Monday, October 31, 2011

Cleopatra's Moon


Cleopatra's Moon is a YA historical fiction by Vicky Alvear Shecter.

Cleopatra Selene is a princess. She is the only daughter of the revered, intelligent Cleopatra and the Roman General Marcus Antonius. Her people love her and her twin brother Alexandros, as well as their adorable little brother Ptolly. They are the picture of a happy, beautiful family for a people to look up to.

And Cleopatra Selene has every intention of being just as powerful and brilliant a queen as her mother.

But before that day even comes close the Roman ruler, Octavianus, sets out to destroy Cleopatra. At least that is how he is spinning it. Calling her a witch, a whore, and worse. He's determined to turn the people against her as he slowly gains approval for dismantling all that Cleopatra Selene's ever known and loved.

Events turn horrifying, and after experiencing immense loss of life Cleopatra Selene and her brothers are taken to Octavianus's palace in Rome - a place of enemies.

Yet as Cleopatra Selene grows older she has but one goal in sight: regain Egypt's rule and become a queen that would have made her mother proud.

Cleopatra's Moon stunned me. I've always been interested in Cleopatra - as many people have. But I've never heard much about her daughter, or anyone else she left behind after dying. Vicky Alvear Shecter fixes that here. Sure, this is historical fiction - so some characters only exist in our author's mind, and certain events are having to be imagined from a personal perspective we have no real knowledge of - but the basis of the story is truth, and Vicky Alvear Shecter clearly knows her facts!

Thing is though, Cleopatra's Moon is no historical text. This is not a lesson in ancient history. This is a raw, riveting, fascinating, alive telling of Cleopatra Selene and the turbulent time she grew up in. The crackling detail and the characters are riveting and three-dimensional. I was absolutely hooked from start to finish, and every painful moment in the middle.

That's another point to make on Cleopatra's Moon - it's often horrifying. Shecter doesn't shy away from the anguishing, stark representation of the bloody deaths of family members. The brutal overtaking of the kingdom is enough to make you sick to your stomach, but also sit back in awe at Shecter's undeniable skill at effecting our emotions. Because with such realism and honesty in the face of terrors, what can we do but identify with Cleopatra Selene? Especially as she is heartbreakingly young as she witnesses all of this.

Cleopatra's Moon is a disturbing, suspenseful, powerful journey. Reading it puts you right there in the midst of the unimaginable. The mourning, the brutality, the betrayal, the hurt and the fear are all both difficult to read - yet gripping.

I applaud Vicky Alvear Shecter for reminding me of what I love about well-done, respectful historical fiction! This novel is alluring, captivating, romantic, shocking and overwhelming. In the end, I had tears in my eyes! What a beautiful, wonderful book!!!

BONUS REVIEW:
I want to acknowledge that today is Halloween by mentioning another drawing book! Many of us bibliophiles have a creative streak, or know someone who does, and can find good use in do-it-yourself fun. And this one is in keeping with today's holiday. What's it called? Why, it is How to Draw Chiller Monsters, Werewolves, Vampires, and Zombies!

J. David Spurlock is the author and it features the artwork of numerous artists, as well as a foreword by Rob Zombie. This instructional book focuses on many different styles and breaks the steps down into specifics: structure, lighting, perspective, etc. They are pretty creepy, detailed illustrations done by very talented people.

So, if you are interested in nurturing your own talent and learning new tricks, pick up a copy of How to Draw Chiller Monsters, Werewolves, Vampires, and Zombies!

See you guys on Wednesday and have a Happy Halloween!!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Across the Great Barrier


Across the Great Barrier is the sequel to Patricia C. Wrede's YA prairie times fantasy Thirteenth Child.

If you haven't read Thirteenth Child yet, I'd recommend heavily that you avoid this review. Why spoil yourself? Go read Thirteenth Child, and then you can come back! :)

Otherwise, read on...

Eff is finally getting over her fear of being a thirteenth child and therefore inherently evil. She's finally beginning to accept that all that superstition is just that - and she doesn't have to hurt anybody. But that still doesn't change the fact that she doesn't like attention. Attention used to be cruel. Even though now it is full of praise and wonder after she helped to rid the lands of the mirror bugs that were killing are the crops and making it impossible to live in the settlements, she'd still rather do without it. After all, her twin brother Lan (the seventh son of a seventh son, and therefore a powerful magician) is getting a bit jealous.

But despite her desire to stay home and help her parents out while working on the simple, everyday magic that still gives her trouble - instead of going to a college to refine her potentially strong magical abilities, she's asked to travel past the Barrier Spell - something people don't do often. On the other side of the Barrier there are powerful magical beasts that they have little to no knowledge of, except for the fact that people often don't return. But they're trying to settle the area, slowly but surely, and Eff's abilities and smarts make her candidate to help out.

