Tuesday, April 29, 2014

That's Amore

Expected Publication: May 6th, 2014
Wish You Were Italian (If Only...#2)
By: Kristin Rae
ISBN-13:  9781619632851

Pippa is in Italy for the summer, and despite her parents' wishes, she has no intention of just studying the local art!  She has a list of things of her own to do: from swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, to getting a makeover - and falling for an Italian boy!  As Pippa explores the dramatic ruins of Rome and Pompeii, she is swept into her own drama with two guys: an irresistible local she knows is nothing but trouble and cute American archaeology student.....Will she find her true love?


     Bloomsbury has a new imprint, with teen romances, and I saw the blurb for this one and felt more than a passing interest.  I decided to give it a shot, even though the summary hints at the much dreaded young adult "love triangle," which I am entirely sick of and overall burned out on!  This book is about a girl named Pippa, whose parents want to groom her to take on the family's art gallery when she's old enough.  Pippa has no interest in art though, and really wants to take on photography (which she loves) as a career.  When her parents ship her off to Italy for the summer to be imprisoned in a boring art program, Pippa decides to take matters into her own hands.  She fakes an email from her Mom cancelling her place at the school, and uses the large amount of money her Dad sent with her to get a hotel room in Rome.  After spending the day with another American tourist (a cute boy close to her age) named Darren, she is sure she's made the right choice.  Pippa makes a new Italian friend, Chiara, and ends up going to spend the summer with her family near Cinque Terre.  While she's there, Pippa is having the time of her life.  But who should she choose to pursue romantically: Chiara's hot cousing, Bruno, or the American boy she keeps crossing paths with, Darren?
     If you're in the mood for a book that reads like a basic teen movie plot, you'll enjoy this one!  I loved the descriptions of Italy.  I could picture everything Pippa was seeing/doing in my head and since I'm a very visual person I really enjoyed that a lot.  Also, the friendship with Chiara was adorable!  Usually when a girl goes overseas, I've noticed that a lot of authors like to write in a stereotypical mean girl, who serves as competition and only causes problems for the heroine.  Instead, Kristen Rae gives us the cute and funny international friendship of Chiara and Pippa.  It was nice to see a strong girl friendship for a change!  Probably my least favorite thing about this book was the fact that it housed a love triangle.  It was just unnecessary and I am so over it in my books.  Give me one interesting, well-written love interest, rather than two that taking away from the viability of each other in the plot.  Also, the ending was really abrupt.  As pointed out by other readers, the thing with the Grandmother was not needed and served as a cruel wake-up call, in a book that is mostly sugary and of cotton candy consistency.  It didn't fit in or flow well with the rest of the plot.  Not enough resolution and not enough character development for my liking.  Although Pippa's lack of strong relationships withing her family (save for her Grandma) did make her a tad bit more sympathetic.  Overall, I enjoyed this one but it won't be a re-read and I would really say its more of a beach read than anything else.

VERDICT:  3/5 Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is May 6th, 2014.*

Friday, April 25, 2014

She Knows Not What the Curse May Be...

Expected Publication:  May 8th, 2014
Camelot Burning (Metal & Lace #1)
By: Kathryn Rose
ISBN-13:  9780738739670

By day, Vivienne is Guinevere's lady-in-waiting.  By nigh, she's Merlin's secret apprentice, indulging in the new mechanical arts and science of alchemy.  It's a preferred distraction from Camelot's gossipy nobility, roguish knights, and Lancelot's new athletic squire, Marcus, who will follow in all knight's footsteps by taking a rather inconvenient vow of chastity.

More than anything, Vivienne longs to escape Camelot for a future that wouldn't include needlework or marriage to a boorish lord or dandy.  But when King Arthur's sorceress sister, Morgan Le Fay, threatens Camelot, Vivienne must stay to help Merlin build a steam-powered weapon to defeat the dark magic machine Morgan will set upon the castle.  Because if Camelot falls, Morgan would be that much closer to finding the elusive Holy Grail.  Time is running out and Morgan draws near, and if Vivienne doesn't have Merlin's weapon ready soon, lives would pay the price, including that of Marcus, the only one fast enough to activate it on the battlefield.


