Monday, September 22, 2014

The Diamond Secret

The Diamond Secret is a YA retold fairytale, one of the Once Upon a Time books, by Suzanne Weyn.

When Nadya is told by two handsome mean in the Russian tavern she is working in as a waitress that they believe they know who she is and that they’d like to take her to her grandmother, she cannot help but hope it is all true.

Plagued with memory loss and the fear that she is or was insane – due to being found after a time in an asylum before the Bolsheviks turned them out – her life is not ideal. It’s better than when she was living on the street, but just barely.

Agreeing to accompany the young men, if only because she has little to lose either way, Nadya soon embarks on a journey to Paris – and out of the Revolution torn Russia in 1919.

Yet there is more to the young men’s plans than they initially tell her – and they aren’t bringing her to just any grandmother – but exiled Dowager Empress Marie.

And she is to be Anastasia…

The Diamond Secret
felt very familiar – I’ll be honest. There’s a lot of movies out there – both older black and whites, such as one I remember with Yul Brenner, and the newer animated Disney film – that carry a very similar premise and plot.

Yet, The Diamond Secret is very readable. It’s enjoyable, quick paced and has a good historically atmospheric setting. My biggest issue was that it doesn’t really fit into the series for a couple of reasons. The long held rumor that Anastasia escaped death amidst the execution of the Romanoffs may be unlikely, but I’d hardly call it a fairytale. But if you’re going to retell it as a fairytale, why not add a little magic, a little fantasy?

Suzanne Weyn keeps The Diamond Secret strictly a YA historical novel. Is that bad? No. But it significantly effects expectations.

However, in the end I really did like The Diamond Secret. It was sad, really, that the story could not be true. I appreciated the way the author spun a “What if?” that would fit into true history.

All in all a good read – but not really a fairytale.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a private detective crime novel by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J. K. Rowling.

That’s right – J. K. ROWLING!!!

You know, author of my favorite series EVER?

Anywho…

The story was in the media for quite some time: Lula Landry, gorgeous young supermodel, plummeted to her death from her balcony. Yet once the fervor calmed down and the police deemed it a suicide, it quietly became less and less of a scoop.

For Cormoran Strike – missing a leg from his time in Afghanistan, freshly and painfully separated from his longtime girlfriend, and barely getting by as a private investigator – the buzz around Lula never registered much. He had enough of his own problems.

But when Lula’s brother steps into Cormoran’s office – desperate to find someone willing to investigate further – it becomes front and center. Lula’s brother is convinced Lula did not commit suicide – and he’s willing to pay Cormoran handsomely to look into it.

Diving into the scintillating world of fashion, fame and wealth, he is introduced to the dark underworld of the desperate, the addicted and the miserable.

They’ve never been confronted with a P. I. like Cormoran Strike…

Well, I already knew I’d have to set aside, somewhat, that this is J. K. Rowling – as obviously this is not an 8th Harry Potter novel.

*Sob*

The Cuckoo’s Calling is very adult – full of coarse language, crime and grit.

Yet, very quickly, “Robert Galbraith” establishes the characters and gives them personality and backgrounds. There’s that identifiable way that environments and people are described – in the perfect amount of detail - that hearkens to the author’s talent.

Cormoran is likable, if a scruffy, disheveled man. Robin – as his temp – is probably my favorite character in The Cuckoo’s Calling. She’s clever, determined and intrigued by the industry she’s been thrust into during her time in temporary employment. She and Cormoran have great scenes together.

The Cuckoo’s Calling has a ton of clue finding, in-depth interviews with realistic dialogue and all kinds of detailed, private detective goodness.

These are great, layered characters combined with a complicated, engrossing mystery that had me guessing and happily surprised by the end.

Is it Harry Potter? No. Do I love it more than Harry Potter? Heck no.

Will I be reading the next Cormoran Stike novel?

Absolutely!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Love's Fortune

Love’s Fortune is the third novel in the historical romance generational trilogy The Ballantyne Legacy by Laura Frantz.

I would strongly recommend reading all the books in order! Feel free to read my review of Love’s Reckoning here and Love’s Awakening here.

In 1850s Pennsylvania there is a hint of war on the horizon – the issue of slavery has continued to boil over through the years – and the Ballantynes are in the middle of it.

Rowena “Wren” Ballantyne has lived apart from her family’s great wealth and opulence in New Hope – having grown up far more humbly with her father Ansel and her now deceased mother in Kentucky.

When Wren’s father receives a letter from her grandfather Silas, they are suddenly immersed in society, as Wren’s father takes them to his hometown – a place that Wren is terribly unfamiliar with – and not at all suited for.

One of the few people she feels comfortable with is James Sackett – an apprentice of her father’s once and now steamship pilot of the Ballantyne shipping line.