To make sure they all return home, Eff will have to work on controlling her magic and keeping them safe. But is that possible?

This is the wild west in an alternative universe, pretty much. Any of you who've already read Thirteenth Child (and you should be the only ones reading this!) know this. I'm still intrigued by Wrede's ability to make it seem almost normal for these people in Little House on the Prairie times to be practicing household spells and protective spells everyday like it's nothing.

Eff is a great main character that I grew to appreciate and love in Thirteenth Child. Her experiences and character development made her multilayered and extremely likable. This is a continuation of her story, but certainly not the end (it doesn't seem to be anyway)!

Now, I'm going to be honest - Across the Great Barrier did start off quite slow for me. But I knew I would need to adjust to that slow-burn tone that Thirteenth Child gave us. It's very subtle, very quiet, but interesting. An increase in the sense of danger (once she steps across the Barrier) quickens the pace, and a determination to stop and smell the flowers allows you to soak in the environment and character details that Wrede provides. She's not in a rush. And in order to enjoy Across the Great Barrier, you need to not be in a rush either.

There's an organic, naturalistic quality to the magic, as well to the entire story. Patience is required for a delicately plotted reward. Across the Great Barrier has a family drama element tied into the hardworking, polite prairie days in this magical alternative history. It's a truly fascinating story that revels in being told slowly, like honey being poured out of the bottle. It's sweet, inspiring, and lovely - but not for everybody.

Even I had a difficult time with the pacing of Across the Great Barrier - and yet the optimistic, curious tone of it still leads me to want to read more. I still want more of Eff and her continued growth. There's something so interesting and enjoyable about it - you just have to accept that it is a quiet story, and not expect it to be more. The plot twists are unique and surprising, and in the end it is worth that patience. That's how I see it. Tell me what you think!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Heartless


Heartless is the first in the fantasy series Tales of Goldstone Wood written by Anne Elisabeth Stengl.

I got the chance to read the sequel of Heartless (Veiled Rose) before this, which gave me an interesting perspective. I'd recommend reading it in order - but if not, it worked this way too. It has an overlapping story that influences the other in a lovely way - either way you read it.

Princes Una of Parumvir is of age and is ready to begin being courted. Her father, the King, hasn't allowed any suitors before her eighteenth birthday - but now it's time to start welcoming them to the palace. The first one that arrives, however, is not the sort of prince she dreamed of. His name is Prince Aethelbald and he's sovereign over the strange and mysterious kingdom of Farthestshore - a place of magic and non-human citizens. But yet he has come to declare his love for Princess Una - before she's even tried to get over his ordinary looks and less than overtly charming personality.

Una finds herself much more attracted to another suitor. He's good looking and charismatic and everything she hoped for. But as she's being wooed by this more traditional suitor, Prince Aethelbald speaks to her father about danger. There is a dragon on a rush of terror, overrunning a far-off land, and Aethelbald warns that he may be on his way. He warns that Una may be in danger.

Yet the King sees no such danger, and Una is too taken with her new prince and irritated with the old to pay any attention...

Though soon the Dragon King himself is in Parumvir - and now it may be too late...

When writing out a summary like that, I find that Heartless sounds far more generalized than it actually is. Stengl has created an original fantasy fairy-tale for the 21st century - something weaved so well that it has an inherent magical and mystical tone.

It has an allegorical side to it, but though when I recognize it, it is amazing - I don't recognize it all that often. I'm more swept away by the story - which was genuinely surprising and intriguing with a complicated, yet delicate, plot that begins to roll out in a lovely, understated yet powerful way.

Plus, the overlap of plotting between Veiled Rose and Heartless convinces me thoroughly of Stengl's extensive intricacy of planning - I was wowed and fascinated with this detailed tale. These two novels give us two distinct tales, yet they enrich each other and provide so much unbelievable character depth and perspectives it was incredible to see.

The characters have a realism to them. At first, Una's immaturity and obsession with the more superficial love can be a little off-putting - but it's realistic and understandable. This is a story that allows her to grow and mature. The other characters are just as true-to-life with flaws and strengths - yet more proof that fantasy can be grounded in excellent, believable writing!

There is an enchanting melancholy to Heartless - a subtly and beauty to Stengl's gentle prose that can be heartwrenching and suspenseful as the danger and evil of the Dragon is exposed further. We follow this kingdom in peril and at the hands of a terrifying, inscrutable enemy - which can be as psychologically frightening as it can be physically.

A dreamy, trancelike state quickly morphs into a nightmare as Heartless takes darker turns. I was truly shocked at the twists - and delighted to be so! This is a romantic fantasy that is epic in size and scope! I am now utterly convinced that I will be scrambling for the next book in the Tales of Goldstone Wood - I'm not ready to give up learning more about these multilayered characters and the beautiful fantasy and magic their tales are told among!

