Friday, May 29, 2015

When You Leave

When You Leave is a YA contemporary mystery novel by Monica Ropal.

Skater girl Cass doesn’t plan on becoming friendly with anyone at her new private high school. After all, her experience with getting close to people is not a positive one.

Her recent change of lifestyle is due to her mother’s remarriage to a wealthy man, when it was her mother’s previous husband – Cass’s father – that left them high and dry in near financial poverty.

It’s an adjustment. One of her only constants is her best friend – whom she almost lost to cancer. All in all, not the best situations to build trust in relationships…

But despite concealing her skater girl personality under the preppy plaid skirts, Cass’s good-looking, popular locker neighbor, Cooper, notices her. Oddly enough, he’s interested in her – and against her better judgement, she begins to be interested in return…

Yet just as Cass begins to let him in, Cooper is murdered.

Stunned, the news only gets worse when one of Cass’s closest friends is suspected to be the killer.

Determined to find the truth – Cass must face the fact that the truth may not be what she really wants…

When You Leave was a good read!

Cass felt, to me, like an early Avril Lavigne – an angsty skater girl that can be a bit prickly, though I cannot say I blame her when the first impressions of her family aren’t harsher than what she presents.

On the romantic angle, I feel When You Leave is fairly successful – and it did make the murder feel personal, which I know the author was going for. Instead of the murder being impersonal, someone the protagonist doesn’t know or only knows as an acquaintance, there were real, deep feelings building between Cass and Cooper. I felt terrible for Cass.

As the investigation starts, we have some clue finding and information gathering that is pretty standard – but, again, I felt it was relatively well done. Occasionally some creepy things happen – there’s a quiet suspense always present once the murder occurred.

I did correctly guess the murderer – but that didn’t change the fact that I was riveted by the story and attached to the characters. In the end, the murder mystery did not feel as central to the plot as Cass and her damaged relationships.

Honestly, a good read with a different spin on the whodunit.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey is a dystopian satire novel by Jasper Fforde.

In a world where color perception determines the hierarchy of a Colortocracy society, what you can see is everything.

That’s why Eddie Russet is trying to secure a marriage into the powerful Oxblood family to combine his better-than-average Red perception to their aristocratic name – yet those plans are upended when he and his father are sent to the fringe town East Carmine.

Manners, rules and accepted mores in the Chromatacia seem a bit more lax in East Carmine – dangerously so. Beyond the normal fear of lethal swans and lightening, the sneaky Yellows seem sneakier than ever, the deMauve’s are angling to marry their horrid Violet to Eddie and he’s finding himself fascinated by a Grey named Jane.

Riskiest of all is the knowledge Eddie begins to gather in East Carmine – truths behind the ordered, peaceful, rule-abiding Colortocracy that shed light on its deceptions…

And it’s that innate inquisitiveness that could lead him away from a life of conformity – of career and spouse – and into trouble.

Jasper Fforde has to be one of the most imaginative authors out there right now. Seriously, what a unique, wonderfully bizarre concept!

We are introduced to a futuristic world in which everyone is, essentially, color blind. What they can see leads to where they are ranked in society – who they can marry, what jobs they can do, etc. Education, preference and love have nothing to do with it.

Plus, there is the abundance of RULES. Rules ranging from the illegality of manufacturing spoons (therefore making all spoons currently in existence a high-value, high-demand item) to the time of day you are allowed to drink Ovaltine.

Eddie is, of course, a fully immersed member of this society and we get to watch him go from embracing and believing in it to beginning to question it. He’s a likable character that cannot seem to help his curiosity, yet fears it as well.

Characters in Shades of Grey have, dare I say, colorful personalities! They burst from the pages with snappy dialogue and make the wacky world around them easier to accept – though the intricacies of Chromatacia are still confusing at times.

I loved it. It’s so absolutely different in every way. It’s hilarious, insightful, suspenseful and even a little romantic. There are supposed to be two more books – rounding out a trilogy – yet it has been six years since the release of Shades of Grey.

That’s okay. I will be patient. I am immensely interested in where this story will go – and willing to wait as long as it takes!

In the meantime, Jasper Fforde’s other novels will continue to sweep me away into a level of intelligent creativity that is not so easily found in today’s literature.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Off the Page

Off the Page is a YA contemporary fantasy companion to Between the Lines by mother-daughter writing team Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer.

Oliver is about to start his new life as an ordinary teen boy at a new high school.

But he’s not an ordinary teen boy. He’s a prince taken from the pages of a fairy tale – and his new life is due to hard-earned freedom to be with the reader he loves, Delilah.

In order to do this, he has to fake an American accent and pretend to be Edgar, son to the author of the book he is from.

Totally not complicated.

At first, Oliver and Delilah delight in their ability to be together – but then real life interferes. Things aren’t as easy as fairy tales.

