Friday, May 31, 2013

Nantucket Blue

Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland
3/5 stars
Hyperion, 2013
294 pages
YA Contemporary

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

I had originally planned to read this before I went on my vacation but time got away from me so I was actually able to read it on the beach, which was great because the cover screams out that it is the perfect beach read. I think that is true although this book is a bit on the heavier side than my preferred beach fare.

Cricket is looking forward to a beautiful lazy summer in Nantucket with her best friend Jules, an invitation that is suddenly rescinded after the death of Jules' mother. Nonetheless Cricket makes the trek out to Nantucket just trying to be there for her, something that is complicated as Cricket embarks on a secret summer romance that could hurt Jules if discovered.

This is a difficult review for me because while I liked most of the plot lines and characters in this book, they were definitely more than the whole. My overall impression of this book is decidedly neutral-I wouldn't warn you off of reading it but I'm not going to insist that you run out and pick it up. I think the main reason for that is just the way everything is tied together, that is to say not very tightly. Cricket had a lot of cool moments (most notably to me were her job as a maid with the hilarious Liz and her internship with a writer) but they weren't quite one cohesive whole for me.

The cover seems to hint at a big summer romance, to my mind, and to some extent that is true as Cricket experiences a giddiness from being with that one boy. But it does not overwhelm the other plots nor is it instalove. I actually found it to be a pretty accurate and realistic love story although toward the ending, it sort of explodes into melodrama. Communication is important people!

There is also parental drama as Cricket's mom has completely withdrawn from the world following her divorce while her father has fully embraced his new wife and child, possibly to the exclusion of Cricket. The father plot line is not at all resolved to my extreme dissatisfaction but at least the mother's story ends on a moment of hope.

Lastly there is the friendship arc, which was so sad to me. I have lost friends over the years (sometimes reconnecting with them later) but that was because I moved-not because of the reason detailed here, which absolutely broke my heart. Jules is kind of a crappy friend and I wish we had a bit more understanding of her history with Cricket to justify why Cricket kept trying.

Overall: Yes, there are a lot of good points to this book but the whole just didn't add up to much for me.

Content: Some language, quite a bit of alcohol use, and lots of sexual content make this probably better for the older YA reader.

Other Opinions:
Alexa Loves Books
Book Haven
Book Labyrinth
Candace's Book Blog

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Without a Summer

Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
4/5 stars
Tor Books, 2013
364 pages
Adult Fantasy Historical Austen

Source: Library

This is the third book in the Glamourist Histories series following the adventures of Sir and Lady Vincent in Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass during Regency times. Although the first book drew heavily on the works of Jane Austen, the second moved away and this third book continues the trend expanding on the historical and magical foundations of this world.

The year is 1816 and it seems like the winter will never end with crops failing and increasing unemployment with returning soldiers from the Napoleonic wars.  A convenient target is the coldmongers who, in small doses can manipulate glamour to keep things cold; the general public considers them the reason between the freezing and the situation gets tense. On a more personal level, Jane and her husband have a commission in London and they take this opportunity to bring Jane's sister Melody along so she can potentially acquire a husband. But her number one choice seems very unsuitable especially as he may be involved with something very shady.

My favorite aspect of this book is actually one I didn't mention above: Sir Vincent has been estranged from his family ever since he pursued glamour as a profession but the possibility of reconciliation is dangled, introducing many new characters including his cold and cruel father. I also really liked the historical elements-I didn't even know about this cold summer until I read this book.

The part I didn't really like was the romantic subplot-I didn't think much of Melody's suitor, which coincides with Jane's assessment of his character. When the main character is so anti-someone, it is hard to persevere in liking him. Luckily Jane and Vincent have some really cute moments as they fight for their marriage despite many challenges. They are starting to know each other so well and have great banter.

Overall: Fun magical world incorporating lesser-known historical facts (there's a fun discussion guide at the end to peruse) and ever deepening its characterization.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Follow the Heart

Follow the Heart by Kaye Dacus
4/5 stars
B&H Publishing, 2013
321 pages
Adult Christian Historical Romance

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

Other books by this author:
Stand-In Groom
Menu for Romance
A Case for Love
Love Remains
The Art of Romance 
Turnabout's Fair Play
Ransome's Honor

As you can from the above list, I have read a lot of Dacus' writing and obviously I quite enjoy it. Thus I was pleased to see a new release from her, this time set in 1851 England around the Great Exhibition. It follows siblings Kate and Christopher Dearing, poor relations from Philadelphia come to marry money and save the family's fortunes but both are quickly captured by someone entirely unsuitable. Will they follow their head or follow their heart? (Hint: look at the book's title.)

I am a big Kaye Dacus fan and I liked this title a lot although it is not my favorite (that is probably Stand-In Groom or A Case for Love). For me, I was less than enthused about the dual love stories for the siblings as I didn't really feel we got enough time with Christopher. I feel quite certain that I know Kate's heart, inside and out but Christopher is more enigmatic. Similarly his love interest gets less page time than hers.

But it is the message of this book that I really love. In essence, Kate (re)discovers God's great love and how he brought her to England to give her happiness. It's the reason why one (I) reads/read Inspirational fiction-for just such these moments of clarity and understanding. I really appreciated the message about waiting and listening to the Lord instead of trying to force him into your own will-patience is not my strong suit and that is a discipline in which I need to grow. I feel like this book came across my path at an excellent time, reminding me of some things I needed to remember.

