Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Time Probably Has More Than Two Sides


Published:  January 1st, 1997 (Originally published July 1st, 1995)
Both Sides of Time (Time Travelers # 1)
By: Caroline B. Cooney
Perfection Learning
ISBN-13:  9780780769670

Imagine changing centuries--and making things worse, not better, on both sides of time.

Imagine being involved in two love triangles in two different centuries. What if, no matter which direction you travel in time, you must abandon someone you love?

Meet 15-year-old Annie Lockwood, a romantic living in the wrong century. When she travels back a hundred years and lands in 1895--a time when privileged young ladies wear magnificent gowns, attend elegant parties, and are courted by handsome gentlemen--Annie at last finds romance. But she is a trespasser in time. Will she choose to stay in the past? Will she be allowed to?


Review
 
     Annie Lockwood has always been a hopeless romantic.  But she is stuck in the twentieth century, with a seriously cute boyfriend, Sean, who calls her by her initials, spends all his time working on cars and doesn't have a single romantic bone in his entire body.  When the town decides to tear down the crumbling Stratton mansion, Annie rides out there on her bike the day summer vacation begins to visit Sean and help him pack up all his tools before the demolition - she never expects to fall back in time!  Now Annie is in a world of riches, parties, old-fashioned romance and a boy named Strat who just might be her true love.  But they come from different worlds and Annie doesn't belong in 1895 and when she is accused of murder, the clock starts ticking.   Can Annie find a way to get back home to her own family, which is falling apart at the seams?  And does she even want to?  I read this series for the first time when I was about 8 or 9 years old and LOVED it to pieces!  I adored anything with time travel and the fact that it had romance was a bonus.  I've re-read the series a couple times as a middle-schooler and again in high school (one of those times was for when book #4 in the series was released).  I shouldn't have picked it up again as an adult.  I remembered a fun read that was romance, murder mystery and time travel all rolled into one.  What I got was overall bland characterizations (except for a few exceptions) and shoddily constructed plots - except for the murder, which was one that I never expected, although I'm sure others have guessed it before.  I guess I'm just naïve like that! :)  Annie is basically a placeholder character, who hates her life and wants adventure to come along and to have a romantic guy sweep her off her feet.  But she is content enough to stay with Sean and be bored until time takes the decision from her.  Strat is a product of his time period, wanting to save the women from themselves and not being able to see past outer appearance in favor of  his plainer best friend, Harriet, who is in love with him.  His sister Devonny is young and not a very prominent character, but I did love her excitement over new technology and inventions, along with her determination to be a modern woman.  She was a great role model for younger girls reading this book and the ones after it.  Harriet's only purpose seems to be as the requisite plain, orphaned, rich girl who never gets the guy.  She was devoid mostly of personality and really the only emotion we ever see on her part is some form of jealousy for Annie (either her looks, personality, etc. or her interactions/relationship with Strat). 
     The villains of this book were mostly cookie cutter and easy enough to understand once they were found out.  The most common motive in this book for anything was money.  But one villain in particular (who is carted off screaming and acting insane [in a believable way] at the end) stuck with me and was realistic enough to send chills up my spine.  The constant emphasis of the author on class distinctions, especially the romance between the maid  Bridget and the stable boy Jeb, was somewhat overdone and in your face.  The same thing goes for the constant downtrodden state of the women in the novel.  Although the ending and the part Florinda (Strat's ditzy Stepmother) has in catching the murderer was awesome.  A lot of plot holes existed and we never really find out how or why Annie is suddenly traveling through time.  And now that I'm older, the whole 'love at first sight' thing made me want to gag.  Plus, would you really act so 20th century in the presence of people 100 years in the past?  And go around announcing that you'd traveled through time, causally like they wouldn't lock you in a nuthouse for it???  Yeah, didn't think so!  That said, even with some of the heavy-handedness, it's a fun read and sets up for the rest of the series nicely.  I would recommend it more to kids  around ages 10-18 though.  Adults, be prepared to feel underwhelmed unless you're a fan of somewhat questionably done writing.  Overall, won't be reading again but might give it to my niece someday.
 
 
VERDICT:  3/5  Stars (Some of this is based on old feelings.  I'll always have a soft spot for this series!)


**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, April 29, 2013

The Best Of Both Worlds

 
Published:  August 29th, 2005
Disney After Dark (The Kingdom Keepers # 1)
By: Ridley Pearson
Disney Press
ISBN-13:  9780786854448

In this fantastical novel, Disney's Magic Kingdom suddenly becomes a bit eerie. Finn Whitman and four other teens have been hired as Disney World guides, but with an odd twist: With cutting-edge technology, they have been transformed into hologram projections capable of leading guests around the park. What begins as an exciting theme park job turns into a virtual nightmare as Finn and his pals attempt to thwart an uprising by a menacing group of Disney villains.

Review
 
     Finn Whitman was really excited to be part of an experimental program run at Disney's Magic Kingdom theme park.  He and four other kids his age are to be the basis for holographic hosts, to give tours to all the park's guests.  But what he and the others don't know is that they are secretly being used as an experiment and will have new abilities that Disney hopes will save the park - from its own characters.  With villains from various Disney tales banding together and calling themselves 'the Overtakers', they won't quit until they've busted loose from the park and started taking over the world.  It's up to Finn, with help from Willa, Philby, Maybeck and Charlene to put a stop to the overtakers.  But with the truly evil Maleficent leading them, will good lose this time?  Like other people, I went into this expecting a lot more recognizable Disney character cameos.  But I had read reviews beforehand from disappointed readers, and so I braced myself.  But it reminded me a lot of the old video game, Kingdom Hearts, for Playstation.   It has a Disney feeling to it with hints of the old, but original characters are the focus of the story.  Finn was not a very in-depth character, yet it didn't bother as much as something like that normally would.  Probably because the holographic host situation and the kids waking up in the park at night reminded me a lot of those old Choose Your Own Adventure books.  It felt like a book you could put yourself in and therefore the characters should be a little bit vague!  And they weren't even necessarily vague, they just ready pretty young and naïve to me.  The whole relationship with Wayne, the old guard of Disney's Imagineers, was funny but also mysterious and I'm interested to see the interactions later on in the series between him and the kids.  The 'battle' scenes with the dolls from It's a Small World, the pirates from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and the dinosaur from Thunder Mountain were something from the best part of being a kid - the kind that make you laugh and hang on to the edge of your seat, like watching your first action movie.  I have seen complaints about the characterization of Maleficent, but I thought she came across just as creepy and chilling as she does in the Disney film.  I was willing to suspend my disbelief and be terrified right along with Finn and his friends.  The revelation about seemingly evil new girl at school Jezebel and Finn's friend, Amanda, is not particularly surprising but does set up for future books quite nicely.  The majority of the plot was spent trying to solve Walt Disney's secret fable 'The Stonecutter's Quill' and use the answer to stop the Overtakers.  It was an interesting and original idea lacking depth of execution, but just as fun as deciding whether to turn to page 4 or 81 to find out who lives and dies.  Overall, a fun adventure read and one I would recommend for reluctant readers and middle school aged kids especially.  Only one noted, beware:  If you're looking for a character filled romp this is NOT IT.  This book is more behind the scenes, technology based.  One of the reasons I liked it a lot, but definitely not for everyone! :)
 
VERDICT:  3.75/5  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.**

Friday, April 26, 2013

NANTUCKET BLUE GIVEAWAY!!!

