Thursday, January 31, 2013

Something There That Wasn't There Before...

Published: January 2nd, 2013
By: April Lindner
ISBN-13: 9780316196925

A forbidden romance. A modern mystery. Wuthering Heights as you’ve never seen it before.

Catherine is tired of struggling musicians befriending her just so they can get a gig at her Dad’s famous Manhattan club, The Underground. Then she meets mysterious Hence, an unbelievably passionate and talented musician on the brink of success. As their relationship grows, both are swept away in a fiery romance. But when their love is tested by a cruel whim of fate, will pride keep them apart?

Chelsea has always believed that her mom died of a sudden illness, until she finds a letter her dad has kept from her for years—a letter from her mom, Catherine, who didn’t die: She disappeared. Driven by unanswered questions, Chelsea sets out to look for her—starting with the return address on the letter: The Underground.

Told in two voices, twenty years apart, Catherine interweaves a timeless forbidden romance with a compelling modern mystery.

     This review is going to skip the usual recap of the plot summary and just dive right in people! :)  I had been waiting for this books release ever since I read the author's first novel, Jane and fell completely in love with her version of Jane Eyre.  I was a little bit wary though, because Wuthering Heights is a lot more melodramatic with the emotions, whereas although batshit insane stuff happens to Jane, she is usually collected on the outside through it all.  This one, I was prepared for it to be over the top - and maybe not in such a great way.  I did like the fact that the reader gets insight into both Catherine and her daughter, Chelsea unlike in the original novel.  However, it also detracted from the narrative because I felt like Chelsea was there mostly to investigate what happened to Catherine and not to be a character in her own right.  Split narratives are always very tricky and I give the author major props for a somewhat successful attempt.  The decision to set it in the punk music scene of the 1990s in Greenwich Village was interesting, and made the whole music royalty versus nobody conundrum work, in place of the gypsy verus semi-genteel family problem of the original.       Catherine has a very distinct personality and feels things very passionately.  Hence is kind of an enigma and we never really do find out where he came from, or why he left there in the first place.  All we ever know is that he loves his music and is obsessed with/loves Catherine just as intensely.  Catherine's Dad was an interesting contrast with his son, Quentin, in his absolute openmindedness and true love of his work.  Quentin was a bigoted, jealous, bitter jackass and verging on insanity for most of the book, before he finally went over the edge.  I felt like Lindner went a little too far with that characterization, because in the original you can see the brother character's metamorphosis a little bit more, as he loses the little kindness and depth he has as a person.  This was too cartoonish of a revisit for my liking.   
     My main problem with Chelsea is that she was a plot device.  By the end of the novel I still felt like I knew Catherine (at least a little bit) and only knew that Chelsea was missing her Mom, therefore searching for the truth.  This was an issue most likely with how short the book happens to be.  I feel like it flew past, almost like she was rushing into the different events.  This is one that could have stood to add at least another hundred pages just for some filler.  This is a book where the filler was necessary for some even build-up and just not there like it should have been.  The conclusion of what happened to Catherine was also a little too predictable and had me rolling my eyes in disbelief and annoyance.  Seriously, that's how she chose to wrap things up?  I loved the nugget near the beginning of the book when Chelsea was surfing Nico Rathburn's fansite.  That made me smile, with it's connection to Jane, however small of a link it was.  Overall, I felt like everyone in this book suffered from under characterization or cartoon personality disorder.  I still finished it because the plot was fairly well conceived and I wanted to see how it would play out.  I just wasn't satisfied though and wouldn't recommend it too highly to anyone.
VERDICT:  2.5/5  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.**

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mumbo Jumbo Is My Speak

Published: April 15th, 2011
The Mumbo Jumbo Circus (Mumbo Jumbo Circus #1)
By: Jane George
Red Willow Publishing
ISBN-13: 9781936539086

If you enjoy stories by Diana Wynne Jones & J.K. Rowling, you're in the right neighborhood. Look over there. Magic. Mystery. Mayhem. The MUMBO JUMBO CIRCUS...

When the enigmatic Ringmaster asks 15-year-old Evanja (Evan) Leane to run away and join the circus, she says yes. Anywhere’s got to be better than foster home Number Eight. Evan learns that this ragtag circus, a haven for throwaway teens, relies on more than spectacle and illusion. This circus is built on magic. Each of the teens possesses a donvrai, a true gift, that manifests only in the presence of the Ringmaster’s mysterious Ju-Ju. Unlike many of the other teens who must wait for their donvrai to emerge, Evan’s gift surfaces on her first night: she can read horses’ minds. This would be totally awesome except she has been deathly afraid of horses since foster home Number Three. But circus is a dying art. If Evan wants to save her beloved new-found home, she must concoct a brilliant horse act that will bring in the crowds. And she’d better get over herself and get on with it fast; there’s a traitor close to the Ringmaster who will stop at nothing to make sure she doesn’t succeed.

