Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Offering by Kimberly Derting

4.5 stars
A great end to a great series.  I love Kimberly Derting's writing, and her world building is phenomenal.  I really did want more of Sage, and I am hoping Ms. Derting will read this and consider writing a book about her or about Angelina - either one will do - both if I am lucky!  The struggle that Charlie goes through in each of the books to become who she is meant to be is something that I think we all have been familiar with at one point. I am bi-polar, and I especially identified with having a Sabara inside who is not the person you want to be.

Charlie's growth is palpable from book to book.  Her compassion for her country people grows, but she is in a place to make changes for those people.  This book did a great job of depicting war, and the impact that it has on civilians.  By showing those left behind, and the innocent people harmed, Charlie's struggles seem all the more important to the welfare of her nation. 

Max is my only quibble in the series.  I just wasn't drawn to him.  The other characters were endearing - Zander, Angelina, Eden, Brook, even Zafir.  For some reason I just couldn't make myself like him.

I will definitely pick up anything that Derting writes.  I have not read the Body Finder series so I am anxious to read those. 

There was one scene that had cursing.  A good amount of violence and Charlie and Max share a bed, but no graphic sex scene.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Black Spring by Alison Croggon

4.5 stars
In order to appreciate the beauty of this story, one has to appreciate Wuthering Heights. Alison Croggon does a brilliant job of using language that is eerily evocative of the original. But this is not just a retelling with different names, the land that she creates is amazing and magical. This is truly one of the best books of 2013. This book was sheer genius, but it takes a true appreciation of a novel that is not plot driven. It had its moments of intensity, but the strength of the novel lies with the character and the exploration of relationships.

My only quibble....
The beauty of WH lies in the message of redemption as seen in the true love that grows at the end of the novel. This book has no such message rather focusing on the twisted love of Lina and Damek and their suffering.

There was no language.  There was a reference to a rape scene, but not the actual scene itself. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

I'm a sucker for a good mermaid story, but this has killer mermaids so I knew that I had to read this one. It was a great story and even though I hated Victorian Poetry when I took it for a class, it really worked here in the story. The idea of these mermaids (and merman) and their history were engaging. And I loved that Lily is a smart girl and was able to show off her figure it out smarts.

The whole notion of promises really stuck with me. These mermaids are ruthless killers, but it is against their honor to break a promise. Anne Greenwood Brown did a great job of getting me to believe her world. The fact that all these mermaids had consistent in their lives is a promise really screwed with each of their minds. The promise became so super important, that they forgot about their own happiness. I have an aunt who made a promise to my grandmother before she died that she would never get a tattoo. Of course, my aunt wants a tattoo very badly. Would it be such a crime if she went ahead and got one? Probably not, but for my aunt she holds to that promise as a means to stay close to her mother. I think that is what these mermaids are doing. They have devoted their lives to the promise rather than really living. And when Calder finds another reason - a different reason - to live he suddenly sees how unimportant that problem really is.

This was a great first book, and I very much am looking forward to reading the next one.

There was a couple of expletives - no sex and minimal violence although one character dies.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Death Sworn by Leah Cypess

Ah, Leah Cypess, first you mess with my mind with all the intrigue and then you stomp on my heart at the end. This woman is one of all time favorite authors, and she keeps proving that she is incredibly talented. This book has it all - intrigue, danger, magic and assassins. Need I say more? Yet even with all the florishes, Leah manages to make real characters with real flaws. As always with Leah's books, you never know who to trust or who is the real villain. By the end of the book, you are all topsy turvy. Illeni is one tough cookie even if her magic is waning. I thought the struggle she is going through was realistic. The only thing left to say is how magical the world is written. The opening chapters are brilliant because there is subtle references to the construct of the world, but there is no info dump at any point. The complexity of the world is given to you as it is blended into real thoughts and conversation. I thought the beginning of this book was a near perfect as you could get. But did it have to end that way? I certainly hope that Leah is hard at work on the next one because I need it ASAP. I think I would buy any book that this woman has written.

There is violence in the book, but no swearing.  There is a scene where the protagonist reflects on a situation with a male character, but nothing inappropriate.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dead Letter Office by Kira Snyder

Remember those old Choose Your Own Adventure Stories? They were great for an afternoon read when you were a kid. However, there wasn't any substance to the characters in those books. This book has it all. I was a tad worried when I heard this was an interactive book. Sometimes, interactive means weak story, but this is so not the case for Dead Letter Office. The book is fun and spooky. Celia has a great voice as narrator, and you feel invested in her journey. The choices were agonizing though. It doesn't feel like it should be difficult to chose this or that, but I wanted to see some of the characters more, and I knew that my choice would determine who I would get to read about. After I finished the novel, I went back and selected the other choices to see what I had missed. There was little that changed except that you got to hang out with different characters, and you learned some bits of information that weren't important to the story as a whole, but did contribute to the enjoyment of the story.

The mystery was a little weak and some conclusions required a great leap of faith. However, the book more than makes up for this with really intriguing characters. I loved Tilly, and she was one reason that I was hesitant to read in the first place. I'm not really into witches and was very skeptical about reading a book that contained one. Tilly won me over with her enthusiasm and pluck. Donovan and Luc seemed interchangeable, but I am thinking that is because of their minor roles in the book. I am hoping to see more of both of them in the sequel. All in all, these are very minor quibbles with the book. I thought it was a good, solid read. Even if the story weren't interactive, it would be a great read. I definitely plan to get the next book in the series.

