its new revelations in addition to navigating her own romance. Both of the kids worry that they could repeat the mistakes, could hurt the other the way their parents hurt each other. But they take a leap of faith and pledge to each other, aiming for that kind of epic love.

As I said though, the love story isn't quite up to par. Callie and August fall almost immediately and seem to just know. I like seeing a couple fall for each other, the ways they complement each other like no else has; it's those details that really make a romance for me and in this case, the book doesn't meet my demands although I was not expecting it to be able to given the brevity of the novel.

Overall: A slight sweet love story-very fast-moving for a lazy afternoon but without a knockout emotional punch to really resonate.

Cover: I love the warm colors that feel very inviting and the stars along the outline of their skin (this made be a little hard to see in the picture but it can be seen on the cover in person.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
5/5 stars
Hyperion, 2012
333 pages
YA Historical

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

I was so scared to pick this book up! Although it has received near unanimous praise, I've been really picky lately and have found myself disappointed with books that the blogosphere has raved about. Happily that was not the case for this book as I absolutely loved it!

Like other reviewers, I will not share too much about the plot. This initially frustrated me when I was deciding whether or not to read it but I was very glad for their closed lips. You do not want anything spoiled for you. I do few comfortable sharing a few things though.

First the book is divided into halves. Although I have not bought my own copy yet, I am planning to because the second half illuminates the first half in a most kick-ass way. Upon finishing, all I wanted to do was go back and reread the whole thing again (couldn't because I needed to get up early the next day but very much wanted to). Thus I highly recommend buying your own copy so that you can do that.

Second the book is set during World War II from the Allied side-primarily Scottish, English, and French people make up the cast. It's mostly young women who are our focus, which is very exciting. I love getting to read about women doing what was traditionally considered men's work and, as Wein shares in her author's note, the things they do, while not common, are plausible.

Lastly I found this book incredibly affecting and powerful. I was still thinking about it a day later and managed to make myself cry a second and third time (that third time is just now as I write this review-it is highly possible that I will cry again thinking about this book as the days go back).

So that's about all I feel safe sharing. Is there anything stopping you from checking this book out? Please let me know and I will do my best to convince you otherwise as this has probably been my favorite read of the year so far and will definitely be a contender for best read overall of 2012.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Timepiece by Myra McEntire
3/5 stars
Egmont, 2012
325 pages
YA Paranormal Time Travel
Hourglass #2

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

Last year I read McEntire's debut Hourglass and was fascinated by the time travel aspect in particular as well as liking heroine Emerson who was going through some difficulties. I thought the secondary characters were lackluster and the romance unpalatable but I had a lot of questions left over so I picked up this sequel.

Unfortunately instead of continuing in Emerson's voice, this time our narrator is Kaleb, someone I didn't particularly like the first time as I found him too overbearing and grossly possessive while also being a giant man-whore. Plus he's tattooed and is an alcoholic. So not my dream guy at all. He lusted after Emerson from the get-go but she was already heads over heels for Michael, his best friend. While he still thinks about Em, he still has time for other girls and becomes involved in his own romance this go-around.

That romance is with Em's best friend Lily, who I liked in the first book although she didn't make enough appearances for me and I liked her again here. What I didn't like was the lack of chemistry I felt between the two. Neither this romance nor Em and Michael's really works for me, probably due to the insta-love or at least lust felt by three of the four people (Lily seems to be a bit of a holdout).

Another problem was my inability to remember some of what had happened in Hourglass. If possible, I would highly recommend reading these back to back. While most events came back to me, there is probably still stuff I missed. Therefore I spent some time in the beginning not only adjusting to the shift in narrator (it was very disorienting to read Kaleb's perspective on what Em was doing instead of her own) but also trying to feel my way back into the world.

Then there are the paranormal elements, something I really loved in the first book. Besides everything that occurred then, there is a lot of new information thrown at the reader. I appreciated every little tidbit we got but I still myself a little convinced, largely due to the time jumping nature of one of the villains. Turns out this character can remove memories from people, leaving them empty and confused while also not telling the audience

Overall: Characters I couldn't connect with, aggravating romance, and confusing timeline; just not the book for me. However I can see that a lot of other readers love Kaleb so don't let my distaste put you off.

Cover: Trying to figure out if this is supposed to be Em or someone else? I did prefer the black dress of the first book but I think the shadow is really cool here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Death by Petticoat

Death by Petticoat by Mary Miley Theobald
3/5 stars
Andrew McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2012
126 pages
Non-fiction; American History

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

I love the idea for this book-it is right up my alley as a history major who specialized in US history. I love collections of truths and myths that break them down in easy-to-read ways and this looked like the perfect quick read for me.

And it was a quick read. Each entry is only about one page and includes a picture to further illustrate the point. The writing was easy to read and due to the shortness, you can very quickly read this book. I think it would be fun to pick it up and read an entry or two at a time. It looks like a nice book to support The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and its missions of preservation and education.

However I ended up being disappointed on a few counts. First the focus is mostly on colonial times (which is forecast by the collaboration with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation but which I didn't notice). I thought it would cover a longer period of time and be more mixed. But most of the myths come from colonial times with just a few from later days. Second was the myths themselves, most of which I had never even heard of-two separate mentions of room taxes as a for example. I guess these are questions that tourists ask when visiting Colonial Williamsburg, which makes me very worried for our school system if in fact American-educated people are thinking these things are true. My expectations were that I would have at least heard of the myths even if I knew they were false from my more specialized studying.