     Evan is foster care child, bouncing around from home to home pretty much ever since she was born.  There have been good placements and bad ones, but this latest one (number eight) is pretty much the worst.  So when she is called a freak and then says the magic words, Evan is approached by Compere, the Ringmaster of the Mumbo Jumbo Circus, about becoming part of the traveling show.  That is when the adventure starts, because the circus possesses magic that Compere's Uncle, owner of a rival circus, will stop at nothing to possess.  Not to mention the Ju-Ju gives donvrai, true gifts, the power to express themselves.  Evan's gift is that she can speak to horses by reading their minds - problem is she's terrified of them.  But with a traitor among the ranks and a devastating loss of something key to the show, it might be up to Evan to save Mumbo Jumbo with her amazing act.  Along with help from the Pickled Punk (the Panhandle Prophet), the elephant boy, the Circus' teenage cook and some illusionist shifting polar bears Evan might be able to do something important and find something even more special along the way - a family to call her own, ragtag as they may be.  I have almost no experience with books set in circuses, magical or otherwise.  The closest I can come to that is The Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando.  I got a lot more than I expected.   
     Jane George has a gift with words and from the very beginning when Evan is being knocked around by her hillbilly foster parents, she painted a picture that was so real I could see it in my mind.  Once she meets up with the Mumbo Jumbo folk and gets caught up in their problems and joys, there really is no turning back.  There is a budding love triangle between Evan, Wally (the cook) and Johnny (the elephant boy) but it is very tame and it becomes quickly apparent who she actually has feelings for.  The everyday struggles of a dying circus, the camraderie between the performers and the magic of the show itself definitely cam across in technicolor for me as a reader.  Evan's wonder is easily shared and I became very invested in the fate of the circus and everyone involved in it.  The addition of the talking elephant Solly, and the jarred but sassy, prophetic Pickled Punk (another term for a human fetus preserved in formaldehyde and used for a sideshow attraction), the polar bear shifting Nanurark family and a host of other colorful characters only added to the richness of the story.  The plotline involving the evil uncle, Shock Jacques, could have been less stereotypical but it never fell too far into predictable villain tropes to be truly annoying.   The revelation of what the Ju-Ju actually was fit perfectly into the setting of the story and was hilarious.  Overall, a wonderful coming of age tale set in a magic circus that I would love to visit.  Definitely one of a kind! :)
VERDICT:  5/5  Stars
*No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available online in ebook format, or maybe even at your local library.*

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In That Moment We Were Infinite

Published: August 14th, 2012 (First published February 1st, 1999)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
By: Stephen Chbosky
MTV Books
ISBN-13: 9781451696196

Charlie is a freshman.

And while he's not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his year yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it.

Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But he can't stay on the sidelines forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.


     Charlie is looking forward to his Freshman year of high school.  He wants things to be different, for big things to happen in his life for a change.  But he just can't stop observing life instead of living it - until he meets Patrick and Sam.  They lead him into a world of parties, Rocky Horror Picture Show re-enactments, new music, drugs, first love and Charlie begins to live for the first time.  Also throughout the year he has an interesting English teacher who gives him extra book assignments, that make him think about life in ways he never has before.  With family issues coming up from the past and and old trauma haunting him, can Charlie get past it and learn to make it on his own?  Or will he always just be waiting for the downturn of his happy ending?  This was a coming of age book, in the tradition of Catcher In the Rye, and Ordinary People.  It has the same melancholy, anxiousness as the latter and the honesty of the former.  I liked the story enough that I kept reading, though Charlie annoyed me quite a bit in the beginning.  No one cries that much unless they are mentally unstable and have serious issues.  And no one is that naive by the time they're a teenager (although a revelation at the end of the book kind of makes it more believable to me).  The relationships with Sam and Patrick respectively are interesting and full of great moments.   I mean, who hasn't felt this way at some point or another: 

       “So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still   
       trying to figure out how that could be.”

Then again I spent most of my teenage years as an introvert, a wallflower like Charlie.  I was a serious observer of life and not much of a liver (but then I also went through some of the same childhood issues as him, so I can maybe see the correlation in some individuals between the two).  This book was told in letter form, to someone that is never given a name, but obviously means something important to Charlie for him to be so unflinchingly honest about his feelings and experiences.  The advent of drugs into Charlie's life was sort of surreal in the way he treated it so naturally.  Like, "Oh, do I want some LSD?  Sure!  Why wouldn't I?"  The closeness of his family, yet their emotional estrangement from each other is something I am familiar with on a personal level.  Maybe the reason why this book was hard for me to read and know what I felt about it at the end, was because Charlie's life was like a photograph of my own teenage years on an extremely personal level.  The only thing I can say for myself is that I am NOT such a crybaby, am not that naive and have never gone over the cuckoo's nest so to speak.  Overall a good read, with some high emotions.  But those high emotions level out leaving the reader feeling blank at the end - probably due to Charlie's emotional blankness in his letters.  That was the only true insincerity to me.