     People who read this will most likely fall into two camps - true enjoyment or the deconstructions of an angry/annoyed, Arthurian purist.  I will admit that I have things I am a purist about and would absolutely abhor to see retold, or altered in any way whatsoever; for me, Arthurian legend is NOT one of these things!  I am usually not a fan of steampunk at all, which was my initial hesitance at reading this book.  I am glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone, because I truly enjoyed it.  I definitely needed to read an Arthurian retelling that departed from the original legends in more than just minor details.  I feel like most of the stuff I've experienced based on Arthur's legends has been a rehash, just told from different points of view, in a different time period, sympathetic to a still-evil Morgan, etc.  I was getting bored with it all.  This book is a game changer, to be sure.
     The book is told from the perspective of teenaged Vivienne, who is nobility of Arthur's court and the lady in waiting to soon-to-be Queen, Guinevere.  She knows it is her destiny to be a wife and mother, lady of the court and to stay in Camelot for all her days.  However, Vivienne is working to change her destiny by being Merlin's apprentice in alchemy and the mechanical arts.  The former magic-addict/sorcerer has been dedicating his life to bringing Camelot into the mechanical age, and reshaping his talents towards inventing useful things.  But things begin to get dark again when the King's sister, the evil sorceress Morgan Le Fay, returns to Camelot seeking to destroy everything Arthur has built for himself and his people.  Their twisted relationship will be Arthur's undoing, unless he can break free of her influence.  Also, what secrets are Lancelot, Guinevere, and Lancelot's squire, Marcus, hiding?  Will their price be higher than any of them imagined?  It's up to Vivienne and Merlin to save Camelot (and its royals) from ultimate destruction at the hands of an abomination, with a mechanical invention the likes of which has never been seen.  Can they manage before its too late?  And can Vivienne fight against her own forbidden love for Marcus?
      The difference in Merlin's backstory I think was the clincher for me.  It intrigued me to the point of needing to finish this book, to see what would happen!  And also, I loved that the author didn't shy away from the nastier, darker aspects of the usually dreamily portrayed Camelot mythos.  Lots of retellings find some way to skirt around the fact that Morgan is Arthur's half-sister - and they happen to have an illegitimate child together!  Mordred was the product of incest, yo'!  Squicky, but a truth of Camelot.  The portrayal of Viv didn't give her overmuch personality, but I did enjoy her as a character.  All she wanted was something more from life than domesticity - she wanted adventure and freedom!  Plus, she has no problem getting down and dirty, not to mention putting her brother and his asshole friends (fellow knights-in-training) in their place!  The whole conflict with magic being outlawed has been mentioned in Arthurian legend, but usually Guinevere is a devout Christian and a root cause of the phenomenon.  In this, she is from a kingdom called Lyonesse that was destroyed down to every last person (except for her) and doesn't seem to be quite as religious.  Lancelot and Guinevere's affair was played off as a curse on the part of Morgan, when Arthur foolishly let her inside the city.  I did like the slight vague, iffy nature of it though.  From their interactions pre-curse, you could tell they had a history.  How much of their adultery was magic and how much was real?
     The dark magic, mutated soldiers that Morgan used were described so realistically that it was downright horrific to think about!  Also, the only thing I have to say in regards to Mordred is "Poor Mordred!"  Those are two words I NEVER thought I would put together in my entire life.  But dear God, his mother sure does a number on him in this version.  That is all I will say for fear of spoilers, needless to say it isn't pretty.  The book leaves off with Merlin becoming something completely different than they ever imagined and going away to reclaim himself, Camelot basically being demolished, everyone dying that originally died (trying to avoid spoilers) Guin going to a convent, and Lancelot taking over what's left (i.e. not a whole helluva lot).  It's up to Vivienne to use what Merlin taught her as his apprentice to help the Knights on their continued quest for the Holy Grail, which is about the only thing that could ever restore Camelot.  Overall, this book has a great twist on a familiar mythology, some kick-ass action scenes and battles, a sweet romance, interesting steampunk elements that add to it without dominating everything, and a great direction for a sequel.  I'd highly recommend it, if you don't mind your Camelot doused in mechanical parts and grease.  It's definitely not for everyone!

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*I received this book from Flux, on NetGalley.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication is May 8th, 2014.*

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

That Awkward Summer

Published: April 22nd, 2014
The Battle of Darcy Lane
By: Tara Altebrando
Running Press Kids
ISBN-13:  9780762449484

It is summertime, and twelve-year-old Julia Richards cannot stand the anticipation.  Everyone on Darcy Lane seems to be holding their breath waiting for the cicadas to emerge, but what Julia and her best friend, Taylor, want is some real excitement.  Which arrives in the form of a new neighbor named Alyssa, who introduces a ball game named Russia...and an unwelcome level of BFF rivalry.

Suddenly nothing stands unchallenged - not Julia's friendships, her crush, or her independence.  But while Julia realizes that she cannot control all the changes in her life, she hangs onto the hope that everything will go in her favor if she can just win one magnificent showdown.