Cover: I do not like that dress but Kate does tend to eschew bright fabrics for more staid clothing.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

ARC Review: You Look Different in Real Life

You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle
3/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2013
368 pages
YA Contemporary
Scheduled to release June 4

Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I remember seeing Castle's debut work, The Beginning of After, when it released but never quite being able to squeeze it into my review schedule although I remember interested in reading it. Thus I made it a priority to check out her newest release in a timely fashion.

For starters, the premise is quite cool. At the age of six, five kids were chosen for a documentary. A follow-up film was created when they were eleven, causing significant fallout. Now the kids are sixteen and the documentarians are trying to cajole them into a third film with mounting pressure from the people funding them. Of course, after ten years, a lot has changed for the kids who are no longer friends, who barely speak and who have a lot of secrets.

The first thing I noticed about the book was how main character Justine held back elements of their story, leaving me feeling pretty confused and frustrated. I like knowing things and I don't really like waiting. Eventually most of my questions were answered but I disliked how drawn out things were up to then.

The second thing I noticed was the diversity of the characters: the five kids were chosen for their different personalities and backgrounds and that carries through the entire book. Justine misses the bright and witty self who won over audiences in the first two films; Nate has remade himself into the golden boy; Felix is jealous of Nate's easy charm; Keira's mom abandoned the film in the interim; and Rory's diagnosis on the autism spectrum has cost her the friendship of Justine. These are just one side of the characters and I mostly enjoyed getting to know them although they (mostly Justine as the narrator) also annoyed me many times. She just felt so sorry for herself instead of actually doing anything.

The highlight of the book was a long string of chapters toward the end when the five must come together to help one of their own-this is over the course of one epic night in the city and it shows a tremendous amount of character growth with all five having something major happen to them or realizing something important. I just felt that the beginning was a bit slow and not entirely necessary before we got to this good stuff.

Cover: I think this girl looks like Aubrey Plaza (April on "Parks and Recreation). This pleases me and helps make up for the huge font over face, which is not my favorite kind of cover.

Other Opinions:
Anna Reads
Book Labyrinth
The Allure of Books

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Corner of White

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty
4/5 stars
Arthur A Levine Books, 2013
373 pages
YA Fantastical Contemporary

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

This was a book about which I had seen a lot of buzz, hailed as something truly unique and extraordinary. With praise like that, who could resist? Having finished, I see where that stems from but I don't know if this book was quite as special as it was made out to be. The ending in particular where secrets are revealed and everything comes together, though satisfying, was very expected by me. I'm not saying I was able to predict everything but when certain pieces of information were uncovered, I nodded in assent to the turn of events rather than gasping in surprise or clutching the book ever tighter in a frantic effort to discover what comes next.

It is rather difficult to write a plot summary but I'll give it a shot here. We alternate between two worlds: one is ours and the other is Cello, a kingdom plagued by dangerous Colors. In our world we closely follow Madeleine who strikes up a correspondence with Elliott in Cello via letters exchanged through a crack. Although at first they seem very different and separate, as the story progresses, the threads thicken and we can see the connections.

The writing for this book is very free-wheeling with seemingly random digressions into historical figures like Isaac Newton and Lord Byron but again everything does come together in a very pleasing conclusion. It's just that the beginning was a bit of a slog to my mind-it took entirely too long to really gain steam and capture my interest.

Both of the main characters have their commonalities as in their separation from their fathers (although for very different reasons), a longing to leave their setting for somewhere else (something that is largely sated by the end), and of course a certain amount of curiosity that encouraged them in their letter-writing exchange across worlds. Oddly I think I preferred Elliott's sections, enjoying learning about the land of Cello and the town of Bonfire. I consider this odd as I tend to prefer female protagonists in a contemporary setting so one would have thought I'd prefer Madeleine's narrative.

The big test for a first book (as this is the first in a series) is if I would read the second and while I am not craving the next book as I am in other series, it is still something I would like to check out as I feel that all the set-up in this book could pay off in a big way in subsequent books.

Other Opinions:
A Reader of Fictions
Alexa Loves Books
Steph Su Reads
Unforgettable Books

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ramblings and the Week to Come 26MAY13


I have mostly gotten back to reading books for review on the blog but I did want to mention the last non-review book I read, which was Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I suspect that a lot of you bookish people are introverts like me and will find this very interesting but if you're an extrovert, you still probably know some introverts and this book can give you some insight into our life. There were a lot of things that really rang true to me and helped me feel a bit more comfortable with myself.

Books Received:
This was an awesome week!

From Netgalley: Much happy dancing ensued upon this notification
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein: after Code Name Verity was my favorite book of 2012, this companion has a high bar to clear but I'm really looking forward to giving it a shot.
 From Amazon Vine:
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

I am off to Hawaii with my family on Tuesday! We've been talking about and looking forward to this trip for months and I can't believe it's finally time. I am bringing my laptop and I'm sure I'll be online commenting at least a little bit but I don't know how much. I pre-scheduled my posts and will be back June 3rd.

Week to Come:
A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty
You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle
Follow the Heart by Kaye Dacus
Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland
And Saturday is the first of the month which means I'll be talking about the next section of War and Peace.

What are you up to this Memorial Day? Happy reading :)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The S-Word

The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher
3.5/5 stars
Gallery Books, 2013
307 pages
YA Contemporary

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

This book grabbed me with its provocative title and summary, promising a dark look into life at modern high schools. Although my high school experience was not ideal, at least I was never bullied and I had some genuinely good times. I'm always a bit baffled when I see stories featuring a peek at the dark side and consequently I find myself intrigued.

