Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Scandal, Starlets, and Attempted Murder


Expected Publication:  March 3rd, 2015
Dead To Me
By: Mary McCoy
Disney-Hyperion
ISBN-13:  9781423187127

"Don't believe anything they say."

Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace.  Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her -- and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away.

When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her.  But Alice isn't a kid anymore, and this time she won't let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly.  The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets -- and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime.  What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie's attacker behind bars -- if Alice can find her first.  And she isn't the only one looking.

Review

     A bit of a change of pace from my normal reading, what with the noir and all.  Not my usual, but I do enjoy a noir mystery film from time to time - I even took a Film Noir class in college.  Would you believe that some of it actually stuck?  That said, this is also set during what could be conceivably called the Golden Age of Hollywood, when there were so many stars and great films it's almost unreal.  Add into that particular time period an average teenaged girl, with a father who is a promoter in the film business and whose sister left home years ago without a backwards glance.  The girl, Alice, is startled to receive a call from the hospital that her sister Annie has been found almost beaten to death and they need her to come up there.  When she meets a private eye in the hospital room, who claims to be Annie's friend, things spiral completely out of control.  It becomes a game of cat and mouse, with the very real danger of death just around the corner.  Is this a mystery that Alice can survive?
     I appreciated that it's pretty clear whodunnit, and that's not where the mystery lies.  The mystery of the story is the motivations, the connections and the how of the situation!  There is a lot of action and I was always on the edge of my seat.  No character was truly safe and the psycopathic movie star described in the book summary was truly terrifying once he became a major player in the novel.  The reasons were not quite what I was expecting, but with the sleazy side of 1940s Hollywood being what it was, it wasn't entirely surprising in and of itself.  Mostly, the bits and pieces of this one - story, plotting, characters, etc. - came together to form an entirely pleasant reading experience and genuinely intriguing mystery.  This is an author I will definitely be watching in the future.  Please excuse the vagueness of this review, as I'm trying to avoid spoilers due to the March 2015 release date!!!

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

**I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is March 3rd, 2015.**

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dissonance and TSTL Syndrome


Published:  July 22nd, 2014
Dissonance (Dissonance #1)
By: Erica O'Rourke
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13:  9781442460249

Delancey Sullivan has always known there's more to reality than what people see.  Every time someone makes a choice, a new, parallel world branches off from the existing one.  Eating breakfast or skipping it, turning left or right, sneaking out instead of staying in bed - all of these choices create an alternate universe in which an echo self takes the road not travelled and makes the opposite decision.  As a Walker, someone who can navigate between these worlds, Del's job is to keep all of the dimensions in harmony.

Normally, Del can hear the dissonant frequency each world emits as clear as a bell.  But when a training session in an off-key world goes horribly wrong, she is forbidden from Walking by the Council.  But Del's not big on following the rules and she secretly starts to investigate these other worlds.  Something strange is connecting them and it's not just her random encounters with with echo versions of the guy she likes, Simon Lane.

But Del's decisions have unimaginable consequences, and as she begins to fall for the
Echo Simons in each world, she draws closer to a truth that the Council of Walkers is trying to hide - a secret that threatens the fate of the entire mutliverse.


Review

     Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a nut for anything involving alternate universes or time travel.  Basically, anything that lets us explore the greatest mysteries in the universe, all beginning with the words: "What if?"  But I felt like that potential was wasted in this particular book.  I seem to be in the minority, with so many glowing reviews on this one floating around.  But I honestly found the world-building, mythology and technical terms to be really convoluted.  I may not be the most scientific person ever, but generally I can follow along in these types of books.  The way things were explained about the Walkers, the dissonance, the alternate worlds, etc. was kind of a mess.  I felt like at the end of the book I still didn't get exactly why Del was able to "cleave" worlds, or why the Council was after her and what all Simon had to do with it.  The connections were not clear between any of the key points of the conflict.  
     As for the characters, Del was an arrogant brat.  Yeah, her parents were pretty absent and her sister was a bitch.  But Del acts without thinking, has no thought for consequences and basically trys to elbow around them when they happen.  She's always pouting and sneaking out, walking through other worlds even when she's not supposed to.  Her crush on Simon seemed more like an obsession, as she uses more and more of her walks to find and hook up with alternate versions of Simon, under false pretenses.  There were a lot of filler scenes that seemed to lead nowhere, and really weren't necessary in the grand scheme of things.  I found myself flipping through pages and skipping a lot, mostly out of sheer boredom.  This book was about two-hundred pages too long, and those pages did nothing for the plot.  They gave no clarity, development or resolution.  It needed a lot more editing, that unfortunately it didn't receive.  
     The love triangle between Del, Simon and Del's friend Eliot was disgusting to me.  She's totally leading on Eliot and using him the entire book, until he calls her on it, all under the excuse that she "didn't know" he had feelings for her.  If that's true, Del's even stupider than I thought she was (better than cruel, I guess).  The outright lack of reasoning capability on the part of the protagonist and the lack of direction in the plot (which led up to a big reveal that made even LESS sense to me personally), leaves this one as a do-not-recommend for me.  Not a fan, and I feel like I wasted my time.  It only gets the rating it does because I got through it and it had potential, even if it was unrealized.