     I have really enjoyed reading Tara Altebrando's past young adult books, and was unsure how I would feel about her new middle grade effort.  But I was really excited to be contacted by the publisher about reviewing it, and decided to give it a shot.  This book definitely took me back to being twelve years old, when you're in between a teenager and kid, and the hardest thing to know is exactly where you fit in.  Julia has an especially hard time of things, when her best friend Taylor starts to drift away after the new girl Alyssa moves into the neighborhood.  Alyssa is everything that Julia isn't - pretty, confident, sophisticated.  Another thing she happens to be is mean, and she is slowly stealing away Julia's best friend.   But is it worth it to try and keep friends who treat you like dirt?  What exactly makes a friend?  And how far should you go to prove yourself to other people?
     I definitely sympathized with Julia, having spent a good chunk of my childhood being in a sometimes mean-girl level of friendship, stuck between two other girls.  The difference though, was that in my experience it was a school friendship, with some outer level contact.  It wasn't being stuck in the same neighborhood 24/7, with no escape from the backstabbing, silent treatment and just plain cruel tactics of the other girls.  I get the awkwardness of feeling left out, like you're not as good as someone else and questioning whether it's somehow your fault or not.  Julia was definitely a realistic main character.  And the moments she has with Alyssa AND Taylor, that tell the reader that they aren't downright evil, just confused and complex young girls, are wonderful too.  Nobody is really villainous, just human and flawed.  
     Nothing really big, or epic in the grand scheme of things happens plot-wise.  It's mainly like Altebrando states in the author notes, a quiet book.  The kind of book you used to read as a kid all the time, like something Judy Blume would write.  It's about the everyday realities of growing up, and the realizations we all have to face while doing it.  Probably the biggest theme of this book is realizing who your real friends are.  There is a truly sweet side-friendship with Peter, the boy next door, who Julia sneak a forbidden TV show with and has an innocent crush on.  There are a couple tense moments and misunderstandings, and I love when Peter confronts Julia, telling her he thought they had a couple years before she let the boy-crazy, mean-girl drama suck her in.  Julia also has some potential best friends, some who she loves (cool Laney from band camp) and Wendy (her elementary school friend she's passive-aggressively under appreciating and trying to dump).  
     The adults in this book, or at least Julia's parents, are truly the best portrayl I've seen in just about forever in a book so close to YA classification!  They aren't absent, but aren't overbearing.  You can tell they love Julia, and they're trying to do their best.  The book also shows Julia realizing that she needs to remember that her Mom has feelings, dreams, and problems  too - something you don't start to realize or appreciate until you're passing out of childhood.  I did feel like the moment near the end when they get over-invested in Julia's Russia showdown with Alyssa was kind of out of place.  But at the same time it made sense, with her Mom's efforts above and beyond to understand Julia.  The whole ball game, Russia, of which I had never heard was interesting and the idea of a showdown brought back memories.  Overall, I truly enjoyed this book.  Its the kind of book there need to be more of in today's market - a book that is a realistic experience of the transition from childhood to the teenaged years.  I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a book that doesn't feel the need to be hip to be good.  Anyone who longs for simpler days, this is for you!

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*I received a print ARC of this book from a representative at Running Kids Press.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book was published on  April 22nd, 2014.*

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Do Androids Dream?

Expected Publication:  May 13th, 2014
Mila 2.0: Renegade (Mila 2.0 #2)
By: Debra Driza
Katherine Tegen
ISBN-13:  9780062090393

There is no one left for Mila to trust. Except for a boy she barely knows.

But Hunter has no idea who—and what—Mila really is. She can’t bear to reveal her secret, even though he’s unwittingly joined her search for Richard Grady, a man who may know more details of Mila’s complicated past.

Yet the road to the truth is more dangerous than ever. With General Holland and the Vita Obscura scouring the earth for her whereabouts, Mila must rely on her newfound android abilities to protect herself and Hunter from imminent harm. Still, embracing her identity as a machine leads her to question the state of her humanity—as well as Hunter’s real motives.


     I have a serious problem as a reader: once I start reading a series, nine times out of ten I can't bring myself to stop.  It doesn't matter if the book isn't my cup of tea, I sincerely disliked it, etc.  I'm back in the game for the second round (and the third too, if its a trilogy)!   Turns out I have a thing about androids; I don't like them, I find it extremely difficult to empathize with them as the main characters and it just dampens my reading experience when they are a focus.  These are reasons as to why, even though I read the first Mila 2.0 book, I should NOT have read the second one in the series.  Take my advice kids, and don't waste your time reading about things that you have zero interest in.  It will make your lives SO much easier!
     That said, this wasn't necessarily a bad book.  It just turned out to be a really mediocre read for me personally.  Mainly, I did really enjoy the plot in this book.  As other readers have stated, its not the normal "Second Book Syndrome" book, with too much or too little action, plenty of info-dumping, and overall uneven shittiness.  In this book you have a concise plot, with Mila and Hunter on the run from General Holland and Vita Obscura and Mila trying to decide whether or not to tell Hunter her secret about her not fully human status.   The romance between the two was sweet and I did enjoy the dynamic of their scenes together.  Probably my biggest issue was the amount of focus on Mila's battle to come to terms with her android status.  As I said before, I just have zero sympathy for androids.  They are mainly machines, with human intelligence.  That doesn't mean that they're capable of emotions and I always think of their robotic natures, and never really connect.  I think that a lot of people who loved the first book will enjoy reading this one as well.  It was a very well-written and equalized seqeul.  It just wasn't my thing, AT ALL, and I from now on one promise to myself:  no more android books, EVER!

