Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Be Popular

How to Be Popular is a YA contemporary novel by Meg Cabot.

Yes, this is an older title – all the way back from 2006! Yet I haven’t gotten the opportunity to read it until now – and like I told y’all in my Stand-Out Books of 2013 post, this year is all about a mix of the old and new!

Steph Landry has spent the last five years of her life in her Indiana town as, essentially, a punch line.

One bad spill with a cherry Super Big Gulp and one extra mean girl equals, apparently, eternal scorn.

Well, as Steph enters the first week of her junior year, she’s ready to change all that.

Having found an old but helpful book called How to Be Popular, she knows she finally has a secret weapon. And she’s going to use it to break the five year streak of ridicule and instead become popular and attention worthy of one hot quarterback – Mark Finley.

Maybe this will mean a little less time for stargazing with her nerdy best friends Jason and Becca, but they will understand.

Won’t they?

How to Be Popular
was a ton of fun!!! I was able to read through it lightning fast, which is a common trend for me and Cabot books, I find.

Steph is edgy enough to keep How to Be Popular from being pure cotton candy fluff – it’s more like a delicious chocolate bar, maybe with almonds.

We get a fun, snarky heroine that has a goal that doesn’t make her unlikable – as she’s certainly not casting off her friends to do it. She just may be trying to be something she’s not… which is a relatable flaw.

It’s entertaining from the start with great secondary characters and excellent dialogue and narration – none of which is a surprise for me, considering how many Meg Cabot books I own.

How to Be Popular gives a good sense of a mid-west high school and provides a good dollop of romance on top of some good ol’ fashioned humor!

I very much enjoyed it and am pleased to have finally gotten to How to Be Popular!

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Lovely and the Lost

The Lovely and the Lost is a YA historical horror/paranormal novel and the follow-up to last year’s The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan.

To read the books in order, definitely lap up The Beautiful and the Cursed first, bibliophiles! I’d avoid this review, also, until you have done so.

Ingrid and Gabby Waverly have not had the quiet reprieve from London society gossip that they expected when they first came to France. Instead in 1900 Paris they’ve realized they are part of a dark, supernatural world – involving demons, gargoyles and angels.

Having only recently rescued Ingrid’s twin brother Grayson from the fallen angel Axia – only to find him changed and still very potentially dangerous – they had hoped that things would calm down for a spell.

Not likely.

The Waverly’s gargoyle Luc, one of the Dispossessed, is still being kept busy as a mysterious man has a special interest in Ingrid’s unique blood – and he is part of an organization that is known for doing anything to get what they want – with no regard for human life.

The Alliance has vowed to protect the Waverlys and another Dispossesed is to join Luc in the guarding of their abbey home – but will it be enough to keep them safe?

The Lovely and the Lost is a very good follow-up to The Beautiful and the Cursed. I really like the dark fantasy aspect and the new types of creatures Page Morgan provides us, as well as the continually atmospheric setting.

With scores of attractive young men and passionate romance including both forbidden love and love triangles, there is a lot going on – on top of the paranormal plot and goings on!

At times I did get a tad lost – I think a re-reading of The Beautiful and the Cursed would have been helpful – but I did continually enjoy the story. Sometimes the romance side of things was a little frustrating to me and I wasn’t as head-over-heels impressed as I was with The Beautiful and the Cursed.

Yet I still feel The Lovely and the Lost was very good – and I do want the next book, most definitely!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Death Takes a Ride

Death Takes a Ride is the third book in the Christian humorous mystery series The Cate Kinkaid Files by Lorena McCourtney.

For your fullest enjoyment, I recommend read Dying to Read first and Dolled Up to Die second and THEN Death Takes a Ride.

There won’t be terrible spoilers in this review for the first two books, but I still recommend waiting until you’re caught up with the series!

On the crest of receiving her P. I. license, Cate should be feeling more capable than ever in her new career, right?

Well, when a non-job related task brings her to H & B Vintage Auto Repair one evening and the night ends with one man wounded and another dead, shot in self-defense… she really wonders.

But the case is cut and dry, no need for investigating on her end!

Or so she tells herself.