VERDICT:  2/5  Stars

**I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's was published on July 22nd, 2014.**

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Classic Retread: The Pigman


Published:  2005 (first published in 1968)
The Pigman (The Pigman #1)
By: Paul Zindel
HarperTeen
ISBN-13:  9780060757353

When sophmores John and Lorraine played a practical joke a few months ago on a stranger named Angelo Pignati, they had no idea what they were starting.  Virtually overnight, almost against their will, the two befriended the lonely old man; it wasn't long before they were more comfortable in his house than their own.  But now Mr. Pignati is dead.  And for John and Lorraine, the only way to find peace is to write down their friend's story - the story of the Pigman.

Review

     John and Lorraine are both sophmores at the same school and became friends entirely by chance.  Neither one feels very wanted at home for one reason or another, and the two of them love to get into rebellious mischief with each other.  They have a game with some of the other kids to see who can call a stranger and keep them on the phone the longest.  One day they call Mr. Angelo Pignati pretending to be charity workers looking for donations and are surprised by how sorry they feel.  They go to his house to "pick up" a donation, and end up striking up a friendship with this lost man, who seems alone in the world.  But how far can things go and how much can John and Lorraine take advantage of him before harmful consequences are visited upon them?
     This definitely is a little bit dated, owing mostly to the after-school special dialogue and the movie of the week premise to it.  Plus, a book doesn't get read almost fifty-six years later and stay completely current.  The changing narrative between John and Lorraine was a fairly seamless trade-off and their specific personalities were very believable.  If I had read this as a teenager, or a younger kid, I'd probably sympathize most with John and Lorraine.  But now, somewhere in the middle of my twenties, I'm able to see both sides of the coin.  The behavior of the two of them, including it's destructive trend towards Mr. Pignati, isn't okay even when he seems to be encouraging it.  As a teenager from a screwed up family life though, I can understand having issues with limits when no one around you is setting them in ways that make sense, or is giving you what you need to not be a nutcase or juvenile delinquent.
     John's parents are uptight, and from an older generation (I think he said his Dad is in his early sixties?) and he's constantly being compared to his perfect older brother.  Combine that with a creative, intelligent mind and overabundance of imagination and it equals trouble!  Lorraine's Mom is a man-hating bitch, who basically let her own bad relationships sour her on the whole gender.  She's become bitter, steals from her home healthcare clients, and works Lorraine like a servant - while constantly telling her how ugly she is and overall useless.  So, yeah, not completely casting stones, but they know what they're doing isn't right either.  Lorraine talks about omens throughout her narrative and Zindel makes use of foreshadowing with the detioriorating health of the baboon, Bobo, that Mr. Pignati visits at the zoo (i.e. old, broken down like him, etc.) and as a reader you can see it coming.  The ending wasn't any real shock.  Overall a book that makes you think, but the humor was my favorite part.  The whole first chapter where John talks about his stint as the Bathroom Bomber of his freshmen class was pure gold!

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sweet as a Magnolia Blossom


Published:  August 5th, 2014
Magnolia 
By: Kristi Cook
Simon & Schuster
ISBN-13:  9781442485358

In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty.  Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbeques, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage.  So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived.

Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents' wishes.  They're only seventeen, for goodness' sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other!  Jemma can't stand Ryder's nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing more than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn't exist.

But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma's and Ryder's true feelings for each other as the two discover the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.