*I received a copy of Heartless 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.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tomorrow Girls #3: With the Enemy


With the Enemy is the third book in the middle-grade futuristic thriller series Tomorrow Girls written by Eva Gray.

Since this is a serialized story, I'd recommend you not read this review unless you've already read the first and second book in the Tomorrow Girls series: Behind the Gates and Run for Cover.

Otherwise, read on...

Maddie has been kidnapped. Right in front of them - right at the abandoned mall they've been hiding out in. Why her? Why didn't they take all of them? Evelyn and the others are horrified, but filled with determination: they will get her back.

It hasn't been that long since Evelyn, Rosie, Louisa, and Maddie escaped from CMS, the fancy school they realized was run by the enemy in the War - the Alliance. Since then they've met up with boys from a school similar to theirs, and they've just kept running. Their goal is to get home and warn their parents.

But this group of thirteen-year-olds have quite a journey ahead of them.

And now to have lost Maddie... Evelyn doesn't know what to do. Rosie, their usual leader, is completely out of it. She's already experienced losing her sister, and now she's seen it happen again. Evelyn has never been all that great with people. Her conspiracy theories and tendency to ask billions of questions haven't made her very popular - but it's clear Rosie isn't ready to step up to the plate this time.

So Evelyn does. But the plan to get Maddie back isn't an easy one. Nor is it safe.

Of course. What is safe in this war-torn country, where long before they reach eighteen they're forced into military service - where the very schools parents send their children to be safe are secretly run by the enemy?

But, really - this is the most danger they'll be in yet. Because Evelyn's plan? Yeah, she's thinking they need to infiltrate the Alliance itself.

In the goal of saving Maddie - will they all the captured?

With the Enemy certainly takes off from quite the cliffhanger from Run for Cover and keeps up the momentum from there. It has an exciting plot as we follow in the chase to find and rescue Maddie. We are introduced to more layers of this future world, which is both more advanced in technology but also has an absolutely wretched economy and next-to-no safety. One of the new layers is the Settlement Lands - a place full of displaced citizens living in hobbled homes, full of unfriendly strangers and vicious gangs. Plus, our group of young teens also find their way to Alliance-infested buildings. Definitely danger around every turn.

As the first book in the series followed Louisa's perspective and Run for Cover was Rosie's narrative, we now get Evelyn as our protagonist. She's humorous and cute, with her awkward social skills and bravery. Kind of like a watered down Hermione Granger-like character. And in With the Enemy we get a little more romance (just like in Run for Cover, with Rosie) and crushes going on.

Thing is, Tomorrow Girls feels like an awesome series for tweens (maybe girls from 9 to 13?), but it doesn't translate all that well for an older audience. It doesn't really need to. It's purpose is to entertain younger girls, and I believe it is highly successful at that. But where some younger novels can be also extremely fun for me to read... well, that wasn't so much the case here with With the Enemy. It has an excellent cliffhanger (the series is great at that), but overall the tone and dialogue of the books is targeted solely at the tween audience - and that's just fine.

With the Enemy seems to be the penultimate book in the Tomorrow Girls series - and is a great gift for a younger sister, a daughter, a niece - take your pick! I can see this being many a young girls' favorite book! :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Necessary Deception


A Necessary Deception is a new Regency England era historical romance by Laurie Alice Eakes.

Lydia Gale feels like a failure at everything. She always disappointed her father with her "unladylike" painting. She married Charles Gale, despite being advised against it. And she failed as a wife. Now a young widow, Lydia doesn't necessarily miss her husband - their short marriage wasn't as love-filled as she had thought it'd be - but she does feel an obligation to his memory. That's why when given the opportunity to help a French prisoner that aided her husband in the war, she takes it. She helps him obtain parole.

But then, shortly after, Lydia's told that the very man she assisted in leaving prison is a traitor to Britain and loyalist to Napoleon. Instead of focusing on her sister Cassandra's wedding arrangements and her youngest sister Honore's coming out to London Society, Lydia's Season is suddenly veiled in suspicions, blackmail, and espionage.

And when the French prisoner at the hub of the confusion enters her parlor, his good looks and kind demeanor throw her off all the more. Is he Britain's enemy or friend? Can she trust him, or those who say he is plotting against the country?

And what on earth will she do if her attraction to him grows stronger?

A Necessary Deception is set in 1812, one of my favorite time periods as I am a HUGE fan of Jane Austen. So every time I get a book set in the time period, I hope with all my heart that it will be good. Great news! A Necessary Deception is!!!

Lydia is likable, as are her sisters and family. The setting feels real and detailed in a natural way. I needed no convincing I was in Regency England. And the espionage-like spy-jinks were diverting, giving the novel a little more spice and plot.