Angie is our main focus: the pretty popular girl whose best friend Lizzie hooked up with her boyfriend on prom night and subsequently committed suicide. But after her death, the words "Suicide Slut" appear scrawled over her her own handwriting leading Angie to investigate further into Lizzie's life and death and attempt to claim vengeance.

I don't think this book reads much like a YA (and I feel comfortable making this claim as someone who has read hundreds of YA books in the past few years) which makes sense because its imprint is not one that typically publishes books in the YA category. And it's not because the book is dark-I've read some dark books that I definitely felt fit comfortably within YA but something about this book just felt a little different and atypical.

As for the story itself, I found it pretty uneven. I felt like the tone kept shifting. For example, in an early scene Angie is trying to gain information from an actress student she suspects, Angie assumes an old-school gumshoe investigation attitude. But at other times, it shifted to almost paranormal (which is what I thought was how the twist would unfold.) And it took on other tones too. As the book progressed, I thought it tightened though and everything started to come together.

I didn't feel much connection to the characters as you might have guessed from the fact that I didn't start off by mentioning them although I sure felt for Lizzie who got a really raw hand from life. There is also a guy named Jesse who was fun, complex, and complicated-I enjoyed getting to know him more. Angie was actually pretty awful in some sections of this book although I think I felt more indifferent to her rather than disliking her.

Overall: Not your usual YA read but it might be worth checking out if you have time in your reading schedule.

Other Opinions:
Rather Be Reading
Reading Teen
Writer Quirk

Friday, May 24, 2013

ARC Review: The Girl with the Iron Touch

The Girl with the Iron Touch by Kady Cross
4/5 stars
HarlequinTeen, 2013
377 pages
YA Steampunk
3rd in series

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

I have eagerly followed The Steampunk Chronicles since the beginning, reading and reviewing The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, The Girl in the Steel Corset, and The Girl in the Clockwork Collar. Firstly I really enjoy the covers with the beautiful pops of vivid color and with a strong, not-dead young woman. Then, looking at the actual content, I've been drawn to the fun steampunk imaginings, fantastical settings, and healthy dose of romance.

After an outing to America in the previous book, the gang is back on their home turf in London. But their dangers are far from over with Emily falling into danger and everyone mobilizing to bring her back home and to face a not-so-new enemy. I don't want to get too enmeshed in the details for fear of spoilers but rest assured that you get to see all your favorite characters again (including blogosphere favorite Jack Dandy.)

Although I have been a bit disappointed not to focus entirely on Finley, who I think is so cool and who still has layers to demonstrate, it's tough to remain displeased when the focus shifts to the brainy and cool Emily. I love how she's always the smartest one in the room and is fully appreciated for her abilities. Of course we can't forget Griff who continues trying to carry the weight of the world on his own shoulders instead of sharing the burden with his friends. We can try to forget Sam who's never been my favorite character but who keeps working toward redeeming himself to me. And although Jack Dandy is also not very beloved by me, I found him quite charming in this book especially with his "accent." That needs to be explored more.

Two last notes are that this one seemed a little less romantic than the previous least until the end. While we were a bit plagued by love triangles at the start, those have tapered off into the predictable couplings. The other note is that I initially thought this series was a trilogy and yet the ending seems to hint at a possible fourth book. Looking at the author's twitter, that seems to be in the works-thank goodness!

Other Opinions:
Candace's Book Blog
Ladybug Storytime!
The Book Swarm
The Reader Bee

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Once Upon a Prince

Once Upon a Prince by Rachel Hauck
4/5 stars
Zondervan, 2013
343 pages
Adult Christian Contemporary Romance

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

The premise for this book was right up my alley: ordinary young woman falls unwittingly for a prince mixed in with some inspirational words. Overall I was pretty pleased with how this romance unfolded.

Susanna has spent twelve years clinging to her relationship with a military man who eventually breaks up with her saying he found the right ring but not the right girl. Living on a small island, the news quickly spreads and Susanna is the object of pity. Except for the dashingly charming Nate Kenneth whose humble attitude speaks to her soul. As it turns out, Nate is Prince Nathaniel soon to be crowned king upon the death of his father and caught up in a complicated web of politics. Can these two go the distance?

Right off the bat, I am impressed with Susanna's caution. If I discovered I was seeing a prince, I think I'd end up jumping in feet first before looking. But due to coming off her previous relationship, she is much more caution and leans on God instead, waiting to get to know Nate inside and out. Meanwhile Nate is so mature and honorable as he struggles against seemingly insurmountable odds that would prevent a marriage between the two.

For me, the part I didn't really like was the political angle. I'm not going to get into all the details but I found it on the dull side and kind of tuned out, waiting to get back to the heart of the story. Lest you think it's all about romance, you should know that family plays an important role too as both Susanna and Nate have interfering but well-meaning family members with a lot of opinions.

Overall: A bit on the fantastical side with Nate coming from the kingdom of Brighton but it does hit that sweet spot of romance that I was anticipating.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Tell-Tale Start

The Tell-Tale Start by Gordon McAlpine
Illustrated by Sam Zuppardi
4/5 stars
Viking, 2013
177 pages
MG Mystery

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

One of my favorite classic authors is Edgar Allan Poe so I always perk up when I see contemporary novels incorporating him in some way. The twist for this book is that identical twins Edgar and Allan Poe are the multiple great-grandnephews of Poe may be one person in two bodies and the scientific implications of this have led to a mad scientist spying on them for years.

I think that premise sounds fairly bonkers and settled back for a zany ride, which is exactly what I got. My favorite part was definitely the peek into the life after death where Edgar Allan Poe watches over his relatives while also toiling under the direction of a very bossy William Shakespeare-so humorous!