That is, until she digs a little deeper – the curse of the curious! – and starts to notice oddities that lead her to believe the shooting may not be so simple…

The Cate Kinkaid Files is a fun series that takes the concept of a cozy mystery and combines it with humor and an implicit, established Christian faith. Great combo!

Death Takes a Ride is another addition that provides chuckle worthy scenes and dialogue, not to mention charming, amusing first-person narration from an always likable heroine.

In Death Takes a Ride, the mystery itself isn’t as quirky as the two prior books – personally I prefer the quirky, after all I’m a superfan of shows like Pushing Daisies – yet it’s still entertaining.

I really like that leads and clues take work and effort on Cate’s part – that they don’t just fall in her lap. She does leg work and runs into a lot of dead ends. I appreciate that little dash of realism.

As always, Cate’s spunk is delightful but not outright reckless. Overall, a fun, fast-paced whodunit with a Christian protagonist.

My fear is that in most Christian series three seems to be the favorite number for a series. I really don’t want Death Takes a Ride to be the final book in this series – it’s fun, light-hearted and animal friendly!

Please provide more!!!

*I received a copy of Death Takes a Ride from the Baker Publishing Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Beautiful Redemption

Beautiful Redemption is the fourth and final book in the YA contemporary supernatural Beautiful Creatures/Caster Chronicles series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Of course if you are behind on the series and haven’t read books one through three – you really should not read this review and spoil some huge plot points for yourself!

I trust you to make the right decision on moving forward with this perusal of my review of Beautiful Redemption

Ethan Wate spent almost his entire life in the small, sleepy Southern town of Gatlin wishing something would happen – or that he could get out of there. He had a map marking all the different places he wanted to go.

Then Lena Duchannes moved to Gatlin – different in more than one way from the ordinary Gatlin resident – and revealed to him that there was a lot more going on his little town than he ever could have imagined – let alone in the world.

Knowing about the enigmatic, magic, cursed underside of Gatlin caused a lot more excitement in Ethan’s life – but also more complication and heartbreak.

Though he’d never, ever turn back.

After making a fateful decision at the end of Beautiful Chaos, Ethan now finds himself longing to return to the Gatlin he once yearned to leave – and return to those he loves.

Separated by dimensions, Ethan and Lena must try to work together when it is nearly impossible to try and alter their destiny and find each other once more.

Their love has never been easy – in fact, it’s been cursed – but is it powerful enough to overturn what most would consider an insurmountable obstacle?

Okay, that was a little vague – but if you read it before reading the first books, against my wishes, you don’t know too much, do ya?!

My master plan.

Anywho, as I entered into Beautiful Redemption I was definitely optimistic, though the end of Beautiful Chaos was certainly a cliffhanger. I was looking forward to this final chapter of the Beautiful Creatures series – until I read the spin-off series Dangerous Creatures, that is!

Right when I started reading Beautiful Redemption, my almost 16 year old cat Rusty was entering the final stages of his life. It was a painful time. This book will always carry that memory. And, of course, this book is centered on loss – so overall it was at times difficult to read because of that.

However, focusing on the novel itself – Beautiful Redemption offers up an interesting Otherworld – a neighborhood in a graveyard. Though I wouldn’t say that this fourth book is as strong as books two and three (in my opinion), there was a ton of fascinating new Caster world depth – including some creepy new situations and newly explored lore.

I did miss interactions with our Gatlin residents, though. Link, Lena and Amma, for example. I like Ethan a lot – but the supporting characters were definitely neglected and caused Beautiful Redemption to feel it was lacking something. Especially for a final book, I would’ve liked more from them.

Beautiful Redemption is still addictive and compulsively readable, though.

I didn’t always love the theme of loss – perhaps because of what I was going through personally – and I again recognized more similarities with Harry Potter – but the Caster details and Southern atmosphere still won me over. I’m still a fan.

Plus, with the little time we had with Link, I’ve realized he definitely is one of my favorite characters – so I am happy he will be the center of the spin-off series!

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Kill Order

The Kill Order is the YA dystopian horror prequel to James Dashner’s Maze Runner series.