 
 
For Cricket Thompson, a summer like this one will change everything. A summer spent on Nantucket with her best friend, Jules Clayton, and the indomitable Clayton family. A summer when she’ll make the almost unattainable Jay Logan hers. A summer to surpass all dreams.

Some of this turns out to be true. Some of it doesn’t.

When Jules and her family suffer a devastating tragedy that forces the girls apart, Jules becomes a stranger whom Cricket wonders whether she ever really knew. And instead of lying on the beach working on her caramel-colored tan, Cricket is making beds and cleaning bathrooms to support herself in paradise for the summer.

But it’s the things Cricket hadn’t counted on--most of all, falling hard for someone who should be completely off-limits--that turn her dreams into an exhilarating, bittersweet reality.

A beautiful future is within her grasp, and Cricket must find the grace to embrace it. If she does, her life could be the perfect shade of Nantucket blue.  (Summary Courtesy of Goodreads)
 

 
     Hey guys!  So it's been literally almost a year and a half since my last giveaway!!!  My personal life has been more than a little bit hectic and it's been all I could manage to work 40 hour weeks, take a full courseload at the local college and keep this blog updated.  But now I'm done with school, so I'm able to do more fun stuff for my followers again.  Also, I'm getting a lot more ARCS passing through my hands and since I can't trade them at the used bookstore, I might as well pass along the wealth! :)  I wanted to be generous, especially with my own birthday approaching this coming Tuesday, so there are three possible prize packs that you can win.

A link to my review of the book: http://diamondinroughcoal.blogspot.com/2013/04/far-beyond-blue.html

Here is a picture of the grand prize:

GRAND PRIZE


- 1 Print ARC of 'Nantucket Blue', 1 blue infinity scarf, 1 bottle sea-blue nail polish, 1 blue-polka dot notebook (to keep a diary like Cricket's Mom!) and 1 aqua necklace. 

*In case you can't tell there is a theme here... :)

FIRST RUNNER UP
 
- 1 DVD copy of 'Splash' (1984, Daryl Hannah & Tom Hanks), 1 CD copy of Muse's 'The 2nd Law' and your choice of ebook or print copy 'Nantucket Blue' preordered from Amazon.com 
 
*The DVD is according to Leila Howland, Cricket's BFF Jules' favorite '80s movie and the CD is the latest from her new friend Liz's favorite band.
 
SECOND RUNNER UP
 
- 1 copy 'Nantucket Blue (your choice of ebook or print copy from Amazon.com).
 
 
As said by Porky Pig, that's all folks! :)  This giveaway is for U.S. entrants only because of shipping etc.  I'm sorry if this knocks any of you from the running.  It starts today and goes until 12am on Saturday, May 11th.  Good luck to everyone entering, just fill out the entries on the Rafflecopter form below and even if you don't win you should all read this really awesome book anyways! :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Up In Lights

 

Published:  April 1st, 2013
That Time I Joined The Circus
By: J.J. Howard
Scholastic
ISBN-13:  9780545433815

Lexi Ryan just ran away to join the circus, but not on purpose.

A music-obsessed, slightly snarky New York City girl, Lexi is on her own. After making a huge mistake--and facing a terrible tragedy--Lexi has no choice but to track down her long-absent mother. Rumor has it that Lexi's mom is somewhere in Florida with a traveling circus.

When Lexi arrives at her new, three-ring reality, her mom isn't there . . . but her destiny might be. Surrounded by tigers, elephants, and trapeze artists, Lexi finds some surprising friends and an even more surprising chance at true love. She even lucks into a spot as the circus's fortune teller, reading tarot cards and making predictions.

But then Lexi's ex-best friend from home shows up, and suddenly it's Lexi's own future that's thrown into question.

With humor, wisdom, and a dazzlingly fresh voice, this debut reminds us of the magic of circus tents, city lights, first kisses, and the importance of an excellent playlist.


Review
 
     Self-proclaimed teenage music snob and outcast Lexi Ryan (formerly known as Xandra) is forced to leave behind her life in New York City to find her long estranged Mom, when her Dad dies in a tragic accident and she's left without money or options.  Due to a huge mistake Lexi made with her best friend Eli, she is more than happy to leave the city and start over again - even if it is with a broken heart.  Arriving at the circus where her Mom was supposed to be, Lexi finds out that she isn't there anymore and is left trying to scrounge a job and place to live from the ringmaster while she looks for her Mom.  Soon finding her niche as the resident fortune teller and friends in the ringmaster's teenage daughters, who are trapeze artists, Lexi is discovering who she is and what she wants to do with her life.  But it all might come crashing down when someone from her past finds her and she finally comes face to face with her Mom.  Can Lexi build a life for herself with the best parts of the new and the old? 
     Lexi as a character struck me as an odd mixture between self-hating, superior know-it-all and insecure outcast.   But surprisingly enough, she didn't get on my nerves as a main character.  Her snarky wit and jack-of-all-trades persona appealed to me and I enjoyed her voyage of self discovery throughout the novel.  Although I hated her romantic decisions and the guy she ends up with happens as an atrocious plot device/twist that really annoyed me as a reader.  Probably the worst thing in this entire book was the bouncy castle of romantic relationships and feelings!   Lexi's relationship with Eli really pissed me off.  He's supposedly her best friend, but as soon as he started dating Bailey he ignored and treated her like crap 99% of the time.  But because he still gave her little bits of his time, Lexi was convinced it was all 'evil' Bailey's fault as the shallow girlfriend.  It couldn't be because, I don't know, Eli is a complete douchebag???  The whole 'mistake' between them re-inforces this belief.  And the ending completely doesn't fit in with this obvious fact of his character.  Jamie, the guy on crew at the circus who shared a kiss with Lexi was described as a player, with a string of broken hearts behind him.  So color me confused when he immediately latches on to Lina (the girl who has been in love with him and he has ignored) and becomes a one-girl kind of guy!  Also the relationship with Nicolae was too similar to insta-love and never felt like it had any true depth.  It felt like the characters were going through the motions.
     If it feels like I'm mega focused on the romance, let me get to the actual plot and execution.  The book was very unbelievable in it's overall plot.  Yes, I can get behind a girl going to find her Mom at the circus.  It has awesome potential.  What made no sense was the complete lack of grief or any emotion resembling it from Lexi for her dead Dad.  Also, yeah right!  Like no social worker, school counselor or other officially inclined adult is gonna stop a 17 year old from dropping out of school, being evicted and traveling from New York to Florida by herself.  Can you say 'foster home'?  The resolution of the lifetime of pain, betrayal and anger sitting between Lexi and her Mom, along with the ease and quickness she accepts her Mom's version of the divorce/abandonment, pissed me off.  Plus, for a book supposedly about a girl trying to find her Mom it spends an awful lot of energy on a love triangle that is weak as a best case scenario.  I was more interested in the time Lexi spent and the circus and her friendships with the trapeze sisters Lina and Liska.  Both of those side characters intrigued me and they were fleshed out characters with dreams, disappointments and feelings of their own.  I felt like they were in and out of the plot, only there when it was convenient for Lexi to pay attention to them.  The lack of interest on Lexi's part towards finding her Mom after she gets to the circus, coupled with the fact that her Dad left all his money to his cheating ex-wife, with no provision for his supposedly beloved daughter, who he was a single parent to for over a decade, really took the cake and was almost more than I could take as a reader.  It just made no sense whatsoever.
     While I did feel the magic and mystery of the circus setting, I felt that the author didn't give enough details or descriptive scenes/moments about the circus to really connect or picture the setting other than in a vague sort of way.  It wasn't at all like other circus books I've read where you can picture everything that's happening in high definition and Technicolor.  I guess it was ideal for those who want to insert themselves into the book, but to me it was lacking something.  I just am disappointed that this book really waffled between what it was aiming for and what it actually achieved in terms of plot and character development especially.  I actually felt like Lexi's character had taken steps back by the ending, instead of forward.  This book was like cotton candy, nice and fluffy with some fun moments and some feel good ones.  But it had no lasting effect on me and too many inconsistencies to really make my day.  The alternating between present day and flashbacks before the tragedy and the 'mistake' do add some extra development to the story, but can be jarring.  Sometimes right when you immerse yourself into a certain setting or event, the time and place shifts abruptly to something very different.  The quotes from songs and the songs used for chapter titles were a fun touch though.  They represented Lexi in a fun (sometimes cheesy) was that I loved.  Overall a fun read, but if you have hang ups about cheating or are expecting something really deep it may not be for you. 
 