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, January 28, 2013

Forget Me Not, My Dear

Expected Publication: March 12th, 2013
Deep Betrayal (Lies Beneath # 2)
By: Anne Greenwood Brown
Random House/Delacorte
ISBN-13: 9780385742030

Once you dive into Deep Betrayal, the sequel to Lies Beneath,you won't come up for air!
It's been thirty days, two hours, and seventeen minutes since Calder left Lily standing on the shores of Lake Superior. Not that she's counting. And when Calder does return, it's not quite the reunion Lily hoped for. Especially after she lets her father in on a huge secret: he, like Calder, is a merman. Obsessed with his new identity, Lily's dad monopolizes Calder's time as the two of them spend every day in the water, leaving Lily behind.

Then dead bodies start washing ashore. Calder blames his mermaid sisters, but Lily fears her father has embraced the merman's natural need to kill. As the body count grows, everyone is pointing fingers. Lily doesn't know what to believe—only that whoever's responsible is sure to strike again. . . .


     Lily Hancock has spent the last thirty days exiled from home, sent away to live with her best friend Lori in her old town.  All because her Dad wants her kept away from Calder, the boy she loves, and Lake Superior's depths - both of which hold dark secrets beyond his comprehension.  It has been thirty days since Lily saw Jack Petitt kill Tallulah, one of Calder's sisters and now his tainted family believes that revenge has been served - and Lily is dead, having taken her Dad's place as a sacrifice.  Then the body resurfaces and Lily returns to Superior, deciding to tell her Dad the truth - that he's half merman.  In the process the sisters discover Lily's presence and bodies begin to turn up again, with everything pointing to them being the killers. But is it really that simple?  It's up to Lily and Calder to investigate the murders and stop whoever is responsible, family or not.  With her burgeoning mermaid traits and the possibility of a mermaid creationist legend being true, things are about to get interesting.  Will they be able to fix the situation before a vengeful Jack exposes the existence of mermaids to the world?  I went into this one expecting it to be something I wouldn't get very into.  I was okay with the first one, which had a good premise but the follow-through less than impressed me.  So color me surprised when I sat down and got a third of the way through in my first sitting!  
     I liked the switch from Calder's narration, over to Lily's.  She was a lot easier to sympathize with and I enjoyed seeing her perspective.  It really fleshed her out as a character and gave me a motivation for her actions.  Not to say she was perfect.  Lily is a hothead, who does things on her own terms without always thinking about it rationally first.  But she's an individual which made her dumb decisions easier to read about.  The inclusion of a possible sea monster/creature of legend was interesting, but I felt like Brown waited until too late in the narrative for that plot twist to have a full effect on the readers.  The identity of the murderer was not at all surprising to me and I was bored by that mystery frankly.  I would have liked a more interesting resolution.  The family issues with Lily's parents and her Dad training to live with his Merman heritage was basically background noise.  The only thing Lily is fixated on in all intensity is Calder and being with him romantically.  Calder's sisters played practically no part in this one.  Including them as a threat hanging over everyone's heads was effective at first, but lost the thrill when they were shown to be starving and pretty much unable to care about revenge anymore.  The ending was okay, but not the best ever.  It did fit in with the rest of the novel though.  I hope the author leaves it at two books and doesn't feel the need to go further than that.  Overall, better than the first book in the series and worth the follow up to see what happens to the characters.

VERDICT:  3.5/5  Stars

*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is March 12th, 2013.*

Cult of Personality

Expected Publication: March 1st, 2013
Being Henry David
By: Cal Armistead
Albert Whitman Teen
ISBN-13: 9780807506158

Seventeen-year-old "Hank" has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything --who he is, where he came from, why he's running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or "Hank" and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of--Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Cal Armistead's remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.


     A seventeen year old boy wakes up in Penn Station with a small amount of money in his pocket, a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau and no idea who he is, or where he came from.  Calling himself Hank (after Thoreau), he manages to get on the wrong side of a drug dealer and is forced to flee the city.  With very few clues to his past, Hank travels to Concord, Massachusetts to visit Walden Pond and hopefully figure out who he really is - and how to get back home.  With the help of some new friends and some painful memories will Hank be able to piece things together?  More importantly, will he even want to return to his old life once he knows the horrifying truth of why he left to begin with?  I normally stay away from books that sound like they might be shaping up to be murder mysteries or thrillers.  The synopsis and the first half of the book give that impression to a reader.  However, once the second half starts things really begin to clear up and show this book for what it is - a book about a broken family, guilt, friendship and second chances.  Hank is a character that's easy to empathize with.  Not knowing anything about yourself kind of makes it really hard to know where to go or what to do with yourself.  I liked the relationships that Hank formed with Thomas, the librarian and H.D. Thoreau re-enactor, and Hailey, a girl his apparent age with issues of her own.  The slow and painful revelations that come to Hank are tough to read about but very well-written.  The truth of why he left home and what really happened is heartbreaking and made me want to cry for him.  But near the end Hank learns that you can go home again sometimes - just never the same way twice.  Overall a really great coming of age book, with some interesting characters and great writing.  My main complaint would be the lack of obvious reason for street kids Nessa and Jack, other than as plot devices.  And the slow pace did get to me sometimes.   Otherwise highly recommended by me as a reader.