When Rose Wakes by Christopher Golden

A nice take on the Sleeping Beauty tale blending modern times with a medieval French kingdom. This included many elements from the original story and even wove in an affair between one aunt and Charles Perrault. The added elements enhanced the motivations of the evil fairy giving the reader a solid reason for her hatred of Rose. This would be a good way to explore multi-dimensions of characters and address behavior that is not fully explained in the fairy tales. 

I wasn't sure what to expect since a co-publisher was MTV.  I did have an occasional curse word, but nothing too serious.  There were some steamy scenes, but no sex.  It engaged in a frank discussion about the two main characters wanting to have sex.  The only problem was they had only known each other for a week, and there was really no truly responsible talk.  There is a disturbing scene at the end when one of the characters is thrown through a window with crows stuffed in their mouth.  

Backward Glass by David Lomax

My advice to people reading this book is to pay attention. You need to read closely and remember names and the year that they live in. I powered through and made out ok though. This is the first book in awhile that had a male protagonist. It was great to see a guy who was one of the good guys. I hate how the bad boys are always glamorized like they should be the role models for our girls. It seems to give the message that if only you love him enough, he will change or that underneath the bad boy exterior is something worth saving. Sometimes a guy is just an abuser, but the bad boy myth perpetuates the belief that girls need to stick it out to find the good boy underneath.

The characters in the book were all interconnected and woven together so expertly that you really need to step back from the ball of yarn and admire the handiwork. David Lomax does a great job of making characters distinct and deep. This many characters and time frames could have been a mess in the hands of someone less skilled.

I also appreciated Luka as being a great character. She is the master of her fate and the captain of her destiny (I know I butchered that, sorry, David). She is no shrinking violet and has the skill set to get things done. I loved that she was proactive about her own destiny.

A job well done - I will be looking for more titles from this author.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

4.5 stars
Maybe I'm a little biased because Mindy McGinnis is a librarian, and I practically worship the ground librarians walk on. I have been looking forward to reading this for a long, long time. I finally allowed myself to indulge and read it in between class assignments. Classes which I hope will someday allow me to become a librarian. I love Lynn. There is no other way to express it. She has become the standard for which all tough girls are now judged. What a brilliant character! She is not a white washed, run of the mill girl. She is angst and anger, sadness and sassy, toughness and gentleness all rolled into one incredible character. Her growth process was beautifully written and realistic. My favorite part is at the end when (view spoiler). I'm not bloodthirsty, it was just a defining moment for Lynn, and I am impressed that McGinnis didn't shy away from that aspect of Lynn's personality. She did exactly what Lynn would do in that situation. My least favorite part was at the end as well when (view spoiler). Why, oh why, Mindy? I thought all of the book was excellent and well written, but Lynn was my favorite part of the book. She ranks up there with Katniss (ok, I think I like Lynn better than Katniss - no it's a tie). I can't wait to see what is in store for Lynn and Lucy in the future which was hinted at in the last chapter.

There was swearing from almost all of the characters.  No sex, but there was a sweet and tender kiss.  Also, there was a lot of violence, but it was depicted in a setting that required the use of force.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pawn by Aimee Carter

4.5 stars
If you are going to read this book, then I suggest you just buckle up your seatbelt and hang on for dear life. There is not a moment without something happening or someone agitating the situation. Kitty is more than up for the challenge, but there were times when I thought she was in over her head. So many lies and deceptions, and just when you thought you knew where it was headed, it would shoot off into another direction. I really want (or need depending on how you look at it) the next one in the series soon! This is my first Aimee Carter novel, but it won't be the last. I love how she deftly combines intrigue and danger with real world problems. This may be the future United States, but the problems of class equality, learning disabilities, and corrupt government are very prominent today. Every nation that has had a class disparity that we are moving towards, has ended in revolution. It is a real problem, and I am glad to see a YA book that addresses this issue head on.
There was one use of the word Christ and no sex in this book.  There was a pretty violent scene at the end.

This title will release on November 26th, 2013.

These Broken Stars by Aimee Kaufman and Megan Spooner

4.5 stars
Amazing! This was heartbreaking beautiful. Once I finished I didn't want to leave the world so carefully crafted. The whole book was so tightly woven together and kept the story going at such a frenetic pace that you didn't have time to catch your breath. I realized about 10% of the way in that this book was going to be a huge hit in 2013, and everything that came after that supported this. Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner are brilliant and talented, but the thing that stuck with my the most was how genuine and likeable the characters are. She has a real gift with real (and flawed) characters who get under your skin and make you cheer them on. I always am tickled to read a dualing POV book, and this one was a real treat as we get the perspectives of both main characters and their different way of thinking things through. I think this book will be on everyone's Christmas list this year (or at least should be). I recently reviewed a book that contained a lot of language and sex. This book also had those and while I could have done without the couple of expletives, the sex in this book was handled tastefully. Other YA authors should take note that if you must have these elements, they can be done in a way that is not so offensive to those of us who are prudes.

This book will be released on December 10, 2013 in the US.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Eramane by Frankie Ash

So it turns out that I know the author (who kindly provided me a free copy in exchange for an honest review), however, I was 90% finished with the book and already formed my conclusions before she revealed that we knew each other. She is a delightful woman who has written a wonderful book. Eramane is full of complex characteristics - being strong one minute and the next being vulnerable.

The sibling love is well done, although there were times when Samiah needed a good shake for being so reckless. I liked the touch of adding that he is a pending father. It made his rashness seem all the more flawed. His pursuit of his sister was endearing and made me like his character even more.

The premise is unique. I am not sure that I have ever read a book where the heroine goes against all her beliefs and does something unforgivable. Eramane does just that in order to survive. I struggle with a bi-polar disorder and have behaved in ways that make me ashamed. I understand doing things that goes against your values, and I feel that Frankie Ash did a great job of showing the conflict and shame that one feels after you have behaved in a way that is unbecoming.