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication date is May 13th, 2014.*

Thursday, April 17, 2014

We Could Have a Swingin' Time

Published:  January 7th, 2014
Being Sloane Jacobs
By: Lauren Morrill
ISBN-13:  9780385741798

Meet Sloane Emily Jacobs: a seriously stressed-out figure-skater from Washington, D.C., who choked during junior nationals and isn't sure she's ready for a comeback.  What she does know is that she'd give anything to escape the mass of misery that is her life.

Now meet Sloane Devon Jacobs, a spunky ice hockey player from Philly who's been suspended from her team for too many aggressive hip checks.  Her punishment?  Hockey camp, now, when she's playing the worst she's ever played.  If she messes up?  Her life will be over.

When the two Sloanes meet by chance in Montreal and decide to trade places for the summer, each girl thinks she's the lucky one: no strangers to judge or laugh at Sloane Emily, no scouts expecting Sloane Devon to be a hero.  But it didn't occur to Sloane E. that while avoiding sequins and axels she might meet a hockey hottie -- and Sloane D. never expected to run into a familiar (and very good-looking) face from home.  It's not long before the Sloanes discover that convincing someone you're someone else might be more difficult than being yourself.


     First of all, I love books that deal with either figure skating or horseback riding!  I think it has to do with the fact that growing up (and still, even now) my family was truly poor and as one of three kids, there was never any possibility of lessons for me.  And those were the two things I wanted to learn the most - how to skate like Tara Lipinski and how to ride horses like a pro.  I definitely didn't pick up this book expecting any really serious subject matter, just to be entertained.  That is just what happened, but I guess my depth of plausible deniability wasn't enough to deal with this book.  Which surprises me, because in theory it was a lot like Parent Trap and the Disney Channel film, Model Behavior, from back in the days of my childhood.  I liked it, but I had so problems with the execution of the plot in this book.
     The whole thing hinges on the fact that two girls from different states, who look almost completely identical, and happen to have the same first and last names meet each other - and they switch places.  Sloane Emily is a priveleged figure skater and Sloane Devon is a rough-and-tumble, ice hockey player.  Both girls are looking for an escape from their respective sports, each for different reasons, and are trying to outrun problems in their personal, family lives.  Sloane E.'s politician father has been having an affair, and Sloane D.'s mother is not present for certain reasons as well.  I feel like so much more could have been done with this storyline than what actually happened.  At the beginning of the book, the focus is on the problems both girls face in their personal lives, and how much they want to escape from them.  And then the rest of the book centers around their romances, new friendships, the conflicts at their camps, and the time they take "learning" (its in quotes because they pick things up awfully fast) each other's sports.  We get a few brief scenes near the end of the book that wrap things up with what is basically a neat, unbelievable little bow.  Happy ending gift wrapped, and delivered for our consumption.  I personally found it very unsatisfying, and felt like the whole experience did nothing to grow or enrich either of the main characters in this book.
     As for the romances, I liked Sloane D.'s moments with her love interest, who is someone she already knows who is going through his own personal problems.  I could definitely see their romance as something realistic, as they were a lot alike and he brought out a mature streak in her that didn't seem present most of the time.  Sloane E.'s relationship with the stereotypical player, hockey jock-boy was boring, superficial and he came across as a cocky asshole to me.  Not to mention, there is a whole misunderstanding when he sees Sloane D. doing something and assumes its Sloane E.  I admit the situation is unfathomable, so I can see why there'd be no doubt it was her.  But at the same time, it burns me that he doesn't even let her explain at all.  He just cuts her down and breaks it off, acting like a complete douchebag.  Then at then end I'm supposed to be happy they're together again.  Whatever, not my cup of tea.  Overall, hard to suspend my disbelief that two completely unrelated girls looked exactly alike, had the same name (except the middle) and not one person close to them realized they switched places!  Just a little too fluffy, and full of plot holes to really work for me.  A cute book, good sports aspects, but not for me.

VERDICT:  2.5/5 Stars

*I received this book from Delacorte, on NetGalley.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book was published on January 7th, 2014.*

Beauty So Sharp It Hurts

Published:  January 28th, 2014
Cruel Beauty (Cruel Beauty Universe)
By: Rosamund Hodge
Balzar + Bray
ISBN-13:  9780062224736

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom - all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father.  And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate.  Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex.  Her plan?  Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected.  The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle - a shifting maze of magical rooms - enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him.  Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him?  With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.