VERDICT:  4.5/5  Stars

*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is March 1st, 2013.*

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Will You Be The Next Wife Of The Dude Who's Not Henry VIII?

Expected Publication: March 12th, 2013
Strands of Bronze and Gold (Strands of Bronze and Gold # 1)
By: Jane Nickerson
Random House Children's Books
ISBN-13: 9780307975980

The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.


     Sophia Petheram's beloved Father has just died, leaving her and her siblings on the verge of destitution.  She receives an invitation to live with her mysterious Godfather, Bernard de Cressac, who lives in splendor on a plantation in Mississippi.  Once she's there, Sophie is enchanted by the beautiful gifts, and undivided attention that she receives.  But there are dark mysteries at the plantation as well, such as what really happened to Bernard's five dead wives.  And why is the ruined chapel kept locked, with no one allowed to enter into it?  Not too soon after arriving, Sophie realizes that Bernard is practically holding her prisoner, not allowing her out of the house to meet anyone but the servants, and holding back letters from her when it suits him to do so.  Almost overnight Bernard's demeanor changes to that of a jealous lover and Sophie is left to wonder if she will ever make it home again.  Will she be the next to die?  Never having read the original story of Bluebeard, this is the second retelling that I have put my hands and eyes upon.  I liked Sophie's snarky, yet sweet personality.  Her curious nature endeared her to me, because she refused to just blindly accept whatever Bernard told her and what everyone else wanted her to do.  The gradual descent into total isolation, dependence and abusive behavior is chilling in  just how believable it is written.  The depiction of the slaves and the treatment of them is unfortunate, but more than likely true in most cases of 19th century slavery.  Sophie's attitudes were great, but I echo similar sentiments to other readers that sometimes the slaves just seemed like plot devices and extra bodies for Sophie to meet/converse with.  Her relationship with the Reverend was intriguing and the developing of feelings for him was sweet and very old fashioned - in other words, tonally perfect for the novel.  The climax of the novel chilled my blood and was definitely gruesome enough to fit what little I know of the original tale.    One of my few complaints is the clinical nature the last few pages of the book took on, kind of 'where are they now' type of thing to try and tie up loose ends.  Overall, an interesting retelling and definitely one of the better offerings of recent YA fairy tale re-tellings.

VERDICT:  3.5/5  Stars

*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is March 12th, 2013.*

It Makes You Feel Happy Like An Old-Time Movie

Expected Publication: February 1st, 2013
The Return of Abracadabra (Hocus Pocus Hotel # 2)
By: Michael Dahl
Stone Arch Books
ISBN-13: 9781434247216

Charlie Hitchcock figured out that Brack is really Abracadabra, the missing magician. But as Brack prepares to unveil his true identity to the rest of the world, magical mysteries continue to unfold at his hotel. Charlie and Tyler Yu have solved challenging tricks here before, but can they do it again before time runs out for Brack . . . and the hotel?


     Charlie Hitchcock, class geek and Tyler Yu, class bully are stuck in a tentative friendship after solving the mysteries happening at the hotel Tyler's family owns so Tyler could buy the motorcycle he had been saving up for.  Now the elevator operator Brack (who is really the famous missing magician, Abracadabra) is planning to put on a show at the hotel and reveal his secret identity to the press and the rest of the world.  The only problem is that the currently famous magician Theopolis comes to the hotel and performs some seemingly impossible feats of magic - all at the same time.  Can the boys figure out how he managed it, or was it really magic after all?  And will Theopolis succeed in stealing the show and Brack's part of the hotel right out from under him?  This was a good follow-up to the first novel, which had Charlie and Tyler solving the mysteries of the hotel itself.  This time they have to find out Theopolis' secrets before Brack loses everything.  To me the illustrations were the best part, just like in the first book.  It was a cute book about friendship and mystery, but I felt like it was lacking some of the magic in the original.  The description and following picture of Brack's secret room on top of the hotel was awesome.  And the answer to the mystery was plausible, but predictable.  I think this book would have been a lot more fun if I was still under 13 years old and loved magic tricks.  Overall, a fun book that was just a good fluffy, middle-grade read to give my brain a break from all the YA and Harlequin angst.  I would recommend this to middle-school and late elementary teachers for reluctant readers and young boys.

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is February 1st, 2013.*

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sometimes All You Need Is a Second Chance

Expected Publication: March 5th, 2013
The Second Chance Cafe
By: Alison Kent
Montlake Romance
ISBN-13: 9781611097894

Kaylie Flynn was luckier than most children left to the Texas foster care system, blessed with a foster mother who taught her the comfort of home and the healing power of baking the perfect brownie. Now, Kaylie has journeyed back to Hope Springs to open a cafe in the charming Victorian she once shared with her foster family and to finally find answers about her past and where she came from. Yet Kaylie's carefully laid plans quickly become complicated. The house needs far more work than she realized, and Tennessee Keller, the carpenter Kaylie hires, stirs up feelings she hasn't felt in a long while. When an unexpected crisis threatens to unravel her dreams, Kaylie seems to have all the ingredients for a perfect disaster or quite possibly the perfect love.

