Monday, May 30, 2011

The FitzOsbornes in Exile

The FitzOsbornes in Exile is the second of the Montmaray Journals, the sequel to the YA historical A Brief History of Montmaray, by Michelle Cooper.

I would recommend not reading this review if you haven't yet read A Brief History of Montmaray. It'll contain inevitable spoilers for the first book, and I won't be having that! ;)

Instead, scroll down to Friday's review of A Brief History of Montmaray. Otherwise, let's see what is in store for our darling royal family next...

Sophie FitzOsborne and her family watched as German fighter planes attacked their tiny island kingdom of Montmaray in December of 1936. They were forced to leave their country, and barely made it out alive. Now they are living with their Aunt Charlotte, the Princess Royal who has been living in England for a long time and is fully entrenched in society.

It isn't hard to let the new clothes, luxurious accommodations, and dazzling balls and luncheons sweep Sophie's mind away to a happy place. But at the same time, she can't help but miss home. And when the FitzOsborne's find out that the Nazi's are using Montmaray for their own gain, they can't stand it.

So Sophie continues to write in her journal, as her own voice begins to strengthen and the rumors and rumblings of war get louder. The FitzOsborne's struggle to find a spotlight for their small, forgotten kingdom amidst the larger, more powerful countries.

Will Sophie ever get to go home?

A Brief History of Montmaray made me care so very much for the FitzOsborne's that I simply had to follow them as they entered the completely different world of England, as I mourned the dilapidated, but beloved, Montmaray with them.

The FitzOsbornes in Exile gave me a wonderful view of Sophie growing and maturing, yet keeping her girlish, relatable excitement and curiosity. It is truly a pleasure. This eccentric royal family is fascinating and full of enough secrets that readers should be (in my opinion) as charmed as I am. There is just something so satisfying about seeing the thick stack of pages in your hand, full to the brim with a spicy and smart story that is addictive, gentle, unassuming, yet stuffed with politics, intrigue, mystery and scandal as well.

We've got polite (and not-so-polite) conversation, luncheons with ladies, unrequited love, listless admirers, the fear of war, revelations of cowardice and bravery, a bittersweet coming-of-age sensibility, attempted assasination, and an adventurous quality that comes from a colorful, believable family that loves each other and loves their country. Michelle Cooper creates a yearning that hurts, but also provides moments of delight and laughter to lighten it up.

I am hoping for more Montmaray Journals and more time with the FitzOsbornes! The FitzOsbornes in Exile is a sensitive, powerful, lovely novel that resonates long after you set it down.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Brief History of Montmaray

A Brief History of Montmaray is a YA historical by Michelle Cooper.

Sophie FitzOsborne is a princess. She lives in a castle. But she wears hand-me-down dresses and the castle is kind of falling apart. And the small island kingdom she lives on is one that hardly anyone even knows about - Montmaray. She lives there with her younger, wild, tomboy sister Henry and her pretty, bookish, smart cousin Veronica. All of them princesses. The King stays in his room, raving and throwing things whenever he catches sight of anyone other than Rebecca, the slightly mad, obsessive housekeeper that worships him.

Toby, Sophie's older brother and the next in line to the throne, is away in England at school. He send Sophie a sixteenth birthday present - a journal. In it, she begins to write. It is 1936 and the cusp of many things. Things that may change her quiet, simple, odd life completely.

It's hard to give much more than that away! So, I'll take it from here with my observations. It doesn't take long to relate to Sophie and her romantic ideals. She's a lover of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, and themes of gothic mysteries and madness certainly come into play in A Brief History of Montmaray.

The rambleshack kingdom of Montmaray is both charming and fascinating, filled with eccentric characters that spice up an already delicious novel. There is a sense of danger and espionage-like intrigue, threats beneath the surface, a sense that is only hinted at through Sophie's blissful ignorance as she writes in the journal we are reading through her naive, sweet, truly likable voice. We experience everything through her unassuming personality, creating a delightful it sometimes slow story.

I admit that at one point I did feel like it needed to pick up the pace. I was getting a little impatient. But not much, because I had a feeling that the novel was going to get deeper - and it did. It really, really did. Illness, death, and war begin to disrupt the quiet peace that our lovable bunch of unorthodox royals have had their entire strange lives. They come across as a regular family in an extraordinary situation.

Eventually there are some moments of strongly written fear that brings about the true sense of gothic mystery and suspense that the blurbs on the book speak of. The climatic, sudden happenings ratchet up the thrill quotient immensely and as the threat of Nazis becomes more palpable. The history surrounding the FitzOsbornes' sizzles with interest and makes me nervous. Because, all of those slower parts early on? Yeah, they made me love them and care deeply. So, now you're terrified for them.