I did want Eramane to demand more answers though. She would just accept the little tidbits that were fed to her by various people and not relentlessly pursue information. But that is just me imposing my personality on the character. I really enjoyed Eramane's journey as she matured, and I look forward to seeing more of her in the rest of the trilogy.

There was some mild violence, no language and no sex.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi

4.5 stars
What a great book on all levels!  The writing was excellent, and the merging between text and illustrations was seamless and intriguing.  The story had great characters, great plotting and great sentences. My copy was a digital ARC and some of the words in the comic section were unreadable, but I imagine editing will fix that for actual copies sold.  The violence is real and brutal. Avasthi rips the band-aid off quickly, but the pain of watching a family break apart is still there.  The trauma stays with you long after the last page is flipped.  I think this is an important book to examine and discuss the grief process. Letting someone go is never easy, and this is such an honest appraisal that I think it would be a beneficial read.  I am very excited to learn that the library has the author's other book as I will definitely be reading it.

There is a great deal of violence and some profanity including the f word.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender

So far I have some serious issues with this book. It pits woman against woman in a competition for men that is cut throat and vicious. When will women learn to stand together if the books they read perpetuate the ideology that women are competitors? In addition, I think this book is giving girls a wrong image of weight and thinness. Pillar is the token "fat girl" but really she is described as being a size 10 which is the average size of women in the United States. Also, check out this passage... "Was it Giancarlo's fault that Monique had gained fifteen pounds, while Rochelle had stayed thin and beautiful?" There are so many things wrong with that statement. First, in what world does 15 pounds automatically make you ugly? The implication is that since Monique is no longer suitable material for men because she gained a little weight, nor is she beautiful any longer. Second, what kind of man dumps his girlfriend because she gained a little weight? Not the kind I would want.

I will continue with the book, but I don't foresee a change in my attitude toward this book. I am not even sure that I want to know what happens. Maybe Marie Antoinette is coming back from the grave to destroy her competition. That wouldn't surprise me at all.

I finished, and I have to give it three stars because the protagonist grows in the end. I still think this book could give girls the wrong impression. All of the pretty girls (who were murdered) are mean and conceited. The "nice" girls had no fashion sense, wore frumpy clothes and basically were unattractive. The idea of Marie Antoinette coming back from the grave to kill people is a really cool idea, but I felt the book was trying to make a statement about choosing your friends carefully more than trying to be a thriller. I didn't completely hate this book, but I wasn't mesmerized by it either.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

Weaving Russian folklore with a modern day prince, Card writes a unique look at the sleeping beauty tale.  Ivan is ten years old when he finds a sleeping princess in a meadow in Communist Russia.  The image stays with him as he and his family flee to the United States.  Years later, Ivan returns to what is now Ukraine and finds the princess again.  She is not only sleeping under an enchantment, but she is from 900 A.D.  Coincidentally, Ivan can speak with her since he has studied her language all his life and is currently writing his dissertation on the language.  That and some other instances in the book highlight and enforce the one man meant for one woman scenario found in the Perrault version.  There was a lot of magic used in the fight against Baba Yaga who in this instance was the entity who placed the sleeping curse on the princess.  Fate also played a big role as certain things happened that could only be attributed to something outside of the character’s actions.  This would make a great study on Russian folklore and to examine closely what elements make a sleeping beauty story.  

Roses, Briars and Blood: A Gothic Retelling of Sleeping Beauty by Alyne de Winter

This started so wonderfully. The language was rich and evocative full of mystery and tension. I shivered with anticipation as I dug in. Unfortunately, the ending didn't quite live up to the beginning. It was disjointed and quick. There were places that I wasn't really sure what was happening. I thought the overall concept was brilliant - a sorceress who needs a younger body and a queen desperate enough for a child to defy the church. I think had the story been longer and some things clarified, it would have been much better. There was also abrupt changes in time from one paragraph to the next. I read it on my Kindle, so perhaps it just didn't recognize a break from one thought to another. I did enjoy the tale, and I think that it is definitely a unique take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. I just wanted a little bit more - more information,more development of the nine fairies who were very mysterious, and more world building. I did love the introduction which gave great motivations for character decisions and why the sorceress would doll out so great a punishment.

All the Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry

4.5 stars
The voice of Judith captured from the moment I started this book. She was everything you want in a protagonist along with her own mysteries and secrets. The imagery with which Julie Berry writes is poetic and evocative. I felt like I could drown in her words and die a happy woman. Never once did Judith's voice falter. The beauty that she spoke with was a stark contrast to her silence in the physical world.

The plot was simple and straight forward, but it is not the plot that you should read this book for. This is a character driven book, and the characters will melt your heart and delight you. It is a hard story to read about Judith's struggle. The hardest part for me was her mother's reaction to her after she comes back unable to speak. As a mother, that part broke my heart.

I loved that the time frame and location of the story were somewhat of a mystery. It was almost reading a fairy tale with the charm and atmosphere all its own.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for characters to fall in love with. It is not easy reading because the author slides back and forth between times and subjects. But that is part of its charm. Once you pick up on the rhythm, it becomes poetic and beautiful.

The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton

4.5 stars
I appreciated this book so much more than recent forays into grown-up suspense (think Gone Girl). There were plenty of adult themes, but they weren't peppered with obscenities. In other novels, I feel that using the f-bomb every other word is extremely distracting, and while this book did use language, it did so in a seemingly natural way rather than a jarring one. Aside from that, this book was extremely well done. It had me on the edge of my seat biting my nails and flipping the pages as fast as I could on my Kindle.

