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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.