And the real Edgar, who is voluntarily taking Oliver’s place in the fairy tale – which he has now changed to a sort of space adventure meets alien invasion storyline – is finding his new role isn’t as easy as he expected either.

Is Happily Ever After possible?

Off the Page has full color illustrations and different colored fonts for each characters perspective, which really plays into the fairy tale vibe.

Though Off the Page is a companion, and not specifically labeled a sequel, to Between the Lines – I think it would have been beneficial to read the books in order. Primarily because the reader would then have an investment in Oliver and Delilah’s relationship. That was a bit harder to establish for a new reader, i.e. me.

Modern, light and fluffy in a way that can be entertaining and fun, Off the Page is an easy read and spotlights a dream many readers are likely to have – to pull their novel crushes out of the pages and actually get to be with them!

I can’t say it was the most original book – or that the characters were the most believable. Yet it was a generally enjoyable diversion that, to me, was an introduction for readers to dive into something a little more complex with a similar idea – hopping into books – such as Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.

Off the Page had some surprising, heartfelt, more serious moments that helped the overall story to have more weight – but all in all Off the Page is a gentle, reader’s fantasy that will likely be primarily loved by younger teens.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

As Love Blooms

As Love Blooms is the third book in The Gregory Sisters Christian historical romance series by Lorna Seilstad.

Though each book focuses on a different sister, reading the books out of order potentially spoils you for the other sisters’ romances. I would recommend reading When Love Calls first and then While Love Stirs before As Love Blooms. Click on the titles to be swept away to my reviews of said novels!

In 1913 St. Paul, Minnesota, youngest Gregory sister Tessa is determined to put her horticulture education to good use by getting a position at prominent Como Park.

When she is rebuffed for being a woman best left to garden at home, Tessa’s persistent, audacious spirit is flamed all the more.

With a mixture of a little good hearted deception involving penetrating the affluent and powerful society to drum up financial support for a new conservatory for Como Park and working with a attractive male gardener at the Park to utilize her creative designs, Tessa is sure she can make her dreams come true.

But will the gardener be more distraction than help?

I can’t say that As Love Blooms is the most original novel out there, but was diverting enough and pleasant.

Tessa is a spirited character, ready to push the bounds of her restraints as a female in 1913. Oftentimes, though, this spiritedness can come across as a bit immature. She’s still likable, though.

I liked that Reese, our main male character, and she became friends before anything else – and it was rather refreshing to have their feelings for each other made known fairly quickly without too much melodrama.

However, overall I found As Love Blooms to be a harmless, nice read without much substance or depth. The romance didn’t have my heart pounding or yearning – and the plot wraps up in a manner that is pleasing but also predictable.

Yet, to be fair, these books are not necessarily meant to be more than that. They are supposed to be inspiring, enjoyable romances – but in the case of As Love Blooms, it was more lighthearted and didn’t strike me as anything particularly special.

Keep in mind that your opinion may be much stronger! I am in no way saying As Love Blooms is a poor book, it just didn’t blow me away. So – read it for yourself!!

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

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Madness Underneath

The Madness Underneath is the second book in the urban supernatural YA series Shades of London by Maureen Johnson.

I strong recommend reading the books in order – so if you haven’t read The Name of the Star yet, check out my review of that first book here.

Final warning to look away if you haven’t read the first book yet…

Rory’s move from the American South to a London boarding school didn’t turn out the way she expected it to.

Suddenly gaining the ability to see ghosts was startling enough – to then also be nearly killed by a Jack the Ripper copycat was the icing on the horror cake.

Yet Rory doesn’t feel like she’s as psychologically damaged as she should be – and when she’s given the opportunity to return to Wexford, she does.

But there’s evidence of a new potentially ghost-like string of murders and Rory’s powers have morphed into something stronger since she was nearly murdered…

Is she as ready as she thinks she is to take on another dark force?

First off, I love Maureen Johnson. Her heroines are just so darn hilarious – I mean, I laugh out loud when I read their narration and dialogue – yet also believably vulnerable. Awesomeness.

Where The Name of the Star had a very specific plot, The Madness Underneath feels a little bit more all over the place. Much of it is seeing the psychological aftermath of what happened to Rory – which I actually find refreshing as that feels more realistic. Then we also get some new mysterious characters and some murders that may or may not be related to the rest of everything.

You see what I mean?

I know there’s been some discussion that The Madness Underneath is not as good as The Name of the Star – and I could almost agree with that. However, I think it was actually a lovely, creepy, page-turner extension of the story and I believe that all these seemingly unconnected pieces are clear to the author.

Plus – the end? WOWZA.

Like I said, I love Maureen Johnson.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Coraline

Coraline is a middle grade contemporary fantasy by Neil Gaiman.

Perhaps you’ve already read Coraline.

Perhaps you are wondering, “How on earth could a self-proclaimed bibliophile have not yet read this modern classic?”