     Nyx has spent her entire life feeling like an outsider in her family.  Since birth, she's been promised to marry the Gentle Lord, a demon who took over the kingdom of Arcadia nine-hundred years ago, in exchange for him making it so her parents could conceive her and her twin sister.  Nyx loves her sister, but resents her, their aunt and their father for not trying to save her from the deal.  Instead, Nyx is trained to kill Ignifex and free them all from a life of being sealed off from the rest of the world.  On her seventeenth birthday they marry, and Nyx goes to live in Ignifex's castle.  Nothing is as easy as it seemed though, and Nyx finds herself sympathizing with her husband and wanting to understand him better.  In a castle that is little better than a winding maze, surrounded by servants with their own agendas (especially the mysterious Shade, who is a victim of Ignifex), with demons in closed off rooms, and Gods overseeing the whole mess as it unfolds, Nyx is soon confusingly happier than she has ever been.  Can she bring herself to kill Ignifex and free her people?  Or will she choose her own happy ending instead?  And what if there is a way to subvert the entire problem?
     Wow!  This book was definitely what I look for in a fairy tale retelling.  My favorite things in such a book are superior world building, relatable and developed characters, and a detailed plot.  This book has all of those things going for it!  After all, why read the same story, retold the same way each time?  There has to be something special to set it apart, especially something as overdone as Beauty and the Beast.  This ended up having elements of Greek Mythology, in the form of demons from Tartarus, the Gods playing with mortals, the enchanted castle of Beauty and the Beast, the many murdered wives of Bluebeard, and even some of the real world tradition of more ancient times.  It was definitely an interesting mix and I enjoyed seeing it all woven together, especially the thing with the hearts of the elements in the castle.  Also, the idea of destroying the castle and the Gentle Lord, along with the way it plays into the overall fate of Arcadia was masterful!  It definitely took a turn that I was NOT expecting at all near the end of the book!
     The characters definitely drew me in to the story, made me care about them, and get pissed off at them respectively.  I loved Nyx and totally sympathized with her.  She always felt like an outsider in her family, like none of them really wanted her.  And who could blame her, as she is basically raised to be expendable?  And she believes she was chosen to die because her sister looks more like their dead Mother.  Talk about hurting on the inside!  I also loved the fact that Ignifex strikes bargains with people.  The fact that he thinks that everyone who sees him deserves what they get tells you just how bitter, and removed from humanity he initially is at the start of the story.  It's a prime example of "be careful what you wish for."  The loopholes in people's wishes are used to twist their wishes around, and destroy them.  Nyx is horrified by this, but Ignifex is unapologetic.  The dialogue between the two is full of tension and underlying chemistry, and the snark is absolutely wonderful!  I definitely had some laugh out loud moments while reading this.  It's a little slow going at first, but once the action starts, the story moves really fast.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one and I highly recommend it to fans of fairy tales, original or retold.  Probably my biggest confusion was with the magic-ish Hermetic Arts, which Nyx was supposed to use to kill Ignifex.  I won't say anymore, because I don't want to spoil the plot twists that happen near the end.  But fans of happy endings don't despair.  Rosamund Hodge gives you a decisively happy ending to this story! :D

VERDICT:  4.5/5 Stars

*I received this book from Balzar + Bray, on Edelweiss.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book was published on January 28th, 2014.*

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked

Published: April 1st, 2014
Dorothy Must Die (Dorothy Must Die #1)
By: Danielle Paige
ISBN-13:  9780062280671

I didn't ask for any of this.  I didn't ask to be some kind of hero.  But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado --taking you with it-- you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I've read the books.  I've seen the movies.  I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds.  But I never expected Oz to look like this.  To be a place where good witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion.  There's still the yellow brick road, though -- but even that's crumbling.

What happened?  Dorothy.  They say she found a way to come back to Oz.  They say she seized power and the power went to her head.  And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm -- and I'm the other girl from Kansas.
I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.
I've been trained to fight.
And I have a mission:
Remove the Tin Woodman's heart.
Steal the Scarecrow's brain.
Take the Lion's courage.
Then and only then -- Dorothy must die!