      Kaylie Flynn had a tough life before she was taken in by her last set of foster parents - the ones that made her feel like she finally had a home.  But when she aged out of the system and went to college, Kaylie never looked back until the couple both died.  Then she waited for the house to be for sale again.  After she finally buys her childhood home, Kaylie returns to Hope Springs, Texas to open a cafe and live in the place she was always the happiest once again.  Helping her realize her dreams, contractor Tennessee Keller comes with baggage of his own and a one-man, ex-convict crew.  Her new friend Luna also has something to hide - a secret bigger than Kaylie ever imagined that involves her in the most personal way possible.  With the help of her new friends and the hint of romance in the air, can Kaylie confront her past once and for all, leaving it behind for a new future?  Or will she always be looking for a place to call home?  This was a really good romance on the surface, but there was another layer of story much deeper between Kaylie and her birth Father who she always though abandoned her and her Mom.  Kaylie's issues of trust and problems with abandonment rang very true, making me wince at certain parts that were especially harsh.  Luna was definitely a friend that was good for Kaylie, but the secret that she kept was too much in my opinion.  Ten Keller felt kind of unrealisitic, in the way he insisted on martyring himself for something beyond his control.  It got on my nerves after a certain portion of whining had already been done.  The romance between him and Kaylie was sweet, but nothing to set my soul on fire.  Overall, I reallyy enjoyed the family and friendship aspects of this book and the heroine was well characterized and written (even if I did like her dog, Magoo, best at the end still!).  I would recommend it to those who like fluffy romance reads, but prefer something with a bit more substance added to the recipe.  Oh yeah, and there are some great brownie recipes in this book too! :)
VERDICT:  4/5  Stars
*I received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is March 5th, 2013.*

Monday, January 21, 2013

Your Own Enemy

Published: June 5th, 2012
A Midsummer's Nightmare
By: Kody Keplinger
ISBN-13: 9780316084222

Whitley Johnson's dream summer with her divorcé dad has turned into a nightmare. She's just met his new fiancée and her kids. The fiancée's son? Whitley's one-night stand from graduation night. Just freakin' great.

Worse, she totally doesn't fit in with her dad's perfect new country-club family. So Whitley acts out. She parties. Hard. So hard she doesn't even notice the good things right under her nose: a sweet little future stepsister who is just about the only person she's ever liked, a best friend (even though Whitley swears she doesn't "do" friends), and a smoking-hot guy who isn't her least, not yet. It will take all three of them to help Whitley get through her anger and begin to put the pieces of her family together.


     Whitley Johnson is definitely ready to get away from everyone and everything by going to college.  But first she's spending the summer hanging with her Dad, away from her shrewish Mom.  But then everything is ruined when her Dad springs on her the fact that he's engaged!  To a woman (Sylvia) with two kids, and moving out of his condo.  Oh yeah and Sylvia's son, Nathan, is her one night stand from graduation!  Whitley spends the summer partying hard and doing everything she can to let Sylvia and her kids know that she views them as interlopers.  Somewhere along the way she manages to get herself a best friend and a new family that cares about her.  How can Whitley make things right with her Mom and Dad, if they want to pretend the bad things never happened?  Can she decide to be a better person that she ever imagined, by leaving the past behind?  So, I feel like every one of Keplinger's main characters are slutty, loner, damaged girls.  It seems to be a trend in her books.  Maybe I had a hard time relating to Whitley because of casual way she treated sex and how she was always drunk.  And yeah, she had a really bad relationship with her Mom, brother and Dad.  But most people don't use those things as the answers to their problems.  Not to mention the pretty shitty way she treated her soon-to-be step-sister Bailey for almost the whole book.  The romance with Nathan was well-written and believable, but the way he kept liking her even after she treated him like crap and totally crushed him with angry words kind of baffled me.  Before reading this book I never realized just what a nice Midwesterner that I am at heart.  I just don't get this kind of behavior.  I did like Whitley though and was glad that she got her happy ending - nice Midwesterner or not, I definitely know how much parents can screw you up! :)

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.**

Thursday, January 17, 2013

She Was Already Ruined

Expected Publication:  February 19th, 2013
The Rake to Ruin Her (Ransleigh Rogues # 1)
By: Julia Justiss
ISBN-13: 9780373297290

Once a rake…

Known as "Magnificent Max," diplomat Max Ransleigh was famed for his lethal charm until a political betrayal left him exiled from government and his reputation in tatters. He seems a very unlikely savior for a well-bred young lady.

Except that Miss Caroline Denby doesn't want to be saved… she wants to be ruined! To Caroline, getting married is tantamount to a death sentence, and meeting the rakish Max at a house party seems the answer to her prayers…. Surely this rogue won't hesitate to put his bad reputation to good use?