VERDICT:  2.75/5  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 April 1st, 2013.*

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

W.A.R....What Is It Good For?


Expected Publication:  July 2nd, 2013
This Is W.A.R.
By: Lisa Roecker & Laura Roecker
Soho Teen
ISBN-13:  9781616952617

This is W.A.R. begins with a victim who can no longer speak for herself, and whose murder blossoms into a call-to-arms.  Enter four very different girls, four very different motives to avenge Willa Ames-Rowan, and only one rule to start: Destroy James Gregory and his family at any cost.  Willa's initials spell the secret rallying cry that spurs the foursome to pool their considerable resources and deliver their particular brand of vigilante justice.  Innocence is lost, battles are won—and the pursuit of the truth ultimately threatens to destroy them all.

Review
 
     Everyone knows that James Gregory murdered Willa Ames-Rowan, but no one is willing to speak out against the most powerful family in town.  Those who go against the Gregorys tend to disappear or have bad things happen to them.  But Willa's best friends have had enough and are determined to exact justice for themselves, if the police won't take any real action.  Rose wants to help because she regrets not letting herself really be Willa's friend and also, she is feeling guilty from lying to her police detective Father about what she happened to see.  Rose joins forces with Lina, Sloane, and Madge to punish who they believe to be guilty - but when the truth is exposed what decision is truly the one to honor Willa's memory? 
     I feel like this one was a mixed bag for me personally as a reader.  I actually had originally thought this book sounded like a modern interpretation of An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser.  It seemed like more of a cross between that book, the Pretty Little Liars Series by Sara Shepard and with a hint of John Tucker Must Die.  The beginning gives the last moments of Willa as she is being drowned and then cuts to Rose's narration of the aftermath (for some reason Rose's voice reminded me of the unnamed second wife in Rebecca - in the best way possible) scene at the exclusive Club they all frequent.  Rose's point of view caught me the most because she was completely on the fringes, with only a slight connection to Willa.  Her Mom is a club employee and her Dad is a cop.  But her interactions with the other girls made her my favorite character by far.  Lina is a complicated, tattooed girl with no one who cares about her, except for her friends.  Madge, Willa's stepsister, is the most vengeful and zealous of all the girls when it comes to waging W.A.R. and avenging Willa's murder.  Her intensity and overall bitchiness for a major portion of the novel kept me waffling as to whether or not I liked her character.  Sloane is basically the stereotypical smart Asian girl, except she got there by faking it and cheating in school.  Willa was the only person who believed in her enough to help her try to do things the right way.
     Plot in this novel starts out intriguing and full of wonderful ambiguity, but quickly devolves into something more teen 'movie of the week-esque.'    The girls' revenge ideas for James and his demented brother Trip are juvenile at best and completely ridiculous at worst.  They have $75,000 at their disposal and the best they can come up with is hormone therapy, nude picture scandals, and stealing Cartier watches to auction on eBay.  And they naively seem to think that these things are enough 'bad behavior' for the brothers to be disinherited based on a morality clause in their Grandfather's will.  Yeah, whatever!  I could barely suspend my disbelief on that part.  Also, a lot of the girls' plotting sessions, interactions with each other and thought patterns were extremely shallow and didn't move too far past the clichéd 'killing for the money' trope.  Some of the conversations between James, Trip and their Grandfather (any combo thereof) were pretty chilling though.  It was entirely predictable, but had a very nice tone to most of the novel.  My only real confusion was over the ending.  I won't give any details, but suffice it to say that the prose was beautiful, but nonsensical in relation to the plot (at least in my opinion).  The characters were decently developed, but my favorite was a tie between Lina (who was a truly good person) and Rose, who was completely loyal to the girls who became her friends.  Sloane's emphasized stupidity really bothered me though.  It's like the authors felt it necessary to emulate all the stereotypes in one fell swoop.  Overall a decent read that keeps you guessing at the details of the ending, even if you know most of it already.  This would be a good beach read for the summer, nice and relaxing with more fluff than anticipated.
 
VERDICT:  3.5/5  Stars
 
*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via Edelweiss. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is July 2nd, 2013.*

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Bloody Valentine


Published:  April 9th, 2013
Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Sleepy Hollow
By: Dan Wickline
Zenescope Entertainment
ISBN-13:  9781937068813

A legend is about to become all-too real! When a prank goes deadly wrong, those responsible will learn the truth behind the legend as the Headless Horseman returns to exact a horrifying vengeance none will never forget! From the writer of Salem's Daughter: The Haunting comes a tale of horror and terror that will leave you on the edge of your seats. Hold on to your hats...and your head!

Review
 
     This story is yet another version of the ever infamous American folk-tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.  In this one, it was fiction but based upon true events involving the ancestor of the protagonist.  A soldier was led out to a ditch and beheaded by some traitors from his regiment.  He became the headless horseman.  The horseman's descendant is Craig, an avid history student at the local college, who is kidnapped by the basketball team who want him to give the answers to a test so one of the players can keep his scholarship.  When Craig refuses, they tie him to what they think are abandoned train tracks.  So of course he gets beheaded by an oncoming train.  The team covers up the incident, but when they begin to be picked off one-by-one, in brutal beheadings they're forced to admit that maybe The Legend of Sleepy Hollow isn't such a legend after all.  I absolutely LOVED the historical aspect of this that explained the 'true' story of Ichabod Crane and Brom von Brunt.  It was a plausible story of what the truth could be, if Sleepy Hollow was based on some factual events/people.  And the artwork for those panels was wonderful, with just the right combination of creepy and colorful.  The plot set in the present day was very clichéd and predictable.  Not necessarily in a bad way, but also not in a really good way either.  It was a very horror movie of the month story.  The main character is betrayed by people close to him and comes back for revenger a killer with powers from Hell itself.  I did enjoy it all the same, but the ending left me feeling very ambivalent in general.  I prefer to be wowed by a book, rather than to just like it in an 'okay' way.  The artwork throughout was very well done and even though there was a lot of violence and gore (almost gratuitous) but with a Headless Horseman as the killer that's no surprise.  Plus the author has written for the 30 Days of Night series.  Enough said right there.  Overall, a graphic novel/comic that had great potential and I feel that it only partially achieved what it was capable of.  A fun quick read, but don't be expecting a complicated or involved plotline.  All the same, I'd recommend it for any Sleepy Hollow fan. 