A Brief History of Montmaray has shocks galore near the end and had me on the edge of my seat. I wouldn't dare tell you why, or any details because it would tear from you, my dear reader, the wonderful, scary experience. And it is scary. And grief-stricken, beautiful, meaningful, and lovely!

Michelle Cooper has indeed penned a stunner! And the story continues in The FitzOsbornes in Exile, which I (thank goodness!) have ready to read immediately. I have fallen in love with the FitzOsbornes and absolutely must know what happens next!

If you're a fan of Jane Austen and the Brontes (like Sophie and I), I definitely recommend A Brief History of Montmaray. But, actually, I recommend it anyway. You should try it. I'd be shocked if it doesn't end up affecting you, whether you want it to or not! :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thirteen Days to Midnight

Thirteen Days to Midnight is a YA thriller written by Patrick Carman.

Jacob just survived a car accident that killed the only foster parent he ever cared for. His friend Milo tries to pull him out of the dark place he's in and introduce him to the beautiful new girl that arrived while Jacob was out of school. Her name is Ophelia Jones, and she's daring and different. As a way to make Jacob feel better about his loss, Ophelia offers the first spot on her bright pink arm cast and Jacob struggles with trying to figure out something cool to write on it. He finally settles on, "You are indestructible."

It's what his foster dad said to him just seconds before his death.

Then weird stuff starts to happen. Ophelia has a deadly accident - but she doesn't die. In fact, not even her hands aren't torn from the gravel of the ground. She is spotless and completely unharmed. No matter how Jacob, Milo, and Ophelia try to figure it out, there is absolutely no way she should be okay, let alone alive and well.

As an experiment, Jacob tells himself that he's indestructible and holds a lighter to his palm. No burn. No pain.

As the three begin to piece together this incredible ability and its repercussions, Ophelia pushes trying to save people in mortal danger. But as they use and explore the power more and more, Jacob feels like it's getting darker. Stronger. And he starts to wonder if he's messing with things that he has no right messing with...

Thirteen Days to Midnight splits the novel into days, a countdown to midnight. One of the most suspenseful parts of the book is not knowing what will happen at midnight. Even the day before, you are still wondering what is going to happen. It is intricately plotted and very interesting with dynamic, multilayered characters.

There is a darkness that Patrick Carman creates that creeps up on you, becoming darker and darker. Sometimes I was a bit frustrated with the pacing (early on I felt like there was a lack of direction, but I was happily proven wrong), bur Thirteen Days to Midnight was always undeniably original and intriguing.

Compelling and thought-provoking, the novel is not just entertaining but deep and intelligent. It is increasingly scary and psychologically chilling - a thought-out, unexpected, and twisted tale. I really never had any idea of where it was going, it was so different from anything I've ever read before.

I was on pins and needles, constantly being shocked, alarmed, and goosebumpy, especially as it got later and later into the book and more surprising revelations were brought to light. Thirteen Days to Midnight is an experience - a breathless, heady, dizzying, freaky, amazing experience that you should check out!

Wow - Thirteen Days to Midnight was quite something!!!

*I received a review copy of Thirteen Days to Midnight from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Prince of Mist

The Prince of Mist is a YA horror novel written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

It's 1943 and the Carver family decide to move away from the dangers of the war in the city to a small, coastal town. They move into a beautiful, if dirty, home and immediately get to cleaning it - trying their best to make it their home.

Max isn't very happy about leaving his friends, but he saw how much his father felt he needed to move them all. But what his father didn't tell Max and his siblings right away is that this house has seen dark times. A young boy drowned and left his parents' shells of their former selves...

Curious and feeling like there is more to the story, Max begins to explore the grounds. He meets a boy named Roland that lives in the lighthouse with his grandfather and they become friends. Alicia, Max's older sister, finally starts to talk to him again - and a comfortable friendship develops between the three.

But as they dig through secrets, they find out about a cruel, mysterious man nicknamed the Prince of Mist. He apparently died in a violent shipwreck right off the coast where the Carvers' live. And Max stumbles across a group of statues of carnival performers that appear to move in the corner of your eye.

All of these seemingly disconnected things turn into one memorable summer of terror for Max, Alicia, and Roland...

Ooooh, my synopsis might not give the spooky feeling it should - but trust me, The Prince of Mist is creepy!!!