Perhaps I am wondering the same thing. Yet this is an issue that has been rectified!

In Coraline’s new flat there is a door that when opened reveals nothing but a wall of bricks.

Yet being the young adventurer she is, Coraline tries it again another day and instead finds it is an entrance to another house – a house just like hers but better.

Instead of always working and being very busy, these new versions of her parents want to spend time with her and want her to stay with them on this side of the door.

Coraline, though, wonders why.

There appears to be something sinister and secretive beneath the improved surface of this mirror house – and Coraline will have to use her wits and her nerve to save herself.

I can’t say my summary of the premise of Coraline really does it justice – but that’s what I’ve got for ya!

A long while back I saw the stop-action animated movie version of Coraline and found it very unique. So, I was happy to find that the book was – SHOCKER – even better!

Coraline is creepy, engaging fun!

This is like how when you watch some of the older kids movies you think, “Wow – that’s pretty scary for a little kid, they’ve really watered down the scare factor these days!” Of course, books have never been as regulated as movies – but still. This is some weird stuff.

An absorbing, quick fairy-tale for all ages, Coraline takes elements of excellent writing and classic themes and throws in a dose of original fantasy-horror that is just perfect, in my opinion, for any reader.

With superb, vivid imagery and a little girl character in Coraline that is clever, smart and full of scruples – I enjoyed Coraline even more than Stardust by Neil Gaiman! It has that lovely this-is-a-lesson-but-not-really vibe in the resolution, being more gracefully poignant that hit-over-the-head.

Coraline made me convinced I must read more by Gaiman – and I’m happy to know there is a lot out there!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Seeker

Seeker is a YA futuristic fantasy novel by Arwen Elys Dayton.

After years of training, Quin Kinkaid and her two fellow trainees, Shinobu and John, they are finally ready to take the Oath that will officially make them Seekers – protectors of the weak and wronged.

Yet – once the Oath is taken, Quin finds the truth is much darker.

After centuries of nobility, the life of a Seeker now is not what it once was. Everything has changed.

Nothing is what she thought – her family, the boy she loves, the life she’s been preparing for since a little girl.

And it’s too late.

Seeker looked kind of cool and interesting, so I went ahead and put it ahead of some other books on my shelf. Sadly, that was not a correct choice.

First off, trying to get a handle on the period we are in is very difficult – I finally landed on some sort of futuristic world with a medieval Scottish highlands vibe. Sort of odd.

Seeker starts with an action sequence featuring an oily weapon that can change shape at will – different, but not enough so to grab me the way it was meant to.

Very quickly we get descriptive passages on all three of the main characters – Quin, Shinobu and John – and get a fast understanding of their relationship to each other. We’ve got some love triangles, unrequited feelings and a forbidden affair. Also, we have multiple instances of adults in their lives giving rather ominous warnings about the Oath – urging them to not go through with it, to think of other options for their lives.

Sometimes all of this can work. Depending on the plot, writing and charisma of the characters I could totally get into all of this and ignore some cliché alarms. Unfortunately, nothing was good enough for me in Seeker to do so…

Honestly, I don’t have a good handle on what I just read. The plot itself is very obscure – and not in a brainy way, more in a way that nothing is explained or understood by the reader. I guess you’re just supposed to go along on the action and suspense ride – problem is that I feel no suspense when I don’t know what is happening.

It’s too bad but I was just never into Seeker at all. And I tried – I really did.

In the end, I kind of felt like shrugging. The direction of the romance went to, in my opinion, a weird place. Quin was never a heroine for me – she seemed a bit weak-willed. And the plot… well, what WAS it?

In the end, Seeker was billed far higher than what I got – it certainly did not feel like a mash-up of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones to me!

However, as always, this is only MY opinion. Clearly, there are many who enjoyed Seeker! Read it for yourself and feel free to share your thoughts!

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Color of Magic

The Color of Magic is the first book in the bestselling Discworld fantasy series by Terry Pratchett.

On the back of a giant turtle stands four enormous elephants and on the back of those elephants the Discworld is balanced.

As the giant turtle hurtles through space, the inhabitants of the Discworld live a life not grounded so much in logic as much as illogic.

One of those inhabitants is Rincewind – a wizard to the most minimal degree, having been thrown out of the Unseen University after absorbing one of the original spells of creation entirely by accident.

When his path crosses with Twoflower – a tourist with Luggage that walks by his side on multiple legs – he is pressed upon to act as a tour guide.

A tourist is something entirely new to Discworld – after all, why on earth would someone want to see the sights when the sights are as unwelcoming, violent and ridiculous as they are?

Two answers: adventure and lunacy.

I have long heard of Terry Pratchett – and being a lover of quirky, inventive novels I knew it was about time to check out The Color of Magic!