I know I’ve taken my time on this one, a bit. After being very into The Maze Runner, then slightly less enchanted with The Scorch Trials and quite a bit irritated with The Death Cure – I became quite sure there was no need for me to reenter this world that had disappointed me.

Yet… here I am. And, I have to say, it was much better than I expected.

A brief synopsis, if you will:

When the sun flares hit the earth and the world as we know it changed forever – Mark and Trina were there.

Just as they’ve reached a point where survival seems to be getting a little easier – just when the horrifying memories of those early days of terror aren’t the only thing on their minds – it begins.

A disease that seems to mutate, change and worsen – a disease of the mind, causing rage and insanity – seems to be spreading across the landscape of what is left of the United States.

Hoping to find a cure, to survive yet again, Mark and Trina fight to stay alive…

The Kill Order is a creepy, suspenseful and action-packed prequel. It focuses on what I didn’t like about The Death Cure – this virus. Yet it managed to make me more accepting – and realize just how disturbing James Dashner manages to make it.

I did quickly come to care for Mark, Trina and their friends – and then all hell broke loose.

The Kill Order is violent, gory and most definitely a horror novel in the sense of people going bonkers in only the worst of ways. *shudders*

This is not a happy book by any means, but it is an interesting, good, quick read that put the Maze Runner series in a different perspective in my eyes.

I just wonder if I reread the books – now knowing how it would turn out – if I’d like the conclusion better. I don’t know.

But The Kill Order was certainly not boring and I do not regret reading it at all.

Plus, I now might be a tad more willing to try Dashner's new series...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Moonblood

Moonblood is the third book in the Tales of Goldstone Wood fantasy series by Anne Elisabeth Stengl.

Personally, I strongly suggest reading this series in order. Even though Stengl does jump around in time a bit, giving different perspectives and stories from different angles at parallel times, it can get super confusing if it’s not in order.

Case in point: I was introduced to this series with book two, Veiled Rose. Then I read book one, Heartless. Then, somehow, I totally missed book three (until now) and read book four Starflower and book five Dragonwitch (shockingly!) in order. Now I’ve read Moonblood, book three, before I’ll be reading the next book, number six, Shadow Hand.

Yeah, I’ve been jumping all over the place. It just sort of happened.

I do not recommend you follow my example.

Anywho, a short synopsis of Moonblood:

Prince Lionheart, having returned to his kingdom immediately after his kingdom had suffered a long, terrifying occupation of a Dragon, is in desperate need of regaining his people’s trust.

Having not suffered with them, they don’t feel he understands the horrors they endured. And without any proof of the Prince fighting the Dragon, or doing anything to save them, their suspicions turn dark – and their anger focuses on Rose Red.

A close friend from childhood, Prince Lionheart has given Rose Red a place in his palace as a chambermaid for many years. Her veil covers her ugliness – but there was a time when her grotesque goblin face was revealed – and no one has forgotten it.

In disbelief that he’d want to keep such a horror in his home, the people decide that Rose Red must have bewitched him. In order to win back the approval of his people – Prince Lionheart banishes her.

His faithful servant. His only true friend.

Not long after, Prince Lionheart becomes determined to find her again. He plunges into the mysterious, treacherous Goldstone Wood to search for Rose Red – only to find himself in a maze of strange other worlds and crossing paths with others searching for the same goblin girl.

Will Lionheart finally find the courage he has lacked for so long? Or will his banishment of Rose Red lead to a destruction to more than he ever expected?

Well, as I said earlier, I have really jumped around in this series.

Each book in the Tales of Goldstone Wood are like puzzle pieces fitting plots intricately together to form one massive, complex, epic story. Making the fact that I’ve bounced around out of order all the worse.

Yet it is a demonstration of Stengl’s talent that I still manage to feel the strong emotions, the anguishing mistakes, the love and deceit that perforate each page. She creates worlds that are surreal, creative and sprawling.

Due to the intricacy and my own jumbled order I’ve read the books in, I admit I often got very confused. I couldn’t remember necessary details, names, and people and overall felt that there would be a much better impact if I were to read each book in quick succession, in order.