Zafon writes The Prince of Mist with such a lyrical, delicately measured prose, giving the story an instant appeal and a deep sense of the moody, mature horror presentation.

And, oh my, the ominous statues are chilling (and some later found video is enough to make you squeal with nerves!). The backstory of the house and the Prince of Mist is convincingly disturbing and gives everything about the characters' environment a sense of fright. I enjoyed the patient, yet determinedly scary tone that The Prince of Mist offers.

The historical seaside setting adds personality to the story, and I found Max to be an excellent protagonist. He is investigative, but still believable - he is coming-of-age and full of wonder, and lacks that annoying bratty/jerky trait that an unfortunate amount of characters in YA have. He's great to follow and identify with.

The Prince of Mist ended up being astoundingly eerie, breathtakingly nightmarish, and kinda awesome actually. But as it reached its insanely climatic conclusion I got really, really, REALLY spooked. It puts you in that paranoid, creeped-out state of mind.

A highly satisfying, scary, intelligent and atmospheric horror novel - I definitely recommend The Prince of Mist. And I am looking forward to (perhaps nervously) Carlos Ruiz Zafon's next book The Midnight Palace!

*I received a review copy of The Prince of Mist from Hatchette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekly Writing Contest!

Happy Saturday my lovelies! :)

It is that time again: an update on the most recent opportunity to win books from!

This week's Weekly Writing Contest is running in accordance with Melissa Marr's Darkest Mercy. It takes her Wicked Lovely series another step forward, this time sizzling with conflict. I don't have many more details on the book because I'm planning on getting a chance to read the series and don't want spoilers! Lol. But, it looks awesome! ;)

Your challenge is to write a short story or poem that involves conflict resolution. Now, I think that might be one of the toughest prompts, as it is kind of dry. So I want y'all to sparkle them with your imaginations and writing genius, okay?! For my details on how to win and where to submit go here.

Also, Josephine Angelini, the author of the YA Greek mythology retelling Starcrossed, will be paying a visit to Inkpop for a Live Chat on Wednesday, May 25th! Make sure to stop by and ask your Q's! Find out more here!

Have fun, and be back here on Monday for a new review!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Down a Dark Hall

Down a Dark Hall is a YA thriller by the oh-so-famous author Lois Duncan.

Kit's Mom and her new husband are ready to go on a trip through Europe for their honeymoon and Kit agreed to go to an exclusive boarding school in the meantime. Or at least she agreed to go when she thought her best friend would be coming too. But when Kit's best friend is denied a slot (something that is extremely weird to Kit, as her BFF is way smarter and tests better than her), Kit is rather sullen about it all.

But when Blackwood Hall comes into view - a huge, ancient, imposing mansion that for whatever reason sends shivers down her spine - Kit isn't just sullen, she's scared.

Yet Madame Duret is charming and has been written about in magazines, so what is there really to be afraid of? Sure, the place gives off an unpleasant vibe, but Kit wishes her Mom well and lets them leave her behind, despite the dread it causes.

But then Kit finds out there are only three other students - apparently many applied but only the four of them met their special requirements. Whatever that means, Kit and the other girls never seem to get a good sleep at Blackwood Hall, waking up exhausted and cramped, almost as if they've been moving around all night. Plus, her letters don't seem to be making it out, and with the lack of Internet and cell phone reception, the lack of communication unnerves Kit. She starts to think something bad is going on.

She doesn't know the half of it...

So, this is a book that was originally released in the 1970s, but it was reissued and was modernized a bit with the text. I've read a few of Lois Duncan's books when I was younger and always found them to be riveting and this one was no different in that respect. I literally read it in one day - and that's when I'm working full-time!

Down a Dark Hall is submerged in a truly creepy atmosphere. Its a throwback mystery thriller with a definitely not mushy ghost story intertwined. Ghost Whisperer this is not - this is more dark and disturbing, in a fun way that is. Definitely bite-your-nails suspenseful with a nice slow-burn and patient storytelling that becomes more and more scary as it continues.

I thought it was very nicely modernized - bringing the novel to the 21st century without losing the classic Lois Duncan feel. Kit is relatable and smart - and unlike in some horror novels and (primarily) movies, you don't feel like shaking her or the other characters silly for being dumb and wandering around clueless. Kit is capable and tries her best to get answers.

Down a Dark Hall is increasingly dark, freaky, and claustrophobic with a desperate hopelessness. Not the best book to read right before bed, as Lois Duncan's skill really manages to insert you into the story - whether you want to be there or not!