     Caroline Denby is mourning the loss of her beloved Father and trying to hold on to the control/ownership of the family's horse-stud business.  But her Stepmama had other ideas and won't rest until Caro is married off to the first gentleman that will have her.  Besides being reluctant to be subservient to a man who may not approve of the business, Caro doesn't want to have children because almost every woman in her family has died in childbirth.  So she propositions Max Ransleigh, a notrious rogue with a ruined political career, in hopes of him making her un-marriageable.  When he declines her offer, but scandal erupts in an entirely unexpected way, Max and Caro end up newlyweds.  But will they be able to make things work?  Can the rogue and the bluestocking fall in love for real?  This book was cute.  That sentence pretty much sums it up for me.  I didn't find any lasting feeling for it when I finished reading and the characters had too many moments of odd two-dimensional personality.  Caro was a bold, honest and beautiful woman who just wanted to keep her freedom.  Max was a little too modern thinking and politically correct to really fit into the time period of the book, but he was a good guy all in all.  The whole Napoleonic War background and Max's struggle to clear his name of diplomatic wrongdoing were just not my cup of tea.  And the amount of time that he and Caro spent in angsty agony over their respective personal issues, really got on my nerves.  To be honest I thought that this book didn't have very good romance in it.  I thought it would have been more interesting if it had picked a direction - it all felt very aimless.  Yeah right!  Like Caro would have gotten away from that situation still in polite society, with her reputation intact.  Overall, a fluffy read that I will probably forget all about by the time it's published.

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is February 19th, 2013.*

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Love Has A Sell By Date

Published: December 11th, 2012 (first published August 1st, 2010)
Love and Other Perishable Items (Original published as, 'Good Oil')
By: Laura Buzo
Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13: 9780375970009

Love is awkward, Amelia should know.

From the moment she sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It's problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, is 15.

Amelia isn't stupid. She knows it's not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris—at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia's crush doesn't seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?

Through a year of befuddling firsts—first love, first job, first party, and first hangover—debut author Laura Buzo shows how the things that break your heart can still crack you up.


     So, I'm just going to dive right into this one, starting with the different covers of this book.  The first one if for the German edition and I think it's beautiful.  It doesn't really represent the book accurately though.  The second cover was the original one from Australia and it annoys me.  That cover model looks NOTHING like the main character of the book!  Nothing at all!  And she also looks like she's a college student and if Amelia was one, there wouldn't be a book most likely.  The third is the American cover, which also has a new title for the book itself.  I like the new title and the cover fits it very well - plus it latches onto the story nicely as the two main characters work in a grocery store.  So for once the American reprint has the better cover in my opinion - how the Hell did that happen?  I went into this one not knowing what to expect exactly.  I am not normally a fan of YA Aussie Lit.  Usually it just doesn't register the same way with me that the U.S. and British YA (and even then only sometimes for the latter, not always) do.  It's probably because I don't get the slang and I am lazy and picky about stuff like that.  The 'romance' between Amelia and Chris was taboo for a reason.  What college student in his right mind would date a fifteen year old?  What could they possibly have in common after all, other than sharing the same job?  Yes, Amelia reminds Chris of his youth and a younger version of himself, but for most of the book he comes across as a very outgoing, friendly, pathetic drunkard who is wasting his life aimlessly.  He goes to university, but obviously only does it because he 'should' and not cause he has any real desire to do so.  Amelia's friend, has it right in the end that she shouldn't wait for him.  
     I liked Amelia a lot as a character.  She was smart, funny and very innocent (but not in the annoying, Mary-Sueish way a  lot of YA heroines are).  But the sticking point on me loving her was her lack of common sense when it came to Chris.  First love or not (debatable), Amelia put herself in some majorly stupid situations to fit in with his friends and be more like a girl he'd want.  The alternating narrative between Chris and Amelia gives extra insight into each of their reasoning for pursuing/not pursuing the other.  I still disliked Chris by the end and found him to be morally lacking, and devoid of swoon.  But maybe a relationship between a fifteen year old and a twenty-two year old just squicks me out.  Overall, a good read and the ending was realistic in a good way.  It was a very well-written and thought out novel.  As a coming of age story, it's definitely a win.   But not one I'd recommend for everyone and it won't be a re-read.

VERDICT:  3.75/5  Stars

*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book was published in the U.S. on December 11th, 2012.*

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Alias Is Yours For the Taking

Expected Publication:  February 26th, 2013
Also Known As
By: Robin Benway
ISBN-13: 9780802733900

Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad.  Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time.  Having parents with super cool jobs.  Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend.  But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations.  Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes.  She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.