     I have certain "comfort" movies/books that I turn to time and time again, to recharge my batteries.  The movie version of Wizard of Oz is one of them.  I have probably seen it a couple hundred times and could recite/sing it word for word - this doesn't make it sacred property though!  I have such a yen for retellings/reimaginings, that I will give almost anything a whirl at least once.  So I looked at this as the book version of what the video game, American McGee's "Alice", was to Alice in Wonderland;  utterly twisted, bizzare, a feast for the eyes and a topsy-turvy sort of universe.  I had my expectations beyond met in one of the ways that mattered most to me as a reader - world building.  I loved the fact that Danielle Paige managed to blend the worlds of the book series and the famous film almost seamlessly.  In the novella before this, Paige ties together the threads of the book's silver shoes and the film's red ones, and it continues into this one.  There are wheelers, princesses born out of lily pads, evil witches, good witches, munchkins, and spies.  We get mentions of the Tin Woodsman's secret police, and I'm pretty sure that Tik Tok is part of it - which broke my heart.  Jellia Jamb makes an appearance in the palace.  Mombi, one of the "evil" witches  from the books was in this as well, as the head of the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.  It's a legion of the witches left in Oz, who are dedicated to killing Dorothy and overthrowing her reign of terror.  
     The whole book is built around the idea that Dorothy found her way back to Oz, supplanted Princess Ozma and took control of Oz, running it into the ground with her insane thirst for magic and power.  The Lion is a ravening beast, the Tin Woodsman is in love with Dorothy and willing to do anything for her in the name of it, and the Scarecrow spends his time creating horrific inventions and "improvements", like crows with human ears and permasmile.  This book is bloody, has a scene with the gruesome death of an animal (by order of Dorothy for sadistic reasons), constantly kills off characters and mutilates them.  Of course I am in love with this book.  It's not the normal formula, and no one is safe from harm!  Enter Kansas girl Amy Gumm who has been brought to Oz by a force no one is sure of, who might be able to bring down Dorothy.  But first she'll have to train with the Order, and navigate the landmine made of their secrets that could destroy everything and everyone in Oz.  There are spies, a mysterious boy, encounters with Ozma (no longer right in the head), mysteries involving the Wizard, battles, and jailbreaks of imprisoned flying monkeys.
     Amy Gumm is from a trailer park, where she lives with her Mother who is a bitter alcoholic who ignores her, and her Mom's pet rat Star.  She is bullied at school by mean girl Madison (who happens to be pregnant with the school crush's baby), has no friends and is called "Salvation Amy."  Being carried off by the tornado doesn't really seem out of place in her shitty life and she is only stunned when she finds out Oz is real.  Not to mention, Amy has no idea who to trust, or what to think about all the devastating changes to the place.  Not to mention the Order, who want to use her to slay Dorothy with her hidden witch powers.  But first they will have to teach Amy to use them and in the meantime, she has to fight an attraction to the mysterious Nox (a young wizard who won't let himself love) who's enlisted to help teach her (among surprising others).  I won't say any more than that, other than Amy is kind of a Mary Sue at the beginning of the book.  I felt like the characters weren't as deep as they could have been in this book by far, but with all of the world-building I can overlook it.  I just need more meat in the next one.  And yes, it moves sort of slowly, with a few action scenes and a big burst of it at the end.  But I was honestly elated that Paige took her time to build the world, along with several continuing plot threads, instead of rushing through on the pretext of action as so many books do.  It's the first in a series, so there's time for action in the next two!  Overall, I greatly enjoyed it and it ended with a couple huge plot twists and a major cliffhanger!  Looking forward to the next one big time.

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book was published April 1st, 2014.*

Friday, April 11, 2014

It's the End, My Friends

Expected Publication:  May 6th, 2014
After the End (After the End #1)
By: Amy Plum
ISBN-13:  9780062225627

She's searching for answers to her past.  They're hunting her to save their future.

World War III has left the world ravaged by nuclear radiation.  A lucky few escaped to the Alaskan wilderness.  They've survived for the last thirty years by living off the land, being one with nature, and hiding from whoever else might still be out there.

At least, this is what Juneau has been told her entire life.

When Juneau returns from a hunting trip to discover that everyone in her clan has vanished, she sets off to find them.  Leaving the boundaries of their land for the very first time, she learns something horrifying: there never was a war.  Cities were never destroyed.  The world is intact.  Everything was a lie.

Now Juneau is adrift in a modern-day world she never knew existed.  But while she's trying to find a way to rescue her friends and family, someone else is looking for her.  Someone who knows the extraordinary truth about the secrets of her past.


     I tried reading Amy Plum's other series, but hated it.  So I was understandably wary about reading this one, even if the idea of it appealed to my likes.  I bit the bullet and signed up for a book tour, figuring that I had nothing to lose.  And let me tell you, I'm really glad that I did!  As you can find out from the synopsis above, this starts out like a post-apocalyptic book but its really a fake-out.  Juneau has been raised her entire life in the wild part of Alaska, just far enough away from civilization that her city's elders got away with a truly big-scale scam.  Juneau and all the children of her "clan" have been raised to believe that WWIII happened thirty years ago, and the only people left outside their village are opportunistic drifters, who'd just as soon kill you as to look at you.  Oh, and they all also have the same genetic mutation (a starburst in their eye) and have been trained to be in touch with the "Yara," otherwise known as the lifeforce of the Earth/Universe and all its components.  The way its written is a lot like magic, but something slightly more on the mystic side of the coin than usual.  It's up to Juneau to rescue her kidnapped family and the others of her clan, but once she gets into the world it gets complicated.  Because she needs the help of Miles, a strange teenage boy, who is the son of someone who is hunting her down.  And he has his own selfish reasons for helping Juneau.  Can they work together or will their agendas collide to form a disaster of epic proportions?
     I liked how the main focus of this book is the adventure and the quest.  It goes from happy, post-apocalyptic village life, to the harshness of an unfamiliar modern world.  Also, this book is a dual-point of view between Juneau and Miles, who couldn't possibly be more different.  And the narrative voice reflects their differences very well, which is something that always impresses me.  Dual-narratives are a bitch, and lots of the time both characters end up sounding exactly the same and turning off/pissing off the reader.  Or at least me, when I am that reader.  Juneau is strong heroine, able to take care of herself by living off of the land and she may not know anything about the modern world, but she calculates her next move with some serious intelligence that I admire.  Confused at times, but always sure of her moral compass, Juneau is a character I admire.  Miles is thoroughly a modern teenage boy, and is spoiled and bratty to boot.  He clashes with Juneau immediately and I love how realistically skeptical his reactions to her life story, explanations about the Yara, etc. happen to be!  No blind acceptance on his part, and above all Miles is always looking out for himself and his own ends.  No insta-love to be found either!  There is grudging respect and the two of them do have some feelings building by the end of the book.  But no declarations of undying love are made. 
     I knew there was going to be a fakeout, in terms of the false apocalypse.  But I wasn't expecting it to be because of a pharmaceutical experiment that everyone wants the patent to!  I thought they were just brainwashing cultists who got taken away by the government, and arrested or something.  Instead, the Yara is something that is real, in the sense that the genetic mutation of the children and their exposure to the drug gives them their abilities.  Also, the clan's lack of aging plays a part in the way the plot progresses.  Yes, I do agree with other readers that there isn't a large amount of resolution when it comes to the missing clan by the end of the book.  We do learn more about mysterious/possibly villainous, cult leader Whit (once upon a time, Juneau's mentor).  I also happened to love the detour taken by Juneau at mountain-woman, hermit Tallie's hidden house.  She is definitely a great secondary character in a book that really only has three characters with a lot of focus (Juneau, Miles and Whit).  But the ending is also a gigantic cliffhanger, with life and death hanging in the balance!  I will definitely be reading the next book to find out what happens next and I really hope it doesn't suffer second book-syndrome!  I highly recommend this if you're looking for something different, fresh and fun to read.  It also is a pretty quick read as well, the 350-something pages flying by.