The omniscient narrator worked well since we get a chance to see the bad guy up close and personal. I think Carla Norton had a good handle on what it must be like inside a twisted and sadistic person's mind. But she also nailed the mind of the victim or rather survivor. I think Reeve would prefer to be called a survivor.

I liked Reeve a lot. There were some things that were started like her ritual in getting to the doctor's office that seemed to magically disappear when she began talking to Tilly. I would have liked to see her deal with her issues while reaching out to the family. She was tough without being bitter, and that is a hard balance to write a character who has been affected but not warped by her mistreatment.

This book deals with serious and disturbing issues so if things like sexual abuse of children bother you, you might want to skip this one. But everything was handled well and really shines a light on missing girls and their experiences. I can't wait to see what the author has in store for her next book.

Sia by Josh Grayson

This was an inspiring read that tells the reader that you can make a difference in the world. It only takes a spark kinda thing. It also tackled bullying and being kind to one another. The mean side of things that happen in every high school, but are seldom talked about. My only quibble with the book was that everything was too neat. Problems are resolved with either a conversation or within a day's time. I do think this is a great book for opening the conversation about how students treat one another. Sia has a great voice and a very determined attitude about how people should be treated. Carole was a great touch and was disappointed not to read more about her.

I also loved how the book portrayed kids making a difference to their community. Kyle is a very admirable young man and has his priorities in the right place. I am a sucker for epilogues and am so glad the author included one.

You Are Mine by Janeal Falor - Best Book of the Year!

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Sometimes that is a tricky situation - if the book is bad, how do you review it without hurting the author's feelings, but if the book is good, then people think that you are just saying that because you got the book for free. I try very hard to be honest in all my reviews, but this one is especially honest.

This is the absolute best book I have read this year! Everything that makes a great book was stuffed in this book and then some. The world building was phenomenal and believable. The characters were expertly drawn and full of life.

Currently I am taking a gender and children's lit class so this book's theme was an added bonus. It highlights the oppression that women used to live under and makes you think about gender equality in today's world. Serena is a perfect character to explore this through. She has just the right amount of rebellion to be believable and the perfect amount of fear for you to realize that things were bad for her. I also appreciated the pressure that Serena faces from the females in her life to conform. So many times we, in our modern thinking, assume that every woman was discontent with how things were. Serena's mom is one the biggest proponents to obey and toe the line.

The writing draws you in from page one to the last one. Janeal Falor has a gift with words as well as character development. I wish I could convey with my meager words how well done this book was. I think nearly every fantasy lover will find something to love about this book. I am going to recommend it to some of the daughter's friends. I am also going to purchase a copy of this book. I seldom buy books that I have a Kindle copy of. I reserve that for only the best of the best which this book definitely is.

Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dockey

This novel keeps true to the traditional tale while incorporating a full back story replete with characters who are important throughout the story. The twist on the tale in the enchanted forest is original albeit confusing. It was never explained why Aurore didn’t need to sleep for one hundred years. This would be a great discussion starter on what constitutes a good ruler as Aurore and her father do things differently than previous rulers by their interest in the common folk. The writing was engaging, but the plot was a little confusing.  You have basically a time travel book, but no explanation as to how or why the time travel existed.  I am not gifted in physics, but I would have liked at least a little explanation. 
There was nothing objectionable in this novel - no language or sex - so it would be a nice, clean read for younger children who are advanced readers.

Sorry it's been awhile...

Life has gotten in the way of my writing good, solid reviews.  I am back in the swing of things, but you should be warned that I am working on a project for a children's lit class I am taking.  So you will probably see a lot of books that are based on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.  I am excited to be reading so many variations of the tale and to share my thoughts with you about them.

Watching the Roses by Adele Geras

Caution: This book contains a rape scene as well as discussing the aftermath.  It is handled in a sensitive way without explicit details.

A metaphorical Sleeping Beauty tale which has a young lady raped on her eighteenth birthday due to a curse from one of her numerous aunts.  Unable to overcome the shock, she lies in her bed day after day almost in a comatose state.  The house she lives in is surrounded by roses which her father allows to become overrun since the rape of his daughter.  A young man she has been corresponding with, overcomes the rose mess and wins her back to reality.  This is a heavy book even though it is very short.  It deals with mature matters as the protagonist, Alice, asks herself whether she is the cause of the rape.  Elements of the old fairy tale are present, but the book is brilliantly told in first person as journal entries from the “sleeping” girl.   

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Stained by Cheryl Rainfield

WARNING: This book contained mature scenes and language.  There is a disturbing rape scene and a lot of disturbing violence.
This took awhile to get going, but once it did I could not put it down. There were some chapters that could have been eliminated in the middle or condensed, but overall it was a fantastic book. This book had so many angles to it. I can really see it being used in a book club for older teens or for victims of abuse. There is a lot of mature content that is disturbing - needed for the story, but disturbing. But this books tackles abuse, psychological trauma, and bullying in a real and honest way. Sarah's reactions and feelings were fully fleshed out and struck a cord. It was no surprise to see that the author had experienced a similar situation because the emotions conveyed seemed so genuine.

I found the writing to be solid, the plot made me sit on the edge of my seat. You know when you have a good book, and you can't turn the pages fast enough to see how it is all gonna end? Yeah, this was that book.

One of favorite parts was the portrayal of Charlene turning on Sarah just to fit in. Sometimes we all get caught up in trying to be cool (I know I did in high school) that we forget who are the real people in our lives versus the fake ones. I think that is an important lesson to learn, and not just for teens, but for adults too.

But Nick was, by far, the best part of this book. His unflagging devotion to Sarah and her family was heart wrenching. I hope he gets his happy ending because he certainly earned it.