Review

     Jemma Cafferty is pretty much the perfect daughter for her parents: obedient, sweet, cheerleading and straight A student.  But she's beginning to want more for her life than they do, starting with film school in far away New York City.  Ryder Marsden is the local high school's football hero, the golden boy-next-door and he used to be Jemma's childhood friend.  Their families have been tied together for generations, since the Civil War when one of her ancestors saved one of his from death.  The Caffertys and the Marsdens have been wanting to unite by marriage but there's never been an eligible boy/girl pair - until now.  Too bad Jemma and Ryder had a falling out in eighth grade, and have hated each other's guts ever since!  But with a family emergency throwing Jemma's household for a loop and sending her parents away right before a hurricane blows in, can Jemma work with Ryder to secure the house and the animals through the raging storm?  And will they finally clear up an old misunderstanding, that's been keeping them separated for far too long?
     I loved the growth and development we see on the part of both Emma and Ryder.  They start out in blinded dislike, and the storm causes them to look at each other in completely different ways.  The ways Emma is a less-than fragile southern girl, full of etiquette but also able to outshoot any man in town and with a gun that she's given a name.  Ryder is dealing with the pressure of being his parents' only child and therefore the only one to shoulder all their hopes and dreams of the future.  Basically, Ryder and Jemma are star-crossed because they are both stubborn, and so contrary that they refuse to give one another a chance, solely because of their parents' expectations.  The romance is a slow-build and it is pretty swoon-worthy!  Even though it takes time for them to come around, once they do it is HOT, HOT, HOT!!!  The family dynamics in this one are also something that is wonderful.  With the crisis going on in Jemma's family, we get to see the relationships between her, her sister, their mom and their dad, as they cope with something they have no control over.  Plus, nothing like a natural disaster to bring people together!  Overall, a sweet fluffy, contemporary YA romance that has a cute beginning, middle and a fitting ending.  I'd definitely recommend it unless you need your books to be conflict-heavy and don't like fluff!

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is August 5th, 2015.*

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Creeping Up Behind You


Published:  April 15th, 2014
Don't Look Back
By: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Disney Hyperion
ISBN-13:  9781423187738

Samantha is a stranger in her own life.  Until the night she disappeared with her best friend, Cassie, everyone said Sam had it all - popularity, wealth, and a dream boyfriend.

Sam has resurfaced, but she has no recollection of who she was or what happened to her before that night.  As she tries to piece together her life from before, she realizes it's one she no longer wants any part of.  The old Sam took "mean girl" to a whole new level, and it's clear she and Cassie were more like best enemies.  Sam is pretty sure that losing her memories is like winning the lottery.  She's getting a second chance at being a better daughter, sister, and friend, and she's falling hard for Carson Ortiz, a boy who has always looked out for her - even if the old Sam treated him like trash.

But Cassie is still missing, and the facts of what happened to her that night isn't just buried deep inside of Sam's memory - someone else knows, someone who wants to make sure Sam stays quiet.  All Sam wants is the truth, and if she can unlock her clouded memories of that fateful night, she can finally move on.  But what if not remembering is the only thing keeping Sam alive?


Review


     Sam is found wandering barefoot and bruised, far from home and with no memory of anything in her life before that moment.  She's been missing for days, and while everyone is relieved to see her, there is just one important question left: where is Cassie?  Sam's best friend disappeared at the same time as she did and hasn't returned, or been heard from since.  With the help of her parents and her twin brother Scott, as strange to her as they may be, Sam feels like she might be able to get a handle on herself soon.  But then she goes back to school and finds out that she is basically head bitch, and her boyfriend Del is far from the perfect guy everyone thinks.  The only one she seems to be able to trust is Carson Ortiz, the son of her family's groundskeeper.  They used to be friends, and he looked out for her even after Sam started treating him like a dirtbag.  Mysterious notes begin showing up in impossible places and the hidden secrets and lies of everyone in Sam's life make everyone a suspect.  Where is Cassie and what really happened to her?  Most frightening of all, is Sam going to be next?
     I have been a fan of Jennifer Armentrout's since I first read Obsidian, the first book in her Lux series (one of my first review books, actually).  So now, more than a few books later, I was intrigued to see her take a hand at mysteries in a style that reminded me a bit of the Lois Duncan books I was obsessed with in the late 90s to early 2000s.  The writing itself is extremely solid and gives just enough description to draw you in, just like with all her other books.  I kept reading, because I desperately wanted to know what happened next!  I quite liked Sam, though she did seem to take the amnesia thing rather too well.  And the attitude of acceptance towards the possessive and borderline brutish behavior of her so-called boyfriend Del, was a little bit off-putting.  It's mostly a matter of how you would react in a situation where you have no memories of anything or anyone, to tell you who to trust or how to act/react to things that are happening.  Especially when you're in a situation where someone potentially murdered your best friend/frenemie and could murder you if you recover from your amnesia.
     The build-up and resolution the the mystery of Cassie's disappearance/death was not all that surprising.  I was pretty sure by the time I was about halfway through who had done it.  Jennifer managed to drop a couple really emphasized remarks that served as some big, honkin' clues to who the murderer was and what exact motive they might have had.  It was very neatly tied up and I enjoyed the character transformation that Sam undergoes throughout the book and I liked that by the time the end came, she did get her memory back.  Change isn't true change until you can make a choice based on all the facts and experiences involved.  The brother/sister relationship rebuild between Sam and Scott was wonderful and yes, they didn't get along all the time.  But that's what made it that much more realistic.  And he stood by her, even when they had previously been enemies and he could've been an asshole instead.  True family bonds, people, are a thing of beauty.  The romance between Carson and Sam was pretty swoony and I enjoyed it, but I was also glad it wasn't the focus of the entire book.  All in all, I enjoyed this one but it was a little more two-dimensional than Armentrout's normal work and the mystery could've used something extra.