However, Moonblood is even still a powerful, sweeping fantasy novel that promises more and leaves oh-so-many open ends.

I want more – and happily there seems to be more coming!

Definitely an original, rare accomplishment in fantasy literature today – an authentic, lyrical fairy-tale vibe with unfamiliar stories!!!

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Shadow Throne

Happy 4th of July, everyone!!!

The Shadow Throne is the third and final novel in the YA historical political intrigue Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

If you haven’t read The False Prince and The Runaway King, well – you need to! Not only are they exceptional books, but they are necessary reading before you even skim this review of the final book, The Shadow Throne.

In other words, BEAT IT! Unless, that is, you have read the previous books – then: welcome, friend! :) 

You’ve been warned!

Jaron is back on the throne – but war has come to Carthya.

He knew it was coming – and now it has…

Immediately, things look grim for Carthya, but Jaron has a few tricks up his sleeve, utilizing a mind that was made all the more strong during his years living as an orphan rather than royalty.

When it is made known that King Vargon of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen, however, it is obviously a ploy to distract Jaron. And it’s working.

Determined to rescue her, Jaron concocts a plan that separates him from his most trusted friends – and everything that could go wrong does.

With Jaron’s fast wit and intelligence, he may be able to get by on the skin of his teeth – or has his luck run out? Who will be sacrificed to save Carthya?

Or can Carthya be saved at all?

As a final novel and conclusion to the two prior, outstanding novels, The Shadow Throne is a suspenseful nail-biter!

It’s amazing how gripping the political intrigue and war is – a testament to Jennifer A. Nielsen’s superb writing. Somehow she also manages to make such a young king believable and give the books a grounded vibe.

Often, as readers, we are not fully aware of what is going on – what Jaron’s plans entail – and that lends itself to moments of true surprise and scenes that successfully impress me.

In The Shadow Throne there is painful loss, emotional anguish, action, adventure and plenty of Jaron’s intelligence and wit – making him a funny, brave and very likable character. He provides both much needed humor and also depth and gravity, which transitions smoothly.

The Shadow Throne was an excellent, excellent finale to a wonderful trilogy!!!

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Cracks in the Kingdom

The Cracks in the Kingdom is a YA contemporary fantasy and the second novel in the Colors of Madeline books by Jaclyn Moriarty.

These books are just too fantastic to muddle up by reading out of order! Definitely read A Corner of White first and only proceed with this review if you have already done so!

Understood?

At the conclusion of A Corner of White we found out that in the Kingdom of Cello dimwitted teenage Princess Ko might not actually be as dimwitted as she’s led everyone to believe – that instead she’s been pretending the rest of the royal family hadn’t disappeared without a trace a year ago and has been running the government all by herself, secretly, in the meantime.

Outwardly running a Royal Youth Alliance as a cheerful publicity stunt, Princess Ko has roped Elliot into her scheme to find her family – and her strong belief that they were taken to the World.

Though Elliot really just wants to look for his own missing father, he’s essentially forced to help Princess Ko – as she knows that he has been corresponding with a girl from the World – Madeline – via a small crack back at The Farms, which he never reported. This is a crime punishable by death.

So, Elliot and two other teens – each with surprising hidden talents – begin to try to solve what appears to be an unsolvable case with almost no idea where to start.

The stakes are higher than ever – and Elliot’s tie to Madeline becomes vital in more ways than one…

Oh my, my, my!!!

Jaclyn Moriarty – do you WANT me to be desperately in love with you?!? Because it’s working!!!

Yet again, I am astounded by just how extraordinarily refreshing Jaclyn’s novels are!

The Cracks in the Kingdom is ticklingly funny (I literally laughed out loud multiple times), searingly touching, fascinatingly different and startlingly original – I absolutely LOVE The Cracks in the Kingdom!!!

The Colors of Madeline books are turning out to be tremendously exciting and thrilling – with emotional depth, three-dimensional characters and delightful quirkiness that makes you wonder just how Moriarty manages to pull it all off – and pull it off so remarkably well!

There’s something so NEW in Moriarty’s writing, it intoxicates me!