All in all, a very good book - extremely well written, exciting and great characters. I will be looking for more books by this author. 
This book will be released October 1, 2013.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Beauty by Nancy Ohlin

With all of the things that women (and men) do to themselves to accomplish a certain "beauty," this book is entirely appropriate and needed for young readers. Dark skinned people bleach their skin, while light skinned people tan excessively. Beauty by Nancy Ohlin is short, but powerful. It shows the quest for beauty as an ugly process full of jealousy and an obsession that can not be fulfilled.

I loved Ana. She is smart and resourceful. But even when she is attempting to make herself ugly she is obsessed with looks. She works very hard to make sure she is not beautiful. I think what Ohlin is saying is that one should not be so obsessed with beauty that it becomes work. We are all beautiful in our own way. It is a message that is important for all of us, but especially for those teens years where they are questing to find a meaning and purpose to their lives.

There was no sex, violence or language in this book.  In fact, there was no romance at all which is very refreshing.

I really enjoyed this book, and I am very much looking forward to reading Thorn Abbey.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrell

The whole concept of time travel makes my brain go wobbly. This book does a great job of not getting too complicated, but also writing details in to make it believable.

How many of us could kill a loved one? Even if he/she has done unspeakable things? The tension between good for the many versus the destruction of a few is written with a perfect edge that slices through all preconceived ideas of what is right and wrong. I don't think many people would hesitate to go back in time and kill Hitler as a young man before his rise to power, but what if it was someone precious to you? I'm not sure I could do it. Because of her struggle, Em is the perfect protagonist. She is tough, but also has a weak side that we as readers get to see.

 There were a few instances of bad language - one f bomb.  There also was some kissing, but nothing more than that.  Violence was in the book, but nothing graphic. 

Every scene was beautifully written, and the ending was anguishing to read. Each character written perfectly - flaws and all. I recommend this book to any reader who is looking for a great story that has all of the elements well done - romance, action and adventure, mystery... This book will release on September 3, 2013.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Anomaly by Krista McGee

 The cover is extremely intriguing and very well designed. It was what drew me in. I typically do not have good luck with Christian fiction, but the cover kept beckoning to me. Unfortunately, this book reinforced my past experiences. This book could have used more editing. The sentences were choppy in parts, and the characters thought process was at the most basic level. At times, Thalli had thoughts that were very child-like and not the product of someone who had spent time learning a higher order of thinking. Thalli is shown to spend a good deal of time on lesson plans so she clearly should have a more mature voice.

The plot was an intricate mesh of mystery. You never knew from one second to the next what actually was going on. It will keep you guessing right up until the last page, and, of course, sets itself up for a sequel.

But my biggest problem with the book...
Why must science and faith be on opposite sides - like they are black and white? Christians perpetuate this and then wonder why scientists are always leaving God out of the equation. This chasm between the two is huge and makes it seem that one will disprove the other. "They wanted to eradicate faith from society." It is statements like that inflame the debate. Scientists retort with a statement like Christians are trying to inhibit progress and scientific thought. What could we accomplish if we worked together and didn't bicker all the time? Each side has some valid arguments. On the one hand, if you believe in God, then you should also believe that He is big enough to handle questions and doubts. And, if you believe in science, then faith should not threaten the test results. This book continues the antagonism between faith and science so I could not give it a good rating. Now that my rant is over....

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

I know that this book will probably get a lot of comparisons to The Hunger Games and Ender's Game, but when you really think about it, most stories are borrowed, similar to or adapted from older tales. Elements of a story can resonate with us from a previous reading of a different story and still be a pretty good read. I taught my daughter early on to make text to text connections, and she is pretty savvy reader now that she is a teenager. Her mind makes connections easily and readily. I feel that is the point of literature - to remind us of our past experiences, and to compare texts is a great way to develop new strategies.

The Testing talked a lot about being able to learn from our mistakes and be able to adapt and grow into a good and capable leader. While the government takes extreme measures (just like in Ender's Game) to ensure that the next generation is capable of leading, the results are leaders who have hopefully learned from their experiences. However, the experiences are erased from their memories so that is lost. So bad government who uses its young basically as test subjects (think Hunger Games).

And the similarities don't end there - Cia could be Katniss in another life. Perhaps, that is why I loved her character. She was tough, capable and compassionate. Cia did not kill indiscriminately, and was quick (sometimes too quick) to trust. Unlike Katniss she has had a great family structure with a caring mother and father. I know that breaks the mold of most children's literature - most of the time the protagonists are orphans. Cia really drew on her upbringing when she interacted with people - she treated others with respect and dignity because that is what she had been taught.

So many questions left unanswered at the end - aargh! I know we live in a land of sequels and trilogies, but just once I would like to see everything wrapped up neatly in a pretty package with a pretty bow. I know that is not how to sell books, but it's all I want for Christmas.

There were many similarities to other novels in this one, but it did not stop it from being a great read. I look forward to (really want right this minute) the sequel and have already downloaded the short story companion. This was well written, perfectly paced with great characters.

Coming soon...

I am currently reading Anomaly by Krista McGee.  This is shaping up to be a polarizing dystopian.

Then, I will get started on All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrell.  I cannot wait to dive into this one!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle

What more is there to say when you put the Amish community and a vampire apocalypse together? It was a great read with some tense moments and edge of your seat action scenes. But it was much more than that too. It examined religion on a deep level asking tough questions about the validity of a religious leaders right to rule the lives of others.