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 was published April 9th, 2013.*

Monday, April 22, 2013

Far Beyond the Blue...


Expected Publication:  May 7th, 2013
Nantucket Blue
By: Leila Howland
Disney Hyperion
ISBN-13:  9781423160519

For Cricket Thompson, a summer like this one will change everything. A summer spent on Nantucket with her best friend, Jules Clayton, and the indomitable Clayton family. A summer when she’ll make the almost unattainable Jay Logan hers. A summer to surpass all dreams.

Some of this turns out to be true. Some of it doesn’t.

When Jules and her family suffer a devastating tragedy that forces the girls apart, Jules becomes a stranger whom Cricket wonders whether she ever really knew. And instead of lying on the beach working on her caramel-colored tan, Cricket is making beds and cleaning bathrooms to support herself in paradise for the summer.

But it’s the things Cricket hadn’t counted on--most of all, falling hard for someone who should be completely off-limits--that turn her dreams into an exhilarating, bittersweet reality.

A beautiful future is within her grasp, and Cricket must find the grace to embrace it. If she does, her life could be the perfect shade of Nantucket blue.


Review
 
     Cricket Thompson is looking forward to going on vacation with her best friend Jules Clayton this summer to Nantucket, meeting boys, going to parties and just having a good time.  Not to mention, she loves Jules' whole family.  So when tragedy strikes Jules' family and she shuts Cricket out of her life, Cricket has to find her own way to Nantucket for the summer.  Working harder than she ever has in her life, Cricket is also surprised by a romance she wasn't expecting with a guy that she knows it would be best to steer clear of.  Can Cricket have the summer of a lifetime, win Jules' friendship back and hang on to what may be true love?  I never really am sure what to expect from a book published by Disney Hyperion press.  This book was a very good surprise in a generally mixed basket of eggs.  As a main character Cricket is very naïve, as pointed out by other readers.  Her tendency to act like an obsessed stalker over her crush, Jay Logan, reminds me more of an 8 year old One Direction fan, rather than an 18 year old (soon to be) high school senior!  It got on my nerves, but thankfully that was FAR from being the focus of the book past the beginning part, which mainly just serves to establish how shallow her romantic feelings were - before she meets the boy that changes it all that is.  I am not going to name names as I make it a rule to avoid spoilers and give reviews vague on plot (usually, sometimes I break my rule a little bit :) but I will say it was someone I didn't peg as the love interest.  But it totally worked and was a very sweet, first love type of romance that had me smiling throughout the book. 
     Cricket and Jules' friendship was deep and ran true, which is why I was proud of Cricket every time she told herself to forgive Jules - because she understood that Jules was dealing with the death of someone extremely important by pushing her away and placing her anger on Cricket, where it had no business being.  The friendships Cricket builds while working as a maid at the inn with Gavin and Liz were wonderful.  All of the personality and sometimes surprising depth to them (mostly Liz) was wonderful.  Also, a guest at the inn by the name of George, who is writing a memoir on local politician Boaty Carmichael, hires Cricket on as his assistant and I love how she balances him out, but respects his quirks.  George treats her like an equal and an adult, which is something Cricket had been missing in her life.  The relationship between Jules and her Mom is great, with just the right balance of friend and parent being achieved.  Cricket's Mom is a strong woman and it's a fun side plot when Cricket uses her Mom's old copy of Emily Dickinson's collected works and finds her diary from her teenage years written in the margins (to hide it from her extremely nosy Aunt)! :)  Her Mom was boy crazy and kind of an insane, but in a fun way.  Cricket tries her best to uncover the identity of her Mom's summer romance, but the truth surprises her once again.  The beach setting gives something important to this book, but it doesn't monopolize it.  Even with some beautiful description and some beach scenes that move along the plot with important action, the characters are still the main focus.  Just the way I like it!  Overall this book had some extremely strong characters, an intriguing and realistic plot and a beautiful first romance that had me smiling and feeling like crying.  Leila Howland's debut is a treat to read and I'm looking forward to reading more from her in the future! 
 
VERDICT:  4.5/5  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 books expected publication date is May 7th, 2013.*
 
 
****Hey guys, just as a sidenote, Princess Bookie was kind enough to let me keep the ARC for this one as I was last on tour.  I will be hosting a give away with a prize pack including the book and a couple other things too that I think fit the spirit of the story.  It's been awhile since my last giveaway and I feel bad about that!  I have yet to decide for sure, but I think there will be a secondary prize as well.  So within the next couple days there will be a post, so keep your eyes peeled if you're interested! :)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Working Like a Dog


Published:  December 21st, 2012
Hard Day's Knight (The Black Knight Chronicles # 1)
By: John G. Hartness
Bell Bridge Books
ISBN-13:  9781611941678

Lots of Vampires. No Sparkles. Serious Snark.
Children are missing.
The police are stumped.
Halloween is coming, and an ancient evil is on the horizon.
The vampires are the good guys.


This is not your ordinary fall weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. Vampire private detectives Jimmy Black and Greg Knightwood have been hired to save a client from being cursed for all eternity, but end up in a bigger mess than they ever imagined.

Suddenly trapped in the middle of a serial kidnapping case, Jimmy and Greg uncover a plot to bring forth an ancient evil. Soon, they've enlisted the help of a police detective, a priest, a witch, a fallen angel and a strip club proprietor to save the world. This unlikely band of heroes battles zombies, witches, neuroses and sunburn while cracking jokes and looking for the perfect bag of O-negative.

Review
 
     Jimmy Black doesn't know how he let himself get caught by some scrawny, geek teenager.  But he knows one thing - he sure as Hell isn't changing him into a vampire!  When the kid tells him about a witch cursing his entire family, Jimmy can't help but be curious enough to get involved, and drag his partner Greg into it right beside him.  Pretty soon the guys are using all their combined vampire detective skills and snark to help solve the case of a bunch of missing kids.  But things might even be too complicated and dangerous for a couple creatures of the night with a demon bent on starting the apocalypse as the Big Bad.  Maybe with the help of a confused and bitchy police detective, a fallen angel, a priest and a witch they can solve the case and stop the world from ending.  Who knows, maybe they'll get a little lovin' in the bargain too!
     I wasn't sure what to expect from two vampire private detectives, but I got more than I even subconsciously thought I would!  Jimmy and Greg are two snarky, nerdy vampires who still look exactly the same as they did before they were changed - in other words they're not sex gods like vamps are supposed to be.  Jimmy likes watching Buffy and Dexter and is the brawns of the operation.  Greg is the computer hacker/genius and is eternally unlucky in love.  I hadn't read the synopsis too closely and was surprised at the major role demons and fallen angels played in the story.  Reading this book was like watching an episode of Supernatural.  The priest (whom they call Dad) was a childhood friend and still thinks the boys are worth saving, still good guys (also Father Mike is a total bad-ass, which is awesome).  My favorite thing in this novel was the obvious strength of the relationships between Jimmy, Greg and Father Mike.  The dialogue is a bonus and kept me on my toes.  Jimmy was my favorite character, but I'm guessing that was mostly due to him being the primary narrator of the novel.  The surprise redemption of a not-so-good, but not-so-evil after all character at the end of the novel was a beautifully written scene that had me smiling.  The mystery of the missing children and the demon possessions was well executed, but the ending with Jimmy and the lady police detective felt more than a little clichéd and sort of forced to me as a reader.  All in all it was an interesting book and I will probably be reading the sequel.  I'd recommend it to fans of the T.V. shows Supernatural and Angel, along with a good shot of (and someone out there is gonna kill me for this comparison!) your favorite cozy mystery series.  It just has that slightly formulaic feel to it, but not in a bad way! :)