The romance was sizzling and almost reminiscent of Jane Austen-like chemistry (I said ALMOST, it'd be hard for me to go higher than that) mixed with a truly intriguing wartime Napoleon-era plot. I was concerned that this part of the novel would come across as cheesy or just really, really inauthentic - but Laurie Alice Eakes managed to make Lydia being tangled with spies believable. It was subtle, not at all overdone. I was impressed!

I was constantly wondering who was lying, what the secrets were, and what the truth was, all the while being charmed by the organic 1812 London Season, populated by three Misses Bainbridge (Lydia, Cassandra, and Honore). The three sisters are startling independent minded, strong, and easy to root for. And when I say they were independent, I am not referring to an unrealistic level of independence in this era but more an Elizabeth Bennett or Emma Woodhouse type of individuality and intelligence.

Before I was even finished with A Necessary Deception I knew that I would want the next book in The Daughters of Bainbridge series. I was sucked in - I was feeling the crush of the ton, the scandal around the corner, the hustle and bustle of the balls - all as if I was there with Lydia. Plus, the romantic elements were scrumptious like a good cup of tea and buttered biscuit after a long day in fitting for new gowns.

With surprising twists, luxurious detail, excellent characters, and an inspirational but not heavy-handed message about forgiving yourself, A Necessary Deception is a great read for any of you bibliophiles who, like me, revel in Jane Austen and Regency-era England. Check it out!!!

*Available October 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

*I received a copy of A Necessary Deception from the Baker Publishing . Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blood Magic


Blood Magic is a YA horror/paranormal novel by debut author Tessa Gratton.

High school Junior Silla is haunted by her parents' death. She was the first to find them. All that blood. Her brother Reese found her, blood soaking the tips of her hair. Hair she sheared off haphazardly afterwards, as all she could see was the blood.

Everybody believes that her father shot her mother and then killed himself. But it doesn't make sense. They were in love. Her dad was well-liked and stable. It couldn't be true. Silla's past life of friends and flirting is over - now she's a ghost of her former self.

But then a small, mysterious little book arrives for her. Inside are strange spells written in her father's handwriting. Every one of the spells asks for blood. Silla covets the book, reads it hungrily - desperate for answers to her parents' horrific end. She sets off to her parents' graves one night with some of the ingredients needed for one of the spells... and decides to try it. She must know her dad wasn't crazy. She has to know.

Nicholas just moved to Yaleyah, Missouri, which is where Silla lives. His grandfather, whom he hardly remembers, died and left him his house. His stepmother likes the idea of the atmosphere of the nearby cemetery and overall remoteness sparking her creative spirit and helping to pump out more best-selling novels. Nicholas couldn't care less. He really doesn't like his stepmother, and his relationship with his father is next-to-nothing.

Not too happy about being enrolled as a Senior in a brand new school, especially one far removed from his previous big city school, Nick sets off at night to explore - and his feet somehow lead him to the old, worn cemetery. Once there, he sees her. He thinks she's beautiful - but what she's doing chills him to the core.

Blood magic.

It isn't his first time seeing it, though it's been a long time. And he's hoped to never see it again...

Alrighty, I hope that synopsis intrigued you - because I didn't give too much away!

Ooooh, what a book Blood Magic is! My, oh my - this is one that stays in your head.

Right away we are introduced to two compelling characters - Silla and Nicholas - whom I instantly wanted to know better. They're alike in many ways - both mourning parents and both aware, now, of a unique sort of magic: blood magic. I had an almost instant connection to these characters. They interested me and hooked me with their individuality and strong interaction with each other. These two had no lacking of chemistry!

The worn and old cemetery is an eerie setting, but so is the very town of Yaleyah - the entire place is soaked in secrets, mysteries, and anguish. There's an edgy darkness to Blood Magic with an undercurrent of romance - and fear. And there's journal entries throughout the novel (which I refuse to give details about), that seem to inform us more of the blood magic and date back many years - it shows us horrifying aspects of the magic and it disturbed and unsettled me in a way that only a talented author can.

It seems the blood magic may be addictive, and leads to uncharacteristic, chilling acts. It's fascinating and magnetic, while being utterly original and terrifying. Then shocking twists take Blood Magic from an experimental horror story-meets-sizzling romance to creepy, scary dangerous new depths - as we realize someone may be lurking and ready to do anything to get their hands on the book in Silla's possession.

And ooooooooh, surprise surprise! I got goosebumps as revelations abounded near the end and the dark and frightening core of Blood Magic shows itself to be more powerful, and perhaps evil, than we could imagine...

Blood Magic is stunning, flabbergasting, and unexpected from beginning to end - I guessed only very few things right. This is a freaky, creepy, scary, dark, character-driven and maybe brilliant novel that I recommend heartily - though only in the daylight! I was floored - and I'm guessing you will be too. Wow.

Quick bonus: fans of Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver series will notice a fun little reference that is awesome. You'll know it when you see it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Amen, L.A.


Amen, L.A. is a YA contemporary novel by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld.