VERDICT:  4/5 Stars

*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication is May 6th, 2014.*

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

First Impression: A Shadow Maven Paranormal Blog Tour - Review and Giveaway!!!

Release date: March 31st 2014
Publisher: Altwit Press
Purchase: Amazon


Chira Kelly thought she didn’t need anyone…until she met Ben. 

Because of one ugly rumor, Chira lives as an outcast at her school. Which is fine with her, because she works better alone. Always has, always will. And at least she has her one and only true friend, Tasha. 

When Tasha insists that they join a group to visit a possibly haunted abandoned old schoolhouse, she's wary, but joins her friend. Because of that decision, their lives are in jeopardy as a malevolent spirit targets the group. Tragedies and accidents pick them off one by one, and Chira finds herself drawn to the one person who can see the truth. But can he protect her?


In simple language, Pauline Creeden creates worlds that are both familiar and strange, often pulling the veil between dimensions. She becomes the main character in each of her stories, and because she has ADD, she will get bored if she pretends to be one person for too long. Pauline is a horse trainer from Virginia, but writing is her therapy. 


      The quick and dirty: this book is the story of Chira Kelly, a teenaged outcast with only one friend, a girl named Tasha.  The two girls look out for each other and take on the world together.  But things start to shake up when the new kid, Ben, starts to become a permanent fixture in Chira's life.  Especially after the incident at the haunted old schoolhouse, where Tasha ends up in a coma after being hit by a car and ther other classmates involved are being picked off one by one.  Can Ben and his cousin Matt find a way to keep Chira safe, or is she the next to be "taken care of"?  And is it something supernatural like they think, or something all too human that is getting rid of the kids?
     This is a pretty short novel, clocking in shy of 200 pages.  It reminded me a lot of those paperback thriller books I used to read as a teen, like the Fear Street books and the Vampire Diaries series.  I really enjoyed the characters in this book, with Chira being a strong heroine who refuses to just let a guy take over her life.  I loved the strong friendship between her and Tasha, which included a love between her and Tasha's family (her parents and little brother) that was very much real.  It's very present in the book when Tasha is hit by a car and put into a coma.  Chira is practically a family member, with the way she's treated.  Which is good for her, because she has a mean, verbally abusive stepfather at home and a mother who loves her, but is always working.  I agree with other readers that this one takes quite some time for anything to happen, but I was enjoying myself anyways, just reading about the characters!  
     Probably my main complaint would be how rushed the mystery aspect seemed.  I felt like the disappearances/murders in the neighboring county were thrown in at the last minute, to give some very unsubtle foreshadowing as to how it would all resolve.  It was like the author couldn't quite choose between a completely supernatural mystery and a mundane one.  It felt slightly confused to me.  The dynamic of Chira, Ben (the guy she's crushing on) and Matt (his cousin) builds into a strong friendship by the end of the book.  Their scenes during lunch period on the roof cracked me up!  Overall, I enjoyed it and I'd be interested in reading more by this author.  It was a quick, fun read! :D

VERDICT:  3.5/5 Stars

*I received an ARC from the author and tour host for the purpose of this blog tour. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book was published March 31st, 2014.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, April 4, 2014

Road to Somewhere Blog Tour - Book Spotlight and Giveaway!!!


Release date: March 11th 2014


New! From Bloomsbury Spark, a sunny heartwarming story of discovery and sisterhood. 

A road trip. A singing competition. And super-hot cowboys. 

What could be better? 