But as Wren’s family – most of whom she just met – encourage her to have a Season and embrace the luxuries they can offer her, she finds herself shying away.

Possibly to her peril…

Laura Frantz is excellent at providing a rich, sweeping, historical vibe in her novels – and she does it again in Love’s Fortune.

I was happy to return to a simpler heroine – not that I didn’t like Ellie in Love’s Awakening, I just preferred Eden’s story in Love’s Reckoning.

This is a soaring tale of a fish out of water, really. Wonderful period details, suspense and romance.

It’s enjoyable to me to follow a family through generations – and I wish I didn’t get the impression this was the final book because, as I’ve said before, I’d find it highly interesting to follow this legacy on through contemporary times. Can you imagine? I’d be thrilled!

Full of Christian characters – without being preachy – Love’s Fortune presents an often painful but satisfying and lovely story of love and family.

Laura Frantz continues to be one of my favorite Christian historical fiction novelists – along with Tamera Alexander and Julie Lessman.

*I received a copy of Love's Fortune from the Baker Publishing Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Martin King and the Space Angels

Martin King and the Space Angels is a YA contemporary sci-fi novel, and the first book in the Martin King trilogy, by James McGovern.

Martin is an ordinary teen in the United Kingdom.

His best friend since forever is Darcy – and he struggles with desperately wanting to tell her that he loves more than a friend.

He has problems at home.

Nothing out of the ordinary here.

Until he gets a superpower.

Of course, that’s after being visited by an alien that says Martin and his friends are the only ones who can save the world.

Yep…

Not so ordinary anymore!

Martin King and the Space Angels is fast-paced but a bit hard to pin down. The characters are likable enough but they never ended up feeling real to me.

To be honest, I felt a little thrown into Martin King and the Space Angels, which is presented as a sort of “epic” story. Since we get very little time getting to know the characters and few details to absorb on the plot itself, I felt little to no investment in the characters or plot.

Sadly, that caused me to start to fall into disinterest.

Please know that Martin King and the Space Angels is not in any way a bad book. It has tons of fans already and almost all the reviews I’ve seen on places like Goodreads is very, very positive. So, as always, read the novel for yourself!

For me, I felt the novel was actually TOO fast. If it had slowed down and given me a chance to really understand and believe what was happening, I think that would have kept me from eventually skimming it. Sadly, my life is full of too many books (no such thing!) and too little time, so I made that difficult decision.

I think some comic book loving sci-fan fans may love Martin King and the Space Angels. It just does not appear to be a book for me.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Miss Mabel's School for Girls

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is a YA fantasy novel, and the first in The Network Series, by Katie Cross.

Sixteen-year-old Bianca Monroe has been planning for this day her entire life.

First, she has to be allowed into Miss Mabel’s School for Girls – one of the schools within the Network that teaches young witches how to use their magic. Then she has to safely pass through the foggy forest of Letum Wood. Finally, she has to break all tradition and volunteer for a competition that first year’s never touch.

Why?

Because Bianca must be able to confront Miss Mabel – a witch who cast a devastating curse on her family.

And the only way to meet Miss Mabel is to win the competition.

No one believes that a first year would have a single, solitary chance of beating trained third years.

Yet they don’t realize…

Bianca’s been training all sixteen years of her life…

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls was a revelation for me!!!

At the beginning I was a little thrown, because I couldn’t place a setting or time period for the story. Essentially, it is a fantasy in a witchy world – more details are revealed as you read Miss Mabel’s School for Girls. I was able to get past that initial hiccup fairly quickly.

There are some Harry Potter similarities, of course. A lot of times I felt like I was at the Triwizard Tournament. Potions feel familiar, things like that.

Yet, let me be very clear: this is a story completely of its own.

I swiftly was caught up in the suspenseful, atmospheric test of abilities. Bianca is very smart, very strong and very likable. I was truly stunned by how nerve wracking the novel was – it’s surprisingly page-turning!!!

Gripping, mesmerizing and disturbing at times – Miss Mabel’s School for Girls does not as much focus on the magic itself – though the magic is cool – but rather the intrigue, puzzles and tests surrounding it. There’s a whole level of political espionage going on and a truly dark, frightening sense that Bianca could be in over her head.

And Miss Mabel?

Yeah, she’s pretty much psychotically, brilliantly disquieting.

As you can tell, I was impressed and found Miss Mabel’s School for Girls to exceed my expectations!

I really, really want more.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer is the first book in Jasper Fforde’s YA fantasy series The Chronicles of Kazam.

And it’s awesome.

Soon-to-be-sixteen Jennifer Strange is acting manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management – an employment agency for magicians – since the true owner disappeared, literally.

Keeping a handle on a bunch of childish, bickering wizards may not sound like many folks cup of tea, but Jennifer enjoys it. It’s far better than living at the foundling orphanage – and she’s good at it.