The boys are brilliant geniuses and have an excess of time and energy, leading to them getting up to a lot of stuff. Mainly in this book, they travel cross-country to get their cat and end up confronting the scientist. I didn't feel like there was a whole lot to the plot given the book's relative shortness but that may make it all the more appealing to its target audience and perhaps serve as a push to reluctant readers.

This is the first in a series and thus it concludes with a very open ending that leaves room for many more adventures in the offing for Edgar and Allan.

Overall: I would say that this reminded me a lot of Lemony Snicket and I think his fans will enjoy this book as well.

Cover: Very spot-on although the eyes of the boys aren't as identical as I would have expected. Love seeing the cat, Roderick Usher :)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Flame in the Mist

The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff
3/5 stars
Delacorte Press, 2013
449 pages
MG/YA Fantasy

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

Allow me a moment of digression to open this review. This weekend I happened to catch the beginning of "Brave" and my response to that film is rather similar to my response to this book. I'm pleased as punch to see a spunky red-headed female protagonist navigating a fantastical world, don't get me wrong. Yet unlike "Finding Nemo" and "Up" and despite my very high expectations, "Brave" failed to fully engage my emotions. Similarly, I read this book more dutifully than excitedly hoping to fall in love but never succeeding. I'm not really sure why I had this response but there you go.

It didn't even matter that this book had a lot of cool stuff like the fact that it seems to be a standalone although the world could probably be expanded into a series. Or there is the prophecy and magic swirling around the story that should have been enough to enthrall me. But it didn't.

Perhaps it was the length? I think this page amount is consistent with other fantasies but it felt so long to me. Maybe it's the darkness? As you can see in the title, there is mist all around and it is an evil presence that hurts most of the people in the book. Another possibility is the timing-I got very confused about what day it was and what day we wanted it to be. Some events took both more and less time than I anticipated. And sometimes the way circumstances turned out was just a little too pat for me, just a little too easy. Whatever the reason, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I wanted to but I would certainly not try to dissuade you from reading it. I think it was partly my mood which did not want a fantasy but did want to finish this book for review.

Overall: Appropriate for older MG as it's a bit on the long side and there are some darker moments and young YA as well as older readers-hope this works better for you than it did for me.

Monday, May 20, 2013

ARC Review: Dare You To

Dare You To by Katie McGarry
4/5 stars
HarlequinTeen, 2013
479 pages
YA Contemporary Issues
Scheduled to release May 28

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

In my review of the companion novel Pushing the Limits, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the snippet of Dare You To included with the e-ARC I reviewed-it was one of my favorite parts of the reading experience. Something about Beth's toughness clashing with Ryan's cockiness drew me in and primed me to fall for this novel.

And in fact I did. I would have to say that I preferred this to Pushing the Limits despite its many similarities especially its incredible melodramatic chockful-of-issues plot. I thought Echo and Noah had problems; Beth and Ryan have just as many and all different. But this time I found that Beth and Ryan fit somewhat into my beloved tough girl/sweet guy archetype (although Ryan ain't that sweet ;) and thus their romance worked better for me.

Another bonus for me was that Ryan plays baseball, which brought me back to my real life playing recreational softball, and just gave me happy feelings especially as he wrestled with the opportunity to potentially go to the majors or follow his passion of writing to college and gain more skills there. I loved how important his future was to him even if he didn't always handle the situation to the best of his ability.

Meanwhile Beth exhibits tremendous loyalty even to those who do not seem to deserve it like her junkie mother in some truly heartbreaking scenes-I just wanted to protect her and raise her up in a better environment surrounded by people who would not betray her love and trust.

Like I said, this plot is very melodramatic but if you've already read the first book, you knew that and should be prepared. As last time, the teaser at the end for the next book in the series was one of my favorite parts. I can't wait to spend more time with Isaiah, his new girl, and the world of automobiles.

Other Opinions:
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
Novels on the Run
Realm of Fiction
The Midnight Garden

Cover: This isn't ordinarily the kind of cover I like but it is really working for me in this context. Dang, Ryan looks hot!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ramblings and the Week to Come 19MAY13

Comment of the Week:
I am so lucky to get to read your thoughts every day (also I am all caught up on replying to comments!) and I really appreciate every one who takes the time to stop by and say hi to me. This week, I got this insightful comment from the ladies at We Heart YA on my review of the much-discussed novel September Girls by Bennett Madison:
This book... is an interesting case study, we think. As you say, it's more literary than commercial, but the marketing hasn't really explained it well, so readers go in with different expectations. Furthermore, what is the target audience for a book like this? Not the typical YA readers, it would seem. And yet so many YA authors have praised it, so... where's the disconnect? We don't necessarily have the answers, but we feel like someone should. And perhaps the fact that no one seems to be really clear on it is the reason it's such a polarizing read.
I originally requested the book because I saw that Maggie Stiefvater praised it. The book also got starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. But it has been largely eviscerated by the YA book blogging community. What is going on here? Personally this was a great lesson to me to trust my instincts and to wait on the opinions of people I trust more because the bloggers who did write about this are ones who I have a connection with and whose views on books I implicitly trust.

I've stopped requesting so many books as I'm trying to cut back on that but I do have two to mention this week. First up is The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin, received for review from the author actually a while ago but I forgot to spotlight it. Review is coming in June. I really enjoy Lin's writing so I have high expectations for this one.

The other is Tumble and Fall by Alexandra Coutts. I'm so surprised to have been approved for this on Netgalley! This is one I've seen on a ton of WOW posts and while I have serious love for the cover, I'm not entirely sure it matches the plot summary; we'll see. This is scheduled to release September 17 so a review will be posted closer to the release date.