Seventeen-year-old Natalie Shelton is used to being a minister's daughter in ordinary Minnesota, but after her Mom is offered a more lucrative position at the Church of Beverly Hills they pack up and head to California.

It's a bit of a culture shock - but her sister Gemma and brother Chad are loving it. They're living in Ricardo Montalban's old mansion with a view of the ocean and finding themselves befriended by rich kids galore.

Yet Natalie finds herself also making enemies, and managing to become friends with the one girl she's told not to. But she's a good girl and she has morals. Surely the glitz, glamour, and partying of Beverly Hills won't manage to suck her in.

Right?

I found Amen, L.A. to be a refreshing change from the usual Gossip Girl type fare. Instead, we get a girl as our main character who has real morals and is struggling with the fact that she compromised one of her big ones right before leaving Minnesota (in just the first few pages of the book).

What's also nice about Nat is that the authors don't go the cliche route and make her a wide-eyed naivete but a smart, mature girl that recognizes the behavior of L.A., just doesn't want to embrace it. She has a kindness to her, as well as an occasional sarcastic streak, that makes her more willing to give second chances. And the fact that the authors make Nat a Christian is almost shocking in YA literature, sadly. But it's very, very cool to get a different perspective in what can often be a very tired and overused setting.

The narrative style of Amen, L.A. is also unique in that Nat is almost talking directly to us in first-person. I couldn't help but smile at the direct tips to the reader to watch the movie Clueless (I second that) and read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (again, I second that). Without being rude or snobbish, Amen, L.A. reveals the superficialities that sometimes come with wealth and beauty, as well as the hypocrisy that can come with being outside of it. This is a sunny, fast-paced book with a conscious and a pulse on issues.

Glittering with sunshine and incredible cars, Amen, L.A. is a mixture of fun and fallout as it follows bad decisions and new decisions - and looks like a series I'll be wanting to follow-up on!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Measure of Katie Calloway


The Measure of Katie Calloway is a Christian historical fiction novel written by Serena Miller.

Though the Civil War has ended the country, especially the South, is in turmoil economically. Katie's husband came home from the war to find his ancestral home in ruins and only his wife, her little brother, and a few livestock she kept safe waiting for him.

It wasn't long after she married him that Katie realized her mistake. Her husband is a cruel man, and it didn't take long for him to take out that cruelty on her. Continually. Violently.

Then one day Katie decides that she needs to protect herself and her little brother Ned, so they flee. They go north to woodsy Michigan, and she finds a tough job as a cook in a lumber camp. They money is good and she and Ned feel secluded and safe so far away from her husband, whom she's sure is trying to find her.

Plus, the camp owner Robert Foster is a kind man. He seems determined to make the experience of working in a freezing environment for seven months, surrounded by no one but men, as comfortable as he possibly can. Katie sees kindness in his eyes - kindness that she's unaccustomed to.

It's not long before her admiration for the man turns, slowly, into something more. But more is impossible. She's hiding too many things, too many secrets - if only the quietness of the snowy forest didn't force her to see everyday Robert's superiority to her husband... and all the things she can never have...

The Measure of Katie Calloway has lyrical, powerful, beautiful writing that brings elegant, soul-searing Katie to the forefront immediately - from the first line on. Katie and her sweet, young brother Ned's troubles are gripping, yet poetic. Because of the way Serena Miller wrote these heartbreaking characters it took me only seconds to feel fully invested - and care for them very much.

The setting and unique feel to the book, especially once we reach the North woods lumber camp, has a tone of realism and is a strong atmosphere for a strong book. I could smell the pine trees and feel the dirt under my feet - I was there with Katie. And the author had me on pins and needles, turning pages quickly, for things as small as Katie making an apple pie good enough to get her a job. It was incredible how Katie's spirit of determination and love overflowed into an absolutely lovely novel.

I was loving it quickly, as I'm sure you're seeing. You don't even have to be a fan of Christian historical fiction, in my opinion, to read The Measure of Katie Calloway. There's a fear so palpable it breaks your heart and a desperate hope for something better - it's emotional and understated. This is a character driven story that wraps you up and doesn't let you go!

And unlike other historical romances where I find a serious disconnect with the male lead - Robert swiftly made himself out to be a goodhearted and thoughtful man - and genuinely so, which is the struggle I often find in this genre. There was no such problem here! He became more and more attractive just based on his kindness, and never once came across as a wimp (again, a common issue I have with male characters in inspirational fiction).

The Measure of Katie Calloway is so soaringly touching and sincere I got chills. God's amazing grace is in the spotlight in this humble, sweepingly romantic novel. Cliche-free and stunning, Serena Miller created a story so authentic and redemptive that I came close to tears as it came to a close. A true winner.

This is one of the best historical romances I've read - definitely this year, and maybe ever. I am left with a newfound respect and awe for lumbering in 1867 and an earnest desire to read more from this breathlessly talented author!