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 was published December 21st, 2012.*

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pantha Volume 1: The Goddess and the Dangerous Game

 
Expected Publication:  May 7th, 2013
Panthaa Volume 1: The Goddess and the Dangerous Game
By: Brandon Jerwa & Pow Rodrix (Illustrations)
Dynamite Entertainment
ISBN-13:  9781606903896
 
Leaping and roaring into the comic world from her debut in the pages of Vampirella, the mysterious crimefighter called Pantha has endured since the 1960s. This feline femme fatale has remained relatively obscure over the years, but she always returns to give horror-action fans something scary (and a little sexy) to sink their fangs into. This new story presents Pantha as the last living avatar of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet. Commanded by Ra to walk the earth for all eternity as atonement for Sekhmet's transgressions in life, Pantha seeks out evil in all its guises. With the power to transform from a beautiful woman into a feral panther, this is one super-heroine who is much more than just a pretty face. Pantha also wields the Scarab of Atum-Ra; forged from the ancient god's tears, this amulet is an object of great power that many forces would kill to possess. The Scarab can destroy cities, corrupt souls, and open doorways to other dimensions.
 
Review
 
     Pantha is part of a living representation of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet and is forced to watch life pass her by for eternity, due to all her sins in life.  She is given an ultimate weapon called the Scarab which is made of Ra's tears, can transform into a panther and Pantha is able to open portals to other dimensions.  Can she and her friends from the secret organization she's part of manage to stop the other gods from destroying the world while battling for the immortal god Chaos' throne?  As a straight, slightly conservative woman I felt slightly uncomfortable the entire time I was reading this comic.  Now with that statement out of the way... I did enjoy the storyline.  But sometimes I feel a little bit lost when I go into fantasy comics and the story/characters seem like they've already been completely established.  This was one of those times for me.  I still didn't understand who Mayra was supposed to actually be and why Pantha was so obsessed with finding her before something bad happened.  I think maybe she was one of the incarnations of Sekhmet besides Pantha. but I'm unsure.  After the focus on Chaos and the underhanded machinations of other immortals/gods (goddesses too!), the inclusion of a portal to a different dimension and the battle with the vampire-esque creatures in Vampirella's world seemed out of place and slightly jarring.  It was nice to get a glimpse at the world of Vampirella, where Pantha originated, but it seemed unnecessary to me all the same.  The artwork was very nice and struck a good balance between the extreme colorization of old-school comics and the darker, more serious tones of the modern 'graphic novel.'  Overall it was interesting to read this, but not really my type of comic.  I prefer my scantily clad female comic characters to be actual superheroes like Wonder Woman.  Although, turning into a panther is extremely bad ass too! :)
 
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 May 7th, 2013.*

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ordinary People, Issues Included


Published:  January 1st, 1976
Ordinary People
By: Judith Guest
Viking Books
ISBN-13:  9780670528318

The Jarrets are a typical American family. Calvin is a determined, successful provider and Beth an organized, efficient wife. They had two sons, Conrad and Buck, but now they have one. In this memorable, moving novel, Judith Guest takes the reader into their lives to share their misunderstandings, pain...and ultimate healing.

Review
 
     A lot of people are depressed by this book.  I am not one of them and every time I re-read it (so far about six times!) it uplifts me and reminds me that nothing is ever quite so bad as I think it may be.  This book is about the Jarret family, Mom and Dad with their two sons.  When we meet them they only have one son left, Conrad, the younger son who has recently been released from a sanitarium after attempting suicide.  The book is mostly from Conrad's point of view, with some glimpses into his Father, Calvin's head.  The entire family is dealing with the loss of Con's brother Buck, but instead of bringing them together it's tearing them apart.  His Mother, Beth, is using every excuse to escape the situation with constant vacations and denial that anything is wrong.  One scene in particular at a friend's party, where Cal is slightly drunk and discusses Con's therapy, really makes her angry.  You don't share personal business with anyone but family, and even then you NEVER talk about it - that's her life motto.  Without perfection in her life anymore, Beth has no clue who to blame.  She becomes withdrawn and harsh when Cal tries to show any interest in Conrad, who is trying to piece his life back together in a way that makes him happy.  Which isn't necessarily the way his Mom wants things. Maybe Cal isn't as happy as he always thought either.  When he begins looking past the face value of the things in his life, the situation finally combusts.
     I loved this book.  It's an honest and hard look at the consequences of real-life tragedies and how they change people forever.  The family dynamic is extremely interesting, with Cal being the slightly hovering, interested parent and Beth seeming like she wishes Conrad would just disappear.  Conrad himself is messed up and after living his whole life in a house that kept repression and perfection as rulers (*cough* *Beth* *cough*) this is really the first time he has ever dealt with his emotions in an honest way.  As he works through the guilt, sadness and anger of Buck's death, as well as his twisted relationship with his Mom, we see him grow as a person and learn to let himself be happy.  Cal's transformation from clueless, middle-aged lawyer with the perfect wife and good son also is something to see.  He really starts to take off the rose colored glasses and feel what's going on in his life.  Dr. Berger, the not-so-crazy therapist that Con (and late Cal) go to see is what makes the book in my opinion.  His obvious contentment with life and it's ups/downs is the opposite of Cal and Con but it balances them out.  The ending of this book, reconnecting with the old while moving on with the new is beautiful.  One of my favorite books that I've read since becoming an adult.  Super glad that when I was nineteen the cover and synopsis intrigued me.  Overall and extremely well written novel, a character piece that is in the style of The Virgin Suicides or White Oleander.  It is something special that only comes around every so often.  I highly encourage anyone who hasn't read it to give it a shot!  You won't regret it! :)
 
VERDICT:  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.**

Friday, April 12, 2013

Follow Me Friday #18


    
     So, Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee and AlisonCanRead. It's where you answer the weekly question and then link yourself and you go and check out other blogs of your interest, helping to support out endeavors as a community. Also, do it just because it's fun! :)

Q:  We are about to see a lot of posts & tweets about reader conventions, RT, BEA, ALA and many more are starting soon. Which one would you love to attend? Where and why?

A:  I would absolutely LOVE to attend BEA, especially for the May 31st events.  This year Veronica Roth, and Rick Riordan are going to be at the Author Breakfast.  And NEIL GAIMAN IS A SPEAKER!!!  I freaking love him you guys! :p  Also Jennifer Armentrout, Sarah Dessen, Kate DiCamillo, Simone Elkeles, Eloisa James, Alethea Kontis, Maile Meloy, R.L Stine and Mo Willems are going to be autographing!!!  Definitely making it next year, but bumming about missing out on this one.  :/   I would definitely love to go to ALA though too.  Do they let non-librarians go to that one?  LOL   What about all of you guys?  What conference/convention would you like to attend the most this year?

