Friday, August 1, 2014

Meant to Be

Meant to Be is a contemporary YA novel by Lauren Morrill.

Straight-A high school junior Julia has marked her guidebooks and re-read the travel itinerary multiple times – she is ready for this Spring Break school trip to London!

As a literature lover, this is the perfect place for her to go. She’s ready to soak up the history and read Pride & Prejudice for the umpteenth time in a perfect London spot, meanwhile daydreaming about her MTB (Meant to Be) Mark back home, who has yet to really notice her.

However, it’s not long after they get to their destination that she finds out all students have to have a partner – a travel buddy that must be with them at all times outside of the place they’re staying.

And Julia’s happens to be her personal nemesis, class clown and attention-seeker extraordinaire Jason. He tends to bring her accident-prone life into the limelight, which she hates. She much prefers to be under the radar.

Of course, the very first night they’re partnered Jason pulls her to a wild party – in which she manages to get terribly drunk – and the next morning she begins getting flirty texts from someone she can’t place a face to.

Lovely.

Unable to deny that the thought that a guy is actually interested in her – possibly a British guy, at that – excites her a little, she allows Jason to help her find him, but he only does so if she agrees to let him teach her the ways of breaking the rules and having “fun”.

Julia knows she’s probably doomed for disaster, but she decides to take a chance…

I’ve heard of Meant to Be and Lauren Morrill quite a bit. I’ve noticed a lot of high ratings on Goodreads, also. So, I decided it was about time I joined the party!

Meant to Be has some funny moments right from the start and throughout the entire novel there is some pretty hilarious narration by Julia. As a book-loving, rule-following gal, I could relate to her quite a bit.

As the story evolved, I have to say I did not expect the destination it came to. It’s a different sort of romantic comedy and features an ultimate hero that I initially did not see that way AT ALL. Don’t want to say too much and give it away, but I’ll admit this was refreshing – even if I was doubtful at first.

I really liked the more intimate characterizations Meant to Be mixed in with the humor. We see the layers peeled back, more and more, on what might be holding Julia back – and how she deals with her own disillusionment.

For me, Meant to Be has a surprising but satisfying conclusion with some real emotional growth in all the characters. It was sort of like we didn’t know anyone fully at the beginning, that it took time and effort to learn about them in an honest way – just like in real life.

Meant to Be was certainly a fun read, and an unexpected one too. I look forward to reading the next Lauren Morrill book, Being Sloane Jacobs.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth is a classic children’s/middle-grade fantasy novel by Norton Juster.

How have I never heard of this book until recently???

All I can say is THANK YOU to a bookish bud that told me about the GEM!!!

Have YOU heard of The Phantom Tollbooth? Have YOU read it?

Milo finds little interest in any place he’s at when he’s there or anything he’s doing when he’s doing it.

When Milo finds a tollbooth in his room one day, he decides to go ahead and drive through it in his little electric car – if only because he’s got nothing better to do and this is certainly something different.

For once, though, where he ends up doesn’t have him thinking about leaving.

Milo finds himself in a world that’s very different from his own – meeting the residents of the Doldrums, being at a market of words at Dictionopolis, taking a look over Point of View, jumping to the Island of Conclusions – and much, much more.

As he embarks on an adventure for the ages – involving a daring rescue! – Milo begins to realize…

Life can be far from dull.

Oh my gosh – The Phantom Tollbooth is AWESOME!!!

Are you a fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? I know I am. I love wordy, crafty children’s books with more beyond the fun, silly surface.

That’s what we get here!

The Phantom Tollbooth has smile-inducing cleverness, wordplay and fun writing that made this an absolute delight to read! It’s a truly inventive, creative, original fantasy – and a fantastic book to read out loud.

Among the many, many lines of wit in The Phantom Tollbooth, there is wisdom.

Here we meet a Watch Dog, the Spelling Bee, and a Humbug – among others! Love it!!

This is definitely for fans of charming, fanciful, intelligent books – no age limits here, no way no how!

The Phantom Tollbooth is a tale of paying attention, of caring and not letting time be wasted.

Like I said earlier, a GEM.

Of course, I am likely preaching to the choir here – it appears The Phantom Tollbooth is something of a classic. I was just, apparently, out of the loop.

But if you were too, well – get looped in! The Phantom Tollbooth is one of the books to be reread and savored many days to come!!!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Valour and Vanity

Valour and Vanity is the fourth book in Mary Robinette Kowal’s historical fantasy series The Glamourist Histories.

Having read all four of the released books, I implore you to read this series in order!!! First there’s Shades of Milk and Honey, then Glamour in Glass and third there’s Without a Summer. Once you’ve read all three of the prior books, THEN you can read this review of Valour and Vanity without fear of spoilers!

Got it?!?

Having happily kept Melody company throughout her marriage and the beginnings of the new couple’s tour of the continent, Jane and Vincent are rather ready to separate from Jane’s family and continue their glamour experiments – just the two of them.

In Murano, Italy Jane and Vincent plan on studying with acclaimed glassblowers to pursue their theories on glamour in glass. However, while sailing to Murano their ship is set upon by Barbary corsairs – just as Jane’s fretful mother feared.

Though blessedly not enslaved, Jane and Vincent find themselves in a foreign country – destitute.

All of their travel funds stolen from them and their only contacts in Murano away, Jane and Vincent are fortunate to cross paths with a kindly man that helps them.

Yet Vincent is dogged to become self-sufficient once more and get their money back.

Amidst the backdrop of a magical fantasy version of glorious Regency times, there’s a heist to plan!

Being that if you’ve just read this review of Valour and Vanity you’ve already read the three prior books, I don’t expect you to wait long to grab a copy of Valour and Vanity – no matter what I say.

I know that I – as a lover of Jane Austen and the Regency period – absolutely adore the fusion Kowal provides when she adds her lovely, grounded magical elements to the mix!!! I’ve ardently adored this series thus far – each book getting better and better.

Though I can’t really say Valour and Vanity is better than Without a Summer – it most certainly ranks evenly, and that’s saying something!

The Glamourist Histories features one of the best romantic relationships I’ve ever read – if not THE best married couple. Jane and Vincent are relatable and passionate yet grounded in friendship. They are AWESOME.

Yet again I was glued to the story – to the wonderfully intriguing plot that provides plenty of interpersonal conflict, growth and proof that Kowal has amazing skill at creating realistic characters and a marriage that is stunningly believable – and enviable.

Without going into details so that every aspect of the story surprises you, I will say that Valour and Vanity is another fantastic addition to a spellbinding series that has become one of my absolute favorites!!!

Not to miss if you’re a fan of Regency, Jane Austen, and/or fantasy!!!

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!!!