For Charlie, a post-high school road trip isn't just a vacation, it's life changing. While her parents think she's helping a friend move, a chance at fame is the real reason to grab her best friends and drive to L.A. But when her super annoying, uber-responsible, younger sister, Lucy, has to tag along, it isn't quite the summer of fun she imagined. 

Add in a detour to her grandparents' ranch in Texas, and between mucking the stalls, down-home cookin’, and drool worthy ranch hands, this could just turn into the best, and most complicated, summer of their lives.


Kelley Lynn was born and raised a Midwestern girl. She’s not afraid to sweat and fills her free time with softball, soccer and volleyball. (Though you probably don’t want her on your volleyball team.) She occasionally makes guest appearances as a female vocalist for area bands. Music plays a large role in her writing process as well as the characters and plot lines within her stories.

Jenny S. Morris is a YA author who loves all things geek, may have a Kdrama addiction, and prefers the rainy NW to any place she's ever lived. Road to Somewhere is her debut novel.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Expecting Something More

Expected Publication: July 1st, 2014
By: Ann Lewis Hamilton
Sourcebooks Landmark
ISBN-13:  9781402295058

A mom, a dad, a baby...and another dad.

Laurie and Alan are expecting, again.  After two miscarriage, Laurie was afraid they'd never be able to have a child.  Now she's cautiously optimistic -- the fertility treatment worked, and things seem to be different this time around.  But she doesn't know yet how different.

Jack can't seem to catch a break -- his parents are on his case about graduating from college, he's somehow dating two girls at once, and he has to find a way to pay back the money he borrowed from his fraternity's party fund.  The only jobs he is qualified for barely pay enough to keep him in beer money, but an ad for the local sperm back gives Jack an idea.

Laurie and Alan's joy is shattered when their doctor reveals that Laurie was accidentally impregnated by sperm from a donor rather than her husband.  Who is Donor 296?  And how will their family change now that Donor 296 is inarguably part of it?


     So, this is definitely NOT my normal kind of read.  I tend to avoid what is termed "chick-lit" just because I never seem to jive with the overall messages, or endings that the characters receive.  And lots of times, the characters turn out to be 20, 30, or 40-something pretentious, upper-middle class assholes.  This is basically a book that alternates between an aimless and slightly douchey college student, Jack, and a suburban married couple named Laurie and Alan.  The couple are going through a problem with infertility and have already suffered two miscarriages.  The college student sold some sperm to make extra money.  Due to a disgruntled employee at the clinic, the college student is now the biological father of the married couple's baby!  After that, Laurie and Alan's marriage starts to break apart and all Hell unleashes.  By the end of the book, they still haven't told their families, the grip they have on their marriage is tenuous at best and Jack is firmly established as a factor in everything.
     At its root, this is a book about difficult decsions.  I can understand things from all three sides of this triangle.  Laurie and Alan BOTH went through those miscarriages together, and lost their children.  And now that Laurie is pregnant, they're both excited.  Enter the shocking news and Alan feels like he's lost another child.  Laurie feels disconnected from her husband, because the baby is still biologically hers.  She can't stand the thought of abortion, because in the end its still her baby.  Then there's Jack, who is brought in by Laurie's curiosity, when he thought he'd have 18 years before having to deal with this (if ever).  Alan is already struggling with not being biologically related to the baby, wondering if it will look like him, how it will affect their relationship, etc.  Then he is told by Laurie she wants to meet the donor.  He is upset, angry and hurt.  But none of these people act like adult human beings, which is what made this book the most difficult for me.  
     My biggest gripe was that instead of telling Laurie how he felt, or in any way trying to deal with the situation, Alan falls headlong into an online relationship with an old girlfriend.  He almost turns it into a real-life cheating situation.  Then there's Laurie, who feels the need to know where her baby comes from and who the other half of its DNA belongs to.  Understandable, but she seems unable to draw the line between "Father" and biological parent.  She keeps bringing Jack further and further into their lives, until he's practically a third party in their marriage.  It's really a hurtful thing.  But it doesn't excuse Alan's blind jealousy of a kid (almost young enough to be his son), who technically has NO legal rights to the baby.  That is something Laurie seems to forget, that Jack willingly signed away his sperm and that her and Alan are the ones in emotional pain.  Also, why the FUCK would you not sue the pants off of that place???!!!  Not a quite normal reaction.  The other issue was why did they not even tell any of their parents or friends what had happened?  Especially once they realized the sperm came from someone of a different nationality?  Did they really think they could say nothing and that no one would notice when the baby looked nothing like Alan, and possibly of a different ethnicity?  The situation with Jack's parents and sister was a bit much as well.  NO RIGHTS, PEOPLE.  NONE.  And yet here is Laurie, edging out her own husband in favor of the sperm donor.  Not that Alan wasn't a complete jackass, but still.  I honestly couldn't stand any of these people.  Understand them yes, think they were smart enough to live, NO.  Not recommended to read, unless you want to see red with complete rage.

VERDICT:  1.5/5 Stars

*I received this book from Sourcebooks Landmark, on NetGalley.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication is July 1st, 2014.*