I loved, loved, LOVED The Measure of Katie Calloway!!!

*Available October 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

*I received a copy of The Measure of Katie Calloway from the Baker Publishing Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Flat Broke


Flat Broke is the companion to the middle-grade comedic novel Liar, Liar by Gary Paulsen.

Fourteen-year-old Kevin is reformed liar. He used to lie about everything. Sure, he did it for the betterment of mankind - but things kinda got out of hand. And he got caught. Now, as a punishment for all the lying, Kevin has no allowance. No allowance equals no funds to impress Tina, his fellow eighth grader - and now object of his affection and attention. She is, after all, the World's Most Beautiful Girl. How can he possibly ask her out on a date without money?

Being a smart, innovative young man Kevin decides to get creative and take things into his own hands. He will start earning money by creating his own little company and rake in profits that will be the envy of Bill Gates himself. Can that really be so hard?

Of course - nothing Kevin does is ever as simple as he thinks. And he ends in a variety of mix-ups and errors that provide much comic relief.

In Flat Broke we are reintroduced to Kevin, whose lively, personality-filled character was a standout for me. I was very happy to know we were going to return to him, because he is absolutely hilarious! His new ambition of making money and impressing Tina is only a starting point to a whip-fast, smile-inducing, crazy fun, extremely thin novel! Plus, Gary Paulsen continues to fill out the book until bursting with bright, happy, creative secondary characters that are still somehow realistic.

I want more of Kevin and his growing pains! I loved every lighthearted, laugh-out-loud moment and look forward to witnessing more of his insane, yet kind of brilliant, schemes.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reckless


Reckless is a YA fantasy adventure by the ever-revered (for good reason) Cornelia Funke.

Jacob Reckless has been passing through a mirror portal in his father's forgotten (or, rather, ignored) study for years now. After his father disappeared and his mother became a shell of her former self, he found it. Since then, it's been hard to stay tethered to his world - instead, he's become more and more connected to the alternative option.

In fact, he's managed to make a name for himself as a treasure hunter. And always by his side is a loyal vixen named Fox, a shape-shifter. She's probably the closest thing he has to a friend - but Jacob still considers himself a loner. But he's become comfortable with the different creatures, monsters, and magic this world has to offer - even though right now they are at war with a stone people called Goyl. None of that interests him. He just seeks out his mysterious objects and fetches good prices.

But that's all about to change. Because Jacob's brother Will has finally found the portal. He's always believed in Jacob, despite the fact that Jacob had left him to deal with their mother to her dying day, despite rarely ever being around. And now Will's been infected with the curse that many men throughout this land are terrified of - the curse that turns you into the enemy, into one of the Goyl. If it completes, Jacob's gentle, earnest, faithful brother will never be the same person - and it would all because he wanted, even at their late teen age, to follow his big brother.

Jacob has never had to take care of someone else in this world. It's dangerous enough without being infected. But he's determined to save his brother from a fate that seems to have no hope. No one has ever found a cure - or dared try.

But they call him Reckless for a reason.

Followers of this blog (you know who you are, and you're awesome!) will know I've only ever read/reviewed one other Cornelia Funke book and that was Dragon Rider. I thought that was an amazing, classic-feeling fantasy directed towards kids but insanely accessible to older readers as well. So this is my first time reading a book by her that actually features older characters.

In fact, if I'm doing my math right (and there's a very good chance I'm not - English was always my subject) Jacob may very well be in his early 20s in Reckless. This would make Will in his mid to late teens. This doesn't matter in the overall view, really, as long as it's a great book (which - surprise! - it is) - but I'll admit I was interested to see how it would differ from Dragon Rider because of that difference.

Reckless starts right out of the gate! Funke immediately caught my attention with the quick introduction to this portal in Jacob's father's study - a portal taking him, and us, to a mysterious world. And before we reach 20 pages we're already faced with a dilemma when we find out Will followed him and was infected with a curse.

Books that jump into the action so quickly can go one of two ways: the writing can fail to invest us in the characters and be too focused on the plot, or the writing can easily and craftily start filling in the blanks with character development, detail, and sweeping storytelling.

I'm happy to announce that, in my opinion, Reckless most definitely is in the latter category! This novel has a relentless adventure tone, a fully imagined setting, and a tough, brooding hero. Cornelia Funke managed to write new, scary beings into this fantasy world - creatures and monsters that are legitimately creepy and fascinating to read about. And what's so interesting is that our main character, Jacob, is completely aware of most of it, even as we take it in with awe and wonder. Oh, how I love a good fantasy adventure!

Reckless is heavily populated with original characters and ideas, danger, and obstacles at every turn. This is a place of twisted fairy-tales and horrors - delightfully fun and seriously epic! There's romance, creativity, and (like I said with Dragon Rider) a classic-like thrill that abounds throughout the entire book. I can see the talent brimming here that I saw in Dragon Rider, only darker and more mature. Awesome.