I hit a bit of a wall this week and responded by reading non-review books: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (the facebook COO), Mr. Monk Gets Even by Lee Goldberg (the fifteenth and the last one he will write), and Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. None of these books are YA and I don't feel like I have much to write about them but I can tell you that I enjoyed reading them immensely. I think I gave them all 5 stars and I've talked about them with people in real life actually. If you have any thoughts or would like to know more, leave me a comment. I have two more books I plan to read without necessarily reviewing: Quiet by Susan Cain about introverts and Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal, the third book in her fantasy series that draws a bit from Jane Austen but is also increasingly standing on its own. I believe I reviewed the first two books but I may or may not review this third.

Week to Come:
Dare You To by Katie McGarry-although Pushing the Limits wasn't a fave of mine, I was still invested enough to check out this second book; did I like it more?
The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff appears to be a standalone fantasy-worth checking out just for that!
The Tell-Tale Start by Gordon McAlpine is the first book in a new MG series featuring a brilliant set of twins
Once Upon a Prince by Rachel Hauck features a killer concept about an ordinary American falling in love with a prince-how could I resist?
The Girl with the Iron Touch by Kady Cross is the third book in the Steampunk Chronicles-I have been eagerly anticipating it!
The S Word by Chelsea Pitcher or Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal-not sure which I'll have the motivation to read and blog about

Saturday, May 18, 2013

ARC Review: Gameboard of the Gods

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead
4/5 stars
Dutton Adult, 2013
460 pages
Adult Science-Fiction
Scheduled to release June 4

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

Although I've seen Richelle Mead's name around a lot, I've never been too tempted to pick up her popular YA vampire series-I'm just not that into vampires. However the mythology mentioned for this book really caught my eye so I decided this would be my introduction to her writing. If this is typical of Mead, it seems like I will need to read Vampire Academy sooner rather than later because I really enjoyed it!

It's totally in alternating third-person perspective switching between Mae, a fierce soldier, and Justin, a discredited servitor being brought back into the fold with Mae serving as bodyguard to discover the truth behind a series of mysterious murders. Justin was thrown out years ago and suffers from a god delusion (or is it?) while Mae is recovering from the death of her lover.

I really liked both of these characters who I found to be filled with personality and are still making me smile a week later. Both have their fair share of snarky comments with other characters getting to chime in as well. I especially liked meeting Justin's protege, Tessa, and the ravens in his head (no comment-the reasons behind this are elaborated on).

However I really struggled with the world-building. There are castals and I believe Mae is one of them but that it's not exactly a great thing to be? Also some of the information around how the world reached this point could have been expanded upon. I'm a reader who tends to like getting a lot of information especially in fantastical settings so that probably helps explain some of my disappointment. I am also using this confusion as the reason why I couldn't unravel the mystery behind the murders....definitely that and not the fact that I'm horrid at solving mysteries.

Overall: A very pleasing introduction to the writing style of Mead-I will certainly be back for the second book!

Other Opinions:
Books Glorious Books
Good Books and Good Wine
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics-with giveaway!

Friday, May 17, 2013

ARC Review: Twerp

Twerp by Mark Goldbatt
4/5 stars
Random House Books for Young Readers, 2013
288 pages
MG/YA Historical Realistic
Scheduled to release May 28

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

This book is technically set in the 1960s but for the most part it feels very contemporary, lacking, for example, talk about the civil rights movement but also lacking mention of computers and cell phones. Apparently it is based on the author's own childhood and it feels like it comes from a very real place.

The format of the novel is that the protagonist, Julian, is keeping a journal for his teacher after an undisclosed bullying incident (which is eventually revealed to us at the end). Along the way, we gain insight into his friendships, first romance, and a burgeoning talent for writing.

For me, the real standout of this book is the writing which felt sophisticated but not in an off-putting way. I imagine that very few sixth-graders write as well as Julian but just because they're not able to put it all in words, doesn't mean they're not thinking these things. I feel like this book could be very popular both with its target audience as well as crossover to an older audience due to the writing style. There's a great balance between comedy and drama and I loved how friendship and loyalty are at the core of Julian's life even when they lead him astray.

Overall, this is a title that I would definitely recommend to young and older readers alike who enjoy contemporary/realistic stories. This is also a great addition to the literature about bullying, being a compelling witness to its wrongness without veering into preachy territory.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

ARC Review: Confederates Don't Wear Couture

Confederates Don't Wear Couture by Stephanie Kate Strohm
4.5/5 stars
Graphia, 2013
228 pages
YA Contemporary Comedy
Scheduled to release June 4

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

Last year, I had the great delight of reading Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink, about the summer adventures of a young girl named Libby who reminded me a lot of myself. She loves history, fashion, reading, Jane Austen, among other interests and I immediately clicked with her. Although that story was standalone, I was pleased and intrigued to find out there would be a sequel.

This one follows the summer after graduation with Libby and her best friend Dev embarking on a tour within a Confederate reenactment army to sell gorgeous and authentic gowns. Meanwhile her boyfriend is at his internship in New England and a new guy starts demonstrating interest in Libby. To add to the chaos, there is another ghost haunting them!

For the most part, I would say this book has the same kind of lighthearted tone and style as the first book. If you ate up that story, this will go down similarly. It is set over the course of a summer and follows a similar structure while also representing some growth on the part of Libby. A big change this time around is that Libby and Dev set off on their adventure together, which was a fantastic decision because Dev was such a highlight during his too brief appearances in the first go-around.