Overall: Good for some light reading but not recommended for history scholars.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Week of 10JUN12: Be Awesome Instead

I had some disappointing news this week-not too terrible but it made me want to cry. After a few hours though I was kind of sick of myself and I thought of this "How I Met Your Mother" quote, which I first saw on Pinterest but can be found here:

So to be awesome, I started thinking of cool things to anticipate, such as my upcoming 3rd blogoversary! Okay, it's not actually until November but I'm glad I started planning now so that it can hopefully turn out the way I want it to and so that everyone can have a lot of fun (hint: expect multiple giveaways :)

Plus my Saturday was very enjoyable. My car went in for maintenance (just its annual check-up), I learned how to crochet, rediscovered a latch-hook project, and had a great Zumba class (my teacher found out that I love to punch the air and had a couple of routines that incorporated that).

Also I read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which I was pretty sure I would love based on the description but lately I've just been in a bit of a rut and not loving books as much as I want to. Um, not the case here. 5/5 stars and rave review to come this week-hopefully I can write something to do justice to this amazing book.

How has your weekend been? Hope the reading is going well!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
4/5 stars
Scholastic Press, 2011
407 pages
YA Fantasy

Source: Library

Having enjoyed Stiefvater's The Wolves of Mercy Falls series, I was eager to try out more of her work including the highly praised The Scorpio Races, which sounded incredibly different and unique. I feel like the mythology is definitely different from anything I'm personally acquainted with, being based on dangerous fairy sea horses and a climactic race that the whole book builds up to.

I don't want to share too much about the book because I enjoyed the unfolding of the plot. I would characterize this book as fairly slow filled with detail but occasionally punctuated by bursts of action or huge crowd scenes. As someone who appreciates the buildup, that worked for me but I know it is not to everyone's taste. After all this book is just over 400 pages. Admittedly I do think it could have been trimmed a bit but I pretty much liked every second.

The book is narrated in alternating chapters by Sean Kendrick, returning champion of the race who is racing for the opportunity to buy his beloved horse and gain more independence from the man who owns the horse and most of the island. The other narrator is Puck Connolly, whose parents died in the sea, leaving her with two brothers and very little money. She races as a last gasp to keep her family together even when she realizes its futility. Over the course of the book, they meet and fall for each other while also battling prejudiced old-timers, malicious peers, and the dangers of the horses themselves.

While reading, I felt immensely for both characters, caught in extremely difficult situations and with reactions very different from what I suppose mine would be in such circumstances. This made it a bit hard for me to feel connected but it didn't seem to matter in the moment. Now as I think back on the book, I'm not quite as enchanted but during I was enthralled.

I do have a confession to make though-for much of the book, I thought the race was from the main island to another island. For those of you who have read the book, you can understand why this was a little bit confusing especially in regards to who main character Puck decides to race. The race is actually on a beach very close to the sea.

Recommended for lovers of Stiefvater's writing and people who love horses with the caveat that there are some violent scenes.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Along Came a Duke

Along Came a Duke by Elizabeth Boyle
4/5 stars
Avon Books, 2012
362 pages
Historical Romance

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

Elizabeth Boyle books are pretty much must-reads for me so the title, cover, and plot didn't really matter to me. I saw her name and that was sufficient. However if it did matter, I think the duke part would be very enticing. I once read that romance books with duke in the title sold better and I believe that; I know I like books when the man is of high rank, not that a mere mister can't be a good hero, of course...

Anyway on to the book itself: I suffered some confusion in the beginning just with the pacing and tone. On the one hand, there is Miss Tabitha Timmons, a confirmed spinster living with her cold uncle and aunt who assumed responsibility for her when her father died in exchange for a better position as vicar. They took the opportunity to improve their social standing while also gaining a free maid of all work. Yet Tabitha's spirits are bright especially because she has her two best friends Daphne and Harry. They are all spinsters and happily so in the small town of Kempton that is filled with many legends about the famous spinsterdom. Many names are thrown around but not all are important.

Then we meet her love interest, the Duke of Preston, although Tabitha does not realize this for a while. Because she does not know of his exalted status, she is fine lashing him with her tongue, immediately intriguing him. He is an awful rake, having ruined several ladies this season while also betting exorbitantly. My confusion stemmed from the relationships in his life. He has an aunt and uncle (twins) who are only about six months older than him as well as a friend Roxley. I was confusing the friend and the uncle, who I believe will be receiving their own stories with Tabitha's friends to complete the series (hopefully Preston's aunt will also receive a mate as she is widowed in this book).

The basic plot is that Tabitha must wed the eminently respectable Mr. Barkworth in order to inherit a sizable fortune. Problem is that she's in love with Preston and well he realizes he's in love with her. Tabitha's greedy relations will go far to keep Tabitha's inheritance in their hands but they are no match for true love.

Once I had sorted out the relationships in this book, I was enchanted. My ARC has a blurb from Julia Quinn that is just so true, "Wit, passion, and adventure, Elizabeth Boyle has it all." I loved the humor so much-I feel so in sync with Boyle because she always brings it for me. In particular, I enjoyed Preston's mocking of Mr. Barkworth. However the main reason I fell for both of the main characters though wasn't because they said some great lines; it was the way both suffered from losing their family and wanting to build one together. Serious tragedy in their pasts helps them appreciate the importance of family and gave them a very real connection. I appreciate the balance of serious with humor.

Overall: Perfect for fans of Julia Quinn and lighter romance-this is a humorous sweet story with two people eager for a deep connection and who have to battle base knavery to achieve their happily ever after.

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