Only Girl In The World...


Published:  April 2nd, 2013
Prophecy Girl (Angel Academy # 1)
By: Cecily White
Entangled
ISBN-13:  9781620612941

Amelie Bennett. . . . Ending the world, one prophecy at a time.

I was born to slay Crossworld demons.

Big black flappy ones, little green squirmy ones. Unfortunately, the only thing getting slain these days is my social life. With my high school under attack, combat classes intensifying, and Academy instructors dropping right and left, I can barely get my homework done, let alone score a bondmate before prom.
Then he shows up.
Jackson Smith-Hailey. Unspeakably hot, hopelessly unattainable, and dangerous in all the right ways. Sure, he’s my trainer. And okay, maybe he hates me. Doesn’t mean I’ll ignore the wicked Guardian chemistry between us. It’s crazy! Every time I’m with him, my powers explode. Awesome, right?
Wrong.
Now my teachers think I’m the murderous Graymason destined to bring down our whole race of angelbloods. Everyone in New Orleans is hunting me. The people I trusted want me dead. Jack and I have five days to solve the murders, prevent a vampire uprising, and thwart the pesky prophecy foretelling his death by my hand. Shouldn’t be too difficult.

Getting it done without falling in love. . . that might take a miracle.


Review
 
     Amelie Bennett's biggest goal right now is to finish school, become bonded to a Watcher and begin slaying demons for real as a full-fledged Guardian.  But with her teachers dropping like flies and the paranormal community in uproar over peace tenets that are about to be signed, a normal path to the future is looking highly unlikely.  The scandal involving Amelie's Mom and the questionability of her angel bloodline's origins aren't helping her prospects either.  When Jackson Smith-Hailey is sent to replace one of her newly dead teachers, Amelie feels an instant connection with him and he seems to amplify her powers to unbelievable heights.  When the school is attacked during an assembly, Amelie is blamed and thought to be evil.  So of course her and Jack go on the run to avoid execution and must also prove who the real killer is before a prophecy that says she's going to kill Jack is fulfilled!  All while trying to make sure the peace tenets actually get signed and a war doesn't erupt between the vampire/werewolf races and the Guardians.  Can they manage to save the world and will both of them survive the effort? 
     In general, I am sick of reading the same old paranormal schtick time and time again.  So going into this one I was really hesitant, especially when I read the term 'Watcher,' which has me harking back to the days of my Buffy the Vampire Slayer obsession.  I was pleasantly surprised with the world-building and was particularly glad to not hate it based on its inability to focus on anything but the angel aspect, which I've noticed seems to be a trend in angel-based YA books a lot of times.  There was a coherent plot, and yes the different angel bloodlines and the calling to fight demons were an enormous part of the plot.  But it was more focused on characters and character development then overcomplicated plots/details that make a reader feel lost, like they're missing some important back story or something.  I loved the snarkiness of Amelie and felt like she really came across as a teenager (which she was) instead of some weird adult/teen hybrid, which comes with the territory sometimes.  It's like the authors forget that teens aren't super wise, smart, etc. all the time.  Sometimes they do dumb things, act like brats, or make you have WTF moments.  Amelia had all of those qualities, but also had a gigantic heart and wonderful sense of loyalty that made me want to hug her.  The relationship with Jackson was cute and although in most cases I don't like insta-love, I don't think this really even qualifies as it.  For the simple fact that Amelie is drawn to him (i.e. attracted to him) and he feels familiar to her in a slightly nagging way.  She doesn't even use the word love until over midway through the book, almost near the end.  The banter, arguments and fuzzy moments made me smile.
     The inclusion of the werewolf and vampire races in side-character capacities was interesting and allowed for an important part of the plot involving peace tenets to unfold smoothly and make sense. But they were by no means main characters (at least till Vampire Luc became mega important at the end of the book) and didn't become annoying, or detract from the main plot.  The twist about Amelie's surprise sibling was very movie of the week and not at all shocking.  I thought the revelation of who it actually was happened to be really odd and didn't fit too great with the direction the action took near the final battle.  It seemed to me just a convenient plot twist.  I really wanted it to be someone she'd never met, but alas I wasn't so lucky.  Which sucked because I really liked that character until the truth was revealed!  The likeability of the characters, the witty dialogue and the overall humor of the book were definitely my favorite points.  With the huge twisting cliffhanger at the end I'm intrigued to see how the author spins things in the next book.  Overall a fast paced, funny paranormal read with a lot of heart that I would recommend to fans of Obsidian by: Jennifer Armentrout, The Percy Jackson Series by: Rick Riordan, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
 
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 was published April 2nd, 2013.*

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stay On The Other Side of the Mirror


Expected Publication:  May 14th, 2013
Parallel
By: Lauren Miller
HarperTeen
ISBN-13:  9780062199799

Abby Barnes had a plan. The Plan. She'd go to Northwestern, major in journalism, and land a job at a national newspaper, all before she turned twenty-two. But one tiny choice—taking a drama class her senior year of high school—changed all that. Now, on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Abby is stuck on a Hollywood movie set, miles from where she wants to be, wishing she could rewind her life. The next morning, she's in a dorm room at Yale, with no memory of how she got there. Overnight, it's as if her past has been rewritten.

With the help of Caitlin, her science-savvy BFF, Abby discovers that this new reality is the result of a cosmic collision of parallel universes that has Abby living an alternate version of her life. And not only that: Abby's life changes every time her parallel self makes a new choice. Meanwhile, her parallel is living out Abby's senior year of high school and falling for someone Abby's never even met.

As she struggles to navigate her ever-shifting existence, forced to live out the consequences of a path she didn't choose, Abby must let go of the Plan and learn to focus on the present, without losing sight of who she is, the boy who might just be her soul mate, and the destiny that's finally within reach.


Review
 
     Abby Barnes had a pretty great life until she was thrown a curveball - she has to take either drama or astronomy her senior year because her chosen elective was cancelled.  So she takes drama, which instead of leading her to Northwestern for journalism like she's planned on forever, threw her into the lead of the school play.  Then she was discovered and cast in an action movie.  Now Abby is feeling like her life is going in a direction that she never approved of and so she wishes for a do-over.  The next morning she wakes up in a dorm room at Yale with no idea how she got there.  Someone out there must have been listening, because Abby's wish has been granted.  But after the collision that put her in this parallel world happened, Abby is year behind in her memories.  And with her parallel making new decisions daily, every time she wakes up things are different.  With the help of her friend Caitlin and each new set of memories, Abby is able to piece together some semblance of a life.  But when the decisions of her parallel (who is still trying to live by the rules) begin to get in the way of what Abby really wants, will she find a way to forge her own path and take control of her destiny?
     The premise of this book is one of my favorites - surviving when time travel/parallel universes/alternate realities throw things out of whack.  I don't necessarily even require a well-drawn scientific explanation (although that's definitely a bonus factor).  What I do require is a coherent plot, interesting and relatable characters, and a satisfying ending that makes me feel like I didn't completely waste my time as a reader.  This book started out with the first two requirements being met, but things degraded as the plot progressed.  I'm still trying to decide if it met the last requirement in any capacity whatsoever.  Abby, the displaced and disillusioned girl who finds herself in a parallel life was like an alien lifeform to me.  She treated everything that didn't fit into her life plan with complete disdain, was a jerk to almost everyone she came into contact with and don't even get me started on the Josh/Michael debate.  The little plot twist about their connection to each other had me gagging and seeing red alternately.  Her best friend Caitlin, on the other hand, is the best kind of character.  One with faults, but who doesn't let bumps in the road completely derail her.  The evolution of her character was my favorite part of the book.  Well, besides crazy Dr. Mann's lectures and odd little mannerisms/actions.  I felt like most of the side characters were very underdeveloped, with the most cardboard ones being Ilana (the stock slut character), Tyler (the 'sensitive' jock/popular guy), and Michael (the mysterious/perfect boyfriend).  It made the interactions with the secondaries very bland and kind of annoying to me.  When the book was focusing on the disparity between realities and the affect on Abby and Caitlin, it had my attention and interest.  But when it became completely centered around 'soulmates' (Bish PLEASE!) and who was in love with who, it really took a nosedive.  By the time it ended I was completely disgusted and mad that I hadn't quit reading it earlier on.  The full circle idea for the ending was a good one, but the destiny concept pissed me off so bad I couldn't see past my anger/disdain.  Such an easy out for an author!  Overall, if you like romance and EXTREMELY light sci-fi, this might be the book for you,  Especially if you believe in using people like your own personal toys, without remorse and in predestination.
 