VERDICT:  3.5/5  Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

Monday, August 4, 2014

In the Still of the Night


Expected Publication: March 3rd, 2015
My Best Everything
By: Sarah Tromp
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13:  9780316324786

You say it was all meant to be.  You and me.  The way we met.  Our secrets in the woods.  Even the way it all exploded.  It was simply a matter of fate.

Maybe if you were here to tell me again, to explain it all one more time, then maybe I wouldn't feel so uncertain.  But I'm going back to the beginning on my own.  To see what happened and why.

Luisa "Lulu" Mendez has just finished her final year of high school in a small Virginia town, determined to move on and leave her job at the local junkyard behind.  So when her father loses her college tuition money, Lulu needs a new ticket out.

Desperate for funds, she cooks up the (definitely illegal) to make and sell moonshine with her friends, Roni and Bucky.  Quickly realizing they're out of their depth, Lulu turns to Mason: a local boy who's always seemed like a dead end.  As Mason guides Lulu through the secret world of moonshine, it looks like her plan might actually work.  But can she leave town before she loses everything - including her heart?

Review

     Lulu Mendez has always counted on the fact that her parents would pay for her college tuition.  So when after graduation she finds out that her Dad has made a risky investment and lost the money they would have used for her tuition, Lulu is desparate for a way to make money and finally get out of town.  When an unused copper still for making moonshine comes into the junkyard where she and her friend Roni work, to be left there in storage, it feels like a sign.  Lulu convinces Roni and Roni's boyfriend Bucky to give making and selling moonshine a try.  In the backwoods of Virginia, it seems like a sure bet to make some easy, fast money - illegal or not.  Not knowing where to even start, Lulu convinces Mason, a mysterious local boy from a notorious bootlegging family, to help them with the intital setup and process.  But the more time Lulu spends with Mason, the closer they get to falling completely in love with each other.  Can Lulu get out of town as planned and if she does, will her heart still be intact?
     So, this book is written as a letter from Lulu to Mason, after everything has already happened.  I spent the whole book wondering if she was writing to him from college, if he was the one who had left town, or if Mason had died.  One of the three is correct, but I'm not going to tell you which one it was.  Suffice it to say, I didn't quite know what to expect from a book whose whole premise is about making illegal liquor to fund a college education!  Lulu doesn't have the best life, with an agoraphobic mother who can't even go on the front porch anymore and a father who is never home.  Not to mention, no one seems to understand her need to leave town and go to college.  Her best friend Roni just wants to get married to her high school boyfriend Bucky.  In the first scene of this book, a drunk Lulu meets up with Mason and pukes in his motorcycle helmet and he gives her a ride home.  Not exactly love at first sight.  This book definitely represents the fact that Mason has been raised to live, breathe, and love the business of moonshine.  The fact of his love/hate relationship with alcohol was a really realistic portrayal and I enjoyed that the author didn't take the easy road out.  I don't want to say much more, because this book doesn't come out for another seven months.  I will say I was practically crying by the end and this book is definitely a highly emotional coming-of-age, first romance story.  And a unique one at that.

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is March 3rd, 2015.*

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bring On the Crazy


Published: July 8th, 2014
I Want Crazy (Loco, Texas #2)
By: Codi Gary
Books With Benefits Press
ISBN-13:  9781941170007

Alfred "Red" Calhoun is in a rut so big, he doesn't know how to climb out of it.  After his second best-selling romance novel, Red signed a contract for three more books, but now he's having trouble finding his romantic mojo.  To top it all off, his favorite bar has been bought by a woman who wants to close it down and re-vamp it.  With his favorite place gone, Red is looking for a distraction...just not the kind that the bar-ruining Jessie Dale has to offer, no matter how hot she may look in a pair of paint-covered overalls...