But magic is fading and the modern technologies of life have led people to prefer drain cleaner to spells. Plus, the regulations placed on magic carpets have made using them as taxis impossible.

When a mass-vision predicts the death of the last dragon in the world at the hands of the last dragonslayer, politics, business and greed become the order of the day as people begin streaming toward the boundary of the Dragonlands – eager to stake some new land as soon as the dragon is dead.

The idea of it sickens Jennifer – and she doesn’t even realize yet just how much she will be involved and how it encompasses Big Magic…

The Last Dragonslayer was a ton of fun – and very quickly shaped up to be an awesome fantasy world mixed in with a modern sensibility. These people have televisions and electricity and everything – and magicians are rather “outdated”. Pretty hilarious.

Jasper Fforde has a cleverness that is infectious – and now having read both The Eyre Affair and The Last Dragonslayer I have to say I am happier than ever that I purchased more books from him, both adult and YA.

Here we get a quick, exuberant, bright plot with likable characters and humorous environment. There are some moments of gravity, of saddening sacrifice and a heroine that is principled, strong and full of integrity.

The Last Dragonslayer is a fun, fresh book that is tremendously delightful!

I will DEFINITELY be continuing with this series!!!

Friday, September 5, 2014

The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave is a YA sci-fi novel by Rick Yancey.

OMG.

The 5th Wave left me feeling pretty drained and exhausted.

For the best reasons.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s have a little synopsis, shall we?

Within a span of less than a year, the world has turned upside down. Sixteen-year-old Cassie saw how people reacted when alien ship first arrived. Some were excited, some panicked – but no one expected the truth.

Just how much smarter they truly were than humans.

First there was the 1st Wave, then a 2nd, then a 3rd and a horrifying 4th.

Each Wave cost humanity more and more until there’s very few left – and of those Cassie knows one thing above all else: trust no one.

A single purpose keeps Cassie moving – all alone, hungry, tired – a promise she made to her baby brother Sam.

That she would find him again. That they’d be together again.

Maybe it’s impossible – but that promise is keeping Cassie alive right now.

But on the horizon… the 5th Wave is coming.

Pretty vague, I know. But you really want to go into The 5th Wave in the dark as much as possible. Seriously, this is a book to go on a ride with.

The 5th Wave is compelling, gripping and intriguing from the start. I was hooked in less than 50 pages.

Cassie is a great character, providing some humor amidst the horrifying twists and turns. She’s strong but believable and altogether a great heroine.

As the story develops, it’s stunning, frightening, creepy and oh-so-suspenseful. Yancey provides addictive, dramatic writing that hypnotized me! It’s emotional and grounded yet very creative sci-fi.

The aliens presented here – in my opinion – are scarier than any I’ve seen in movies or TV before. If anything, I’d say the 70s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Stephanie Meyer’s The Host have some similarities with The 5th Wave – and are two of my favorite alien based stories – but that’s about it.

The 5th Wave was actually difficult for me to read at times. Not because it wasn’t good – not by far – but because it disturbed me. It had moments that were so sad – so disquieting.

With shocking twists, intellectual complexity and even a surprising romantic element, The 5th Wave keeps you on your toes!!!

When I finished it, my thoughts were: WOW.

Just… WOW.

I am going to clamor for the next book – no doubt!!

Side note: In the Acknowledgements, Rick Yancey mentioned her lost his dog while writing The 5th Wave. I want to provide my deepest sympathies to his loss, which I have also felt deeply with my kitties Ritchie and Rusty whom I always miss. What sweet, loving creatures animals are!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Being Sloane Jacobs

Being Sloane Jacobs is a YA contemporary novel by Lauren Morrill.

Sloane Emily Jacobs is about ready to launch her big ice skating comeback after a devastating moment in the junior nationals.

Or she’s supposed to anyway.

Training has been made harder by her political family’s issues, and knowledge of something that is eating her up inside.

So, when she leaves home for a hardcore ice skating camp, she’s miserable.

Sloane Devon Jacobs has been an ice hockey player for years. She’s tough and practically made for the lifestyle. It’s her one chance for a scholarship and a shot at college.

Lately, though, her aggressive streak has worsened and she finds herself forced to go to hockey camp to prove she’s worthy of being scouted come senior year.

Yet, she’s been playing worse than ever – as her mind hasn’t been in the game lately. This is not the time for hockey camp…

When the two Sloane’s serendipitously meet during travel to their camp’s, an idea is formed. Neither one of them wants to go where they’re going and both desperately want to escape their lives for a bit.

So… why not switch?

Being Sloane Jacobs did not start off as fun for me as Meant to Be did, what with both of the Sloane’s being in pretty unhappy places from the start. Whereas Meant to Be had laugh-out-loud moments from the get-go, Being Sloane Jacobs decided to ferment for us exactly how miserable the girls are.