It's a very fast-paced, entertaining, twisty, twisted, scarefest of a read! I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to delving into more reissued Lois Duncan soon!

*I received a review copy of Down a Dark Hall from Hatchette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Guest Blog with YA author Amanda Brice!

Amanda Brice is the author of the brand new YA mystery novel Codename: Dancer, in which she tries to bring back the old-school mystery flavor with some dance elements! Happily, we have the author visiting us today to tell us a bit more about her new book and why she decided to write it!

Let's all welcome Amanda Brice! Here's what she has to say:

I get asked a lot why I chose to write about a teenage dancer. After all, I’m a 30-something lawyer. What the heck do I know about this topic?

Well, once upon a time, I was one. A teenage dancer, I mean. I’m still a dancer (well, sorta…I danced all through college and now take a weekly adult ballet class).

And don’t get me wrong, I love the paranormal books, but I wanted to write about something I could actually relate to. I mean, I’ve never been bitten by a vampire or dated a werewolf.

Sure, I’ve never solved a mystery, but I used to play Clue like it was going out of style. And I started writing really epically bad Nancy Drew fanfic (starring a spunky heroine named Nancy Flew and her hot boyfriend Ted Tickleson) at age 10.

And I did dance.

When I was a tween and teen, I used to long for books about dancers. There are tons of dance books aimed at little girls, but once you get out of board books and chapter books, there’s not a lot. Or any, really.

My fave (well, if we’re going to be honest, it was the ONLY) teen dance series growing up was the Satin Slippers series by Elizabeth Bernard. The series followed Leah, a young dancer at the San Francisco Ballet Academy. I used to gobble these books up like they were going out of style. (And looking at the publication dates as listed in Amazon, it seems they came out back-to-back-to-back, one book every two months for two full years, so I guess I really was gobbling them up in short succession!) I rediscovered this series as an adult, and well, let’s just say it’s REALLY out-of-date. It’s very much a product of the late 80s Cold War, with the heroine’s best friend a dance student whose parents defected from the Soviet Union…there’s even a great subplot where the girls at school all think the KGB is trying to kidnap Alex back!

Yeah, there needed to be some more contemporary YA dance novels on the shelves, so I decided to take the matter into my own hands. I was going to write the kind of book that I would have devoured at that age.

So combining dance and mysteries sounded like a perfect idea to me. Of course, I had to teach myself how to plot a more effective mystery than “Nancy Flew and the Mystery of the Lady Ghost,” but I’ve heard from countless readers that they didn’t figure out whodunnit until right at the end, so hopefully I’ve hit my mark!

I love Young Adult – writing it and reading it. I think it’s really fun because of the ability to influence and make a difference. Adults have already formed their beliefs, attitudes, and prejudices, but teens are still finding their way in the world. (Of course, you have to walk a fine line to make sure you don’t come off as preachy or judgmental.) Plus, teenagers wear their emotions on their sleeves. Sadly, adults have learned to suppress a lot of that, but teens just feel everything so much more vividly. So the possibilities are endless!

Amanda Brice lives outside Washington, DC with her husband and toddler daughter. An intellectual property attorney for a large federal government agency, she combines her love of writing with her legal career by speaking on basic copyright and trademark law on the writers’ conference circuit. Her debut novel, Codename: Dancer, a finalist for Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award ®, was released in April. You can learn more about Amanda at

I know that I am very, very intrigued with Codename: Dancer and am looking forward to a chance to read it. How about you, fellow bibliophiles?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Silver Smoke

Silver Smoke is a YA fantasy paranormal by Monica Leonelle.

Pilot and Brie van Rossum are still reeling from their mother's sudden, accidental death when they are sent to Honolulu to live with their estranged, famous musician father. Paparazzi seem to shadow their every move and Pilot does his best to keep his sister from sinking deeper into the depression that seems to be taking hold.

But one morning as Pilot drives Brie and his best friend Rykken to school, Brie is struck by a motorcyclist's resemblance to her mother and takes her first step toward a secret that changes everything. Because what is revealed is that there is a race of superbeings descended from archangels called the Hallows - and apparently she may be one of them. They throw everything she knows about her mother into a tailspin and sets her on a path that is full of danger, but perhaps an inevitable one.

All Pilot sees, though, is increasingly bizarre and worrisome behavior from his previously outgoing and happy sister. But when Rykken finds a mysterious and seemingly diabolical pendant on the beach, the two guys are thrown into a conspiracy of their own - as the pendant appears to unlock powers and may be tied to the Hallows, even though they don't know it.