VERDICT:  2/5  Stars
 
*received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via Edelweiss. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is May 14th, 2013.*

Leave Me Breathless


Expected Publication:  April 30th, 2013
Breathless (Elemental # 2.5)
By: Brigid Kemmerer
Kensington Teen
ISBN-13:  9780758285539

Too many secrets. Not enough time.

Nick Merrick is supposed to be the level-headed one. The peacemaker. Since it’s just him and his three hotheaded brothers against the world, that’s a survival tactic.

But now he’s got problems even his brothers can’t help him survive.

His so-called girlfriend, Quinn, is going quick as mercury from daring to crazy. Meanwhile, Quinn’s dancer friend Adam is throwing Nick off balance, forcing him to recognize a truth he’d rather shove back into the dark.

He can feel it—-the atmosphere is sizzling. Danger is on the way. But whatever happens next, Nick is starting to find out that sometimes nothing you do can keep the peace.


Review
 
     Nick Merrick is always the one who plays it cool and makes the responsible decisions.  Someone has to, especially with three brothers who are impulsive and have hot tempers.  There's a secret that Nick's been keeping from everyone though, even his twin brother Gabriel and now he has to make a choice that will change things forever - or follow his heart.  Does he stay with Quinn, the girl he should love but doesn't, or does he admit to himself (and possibly everyone else) that he's actually attracted to other guys?  Things reach a breaking point when Nick is introduced to Quinn's friend Adam and is forced to be truly honest with himself for the first time.  A lot of people are pretty obsessed with this series, and I totally get the draw.  Hot brothers with wounded spirits and a traumatic family history, fighting to survive against the odds.  Each of them has elemental powers and they are all the swoony hero type of guy.  But honestly speaking, even though I've really liked the full length novels, so far I haven't LOVED them.  My favorite story has been Michael's, which ended with a pulse-pounding cliffhanger and made me fall in love with him as a romantic lead.  So of course, then I get thrown into the world of the younger brothers and poor Michael is stressed out and RESPONSIBLE now.  Forgive me for being disillusioned!  Anyways, Nick's novella is the closest since Michael that I've come to love.  He reminds me of myself, with his strong family loyalty and dedication to doing the right thing.  Also the tendency towards denial is very familiar as well.  I can totally sympathize with his refusal to admit to himself what he really wants.  Especially when Nick is afraid that it might hurt his family.  This is his problem with what colleges to apply to and who to be attracted to. 
     On the other hand character-wise, Quinn made me feel like alternately bitch-slapping her and crying for her misfortunes.  Having a shitty family and being unable to really leave it behind is an awful situation to be sucked into.  It's not like you can choose your parents when you're born.  And I get that it's normal for someone in that situation to have extremely low self-esteem.  But that scene with the ho-hos made me cringe with it's honesty.  Also, was really afraid for her when she went off drunk on the back of some random guy's motorcycle.  Seriously, that's just asking for trouble!  After not really liking her in the other two books, and thinking she was pretty much a complete bitch, I came around to boarding the Quinn train.  As for Adam, not really quite sure what to think as of yet.  I thought that he came across as slightly pushy, but in under 70 pages there's not a lot of opportunity for deep characterization.  I did like him though and feel like he will be good for Nick.  I can honestly say that I never saw Nick's attraction to other guys coming, until it hit me on the side of the head.  Then I went D'oh! and saw stars for a few moments.  Now I'm good again.  Overall, a really good novella and I loved the peek into Nick who was somewhat of an enigma in the other books.  I must also say that the kiss between Adam and Nick was epic!  Now I'm excited to read Spirit and see what she does with Hunter! :)  Recommended for fans of the rest of this series so far.

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 April 30th, 2013.*

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I'd Rather Be Castaway With A Beach Ball


Published:  August 16th, 2012
On The Island
By: Tracy Garvis Graves
Penguin
ISBN-13:  9781405910217

When thirty-year-old English teacher Anna Emerson is offered a job tutoring T.J. Callahan at his family's summer rental in the Maldives, she accepts without hesitation; a working vacation on a tropical island trumps the library any day.

T.J. Callahan has no desire to leave town, not that anyone asked him. He's almost seventeen and if having cancer wasn't bad enough, now he has to spend his first summer in remission with his family - and a stack of overdue assignments - instead of his friends.

Anna and T.J. are en route to join T.J.'s family in the Maldives when the pilot of their seaplane suffers a fatal heart attack and crash-lands in the Indian Ocean. Adrift in shark-infested waters, their life jackets keep them afloat until they make it to the shore of an uninhabited island. Now Anna and T.J. just want to survive and they must work together to obtain water, food, fire, and shelter.

Their basic needs might be met but as the days turn to weeks, and then months, the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.'s cancer could return. As T.J. celebrates yet another birthday on the island, Anna begins to wonder if the biggest challenge of all might be living with a boy who is gradually becoming a man.


Review
 
     There seems to be something about taking people from modern time periods and dropping them onto a deserted island to fend for themselves that takes the fun right out of it.  I don't know about you guys, but I'm such a fan of Swiss Family Robinson castaway types - the ones who make the most out of the situation by finding the fun and excitement in it.  Or at least have them be like the Blue Lagoon castaways, where everyday is a new discovery about life itself while living in an island paradise, away from the taint of civilization.  What I got was a 30 year old schoolteacher, desperate for a family of her own, plus on the verge of breaking it off with her dead-end boyfriend and her sixteen year old student, who is spending his summer recovering from cancer and catching up on schoolwork - at least until they get stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere when their pilot has a heart attack.  Every day is just a struggle to stay alive, with food, water, fire and shelter being the prime concerns.  But after a few years on the island, Anna and T.J. begin to fall in love with each other and start to imagine a life with each other off the island. 
     Anna was a decent character, but even with the emotional monologues and personal issues, I never felt like I really knew what she was going through.  And her know-it-all attempts to tell T.J. what's best for him really got on my nerves.  He's old enough to have sex with her, but T.J. isn't old enough to decide he's in love with her?  Bitch, please!  Also, the only feeling I did ever get off of her was completely ambivalent and she had no personality to me as a reader: insert placeholder HERE.  Yes, this book was fairly true to life.  But honestly speaking, and this is something you will never hear me say about ANY other genre, I much prefer my castaway/island stories to be unrealistic and fun!  The slow build of romance over time after friendship, and all of the realistic survival issues made boring (at least to me) converged to make me feel like this book was really repetitive and not all that interesting.  I felt like 2/3 of the book was them eating, swimming, or missing a plane/dreaming of life off the island.  The almost PTSD actions of both of them once they were off the island only made the book even more depressing, until a last minute turnaround which made me roll my eyes and smile.  Overall, I recommend it to lovers of chick lit who like the more maudlin aspects of being castaway.  But for those who want old style adventure, or classically epic romance this is not the book for you.  At least if you're anything like me at all.
 