The frenzied quest for a cure brings out amazing depth in Jacob, as he must face his neglect of Will. Reckless is extremely fast-paced and entertaining as the marvelous prose helps our imaginations run wild! Exciting, nerve-wracking, and breathlessly thrilling I cannot stress enough how much FUN Reckless was to read!

And our hunky, tormented, treasure hunting extraordinaire (Jacob, if you haven't been following closely) is a fantastic character to follow. He's perfect to headline a series - and there's enough open-ended mysteries and room for more plots in this tricky, magical, captivating world for hopefully many more books to come!

Admit it - you're intrigued...

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

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sweetly


Sweetly is a YA modern-day retelling of Hansel and Gretel by the author Jackson Pearce.

When Gretchen and Ansel were very young, Gretchen's twin sister vanished without a trace while the three were in the woods exploring. Thing is, Gretchen remembers the witch's yellow eyes - she knows it was a witch, without a doubt, that took her sister. Ansel is less certain, and is haunted by his lack of knowledge of what happened exactly that night. Of course, no one believed Gretchen - and everyone was frustrated by the siblings' lack of help in the search.

Now that Gretchen is eighteen and Ansel is nineteen their stepmother kicks them out and the two head out to cross the country and leave the forests of the Pacific Northwest behind for the ocean of the East coast. But along the way they have car issues and end up in a tiny, sleepy town called Live Oak in South Carolina. In order to earn the money they need to get the car fixed and be on their way, Gretchen and Ansel are directed to Sophia Kelly's candy store.

Sophia herself is a graceful, beautiful, cheerful host who invites them to stay with her while they help out and earn some money. Her chocolates and candies are to die for...

As the two siblings begin to slip into a comfortable pattern with their new life, Gretchen meets good-looking but standoffish Samuel - and he isn't a fan of Sophia. He fills Gretchen in on the fact that every year at Sophia's chocolate festivals girls go missing. In fact, he is the first person Gretchen has ever met that seems to believe her when she says it was a witch that took her sister.

Sick of living in fear and being frightened by the sight of the forest, Gretchen is determined to start fighting back with the help of Samuel - but how could the sweet Sophia be involved? Who is the real monster?

She'll have to find out before she disappears like her sister...

Sweetly has a creepy beginning that gave me the impression that this book is perfect for Halloween!

There are so many awesome things about Sweetly it's hard to know where to start. How about this? I found it absolutely fascinating that Gretchen's abducted twin's name is not mentioned once for almost the entire novel, though she is talked of in the narrative extensively.

Then there's the fact that Jackson Pearce has Sweetly taking place in the modern world yet manages to keep that frightening feel of Hansel and Gretel, one of the scarier fairy-tales (in my opinion). She's created a understatedly supportive and loving relationship dynamic between Ansel and Gretchen that is interesting and likable and then she ratchets up the fear factor by setting the two in an isolated, middle-of-nowhere town that isn't all that fond of outsiders.

As this delectable story reaches shivering, scary peaks, there's something deliciously fun about the goosebump-inducing tone. Jackson Pearce has a way of making your nightmares come true. Sweetly also offers up a slow-burning romance with the enigmatic Samuel, who is hot but also has depth - excellent!

Sweetly has suspicious intentions, nail-biting suspense, a breathless, amazing end, and no lack of compassion and character development - fantastic and unique! How have I never read Jackson Pearce before this? I have no idea. But I intend to help you remedy that, bibliophile - that is if you haven't already.

All I know is I loved Sweetly and I want more from Jackson Pearce!

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hello Hollywood!


Hello Hollywood! is an adult contemporary romantic comedy by Janice Thompson.

Working as the only female writer on Stars Collide, one of the most popular sitcoms on television, can sometimes be pressure-ridden for Athena Pappas. She's been named head writer, but half the time she still worries about her job as the ratings start to sag a bit here and there.

Her concerns become amplified when Stephen Cosse, a hotshot Vegas comedian, is brought in to join the writer's room and give a "fresh" perspective. Athena wasn't aware that they needed it.

Stephen seems like a nice enough guy - but he has an unfair advantage when it comes to looks. He's Adonis-like. Very distracting. And Athena can't help but notice that he appreciates his Greek roots, just like her family. If her mother knew about him, she'd probably die and go to Heaven before any romance truly even blossomed.

But Athena has already had bad experiences with love. Really bad. Like leave-her-days-before-the-wedding bad. So go figure she'd find herself attracted to the very guy that may end up replacing her and force her to work full-time at her parents' sandwich stop.

It'd be so much easier if she could just write her own life...