Yet Brie, once she finds out about the strange piece of jewelry, is more afraid that it's linked to the enemies of the Hallows instead...

I am just now starting to give the whole angel paranormal craze a try. First I read Logic of Demons and then A Touch Mortal - but Silver Smoke was quite something! Monica Leonelle created a bewitching and intriguing novel that right away managed to make me interested and invested in these characters, who seem to be being stalked by more than just the paparazzi. Silver Smoke was drenched in beautiful details of Hawaii and an island culture that made the myths she brings alive all the more intoxicating.

Pilot, Brie, and Rykken are equally likable and layered - mixed with different aspects of personality, instead of being a cliche or a superficial romantic character. You feel the loneliness, the mourning, the confusion of all three and it just make you (or me, at least) care for them quickly and make the situations they're put in matter all the more.

Silver Smoke is suspenseful with surprises early on, causing me to be very curious. It's enigmatic and original with a rich, developed mythology that feels understood and well-plotted by the author. I felt confident that the Monica knew all the answers and that she was just taking her time to reveal all the answers, which was fine by me!

The twists, turns, and shocks seem to increase in volume as the novel continues - all of which kept me glued and turning pages quickly. Also, there is a slow-burning romance that is hesitant and tantalizing. And a touch of romance almost always adds an extra spark to a story, right? :)

In my opinion, Silver Smoke is awesome! It's absorbing, addictive, and very, very entertaining! It didn't take me long to become interested in where the series (called Seven Halos) will go - a sentiment that only grew stronger as the book continued towards its breathtaking conclusion.

This YA supernatural novel went places that I did not expect, putting me in an edge-of-my-seat state of apprehension, and leading me to a cliffhanger end that left me definitely wanting more! Hopefully we don't have to wait too long for the next installment!

From your book-crazy bibliophile bud (me, silly) to you: Read this! ;)

Saturday, May 14, 2011 Challenge Update!

It's time for another Weekly Writing Challenge!

By the way, I would love for y'all to let me know if you've been entering these contests and/or winning!!!

Okay, so this week the challenge is coinciding with the release of Compulsion by Heidi Ayarbe. It's a new YA contemporary about a teenage boy with OCD. Your mission is to write a short story, poem or essay from a point of view other than your own, one completely different - such as an animal or the opposite gender.

As always, two commenters will be randomly selected to win Compulsion and three other Harper Teen books of their choice - and two writers will be chosen by Heidi Ayarbe herself to win the same prize and bragging rights. ;)

To find out more and to enter click here.

Have fun!!!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thirteenth Child

Thirteenth Child is a YA fantasy by Patricia C. Wrede.

Numbers have great significance in Eff's frontier world of magic, an alternate version of our own American frontier days. That's why her twin brother Lan is admired and exalted as the seventh son of a seventh son - his power is stronger and more natural than anyone else's, not to mention rare. This is also why Eff is feared and terrorized by her cousins and neighbors - she is a thirteenth child. Also rare, and long believed to be evil and the bringer of bad luck and bad intentions to all around her. At as young as five, Eff is blamed for everything bad that happens in her uncle's life and hears how she never should have been allowed to live this long and doom everyone around her.

But Eff's parents don't hold with such talk, and when Eff's father is offered a professor job at a magic school he takes it to give his family a fresh start - despite the school being perilously close to the Great Barrier, a magical divide that keeps the more dangerous of the magical beasts of the wilderness (such as mammoths and steam dragons) away from the struggling settlers.

Lan and Eff grow up, learning basic magic in the day school by an enigmatic teacher that tries to introduce different types and theories of magic, though most find the idea unpopular. But as Eff gets older and learns more, she can't help but wonder if the destiny her uncle was certain she would bring is coming true - or if there was any way she could be good.

She gets a chance to find out...

I love the idea of frontier times having a whiff of fantasy. Thirteenth Child had a definite fairy-tale vibe, taking us on the journey of Eff at a very young age all the way to eighteen. The setting is magnetic, an alternate version of our American frontier - where magic is commonplace and the dangers of crops dying are as real as the threat of a steam dragon passing the Great Barrier and wiping out an entire town.

There is a sense of adventure and family in Thirteenth Child that I really liked - it was unique and patient in its storytelling. Patricia C. Wrede slows down the usual pace of novels these days and lets you know Eff through and through. One of the most fascinating things about Thirteenth Child is how Wrede allows the reader to see the psychological effects of being called evil all of your life - giving a depth and meaning to the book.