For quite some time I was not really loving either Sloane. I appreciated their athleticism and anticipated that their switch would increase the entertainment factor in Being Sloane Jacobs – but when the switch happened there was a lot of pranking and hijinks at the camps that came across to me as more mean-spirited than funny.

The actual logistics of the switch weren’t clear to me, either. For example, both Sloane’s kept their respective cell phones – yet at one point Sloane Devon got a phone call from Sloane Emily’s father. How??? It’s possible I missed something, but I definitely felt the specifics could have been laid out a little better – even if it is an inherently unlikely situation that we’re supposed to suspend belief for.

All of this makes it sound like I wasn’t a fan of Being Sloane Jacobs, which isn’t entirely accurate. It just took quite a while to warm up to it, and I never enjoyed it as much as Meant to Be.

In the final third of Being Sloane Jacobs I finally started to root for these girls – I finally felt like they were TRYING. Amazing how that helps, huh?

After my long held reticence, Being Sloane Jacobs shockingly became rather touching. A good amount of character development and resolution that I had begun to fear I wouldn’t even care about. But I did care once we got there.

Being Sloane Jacobs was much better in the long haul – but I sure had to hang in there!!!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Blackfin Sky

Blackfin Sky is a YA contemporary paranormal debut novel by Kat Ellis.

Blackfin is a town where strange things happen.

People don’t blink at the abnormal and townsfolk don’t question the unexplained.

Yet when Skylar Rousseau heads into school one day and finds everyone staring at her in utter shock – due to the fact that apparently they all saw her dead and buried three months ago – she believes things have gotten a lot stranger.

Sky has no memory of dying – in fact, she remembers life as usual for the last three months.

She can’t deny, though, that she’s the only one with this perspective. Every single other person in Blackfin is astounded to see her – and for once, they are asking questions.

As Sky finds herself beginning to have odd, vivid dreams about a grimy circus in the middle of the woods, she knows that something is up. She becomes determined to find out what has happened to her.

Her need to unravel the truth about herself – it just may unravel other truths about this eccentric little town as well…

Blackfin Sky has a very intriguing premise – as I’m sure you’ll agree!

Reading the book was a very trippy experience – it’s very quirky and original. And as unusual as it is, it’s also fascinating and engaging.

On a day in which I was particularly tired, I remember reading Blackfin Sky during my lunch break and feeling like I might’ve been dosed with something. Ha! It has that mind-altering feeling, I’ll tell you that.

Blackfin Sky presents a creepy, suspenseful puzzle and manages to avoid most clichés. It presents an eerie circus villain and a plot complicated enough to be both highly satisfying and worthy of a future re-read.

I was very pleased with Blackfin Sky – it was wholly different, absorbing and a great read!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sinner

Sinner is a YA paranormal contemporary companion novel to the Shiver trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater.

As a companion novel, I personally recommend that all readers of Sinner first read Shiver, Linger and Forever first. You can click on the titles to read my reviews.

I’m trusting that you’re only still reading this review as a bookworm who has previously read the prior books…

Cole St. Clair is a werewolf in L.A.

He’s going to make a new record, star in a short reality show and fan the flames of his past superstardom.

But that’s not why he’s in L.A.

He came for Isabel.

Isabel left her and Cole’s bruised, fragmented relationship mess and decided to try and make a life for herself in California.

She’s just as unhappy here as she was in Mercy Falls. It’s not working.

Cole and Isabel both have demons and could be a disaster together – yet they can’t seem to let go…

Maggie Stiefvater is one of my favorite authors now – especially after The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys series. The Shiver trilogy is what introduced me to her, however.

Just as in the Shiver trilogy, Stiefvater writes a story with Sinner that has the fact that Cole’s a werewolf as a secondary, almost side story. In fact, it takes more a form of an addiction than anything else. Another struggle of Cole’s to heal himself – to refrain from the desire to stop being human, to stop feeling the pain of being human. Extraordinary.

Here we get raw emotion mixed in with the magical realism that is Maggie Stiefvater. We’re presented with real, flawed, damaged people – people that aren’t always very likable, but who we recognize an agonizing desire to be better – to be happy.

The attraction between Isabel and Cole is very readable, very palpable – but is also something deeper. There’s an understanding between them – a recognition of self-loathing, of a lost life and a desire for a new one.

Sinner, like the Shiver trilogy, faces the darker aspects of humanity and tosses in just enough of the paranormal to make it not a flat-out contemporary novel. It manages to highlight both genres, but primarily focuses on the human – the truth.

This isn’t a book with easy answers and I can’t say that I felt wholly satisfied with the end – but I appreciated it. Sinner was an excellent read written by a phenomenal writer.

Read it!