It also examines the evil that resides in humankind. We have seen it rear its ugly head in situations like Darfur and the Holocaust. But we comfort ourselves that we have evolved into higher beings. This book punches you in the face with the possibility that evil can once again take hold of a society. And in spite of religious leaders who take advantage of their positions, perhaps faith offers us a safe haven from evil or vampires or whatever is stalking us.

This books delves into places that will prompt discussion, but it is also quite entertaining. The plot is tight and fast paced. The first person narrator is well done showing the reader a glimpse into the mind of a young girl on the verge of maturity. She is likeable and spunky, and you immediately are drawn into her problems.

There are a few curse words sprinkled throughout, and there is a sex scene that is not described in detail but rather a fade to black scene.  There are gruesome descriptions of the vampire's victims, and one violent scene at the end.

I am happy to say that I have the next book, and I will be starting it soon because I am dying to know what happens next.

Taking Back Forever by Karen Amanda Hooper

There were so many things I loved about this book. The strong characters who know who they are and what they want from life. Even the secondary characters served a purpose and had a sense of purpose. You get to choose at the end whether you want to read on for a cliffhanger ending. I chose to go on and read. I couldn't stop myself - boy was that a cliffhanger. Take my advice and stop. Don't read on unless you fully intend to read book three. I don't have book three - don't even know when it is coming out. Sigh.

There is a lot more intimate moments in this book. I felt like a voyeur. It was really uncomfortable for me. I don't typically read books that have a lot of sex or near sex. I found myself skimming over those parts. I will have to say that I did appreciate Nathan's approach to sex. He basically subscribes to the theory that easing into sex makes the experience better. I also really appreciate his self-control and restraint. That is how a man should treat a woman with respect and a little dash of worship.

The balance between Mary and Maryah is portrayed very well. They are the same person, but different somehow. It is almost like watching Maryah become Mary but with a twist. Karen Amanda Hooper does such an excellent job with her character that you keep reading just to see her progress. Maryah is strong and tough just as Mary was. In fact, all of the female characters were assertive and strong minded. I really appreciated that Maryah doesn't act like a scared heroine who cannot help herself. And she isn't commenting on Nathan's physical features every other sentence. (Although it does seem like they are making out every other sentence).

More explanations were forthcoming in this book which I enjoyed. I always am wanting to understand more the worlds that authors create. It was also interesting to see their skills grow and develop.

There was a good amount of making out scenes that were pretty explicit, but there was also frank discussion about why waiting until marriage is good.  Every once and while there would be a curse word, but it was not prevalent.  The violence was really narrowed into one scene and was not graphic in any way.

I really enjoyed this book and am eagerly awaiting the third one (and the fourth...). I hope that Karen Amanda Hooper writes quickly!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Grasping at Eternity by Karen Amanda Hooper

So I am not usually an ushy gushy kinda girl, but.... I absolutely adored this book. I am a firm believer that a relationship takes lots of hard work, and yet I feel that my husband is my soulmate and now after reading Grasping at Eternity I believe that soulmates do exist. How can I convey how beautifully this story swept me away? The world building of kindrilys and Elementals was perfectly done. Not too much information dump, but little bits and pieces were revealed - just enough to tease you into the next chapter. Brillant!

I know in The Princess Bride there are the top ten kisses of all time, and I definitely think the kiss in this book will be rated at least in the top two. It was beautiful and fulfilling and everything a first (or millionth) kiss should be. And just remember this is coming from someone who hates kissing scenes. And just like the little boy in The Princess Bride - I don't mind the kissing so much if it is written like this.

But lest you think the book is all about romance, it is much more. There are fully realized and developed characters. It is a mystery as well when you as the reader try to unravel the big ball of questions and answers. It is also part action in a few places.

Karen Amanda Hooper has a gift with words and dazzles the reader with her story weaving skills. I am very much looking forward to the next book (which the author has kindly sent me just this morning).

Outcast by Adrienne Kress

I was drawn into the story by the unique and sometimes irreverent voice of Riley. I am a sucker for good 1st person pov with spunk (think The False Prince or To Kill a Mockingbird). I am not usually interested in the whole angel scene, but this one had such a charming voice that I just kept saying 2 more pages and then I will quit. That lasted until I finished the book.

One of the things I loved about this book was that faith wasn't presented as the plague.  There was a smarmy pastor oozing fakeness and snake oil salesmantitus, but there was also a Catholic priest who was genuine and likable. So many times a story paints any glimmer of faith as an anathema. Of course, when you have angels coming down to abduct members of your small community that is not the time to be doubting.

The characters were believable, funny and had their own set of flaws. I did feel that Gabe's language and outlook on life would have been significantly different than what it was. The '50s were a completely different time. The Cold War was reigning, the Civil Rights movements hadn't happened, and neither had the liberating '60s.  I think we underestimate just how much change happened in twenty years and how that has shaped who we are as a society. I would have liked to see him struggle with living in a strange environment.

This book was creative, funny and engaging, and I will definitely be looking for the sequel if there is one.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

This book is atmospheric and concerned with the darker side of humanity. It made me go back to the original The Island of Dr. Moreau which was itself spooky and mysterious. What constitutes a monster? Is it the creation or the creator? Shepherd does a good job of tackling these questions.

My husband used to laugh at me because I would feel sympathy for a dead bunny on the road, but not for a dead possum. My defense was that bunnies are cute and possums are not. I really feel like Juliet makes these distinctions as well. She is ready to save Alice who is cute, but not willing to save Balthazer because he is not. There were both creations so there is no argument that both were in her eyes abominations. (view spoiler)

This was a great read if you suspended disbelief at the door. If you try to logically piece things together, everything falls apart. But the same could be said of the original novel as well. Fortunately, I am one of those people who can read a novel and just take the facts as they are presented so I found this to be an enjoyable read.