Jessie has been running away since she was a kid and now that she's decided to make a place in Loco, Texas, she'll be damned if she's going to let a pain in the rear cowboy with too blue eyes run her out of town.  As Red and Jessie go toe to toe in an epic battle of wills, Jessie finds it hard to stay mad when Red's kisses make her want to forget her trust issues...and take him home for a test drive.

But when Jessie's pissed-off ex comes to town to make trouble, Red finds himself playing a hero in his own life and can't seem to stay away from her.  But will he be able to handle all the crazy baggage Jessie's been hauling around, or will these two miss out on the greatest adventure of all...falling in love?

Review

     I was drawn to this book initially by the synopsis, which sounded really adorable.  Add in the cover and I was taken in hook, line, and sinker!  I normally don't bother just because I love a cover either, it has to be really tempting for me to give in and request it!  I am so glad that I got the chance to read this book.  I absolutely loved it and found it to be completely adorable, with the best kind of sassy humor and banter between the romantic leads.  I've rarely seen a book that has the male character as a romance novelist (while being a straight man), using his own name and not a pen-name, and also he lives in the South.  It had the possibility to be interesting and Gary succeeded with her character for sure.  Red's completely awkward handling of his overtures toward Jessie was hilarious to watch.  The botched attempt at night fishing, the cow tipping and the unthinking foot-in-mouth sexist remarks.  But Red has an absolute heart of gold, as we see from his interactions with Jessie while helping her out, his scenes with his Mom and the times he holds his tongue and pretends to be happy for his best friend Jake, who won out their mutual best friend Miranda's love over Red himself.  He refuses to hold it against them though.  Also, his cat Orange is mean little bastard (as some cats are) and he obviously loves him in spite of/because of his orneriness.
     This book is about Red Calhoun and Jessie Dale.  Red happens to be a romance novelist, with a bad case of writer's block.  Jessie is the interloper from out of town, who has bought Red's favorite bar and closed it down for renovations.  Their first meeting consists of him yelling at her and Jessie calling the cops on him.  So they really don't like each other all that much first.  Then Red saves Jessie from the worst part of a bar fight (though she holds her own, hitting someone with a chair), which leads to a friendship of mutual snarkiness and banter.  Before they know it, Red's helping Jessie renovate the bar and sparks are flying between them.  But Jessie's perverted ex-boyfriend, who made sex tapes of her without her permission (and of other women he was cheating with), is released on parole and comes after her looking for the restitution money he paid out to her unwillingly.  Can Red and Jessie protect their new relationship and can he keep her from danger?  Or will it be too late by the time Will's finished with her?
     The side characters in this book are fully fleshed out people, even Jessie's family (i.e. Dad, Stepmother and stepsisters) who she doesn't really get along with.  I loved Red's sisters and his Mom, they were totally bad-ass bitches in charge!  Also, Miranda "Rand" and Jake seemed like very good friends to Red, refusing to let the awkwardness of the previous romantic entanglements ruin their friendships with him.  I think one of my favorite characters (outside of Red of course) was Ray, the cook at Jessie's bar.  He seemed like a really great guy, who had caught a tough break for doing what he thought was the right thing.  I hope to see more of him if there's another book in this series.  April the librarian, also new to town, would be another good candidate for main character in another book.  I was really interested in her back-story, as she's running from her past like Jessie was in the beginning of the book.  Red was a great character, full of contradictions as a romantic and a good ol' southern boy.  Loyal to the end, hotter than hell and a great friend - a deep-seated romantic.  Jessie was snarky, sassy and extremely vulnerable.  Her slow burn with Red was a beautiful thing to watch.  The night fishing scene with them was one of the most hilarious/sweet moments I've ever read in a romance novel!  All in all, I wasn't surprised by the ending but the journey was so wonderful that didn't matter at all.  A few grammar and spelling errors here and there, to be expected in an ARC and nothing glaringly bad.  Also, once again, that cover is perfect!  The cover models like just like Red and Jessie and the pose sounds like the one on the front of Red's first book (plus they look so happy)!  So cute!  I highly recommend this adorable book to anyone that wants crazy and likes small-town romance.

VERDICT:  4.5/5  Stars

* received this book from Books With Benefits Press, on NetGalley.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book was published July 8th, 2014.**