As a lover of history, I found the elements here even more enthralling. Is there a time period more beloved by American history buffs than the Civil War? I don't think so and this book did a great job of portraying the deep passion people still have. Personally I wish the Union had gotten a bit more attention as they fought for what was right and won but Dev made a good point that the contemporary Confederate side will pay more and you've got to follow the money.

Overall: A fun and flirty delight all the way through-highly recommended for fans of book one and this is a great (clean) beach read!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

ARC Review: September Girls

September Girls by Bennett Madison
2/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2013
256 pages
YA Contemporary Magical Realism
Scheduled to release May 21

Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This book wasn't really on my radar until I noticed that Maggie Stiefvater had praised it, which immediately got my attention and made me want to check this out. Then the negative reviews started pouring in and I got nervous. I felt like I owed the publisher and author a chance though so I picked the book up and tried to look for the "magical realism" aspects I had read about and find some redeeming features but I am going to have to go in the negative category for this book as well.

The publisher is HarperTeen, an imprint with which I have had much success, finding their offerings compulsively readable. This title is more literary than commercial in my opinion and to my dissatisfaction. I could barely get through its boring non-plot. Adding to my distaste is how it conforms to my reductive view of a lot of modern literary fiction: to wit, a white male is obsessed with his magical penis because that is weirdly at the heart of this story. Compounding the plot problems was the language, which is extremely profane.

I did find some parts of interest like the strands of the relationship between the main character's parents but it was so haphazardly woven in that it was easy to glide right past. There is a bit of a love story but it's unlikely to appeal to romantics-I find it spectacularly unengaging.

In conclusion, do not pick this book up expecting a fun summer beach read as it is nothing of the sort despite what the cover might suggest. I cannot in good conscience recommend this to anyone although I am sure there will be people who have the exact opposite taste of me and love it (to each her own!) Somehow I managed to finish reading this book, probably due to a doggedness that does not let me quit easily.

Other Opinions:
Novel Sounds-discussed the magical realism aspect
Finding Bliss in Books-excellent negative review (also links to other great pannings)
Blkosiner's Book Blog-managed to come up with some good things about the book

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

ARC Review: Underneath

Underneath by Sarah Jamila Stevenson
4/5 stars
Flux Books
329 pages
YA Paranormal Contemporary
Scheduled to release June 8

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

I'm not entirely sure why this book called to me when I was browsing on Netgalley but I think I got more of a contemporary vibe from it, which is always highly appealing to me. I couldn't read only contemporary titles but that is the genre to which I always return.

Although this book is set in the present, it does have a paranormal twist. Main character Sunny suddenly finds herself with the ability to hear people's intense thoughts and emotions, something that completely discombobulates her in the wake of her beloved older cousin's suicide. Especially unnerving is that, upon reading the cousin's journal, it seems as if this cousin had the same ability. Can Sunny navigate the treachery waters of high school and balance her new talents?

Basically Sunny's first reaction to this new discovery is to drop her old jock friends and start hanging with a more emo crowd, composed of those who actually value her. Turns out her former friends were really shallow and judgmental and not worthy of her. This, combined with Sunny's sadness over her cousin's death and the ensuing problems for her aunt and uncle, gave the book a pretty melancholy tone. It was appropriate but be warned if you're hoping for a happier read.

The real strength of this novel to me was just the unpredictable plot points. I anticipated certain events would occur as have in other YA novels but they didn't pan out quite the same way. Especially of interest was the romance subplot, which did not go at all the way I expected. I was very pleased with that. I also liked that Sunny is of Pakistani descent with very New Agey parents-a nice addition to the very white bread upper middle class heroines who permeate YA.

Admittedly this book's pace is a bit on the slower side as seems to be pretty typical for contemporary novels. It doesn't have the big epic feel of fantasies or dystopias. That's something I like and appreciate-its quieter virtues were very pleasing to me.

Monday, May 13, 2013

ARC Review: Transparent

Transparent by Natalie Whipple
3/5 stars
HarperTeen, 2013
368 pages
YA Paranormal
Scheduled to release May 21

Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I saw this book billed as a cross between The Godfather and X-Men, which sounded pretty cool to me. I have enjoyed the books and films for both and was excited to see a teen twist on it. Some early reviews I'd seen were positive and I know that HarperTeen tends to publish very addictive novels so I was excited to find out more.

The basic premise is that some people were born with abilities and those abilities are exploited by powerful crime bosses. One of the most unique people is Fiona, who was born invisible and whose crime lord father has exploited this ability, raising her to be a tool in his criminal empire. One day she is pushed too far and she and her mother go on the run to escape. While in hiding, Fiona meets a group of other talented people and begins to build a new family to stand up to her evil father.

As I said, I tend to find the writing of HarperTeen novels to be very easy to read and difficult to put down. I didn't find the writing here quite as compelling, perhaps because I read it on the heels of some other books or maybe it just wasn't my taste. Either way that lack was probably the main reason I didn't really enjoy this title.

What about the characters? Well, they were okay. I can't say that I have very strong feelings about any of them other than loathing Fiona's father and having complicated feelings about her brutish older brother Graham. He is mostly presented in a negative light except for occasional flashes of goodness that left me in a confused state. There is almost a bit of a love triangle but I cannot expand further without spoiling some things; no matter as that aspect didn't interest me.

On the bright side, it looks like this book is a standalone, always exciting to see in paranormal YA. I also did really like the ending climax when Fiona and her motley crew assemble to face off against her cruel father. Everyone had their piece to play and they pulled off their scheme impeccably. However since I didn't really enjoy the preceding pages, this finale was not enough to leave this book in my good graces.