I re-read Dr. Moreau while I was reading this so most of my comments will be in that review. I will say that Shepherd does a great job of asking the important questions. It will make you think and wrestle with complicated questions that are still relevant today. It is the age old question asked often of science - just because we can do something, does that mean we should? Dr. Moreau pursues science without thought to the consequences.  The Madman's Daughter opens up that discussion and would make a great book for a book club.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

We are all fascinated by life after death. What happens to us? Science cannot explain it any better today than it could in the beginning of the last century. People were intensely curious and hoping for answers during the time period of this book - 1918. After all, people were dying in nearly all walks of life. This book was sobering in its gritty portrayal of what life and death must have felt like. The writing was just as eery as the tale of the supernatural. I got lulled into thinking the story was one way, and then Winters would shoot off in a different direction.

My favorite scenes were when Mary Shelley visits the soldiers who were convalescing. It reminded me of so many of our soldiers coming back today. What a terrible thing to have your whole life ahead of you and to be struck down or maimed. These young men and women who are returning from war deserve our compassion and respect just as much as the men in this book. PTSD is not a new concept to those who are affected by war. I am glad that Winters covers this in her book as it is an important consideration when talking about treating the whole person and not just the physical wounds.

This book also tackles the importance of women who can think for themselves and does a good job of showing the battle that women faced in the beginning of the twentieth century. Mary Shelley is a great heroine who marches to her own beat. She is quirky, smart and witty - all things that were frowned upon in females. 

This novel has so many themes running through it that I think it would be an ideal group read for an English class. I will definitely recommend this book to teen readers.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Fathom by Merrie Destefano

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I have a weak spot for mermaid/selkie stories and alternating POVs. This book had both. It was a quick and engaging read with some really memorable characters. I loved the relationship between Sean and Kira. It was sweet and seemed natural for their friendship to bloom into something more. However, the quick, spontaneous relationship between Caleb and Kira seemed less when compared with that friendship. This insta-connection was important for the end of the book, but I wished that there had been a build up and not just an magic friendship that no knows limits.

I also wished somethings had been explained a little better. For the first 2/3 of the book I was kinda mystified by the Selkie lore. I realize that we live in a world where authors show don't tell, but I was longing for a little bit of clarification. I am still not sure how the familiars work. Can anyone be a familiar? How do you sign up to be a familiar? Are they allowed to tell others - like could Brianne tell her parents. She mentions at one point that her parents were becoming uncomfortable with her being a familiar so was she able to tell them.

I loved the relationship between Kira and her dad and Gram. So many YA book heroines have strained relationships with their parents. I just wished that Dad and Gram could have been up front and honest with Kira. The scenes where Dad was having some health concerns were touching and really showed how strong their bond was.

The character of Kira had depth and was well written. The boys seemed like cookie cutter good guys. I didn't even know Sean was a football player until he was in danger of being kicked off the team. The novel was short, so there could have been a few more scenes showing either Sean or Caleb a little more in-depth.

I know that there will be a sequel, but I felt like we were teased by mention on a couple of occasions about Riley's tattoos and the prospect of another tribe that was not so terribly friendly. I wished this had been fleshed out more in this book, even if it was to set up a sequel.

So I guess I am saying is that I wanted more - more information, more world building and more characterization. I enjoyed what I read, and I wanted to fully immerse myself in Kira's world.

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

This is the third book in the trilogy, and this review may contain spoilers for the first two books.

The journey motif - it's been done and done well. And Rae Carson did it really well in books 1 and 2 of this series. I kinda wanted more than a journey with this one. Don't get me wrong. This is an excellent book! I loved all the characters that reappeared - Storm, Mara, Belen, Hector, and I loved new characters - Waterfall, Mula (aka (view spoiler)). Ok I especially loved Mula. I hate calling her that, but I don't want to give away the name that she picks for herself, because that should be her revelation within her time frame. For the third book, I wanted to get to know the characters when they weren't being pursued or pushing themselves to stop an invasion. I felt that has already been done, and we know these characters in those situations. Sometimes the greatest courage lies in living an ordinary life. And I so wanted some ordinary time for Elisa and Hector. How would they act? Would different facets of their personalities have come through while trying to negotiate whether the curtains should be blue or beige? I know that doesn't make for a good book in today's market, but I loved these characters so much I wanted to see that for them.

One of the greatest aspects of the series is that Elisa doesn't feel special, but her stone suggests otherwise. She is constantly struggling with her purpose and what the touch of God means for her life. My heart broke for her when (view spoiler) We tell you kids that each is unique and special. And I firmly believe that each child is good at something and should be encouraged. But not everyone is going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Not every child will gain fame or fortune. That's not to say that they can't, just in reality we need ordinary humans for life to make sense. This series is a great series for kids to start discovering what they are good at and where their passions lie, but it also tells them that it is ok to be who they were meant to be. Elisa is such a complex character, and her journey (or should I say journeys) is one that is readily identifiable with teens.

There was mention of a birth control drug and being ready for sex as well as some scenes that faded to black indicating that the characters had sex.  There was also a fair amount of violence, but none that was graphic. 

This book releases on August 27, 2013.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Elite by Kiera Cass

Think of a feather blowing in a hurricane, and you have America in this book.  She was tossed about by her emotions so violently, I thought she was going to get whiplash. Now I know that part of being a teenager is emotional angst. And certainly America has some harder than normal choices for a teenager. I felt for her I really did, but I just couldn't get over the fact that she was making out with more than one guy. It is one thing to be confused, but another entirely to act on those feelings. I don't watch the Bachelor/Bachelorette so maybe this book just wasn't my cup of tea although I did enjoy the first one. 