From early on, I felt very connected to Eff. She comes to feel like a friend, you feel like you know her voice so well as she narrates the story so honestly. There is a suspense to the mentioned dangers of the other side of the Great Barrier, as well as a curiosity.

Thirteenth Child is an excellent coming-of-age tale that feels like the genesis of a superb heroine. There's even a bit of female empowerment going on here, but without any preaching. I found it to be very, very interesting and worth the read. And the end leaves you ready to see where Eff will go next - and even, in my eyes, a potential romance. Happily, the story doesn't end here - the second book in what is called Frontier Magic will be out this summer - Across the Great Barrier!

Perhaps some bibliophiles may find Thirteenth Child too slow, but in my opinion it was lovely and rich and understated. I am intrigued.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Lucky Kind

The Lucky Kind is a YA contemporary fiction novel written by Alyssa B. Sheinmel.

Nick Brandt is ready to make his junior year in High School a memorable one. Instead of just gazing at his dream girl, Eden Reiss, from afar he is going to try and talk to her. He figures a girl as gorgeous and awesome as her is only gonna be single for so long, and he'd like to be the one to change that status.

Other than that, Nick's life is looking pretty good. He has kind, loving parents that he actually likes to talk to, a best friend named Stevie that is practically part of the family, and good grades poised to get him into a good college.

But then the phone rings.

It's a hesitant voice, nervous really. And he's asking for Nick's father by his full name - a name he never uses.

At first Nick shrugs off the strange call, figuring its a reluctant telemarketer. But then it happens again, and this time Nick's dad is home. When Nick hands off the call, he sees how his father's face changes - and he takes the call behind closed doors.

After that, Nick is convinced that his parents are keeping something from him. A secret. Nick feels betrayed and unusually distant from them, instead finding himself getting closer and closer to Eden - but once he knows what his parents' secret is, his life is changed forever.

The Lucky Kind is a brief, realistic, and stark portrayal of a teen boy's first love and the anger he suddenly feels toward his parents - an anger he can't entirely justify or dismiss. I was astounded by how cliche-free and organic the novel feels - while retaining a level of page-turning interest that can be lacking in quite a bit of contemporary fiction.

There is really no filler whatsoever in The Lucky Kind - instead we get a believable and gripping story that stems from that real-life sort of family drama that can be so unsettling and emotionally raw. My only real criticism is that as a Christian, I could have done without the Lord's name is vain so many times. I can always do without it, but in this book there was a lot. Otherwise, The Lucky Kind was an extremely short read - not just because of the small amount of pages (201) but because of the amount of suspense and interest that Alyssa B. Sheinmel infuses into the novel.

Nothing is sugarcoated in The Lucky Kind - we are presented with an honest, touching and special sort of book that has a lasting impression and resonates as a coming-of-age story not just in terms of romance, but primarily in terms of family. A worthy read for sure.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Time-Traveling Fashionista

The Time-Traveling Fashionista is a middlegrade/YA novel by first time author Bianca Turetsky.

Seventh-grader Louise Lambert has always felt a bit out of place in the 21st century. All of her favorite movies are black and white, and she's obsessed with the clothes of different eras - finding today's culture and fashion to be boring and without passion. In fact, Louise has become a little fashionista, reading up on vintage and taking her newfound knowledge to scavenge thrift stores for special outfits.

Except for her longtime best friend Brooke, Louise doesn't really have friends. They don't get her "weird" way of dressing. But she doesn't mind all that much, because she'd rather meet a James Dean or an Audrey Hepburn than all the kids at her school.

When Louise receives an invitation to a vintage fashion sale, she jumps at the opportunity. And once arriving, Louise is blown away the absolutely beautiful pink gown she finds. The two odd owners of the store encourage her to try it on, and the next thing she knows - well, she's on a cruise ship.

One hundred years ago.

The Time-Traveling Fashionista's Louise is definitely a flamboyant, passionate character that quickly educates we the readers on fashion. My initial impression of her was a loose one - and that didn't really change, which was disappointing. Because despite the novel being a fluffy read, I do like to connect to the characters and writing - otherwise it feels distant and cold.

However, some of the lines sprinkled throughout The Time-Traveling Fashionista were laugh out loud worthy and it did become increasingly fun. Yet, I must admit that I was frustrated with Louise. The amount of time it took for her to realize what ship she was on (I won't say in case you haven't guessed it yet, but I'd still be surprised if you didn't figure it out before Louise while you're reading) seemed inordinately long and made her appear a bit dim, since there was a mountain-load of clues, but maybe that believable. Maybe I'm being too tough on her.