The Cracks in the Kingdom progresses the plot of A Corner of White in unexpected, wonderful ways – advancing the fantasy element and spending more time, it seems, in the Kingdom of Cello. We get a phenomenal, suspenseful story, lots of fun, and characters that just settle in and matter to you as the reader.

It is unpredictably moving, has startling anguish and deep, deep sadness. It’s truly a stunning, remarkable, brilliant, memorable novel!!!

I cannot wait for book three.

Neither will you, I bet!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bad Luck Girl

Bad Luck Girl is the third novel in the YA historical fantasy American Fairy Trilogy by Sarah Zettel.

To get the full impact of the story, and not spoil the fun, you’ll want to make sure and read the trilogy in order. The first book is Dust Girl and the second is Golden Girl – click on the titles to read my reviews.

I trust only those who have read the first two books are continuing to read…

Callie LeRoux, half human and half fairy, finally has her family together.

Having rescued her mother and father, who she’s never met until now and who is a prince of the Unseelie court, from their enemies – things should be peaceful and happy now, right?

Not at all.

Now she, her family and her best friend Jack must run for their lives.

The war between the Midnight Throne and the Sunlit Kingdoms is brewing and reaching an apex – and Callie, and the prophecy she embodies, is at the center of it. She is more pursued than ever – and all of those around her are in jeopardy.

Despite the prophecy, Callie doubts that she save anyone.

After all, her nickname among the fairies is Bad Luck Girl.

That’s proven true so far…

The American Fairy Trilogy has been an terrific read – taking an awesome perspective of Depression-era America in 1935 and spanning across the Dust Bowl to Hollywood and now to Chicago. Mixing just the right amount of historical detail with a fresh fairy fantasy plot creates an original, enjoyable, very readable story!!!

Bad Luck Girl
keeps up that trend!

It’s suspenseful and nerve-wracking with a sense of real danger. One of my favorite things about this trilogy is how disturbing the fairies can be – and the various other fantasy creatures involved – and the psychological impact or their influence. It can be quite chilling!

Bad Luck Girl made me smile, made me sad, made me scared – it kept me invested in this excellently drawn cast of characters and this overarching plot.

Sarah Zettel has created a unique, fully-realized fantasy realm and imagined distinctive beings to populate it. These books offer one of the more fleshed-out, better written fairy stories, for sure!

I felt that Bad Luck Girl was a great finale, making the American Fairy Trilogy a wonderful one and making me ready to keep an eye out for more Sarah Zettel!!!

Monday, June 23, 2014

All the Wrong Questions #2: When Did You See Her Last?

When Did You See Her Last? is the second middle-grade amusing mystery novel in Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions series.

If you haven’t read Who Could That Be at This Hour? the second book may be confusing to you, as it does have follow-up and a continued storyline. So I’d recommend reading the books in order!

Nearly thirteen years old and graduated from an enigmatic school, Lemony Snicket finds himself still in the nearly empty town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea and still apprenticed to the crazy-haired S. Theodora.

When a request comes in to investigate the disappearance of a young, brilliant chemist named Cleo Knight who also happens to be the daughter of the wealthy family of Ink Inc. fortune, Lemony and S. Theodora are on the case.

But sightings of Cleo taking off in a taxi and advising she was off to join the circus have come in, and S. Theodora calls it a closed case.

Yet Lemony is most definitely not certain of that. After all, there is the issue of Cleo’s expensive, abandoned Dilemma, a purchase of cereal, and the poor eyesight of the only grocer in town.

Clearly this is not a closed case, and Lemony will continue to investigate – even if he does ask all the wrong questions…

Just as in Who Could That Be at This Hour?, When Did You See Her Last? Is a delightful, nonsensical clue-finding entertainment of a novel.

Lemony Snicket as a character is solemn, secretive and quite clearly intelligent. Certainly not the average pre-teen. His humor is often sarcastic or witty, and the characters surrounding him are often ludicrous.

Stain’d-by-the-Sea is the most bizarre little town; it’s an excellent place to situate a fun, crazy little mystery such as this. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I look forward to more in the series and can’t help but hope for more hints of Lemony’s future investigating the Baudelaire orphans.

Fun, silly, quick read!!!