     Maggie Silver has been safe-cracking since she was three years old and wants nothing more than to be a spy just like her parents.  So when the organization they work for, the Collective, gives Maggie a solo assignment she's super excited.  Then she finds out that her assignment is basically to be a normal teenager - go to high school, make friends and infiltrate the life of Jesse Oliver so she can steal his Dad's info on the Collective.  Maggie only has a small time frame before Mr. Oliver publishes what he knows and ruins her parent's lives (and her own).  Or so she's been told.  But with the help of family friend Angelo, her new BFF Roux and Jesse himself, can Maggie find out the truth before it costs her something far more valuable than she ever expected?  Also, what can you do when you fall in love with your assignment?  I have been a fan of Robin Benway since reading her debut novel, Audrey Wait!, which was one of my favorite books to be published while I was a teen.  She has a great sense of humor and the characterizations she manages are amazing.  I was laughing at and gasping with Maggie from the very first page of the novel.  Probably because I was a majorly over-dramatic teenager myself and can totally relate to her.  The idea of a teenage spy isn't very appealing to me normally, but the focus on character versus spy/thriller action inclusions kept me involved a lot better than I would have been.  The relationship with her parents was both hilarious and touchingly realistic.  I am a rare girl who does not happen to like Ally Carter's novels about the teen spy school.  Just not my thing.  But by placing Maggie in an everyday environment, Benway really impressed me.  Jesse was a cute romantic interest for the heroine and their chemistry was at turns sweet and hot both.  Roux was freaking HILARIOUS!  I loved her so much, but her crappy home life made me want to cry.  The whole mystery did seem quite downplayed and ignored for most of the book, which was a little disappointing to me as a reader.  The ending seemed perfect to me though and I really enjoyed this book overall.  I thought it was well-written, had a great sense of humor and some lasting value.  I highly recommend it for fans of character driven narratives, with lots of humor/drama.  But I forewarn those looking for an in-depth spy novel, this IS NOT IT.

VERDICT:  4.5/5  Stars

*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is February 26th, 2013.*

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Let Down Your Hair...

Expected Publication: February 12th, 2013
Rapunzel Untangled
By: Cindy C. Bennett
Cedar Fort, Inc.
ISBN-13: 9781462111565

Rapunzel is not your average teenager. 

For one thing, she has a serious illness that keeps her inside the mysterious Gothel Mansion. And for another, her hair is 15 feet long. Not to mention that she’s also the key to ultimately saving the world from certain destruction. But then she meets a boy named Fane, who changes all she has ever known, and she decides to risk everything familiar to find out who she really is. 

Filled with romance, adventure, and mystery, Rapunzel Untangled is one story you won’t want to put down. Discover the true meaning of love and friendship in this modern twist to the classic fairytale.



     Rapunzel is just a normal teenage girl.  If you ignore the fact that she's never left her house, lives locked in a tower, has hair fifteen feet long and her Mother thinks she will save the world someday.  But Gothel has also told Rapunzel that she has SCID - Severe Combined Immunodeficiency disorder which means that she will probably die if she goes outside the house.  Only supposed to use the computer for schoolwork, Rapunzel follows the rules to the letter until one day she stumbles onto Facebook and befriends a boy from the local high school.  When Fane begins to communicate with her, Rapunzel starts to realize just how much she's really been missing from the world outside.  As she questions the real reasons for why she's locked up and what the truth about her family is, Rapunzel gathers strength in realizing that she can have everything she's ever  wanted - if she can only break free!   Will Rapunzel be able to survive when the chilling truth is revealed?  This was an interesting concept - a modern retelling of Rapunzel, using Facebook as the outlet into the real world that introduces her to her 'prince' and liberates her.  I really enjoyed the fact that Rapunzel is not written as a stupid character, in an attempt to portray innocence.  The author showcases instead the naivness that her isolation has ingrained into her whole personality.  Fane was a fun, class clown type of guy and I was glad that he and Rapunzel's relationship was done so sweetly.  If he had been the least bit 'mature' about the situation in the typical ways, it would have turned creepy pretty fast.  Romantic moments between them were innocent, which was a a refreshing change, with how fast a lot of the YA book romances move nowadays.  The idea that Gothel is a deranged occultist was definitely not something I'd ever seen before (the immortality obsession in Tangled probably comes the closest).  The eventual showdown between Rapnuzel, Gothel and the cult leader felt more than a little over-dramatic and bordering on fantasy (which was a stark, obvious change from the rest of the book's realism).  Other than that hiccup in the inherent genre and pacing of the book, it was extremely well written.  My only other complaint would be the complete lack of resolution over the kidnapping with Rapunzel's real parents.  I was smiling almost the entire time I was reading and it was finished in almost one sitting.  I couldn't put it down.  Overall, this book was worth reading and fresh in the re-telling side of the fairy tale genre that keeps getting beaten like a dead horse.  At least this corpse was a horse of a different color.  I would recommend it to people like me who are huge fairy tale fans, but don't mind the modern age colliding with the classic tales.

VERDICT:  4.5/5  Stars

*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is February 12th, 2013.*

Thursday, January 10, 2013

It's a Crewel World for a Woman or a Girl

Crewel (Crewel World, #1)
Published: October 16th, 2012
Crewel (Crewel World # 1)
By: Gennifer Albin
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
ISBN-13: 9780374316419
Enter a tangled world of secrets and intrigue where a girl is in charge of other’s destinies, but not her own.

Sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has always been special. When her parents discover her gift—the ability to weave the very fabric of reality—they train her to hide it. For good reason, they don’t want her to become a Spinster — one of the elite, beautiful, and deadly women who determine what people eat, where they live, how many children they have, and even when they die.

Thrust into the opulent Western Coventry, Adelice will be tried, tested and tempted as she navigates the deadly politics at play behind its walls. Now caught in a web of lies and forbidden romance, she must unravel the sinister truth behind her own unspeakable power. Her world is hanging by a thread, and Adelice, alone, can decide to save it — or destroy it.
     Adelice Lewys has just turned sixteen years old and taken the test that will decide her future.  Because of her hidden talents Adelice is in demand by the branch of the government that recruits Spinsters - women who weave the fabric of reality.  But because of her parent's training her to hide her abilities and trying to run away with her when they came to retrieve Adelice, her entire family is ripped away.  Her Mom and Dad are dead and her little sister is re-woven into another life - and another family.  Adelice will do anything to protect Amie, even if it means playing along and pretending that she's given in.  But when it's revealed just how much power Adelice really does have over her future, she's in a race against time to break free of the trap she's been caught in.  But will it mean death and destruction for her new friends, her sister and their entire world?  I had never thought of the possiblity that someone could weave the fabric of space and time, to keep reality running smoothly.  It's a very original idea and the execution was beautifully done.  I did feel that Adelice was a bit bland as a heroine, but the novel was character driven in a way that a lot of dystopians (even sci-fi oriented ones) are not.  I LOVE a character driven novel.  It sucks me in and gets me involved, making me care what happens.  In the novel, women are second-class citizens and oppressed beyond belief.  They really only have two viable choices - marriage or to become a Spinster.  I loved that Adelice didn't just give in to their demands and bribes after they'd destroyed her life and left her with nothing.  The relationships with Jost and Erik were very different and it was easy to tell which was the more real of the two.  I can definitely say I was NOT expecting the revelation at the end of the book about how they were connected to each other.  Cormac the villain seemed a little too 'muhahaha' for my taste, which is saying something.  Maybe I'm just tired of villains whose only motive is power.  It just seems weak to me as a reader.  The other revelation about Arras and Earth was interesting, but more than a little confusing.  I guess I'll just have to read the next one to find out more!  Overall, an enjoyable sci-fi, dystopian YA debut novel with a fresh idea and good execution.  Not anything above and beyond the norm though.  I wasn't 'wowed' by it's awesomeness.
VERDICT:  4/5  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.**

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wild For You

Expected Publication: February 5th, 2013
Wild for the Sheriff (The Sisters of Bell River Ranch # 1)
By: Kathleen O'Brien
ISBN-13: 9780373607549

Sheriff Dallas Garwood has followed the straight and narrow all his life. The one exception? When he tangled with Rowena Wright. The experience had lasting consequences he'd rather not repeat.

That may be easier said than done. Rowena is back, set on restoring her family's ranch to sell it. Is this Colorado town big enough for the two of them? Not the way his nine-year-old son keeps sneaking onto her land, forcing Dallas into her company. Every one of those encounters sparks an urge in him to tangle with her again. This time he'll call the shots—and be the one to leave. But he doesn't expect all these powerful emotions… and he's not sure he can walk away.


     Rowena Wright is back in her small hometown, somewhere that she never thought she'd be again.  But now fifteen years after she left, Rowena is back to fix up the family ranch and sell it for good this time.  It might not be as easy as that, with her old flame Dallas Garwood as the Sheriff and still just as tempting as ever.  Determined to resist him, Rowena pulls away at every opportunity.  But when she comes across a discovery that could take away any claim she has to Bell River, will all the secret dreams she has of turning it into a dude ranch go up in smoke?  And with Dallas, his son Alec and a mysterious girl named Bonnie all finding a way into her heart, will she be able to leave when the time comes, or will Rowena finally stay in one place - home?  This was very well written for a Harlequin romance!  I usually go in expecting light fluff, but this was definitely not under that heading AT ALL.  Rowena hasn't been back home in fifteen years, since her Father murdered her Mother and she & her sisters were sent to live with relatives.  Also, the last time she saw Dallas her Father caught them having sex in a pickup and shot him!  Rowena had serious trust issues and real reasons for having them.  But I adored her feisty personality and self-reliant nature.  Dallas was a good love interest, who had his own share of past heartbreak.  Alec's Mom had left him for another man, started a new family and effectively ditched Alec while she was at it.  Dallas describes his son as being like Huck Finn, and he is right.  Alec is adorable and mischievous to the max, which adds something extra to the book.  And the whole storyline where he thinks he has to get Dallas dating again before he can go live with his Mom (and THAT'S why she won't take him yet) is so sad, but definitely how an elementary aged kid would rationalize.  The strained relationship between Rowena and her sisters Penny & Bree is painful but truthful.  The resolution and beginnings of true sisterhood near the end of the book was a great touch.  The romance itself was swoony, but the angst was a little too thick for my taste.  Overall, loved this book more than I thought I would.  I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for the rest of the series.

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is February 5th, 2013.*