But once she did finally realize her predicament, the sense of urgency did become more palpable - but still lacking in depth. There was a breezy element to The Time-Traveling Fashionista, though, that made it very easy and fast to read, and I can honestly say I was never bored. Perhaps this is a novel that would be better appreciated by a younger girl with a love of clothing. For me, it just didn't have the strongest plot - but there was one thing I did absolutely love about The Time-Traveling Fashionista:

The 25 full-color fashion illustrations! The drawings are gorgeous recreations of the stunning clothes worn by the era, and I truly wish I could wear almost all of them! They were always accurate representations of what was being described in the book, as well - which is always a plus. These illustrations were dreamy, and I might be moderately interested in the sequel to The Time-Traveling Fashionista if only for the curiosity of what period and style of clothes would be featured and drawn with such talent!

*I received a review copy of The Time-Traveling Fashionista from Hatchette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Royal Wedding Contest!

It's that time again! New Weekly Writing Contest!

This time, in honor of the Royal Wedding, it is coinciding with Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries! They want you to write a story or poem that imagines a royal coupling, marriage, or honeymoon! I'm sure many romantic creative minds already have ideas after watching Will and Kate last week, right? :)

Find all the details here, and as always there is the potential to win the book featured (The Princess Diaries) and three other Harper Teen books - both those who submit and those who comment have a chance!

Join me back here on Monday and have an awesome weekend!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Girl in the Gatehouse

The Girl in the Gatehouse is an inspirational historical fiction romance set in Regency times and written by the Christy Award winning author Julie Klassen.

Mariah Aubrey is no longer wanted under the roof she's lived under her entire twenty-four years of life. A distant relative offers the abandoned gatehouse on her estate as a place for Mariah and her only companion - Miss Dixon, her former nanny. But when her relative dies not long after Mariah has begun to settle in comfortably, if quietly, the heir to the estate demands a rent for the gatehouse that is impossible with the small funds her father offered her reluctantly.

So, Mariah turns to a hobby she has always loved - writing. She finds she can support herself and Miss Dixon by publishing her novels, but she guards her anonymity carefully. Novel writing is not proper for ladies, and Mariah cannot afford any more scandal...

Matthew Bryant returns back to land after becoming a celebrated Captain during his term in the British Navy. With his prize money he decides to lease a grand estate and finds himself intrigued by the lovely and private girl in the gatehouse. But he has just moved up in the world and has plans that stem from his new standing - an outcast, however kind and beautiful, risks his future...

First off, let me just make it clear that I absolutely love Regency times. Jane Austen? Uh, yeah!!! I adore the clothes, the mannerisms, the estates - all of it! So I was a happy camper as The Girl in the Gatehouse began with a gentle, mysterious start that is soaked in unspoken, unrevealed scandal and intrigue, reverberating in period details.

Julie Klassen writes interesting characters that each seem to harbor secrets and a main character that is even-tempered and polite but forced to find independence. And when the attraction blooms between Captain Bryant and Mariah, well lets just say sparks fly!

The Girl in the Gatehouse is a tale of two broken hearts healing in a believable way. It's organic and heavenly simple. It's relaxing and easygoing, yet still has it's suspicions and mysteries - giving it an extra dose of entertainment. There is a feeling of home and of family, despite Mariah having neither in the traditional sense. Moment of true suspense make the day-to-day activities of 1813 all the more admirable.

This is a romantic and sincere novel that avoids the pitfalls of the cornier romances. Though I sometimes wished that the twists were a bit harder to see coming (though one of the later surprises did actually surprise me!), The Girl in the Gatehouse is a lovely, inspirational story set in a delicately mannered and beautifully detailed period with a wonderful, layered cast of characters.

Check out The Girl in the Gatehouse for a heartwarming, touching, and sweet Regency-era romance with touches of clue-finding mystery!

*I received a copy of The Girl in the Gatehouse from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program, which you can check out here. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Dark and Hollow Places

The Dark and Hollow Places is the third and final book in the YA zombie apocalypse series Forest of Hands and Teeth, written by Carrie Ryan.

So, as all of you regular readers of the Bibliophile Support Group know - I adored The Forest of Hands and Teeth and was a bit disappointed with The Dead-Tossed Waves, the two books that came before The Dark and Hollow Places. Read the respective reviews here and here.

But I was ready to continue the story. A basic synopsis will follow, which I recommend you don't read unless you've already read the two previous books - otherwise you will be spoiled!!! And for those of you who have read the first two books, I won't be giving much detail at all - because like I've said before, if you're already a fan why spoil what's coming next, right?