Hello Hollywood! is the second book in a series called Backstage Pass. There's a fun, behind-the-scenes feel to Hollywood in it. Janice Thompson is a former screenwriter, so she's drawing from her own experience in giving us this setting.

Athena is a nice, slightly insecure, Greek gal doing her best as the only female screenwriter on Stars Collide. She makes for a likable main character, though she's a bit bland. I warmed up to her as it went along, her humor began to become a bit more genuine.

The new hot guy catches her eye, but also threatens her job - a bit cliche, but if a novel gives me a breezy, charming story I would forgive that. It took me maybe halfway there. Sometimes Hello Hollywood! felt perfect - for instance when Athena begins to panic about losing her job and goes through an entire night of planning what else she can do with her life - that scene was funny, yet still grounded. It made her personality more interesting. But then on a different note, the show she works on more often than not sounded very corny to me. I wish I didn't feel that way, but I did. It made it hard to believe it was doing so great, that she was so talented, etc.

But overall, Hello Hollywood! is a very enjoyable romantic comedy. I loved the Christian outlook. Their faith didn't feel overbearing, but was strong and important. The entire book was sweet and good-intentioned and I really liked the gently done female empowerment angle and focus on family.

I could have done with a bit more spice, a bit more flavor, a few more laughs, and a more dynamic plot - but Hello Hollywood! was a lightly entertaining, fast-paced novel for sure.

*Available September 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group

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

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dark Parties


Dark Parties is a suspenseful dystopia-like YA novel by debut author Sara Grant.

At sixteen years old, Neva has no choices. In Homeland, where she has lived her entire life, everyone is cut off completely from the outside word by a sphere that keeps them "safe". After all, they've been told that everything outside Homeland is a wasteland - they'd never survive out there. In order to avoid the conflicts that come from inequality, the government has strived to make everyone more equal through appearance - to the point where Neva looks very, very similar to everybody else.

She's seen more and more options taken from the table, to the point of now being assigned a job at sixteen. And as the population dwindles it seems that the government primarily wants her to get married and start a family. In fact, she's not sure they're even particular about the getting married part.

But Neva and her best friend, Sanna, have felt there's more going on. Neva has kept a secret journal notating how people go missing, never to be spoken of again. The first one she remembers is her grandmother - though her parents have never spoken of her since she disappeared. So Sanna and Neva plan a "dark party" to begin planning a rebellion. They want to start speaking out about how the government is actually scaring them, not protecting them - and how they aren't so convinced there's nothing else besides Homeland.

Yet nobody realized the unimaginable revelations they would begin to uncover... and what kind of danger it would put them in...

To be honest, I'm not sure my synopsis there does Dark Parties justice. I just didn't want to give away too much! Thing is - this is a phenomenal book! I'll just lay all my cards on the table immediately - I was floored.

I read a lot - a lot. And most of you do, too - after all this is the Bibliophile Support Group. And sometimes, because of all that reading, you start to get a familiar feeling with books - you might get better at guessing where they're going or feel that characters are kinda similar to each other.

Dark Parties is one of those books that wakes you up a bit. It put me back in that "reader mode". I almost forgot I was going to be reviewing it later - I was just purely in the narrative, wholly and completely.

I don't want you to think I haven't felt this way for a long time or anything - there have been some other utterly fantastic books I've been reading this year, truly. It's just that this was definitely one of them - and probably will be making my Best of 2011 list on New Year's Eve.

It has a stark, simple prose that presents a harrowing, bland futuristic reality where there is such a lack of individuality that it's appalling. These teens go to such lengths to feel different from one another - lengths I don't want to spoil for you - that it just grabbed my attention immediately, as it was so unique and incredibly effective.

There's a mystery, suspense, claustrophobia, fear, and fierce need for identity that drove the novel early on - and continued. Neva's determination and quiet rebellion is heroic and likable - she's a strong female character that struggles with her personal issues while refusing to give in to the dank yet dangerous Homeland.

As the book continued, it only became more shrouded in secrets and lies. And ooooh was it intriguing! Not to mention a forbidden, intense attraction that Neva develops for a guy she wants nothing to do with it, the anguish of betrayal, and the terrible loneliness of being trapped in a life you've been forced in - Dark Parties is flat-out stunning. And absolutely impossible to put down!!!

Dark Parties reminds us why the choices we make as individuals and the differences between us - appearances, points of view, personality - have far more positives than negatives. We don't want to lose that. So we understand that hunger to get it.

This book is romantic, painful, honest, scary, and engrossing. I was so into it, so involved in each horrifying twist, that there were moments near the end where I was practically forgetting to breathe. I became one with the narrative and it was all about turning pages - the clinically diagnosed bibliophile in me was fully alert.

Dark Parties has shocking revelations that will turn your stomach, character development that will break your heart one moment and make you cheer the next, and an end that gave me goosebumps and chills.

If this is only your debut Sara Grant - what can we expect from you next?!

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