The world building was a little more thorough in this one. Although I am still confused as to where they are in the United States and where the boundaries are for their kingdom. I like that we get a bit more of the history of how the castes came about.

This book was all about making a difference. Are some people situated to be able to make a difference, and if so, then do they have an obligation to do so. America struggles with this wondering if she could make a good princess. My husband and I talk about how certain people who made significant changes in the fabric of society were at the right place at the right time.  Imagine if Lincoln had been a term earlier or later than he was as President.  What if Anne Boleyn had not been born to tempt Henry VIII into marriage?  Perhaps England would still be Catholic.  Or what if some of the inventors of the atomic bomb had stayed in Hitler Germany?  America thinks she can make changes as big as these folks if she stays in the competition.  And maybe she will.  First though she needs to understand who she is. I feel that a certain part of her uncertainty is her total ignorance of who she is and what she is passionate about (other than boys).  I hope that the next book will find America discovering herself before she makes a commitment to either Maxon or Aspen.

This book was well written and entertaining, but I just couldn't get past the wishy washiness of America. I will be looking for the third book to see which lifestyle America will choose. I don't think the guys matter at this point. For America, the guys seem interchangeable. She could be happy with either one. Her decision really is about which lifestyle she wants more.

There was some kissing and reference to a couple who were caught in the act.  There was no language, and the violence is mild and usually off-screen.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Starglass by Phoebe North

Since trilogies are all the rage, I am sure that there will be a sequel, but did it really have to end that way? With all the available endings out there, you would think Phoebe North would have compassion on us readers. But, no - she unashamedly leaves you in the biggest lurch and quite possibly not produce another offering for 365 days. Of course, since the days are longer on board the spaceship, time gets a little confusing. So I am going with the solid 365 of waiting to see what happens.

The world building was very thorough in this book. The Jewish heritage mingled in the story added a depth of richness and heritage. As you think of all the Jewish people have been through - the diaspora, the Holocaust, the pogroms, the endless years of antisemitism - you gain an admiration of their endurance and their will to live. This shows very strongly in the characters. You admire these people who have been on a ship as long as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. They probably would have a kindred connection (had they kept up with the complete history of their ancestors) to those who had come before them as they longed for a real place to call home.

We are fascinated with the future as a society. We long to be able to know that in the future things will get better. The Jews who had been dispersed from Israel had a saying - Next year in Jerusalem - to signify their hope that the next time they celebrated a holiday it would be in a better place - home. I think we look for reassurance that next year will be better - a world without war, famine, or disease like cancer. This book did a great job of dealing with our human frailties and takes an exceptional look at the loss of loved ones. Grief is treated with a serious brush stroke. So many stories in children's fiction have orphans. Just think of some of your favorite fairy tales - chances are the protagonist has experienced the loss of one or both of their parents. The same holds true for the stories that are being churned out today. North does a fantastic job of showing the loss of a parent and the impact it can have on a child.

There were only a couple of things that kept it from being a 5 star book. The first is the resemblances to books that have similar elements such as The Giver by Lois Lowry and Across the Universe by Beth Revis. The idea that the governing bodies decide which job you are assigned and that a batch of babies grow together and get their assignments on a special day really reminded me of The Giver. Besides being set in a spaceship, it was similar to Across the Universe in other ways. A young girl who knows nothing must unravel where her loyalties lie as she is romantically pursued by the second in command. Having made that comparison, I would like to say that Starglass has more substance than Across the Universe. I feel you could use Starglass in a book club setting and have numerous themes to discuss. I felt Across the Universe was an entertaining read, but not very deep. Second, I felt that the message about acceptance for all and liberty to love whomever you want to love was a little heavy handed. It is an important topic, and we certainly need books that open the dialogue with our children about this. I just felt a lighter touch would not have been amiss. In all other aspects this was a top notch novel. It had great pacing, good solid writing and an intricate and intriguing plot. I truly look forward to the next one as I thought the last 25% of the book was definitely 5 stars.

There was a little kissing, but there was violence and death although it was not gory or explicit.  Starglass releases on July 23, 2013.  I would recommend to fans of Across the Universe or any other sci-fi romance.  

Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon

Ever since I have heard about this book, I have been dying to read it. A book based on one of the best musicals ever? Count me in. The kingdom of Doon was magical and enchanting just like the musical. In a world of dystopian novels, it was a welcome relief to read of a utopia. Of course, that didn't stop it from being in danger by an evil witch. I devoured this book. I even read it while I was waiting for my sister's wedding to start. It would have been 5 stars, but for one thing. One of my biggest pet peeves is a constant referrals to how hot/cute/sexy/handsome (insert adjective here) the main guy is. If you mention it once or twice that is one thing, but a constant barrage of reminders just drives me crazy. 

The story was told through first person POVs from the two girls who enter Doon. I thought it was really important that both girls have a voice, and there were plot points where it was necessary for both girls to speak. However, I feel that both of the voices were very similar. I would sometimes forget who was speaking since they were both the same voice. I did love all the references to plays and musicals that MacKenna would use when she was talking. It really reinforced her dream to become an actress.

While this book is based on a fantastical world, it is primarily a romance. The focus of the book is on the relationships and falling in love. The insta-love is there as well, but it is at least explained, and since I was at a wedding, I kinda didn't mind all the gushy stuff.

There were some moments of kissing heading toward sex, but they were stopped for some reason or another.  There was no bad language and mild violence.

This book was an enjoyable read and one that I would recommend to those who like fantasy with a healthy dose of romance. I am also looking forward to the sequel!  Doon releases on August 20, 2013.