Annah has been alone for a long time in the Dark City. She's been waiting for Elias to return since he left that terrible morning to join the Recruiters. Annah wonders if he knows how lawless the Dark City is now, and what fate he left her to. The Protectorate no longer keep the wild Recruiters in check, and the Dark City is not a place for young women to be alone. Annah's only protection are her many scars, making her ugly to most.

But she survives day by day - waiting for Elias, waiting for the day she'll know what became of her twin sister after she left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth - waiting for the day the guilt won't haunt her.

Then Catcher appears. He knows Elias - and apparently her sister. Annah finds herself drawn to him, but his secrets are dangerous. And the inevitable consequences of the Return are a constant threat to any hint of happiness...

I'll admit it - I still wish that this were a continuance of Mary's story, the story we were introduced to in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. But I forced myself to let that go and focus on the story Carrie Ryan decided to tell me instead. And, I must say, I was far more impressed with it than The Dead-Tossed Waves!

Annah's character, though plagued occasionally with repetitive thoughts of guilt about her sister Abigail, is strong and interesting. She's compelling and makes for an excellent main character in this gripping, chilling final novel. Carrie Ryan brings us a look at the darker side of humanity and the degradation the survivors can fall to. And though I sometimes felt that the depths some of the Recruiters went to was too far (I'd still like to believe that if the population was so very decimated we wouldn't be so easy to wipe it out further), the shocking effect of the scenarios Carrie Ryan presented were horrifying - truly.

Yet, what is amazing about this series is how Ryan is able to disgust you, terrify you... she also gives you romance. It's not a 'happily ever after' romance, it's not flirty, it's not without it's faults - but it sets up the unique and utterly well done mixture of tones.

The Dark and Hollow Places is anguish and hope, desperation and inspiration, strength and weakness, murder and self-defense, suspense and moments of quiet, enemies and family, death and life. There is such an unfathomable aching that comes from reading the horrors that Carrie Ryan weaves so lyrically for us - it is painful to read, and impossible to forget.

As I neared closer and closer to the end, I got chills. My eyes were wet with unshed tears (I was at work - don't make me cry Carrie!). So, even though I still don't know why there was so much repetition at the beginning of the novel, I don't know why we couldn't follow Mary longer, and I don't know why the series is done already - I can't deny what a phenomenally effective and original novel The Dark and Hollow Places is.

It delivered - for sure. What a finale. Wow.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Blood & Flowers

Blood & Flowers is a YA fantasy written by Penny Blubaugh.

Persia ran away from her broken home three years ago and was taken in by the Outlaw Puppet Troupe, a group of underground actors, puppeteers, mortals, and fey that have become her ragtag family. They perform clandestine plays, let their imaginations run wild, and Persia finds herself falling in love with one of the members, Nicholas.

But not everybody finds fey magic to be harmless. And not everybody is fond of it. Of course, there are some truly bad things that fey have brought to the mortal world from the realm of Faerie, such as potent drugs and drinks that can destroy lives. This has brought about a prejudice. A prejudice that a vindictive and cruel theater critic with a hidden agenda uses to threaten the Troupe's very freedom.

Bonding together, the group is forced to flee to Faerie. But Faerie is not just flowers and beauty. It has its own dangers, murderous creatures, and a longtime monarchy that may not want them there anymore than the mortal world wants them in their world. So, Faerie is not just flowers. It's blood and flowers.

Blood & Flowers was immediately blunt and vividly colorful - it has an in-your-face originality that is refreshing, a Moulin Rouge-esque vibrancy, and an assortment of perhaps "weird" characters that are undeniably interesting and easy to become attached to.

I didn't feel like I knew Persia as much I could have. I felt like there could have been more character development, a little more detail to make her more approachable to us. But she is a sweet, non-superficial girl that is easy to root for, nevertheless, and I still felt a camaraderie with her and the rest of the odd, artistic, lively Outlaws.

And Penny Blubaugh's word usage in describing Faerie was amazing - it's almost poetic in its startling prose. It's organic and creative and startling, down to the very title of the novel: Blood & Flowers.

I was never once bored - I was engrossed in this unquenchingly unique tale. Blood & Flowers is eccentric, theatrical, and rambunctiously strange. I found it highly enjoyable, fun, and quick-paced. Maybe it could have gone a little deeper, a little farther, a little darker - but then maybe it wouldn't be Blood & Flowers, and that would be a travesty.

Check it out, bibliophile!