The Color of Magic is imaginative, ludicrously creative and impossible to follow sensibly – in the best way!

It was not until I was explaining the concept of a world atop of elephants atop a colossal turtle to my Mom, and she started laughing hysterically, that I realized just how ingenious that really is.

I mean, really. Who thinks of such a thing?!?

That’s why it is FUN – you must embrace it “as is” and allow yourself to be taken on a loopy ride from start to finish.

Due to the language being at times nearly incomprehensible and the storyline being eccentric to the extreme, if you rush or skim through The Color of Magic you will entirely miss its charm.

It’s a fantasy with trolls, elves, wizards, thieves, heroes, scientists, one tourist, gods and assassins. It’s crazy and silly and entertaining.

I admit the end left me wanting to know more – but though I know there are many, many books in the Discworld series, I do not know if Rincewind and Twoflower’s story will be continued.

Either way, The Color of Magic was a mindless jaunt and I look forward to exploring more of the Discworld in the future!

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Truth About Twinkie Pie

The Truth About Twinkie Pie is a middle grade contemporary novel by Kat Yeh.

What would you do if you won a million dollars from a national cooking contest?

Intellectual twelve-year-old GiGi is not real impressed by her hairdresser big sister DiDi’s choice of living the same modest lifestyle – not even buying a new car!

However, DiDi does move them out of the trailer park of South Carolina and into a little apartment in the North Shore of Long Island, enrolling GiGi in a fancy school to better her academic gifts.

That’s all fine and good, but GiGi feels that a change should mean things actually change – so she decides that she is going to try and make friends, let herself indulge in a crush and try to do more “normal” things than studying 24/7.

Yet, GiGi’s changes seem to be putting a strain on her relationship with DiDi – something they’ve never had, like this, before – and leads GiGi to a road full of unexpected family secrets that could change everything…

The Truth About Twinkie Pie was a poignant, memorable, character driven novel that exceeded my expectations!

Happily, GiGi is not a brat – you can understand and empathize with her, even as she is inadvertently selfish and hurts DiDi. It’s that painful recognition of the family dynamic – hurting the ones we love – and growing pains.

Truly, The Truth About Twinkie Pie overcomes most clichés and brings dimensions to the secondary characters while also making the main characters absolutely relatable in both the best and worst ways. They feel like genuine people, which is so important to me when reading a novel.

At times, The Truth About Twinkie Pie is agonizing – the mistakes of youth can be doozies – yet it is also extremely heartfelt and lovely. This is a book about family – and friends – and, really, that first step toward growing up.

Though I guessed one of the twists, I did not guess the ultimate one. Either way, though, the presentation of the narration and dialogue in these situations was so unaffected and sincere that whether or not you see the revelation coming has little to do with the eventual emotional punch.

Plus, on top of all this goodness, The Truth About Twinkie Pie made me very, very hungry! Filled with unique, delicious-sounding recipes of sweet concoctions, this is a book better not read on an empty stomach!

I will keep my eyes open for more books by Kat Yeh, for sure.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Cinder

Cinder is a YA futuristic sci-fi fantasy retelling of Cinderella, and the first book in The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer.

Being a cyborg is almost as shameful as being an android – despite the fact that Cinder knows she is human, there are many in New Beijing who would argue that fact.

So, as she spends her days utilizing her gifts as a mechanic to provide income for her derisive adoptive mother and sisters, Cinder doesn’t advertise her cyborg parts. Not good for business.

Yet, she’s never felt the weight of being a cyborg as strongly as when her path crosses with Prince Kai – an admittedly attractive and charming young man. Not to mention royal.

Soon, Cinder is pulled deeper into the most concerning struggles of Earth – a ravaging, deadly plague that they’ve been trying to find a cure for without success in twenty-five years and a possibility of war hinging on nothing more than the whims of a mad queen from the country Lunar, on the moon.

There are secrets to Cinder’s past that make her far more unusual than she ever realized…

I really, really, really liked Cinder!

Cinder
is a breath of fresh air – impressive, effective, exciting and different! I loved the reimagining of Cinderella as an intelligent, down-to-earth cyborg mechanic. She felt so relatable – sympathetic without ever being self-pitying – and lacking any of the superficialities that can be a blight in fairy tales.

Plus, it creates many new avenues – making it an entirely different story with some of the main stalwarts being featured in unique, new ways.

First, the Lunar planet and people? Super creepy. I thought the presentation of the Lunar’s as a threat was very well done – and fascinating. Secondly, the disease that is tearing the people of New Beijing apart felt effectually frightening.

Really every aspect of Cinder was intriguing to me – so much happens yet it wasn’t lacking character development and world building amongst all that plot. Truly awesome.

I have to say I am very eager to read the next books – which I hear will feature twists on other fairy tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood, in this same world, while continuing Cinder’s story also.

Cinder is a GREAT read!!!