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.**

Monday, April 8, 2013

Evil Never Truly Wins


Published: April 2nd, 2013
Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin # 2)
By: R.L. LaFevers
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
ISBN-13:  9780547628387

Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. Naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, the convent views Sybella as one of their most dangerous weapons.

But those assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?


Review
 
     Sybella has dealt with many horrors in her short life, but being forced back into the household of the depraved Lord D'Albret is almost more than she can bear.  She joined with the other daughters of Mortain to escape from things she can't allow herself to think about.  The Mother Superior has promised her that she will be able to kill him as soon as he's marked by Death - so Sybella returns to the house of the man she always thought was her Father.  When a battle occurs and D'Albret takes a very unexpected prisoner, his life may be in Sybella's hands.  Can she help him escape and aid the Duchess of Brittany, while escaping from the evil machinations of the man who has destroyed Sybella's happiness for most of her life?  I went into this one having truly liked Grave Mercy, and being beyond excited to read about Sybella who intrigued me through minor mentions in the first novel.  I though Ismae had a rough life prior to the convent and being trained as an assassin for Mortain.  That was before I met Sybella and had my heart smashed to pieces by her traumatic life experiences!  Her Father was a complete monster and her 'relationship' with her brother Julian was such a horrifying disaster.  After managing to heal herself even a little bit, I was super pissed that the nuns had decided it was okay to make her a spy in D'Albret's household.  I loved the character development on her part and the slow reveal of her backstory, as devastating as it was.  But I have to say that as a reader, I was entirely unconvinced of any romantic feelings between her and the Duchess' soldier, the Beast of Waroch.  Their interactions had absolutely NO spark for me and seeing how he spends most of the book unconscious or recovering from some wound or another, how strong of feelings could they have really had?  Also, I felt like the plot and pacing of action in general really dragged for the first half of the book.  It seemed like nothing really happened until Sybella rescued the Beast from her Father's dungeon, and even then it was slow going.  I've seen other people complain that Grave Mercy had a slow start, but I never felt that way reading it.  With this one, I did.  The dark sense of humor, constant wavering of faith and unshakeable belief in justice really made me love Sybella.  This was a good second book in a series and managed to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, and the battle at the end of the book definitely had my heart pounding and my blood churning.  Overall a good book, especially for fans of high fantasy or medieval fiction along the lines of Tamora Pierce, Kristin Cashore, and Maria V. Snyder.  But I felt like something was missing for me personally while reading it.
 
VERDICT:  3.75/5  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. It became available for purchase on April 2nd, 2013.*

Friday, April 5, 2013

Follow Me Friday # 17

 
 
     So, Feature & Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee and AlisonCanRead. It's where you answer the weekly question and then link yourself and you go and check out other blogs of your interest, helping to support out endeavors as a community. Also, do it just because it's fun! :)


Q:  Have you ever read a book that you thought you would hate? Did you end up hating it? Did you end up loving it? Or would you never do that?

A:  I seem to be a masochist or something, because I am the type of person who HAS NO CHOICE except to finish a series once I've started it!  So as long as the first book wasn't 1/5 Stars or less, I'll read a series until it's done.  Even when I know I'll almost completely hate it and I vow not to do it.  Case in point: Breaking Dawn (Twilight Saga # 4)But I actually ended up liking that one the best in the series (even thought that's not saying much really), because the love triangle was executed thoroughly and dumped in the trash.  I could definitely do without the creepy baby/werewolf lovin' though!  What about you guys, do you ever read books that you think you'll hate?

The Game of Life Isn't Always Fair


Expected Publication:  August 1st, 2013
Canary
By: Rachele Alpine
Medallion Press
ISBN-13:  9781605425870

Staying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone.

Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.

Canary is told in a mix of prose and verse.


Review
 
     Kate is desperate to keep her family together, but since her Mom died they've drifted dangerously apart from each other.  So when her Dad gets a new job coaching basketball at privileged Beacon Prep, she is more than happy to start school there.  Especially since it means she gets to leave behind all the 'friends' who deserted her when her Mom got sick with cancer.  Her brother Brett is angry and withdraws even more, especially when Kate starts hanging out with the popular kids who make fun of him all the time.  Enjoying the all of the perks that come with having a basketball God for a boyfriend, when things start to go downhill Kate starts to have serious doubts about who her real friends are and who's even worth her time.  When Kate is assaulted and tries to speak out, she needs to decided whether or not to let herself be silenced, or to speak the truth and maybe begin healing all the poisonous hurts in her life.  Will Kate be forced to choose between herself and her Dad before all is said and done?
     This book was really powerful.  At the beginning, Kate is a typical teenager worried about the shallow things in life.  She's focused on her appearance, popularity, getting a boyfriend and surviving high school.  But as the book moves forward, we get to see her changes as she matures.  The blog posts in a combination of prose and verse were a really nice touch and added an extra element of reality to the book for me personally.  When I was a teen, I wrote poetry constantly to express myself and I know that a lot of teens still do.  A poem can be a life-changing event.  As things go from bad to worse with the basketball boys and the popular girls, readers get to see Kate taking a stand for things she believes in (especially when they all attempt to cheat off of her homework) but letting things go too (like when they make fun of her brother Brett and his girlfriend Julia).  The decision that Brett makes to go into the military and the backstory/thoughts from when their Mom was sick, and how this all affected Kate definitely makes her more relatable.  I could see how after all that personal pain she'd be so mixed up about what her values were and what she wanted.  The way she handles the assault is realistic, but still portrays her as a strong girl who is willing to stand up for herself. 
     I liked that the author managed to show the Father's road back to his daughter from the major disconnect he's been in, without vilifying him to the readers.  When all is said and done, you are sure of the fact that he's a human being, albeit one who made some VERY huge mistakes.  All of the interactions with her boyfriend (who abandons Kate in favor of the team) and the girls who were her friends, but start bullying her after the assault were pretty realistic to how entitled/spoiled teens seem to react to things they see as threats to their freedom or way of thinking.  My only complaint would be the way Kate made excuses for Josh's douchebag/borderline abusive behavior for most of the book.  But I know it happens all the time in reality which makes me sad.  The ending was definitely in keeping with the overall, never-give-up strength and attitude of the rest of the book.  All in all I enjoyed it a lot, even when it was breaking my heart into tiny pieces.  A very emotional and gripping book that I would recommend to teens who like books dealing with real issues, reluctant readers, teachers and librarians.  Or anyone wanting a great book! :)
 
VERDICT:  4.75/5  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. It will be available for purchase on August 1st, 2013.*