Overall: My general impression is just that this book is very average-nothing pushed it to stand out to me.

Cover: I thought it was okay-very flashy but then I saw the UK cover and I actually prefer that. You can check it out on goodreads here.

Other Opinions:
The Overflowing Library
Pure Imagination
Some Like It Paranormal

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ramblings and Week to Come 12MAY13

Happy Mother's Day! We have had a weekend extravaganza celebrating my mom involving a viewing of Iron Man 3, a big day of shopping, and a bit of time in the beautiful sunshine. It would be impossible for me to list just how awesome my mom is but rest assured that she is!

Blogging: I had a good start to the reading month, which somewhat slowed as I went through this past week. I just didn't have the time. I'm looking forward to a less busy rest of May and hopefully will stay on track with my reading goals. Unfortunately I haven't really felt like writing my review posts-I'm currently contemplating a blogging break or just a rejiggering of my schedule to only 5 reviews a week...I'm enjoying my reading but the writing has been a bit draining. We'll see how I feel!

I was thinking about my love for Rainbow Rowell after discovering that I was approved for Fangirl on Netgalley and how pleased I am that I still have Attachments to discover while waiting for that. It's such a nice feeling knowing that she has more books for me to savor. It led to me thinking about following an author from the beginning of her career vs. discovering her in the middle. Both are great no question (less great is starting the works of an author who is dead; for example, once you read all six of Austen's complete novels, that's it-she will never write another). I am just irrationally happy knowing that there is already more Rowell to enjoy.

Period 8 by Chris Crutcher from the always-fabulous Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
Week to Come:
Transparent by Natalie Whipple, how does this X-Men/The Godfather mash-up stack up?
Underneath by Sarah Jamila Stevenson, haven't heard much buzz about this paranormal contemporary...yet
September Girls by Bennett Madison, the controversial magical realism literary novel-did it piss me off like it did others?
Confederates Don't Wear Couture by Stephanie Kate Strohm, sequel to my beloved Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink
Twerp by Mark Goldblatt, a cute middle-grade title based on the author's own life experiences
Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead, an adult title that will serve as my introduction to the popular author of the Vampire Academy series

What are you up to? Happy reading :)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Wedding Night

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
3.5/5 stars
The Dial Press, 2013
446 pages
Adult "Chick-Lit"

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

Although I don't much like the Shopaholic series, I have loved most of Kinsella's standalones so I was excited to pick this one up. Further adding to that was the knowledge that it featured sisters. Unfortunately my sister put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm when she said she was not impressed with this book but I think she was being too hard on it as I had a lot of fun with it.

I think a big part of your enjoyment will stem from whether or not you can tolerate someone meddling in the affairs of someone else. This often irks me but when I read about a sister thinking she knows what is best for her five years younger sister, I'm pretty sympathetic (guess how much younger my sister is than me?) And in this case, Fliss has some good reasons for being concerned for Lottie. After every breakup, Lottie has flung herself into some horrendous decisions but this latest is probably her worst: deciding to marry her gap year boyfriend who she hasn't seen in 15 years. Fliss interferes by attempting to prevent them from consummating their marriage so that they can get an annulment when they inevitably realize they are wrong for each other thereby avoiding the trauma of divorce which Fliss is presently undergoing. Needless to say some ludicrously hilarious things occur.

My personal favorite moment is when Lottie and her new husband are on their honeymoon, attempting to cram for a Couples Quiz and he is incapable of answering such simple questions as "What is her favorite alcoholic drink?" However he can answer as if they were Dirk and Sally, the lead characters on their favorite TV show. When they decide to play as Dirk and Sally, the tide changes and they can answer any question perfectly. I have a soft spot for the Newlywed Game and this version of it made me so happy to imagine.

A close second is how Lottie's ex-boyfriend Richard (the one who sends her spiraling into the arms of the old boyfriend) reappears in the story. He realizes he was wrong to have let Lottie go and is planning to fight for her. It's quite romantic although I'm not going to spoil any of the details (does he win Lottie back? No spoilers here!)

Overall: Although this is not my favorite Kinsella book, I think fans will find plenty to love here. Suspension of disbelief has often been necessary for these kinds of books and this one is no exception. It's perfect for a light summery weekend beach read!

Friday, May 10, 2013


Frogged by Vivian Vande Velde
4/5 stars
Harcourt Children's Books, 2013
198 pages
Middle-Grade Fairy Tale

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

I've read a few of VVV's stories and of course I'm a sucker for fairy tale-esque stories, which this one seemed to hint at based on its mention of a princess kissing a frog. The twist this time is that the girl turns into a frog after kissing the boy and she can only return to her human form if she gets someone else to kiss her. Being that she has scruples, she sets off to discover a way to not have to transform someone else into a frog.

I don't have too much to say about this book as it is not very long. The story is very cute with an incredibly readable style-I finished it in mere hours as part of my mini-readathon. The princess learns some valuable lessons during her time as a frog that better prepare her for her new role as a more mature princess.

I think this would be a better experience for younger readers as older readers will probably find the story very familiar especially if they love twisted fairy tales like I do. The stakes and events didn't get high enough and the action moved rather lethargically especially for a reader accustomed to the fast-paced moving narratives of YA. It would also be fun as a read aloud bedtime story for the family.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Program

The Program by Suzanne Young
2/5 stars
Simon Pulse, 2013
405 pages
YA Dystopia

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

This title has been on my radar for a long time as an intriguing take on teenage suicide although I wondered how it would be drawn out and built up into a full-length novel. As I was reading, I told some people about how weird this reading experience was and I struggled to formulate my thoughts. I hope to do better in my review here with the caveat that there are some spoilers.

I think my first problem is the world. In this future world, there is an epidemic of teen suicide. The solution seems to be to put any teen who cries a lot or may be depressed into the program which strips them of their memories and emotions, leaving them alive but as empty shells. All of the adults think this program is the best thing ever: it keeps their children alive. I didn't believe that everyone would be so in favor of this program because the way the kids return renders them vastly different. What parent would be happy with that outcome? I don't see how they would think it was worth it.

The second problem was the overall point of this book. I expected exploration of depression and reasons for suicide. I never really felt like I got that and the ending seems to turn this book more into a rising up against the evil government kind of dystopia. It was a rapid change of pace to me and I didn't think that the previous pages had spent enough time setting us up for this kind of story. For the most part, it felt like a meandering contemporary romance.

As for that romance, well that's the third problem. The main character Sloane begins the book in a relationship with James. Both are sent to the program where their memories are stripped and their relationship is forgotten with Sloane starting up a new relationship with someone else. Yet those memories are not fully excised, setting Sloane up to fight to get those memories back through rebellion. I didn't feel the romance either way but the second guy is pretty sneaky and repulsive.

Overall: I found myself unable to connect with this book, kept back by banal characters and nonsensical plot turns.

Other Opinions-I seem to be in the minority for this one:
Blkosiner's Book Blog
Heise Reads & Recommends
Katie's Book Blog
Princess Bookie

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

ARC Review: The Book of Broken Hearts

The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler
2/5 stars
Simon Pulse, 2013
357 pages
YA Contemporary Romance
Scheduled to release May 21

Source: Received an e-ARC through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I must say that I adore this cover! Before I started this book, I was telling my coworker about it as my next read and I mentioned that I couldn't remember what the plot was supposed to be about; however the cover was beautiful. If you do bookish manicures, I think it would be really cute to have eight nails purple and then two orange.

Unfortunately that is probably the element about which I can be most positive as this book irked me in a similar way as Bittersweet did. My strongest memory of Bittersweet, after almost two months, is that main character Hudson pushed aside her friend ostensibly in pursuit of a larger goal but mostly because of some cute guys who ran hot and cold. Similarly in this book, Jude pushes aside her friends, justifying it to herself as wanting to spend more time with her father who is suffering from early onset Alzheimer's disease but moreso because of the cute boy who has entered her life. I found Jude fairly insufferable due to this and as she is the narrator, that made reading this book difficult.

In a weird way though, I felt like the romance wasn't that front and center despite what the summary seemed to suggest with family taking up more space on the page but with nothing sinking into my consciousness and heart. I also found Jude a bit naive. She has just graduated high school and is all set for a great summer before heading off to college. But her father's loss of facilities (diagnosed by the doctors) dominates her thoughts instead and for some reason, she seems to think she can reverse it if she can just restore his old motorcycle (with the aid of Emilio Vargas, youngest brother of the boy who broke the heart of one of Jude's sisters). I understand not wanting to accept the negative prognosis from a doctor but I thought Jude just seemed really stupid not to recognize what was happening. Her dad was not going to magically get better because of this ill-conceived plan. I think that added to my frustration along with how Jude pushed aside her friends while grabbing every opportunity to hang out with this new boy.

As I continue to think about this book, I recollect that it is not only the cover I liked. I loved the cultural heritage of the characters. Jude's family is of Argentine descent and Emilio's is from Puerto Rico with food, music, and language references to these heritages. I don't know how much that added to the story but it was a unique element.

Overall: This contemporary did not wow me at all-it felt pretty familiar although the diversity of the characters is new and appreciated.

Other Opinions:
Anna Reads
Jen Ryland/YA Romantics
Rather Be Reading

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

ARC Review: The Rules for Disappearing

The Rules for Disappearing by Ashley Elston
3.5/5 stars
Hyperion, 2013
314 pages
YA Suspense Contemporary
Scheduled to release May 14

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

I have long had a weakness for Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen movies including "Our Lips Are Sealed" where the girls are enrolled in witness protection down under (please tell me someone else knows this movie!) This released in 2000 and since then I've harbored an interest in stories involving the relocation of characters. Therefore when I saw that this book featured just such a plot, I was immediately grabbed.

The novel drops us right into the thick of things with "Megan" choosing her new name and being physically transformed to be placed in another identity, her family's sixth placement in less than two years. She's tired of being on the run, tired of not knowing whatever it was her father did that landed them there, and tired of all the changes. So she's not going to get involved, just waiting out her final years of school. However she meets the very charming Ethan who seems determined to figure out all her secrets no matter how dangerous the situation becomes.

Honestly I found the first part to be fairly average. I was just going through the motions reading about Megan and her family's resettlement, with occasional hints at something bigger occurring. I wasn't actively frustrated by anything but I wasn't engaged or particularly rooting for Megan. My biggest source of amusement was seeing Megan's relationship with her younger sister, which has been strained by all their changes plus Megan's attempts to pretend she was from Arkansas when she has never even been there.

However the second part is where things really start getting interesting. It turns out that Megan actually knows more about the reasons why the family is in Witness Protection than she thought and she decides to do something about that (along with the very persistent Ethan). These events really ratchet up the tension and kept me glued til the final shocking page. Is there going to be a part two? I don't know and I don't think there needs to be but there is room for Megan to move forward.

Other Opinions:
The Flyleaf Review
Into the Hall of Books
Paper Riot

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