Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Starstruck


Starstruck is a YA contemporary/light fantasy novel by Cyn Balog.

Gwen Reilly has spent the last three years, since her best friend Wish left their small New Jersey island hometown, eating doughnuts. It's kind of hard not to when your Mom owns the place, you live above the doughnut shop, and you run it during the day without all that much help from your little sister. The doughnuts are just so good.

During the last three years Gwen and Wish have been emailing back and forth. In fact, the first email he sent her (when he first left and they were both thirteen) was a profession of his love and hope that she'd be his girlfriend. So, for these last three years Gwen's has been in a long distance relationship with her childhood best friend... Only problem?

Now he's coming back.

This throws Gwen into a panic since, well, she hasn't exactly told Wish that she's gained seventy pounds or become a social pariah. She likes their relationship as is - he's sweet and dorky and his lack of knowing her current situation makes their conversations the highlight of her day.

But that only ends up being half the problem. When he arrives he's not the old Wish she remembers. He's gorgeous, blond, muscled, and sought after by every girl at the high school. Waaaaayyyy out of Gwen's league. Yet, miracle of all miracles, he doesn't seem fazed by her weight gain and still seems into them being together.

Of course this doesn't calm Gwen's nerves though. All she can think is: why???

Not to mention there are some strange developments as well... Wish seems obsessed with the sun, kinda moody when it's not out in full force actually. And the potentially-recently-released-from-prison, creepy dude that's now working at the bakery is convinced he knows what's really going on.

And Gwen doesn't think any of it will end up well for her.

Alrighty - so first off, I loved that our main character Gwen is overweight. Truly overweight - not just by twenty pounds. It has a realistic element that is so rare in TV, movies, and even books. Anybody in the same boat can recognize her struggle to wear something other than Hanes "comfy" clothes, the near impossible task of finding something cute and stylish in her size, and the other issues she deals with. Cyn Balog does it all in a very non-self-pitying way, and shows us Gwen's wit and charm quickly.

But what really floored me? Only a few pages into Starstruck and I was "struck" with how absolutely flat-out HILARIOUS this book is!!! Oh, the situations our poor Gwen ends up in - oh my. You couldn't even try to make me give away the multitude of fantastic, crazy scenes that had me laughing out loud uncontrollably! Seriously, I was at work when I was reading Starstruck and I had to keep catching myself - didn't want to draw too much attention to myself with all the giggling and snorting that was escaping from me despite myself!

Plus, Cyn Balog infuses an element of mystery and oddness to Wish that lends a bit more weight and plot than just being funny. I was fully involved, right there at Gwen's awesome side, wanting to know what was up. It has a sense of fairy-tale whimsy, with a dose of honesty and (surprisingly) suspense.

If you want to be entertained, cheered up, and pulled into a fantastic, touching, genre-bending, down-to-earth yet up-in-the-clouds, relatively short story - read Starstruck. As for me, I was impressed with the level of uniqueness and utter exuberance presented in this tale.

Starstruck is a jubilant little gem that deserves to be noticed and enjoyed!

*Little note to all readers of the Bibliophile Support Group:
After this Friday's review, for the entire month of December and January I will be having five reviews a week! There are just too many books to read and too little time to talk about them! So during this holiday season, please stop by as often as you can to read new reviews every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday!!! Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 28, 2011

In the Forests of the Night


In the Forests of the Night is the second book in the YA fantasy Goblin Wars trilogy by Kersten Hamilton.

I reviewed the first book in the trilogy, Tyger Tyger, last year - and nearly had an overdose of bibliophile book love! If you haven't yet read it, you really, really need to. My thoughts on Tyger Tyger can be found here. And avoid this review unless you've already read Tyger Tyger - it's just too awesome to spoil!!!

I'm warning you - my bibliophile heart will break if you don't read Tyger Tyger before reading the synopsis and review of In the Forests of the Night!

Last chance to turn away...

We rejoin Teagan, Finn, and Aiden at the exact moment we left them. Thank you, Kersten Hamilton! I'd hate to miss even a minute of this fantastic, electric story. To be honest, if you've read Tyger Tyger and loved it like I did (how could you not?), then you really don't need to know what In the Forests of the Night is about. It's just a continuation of the story we began in Tyger Tyger, and everything else is a potential spoiler.

All I'll say is: the story is obviously not over. In Tyger Tyger we met Teagan, an animal-loving, smart, mature seventeen-year-old girl with an awesome and hilarious best friend named Abby. We also met her adorable, singing-machine six-year-old brother, kind and lovable Mom and Dad, and ever irresistible Finn Mac Cumhaill.

Kersten Hamilton breathed life into these characters and made them absolutely beloved to me! The same feeling remains. She reintroduces us without a long, detailed analysis of what happened in the first book (I actually reread Tyger Tyger before In the Forests of the Night - my first reread in this insanely busy year of books - but absolutely necessary in my opinion), and throws us back into this amazing, spectacular Irish mythology come-to-life story.

The revelations near the end of Tyger Tyger still have major consequences, and though they managed to rescue Teagan's father from the Dark Man in Mag Mell (the world of goblins, nightmares, and beauty), the danger is not gone. The Dark Man wants Teagan. He wants Aiden. And Teagan is determined to keep her baby brother safe. In the meantime, she is figuring out where her relationship with Finn stands - their attraction and feelings are clear, but with what they both now know she is... well, it's troublesome.

In the Forests of the Night is exciting, funny, magnetic, romantic, and loving. This is a family of fantastic characters that I adore mixed with a genuinely creepy, suspenseful, breathtaking fantasy plot. It's frightening, gripping, fun, and full of shocks galore - wowza!

This book is accessible to way more than a YA audience. Anyone who just wants to be swept away in an intricate, phenomenal story with characters you invest in and find believable and a mythology of Irish folklore and legends come to life - In the Forests of the Night is the answer!

It's incredibly visual, powerful, and full of twists I didn't see coming! This is reading at its most entertaining, inviting, and escapist best - I LOVED IT!!!!!!

Whoa - what an exhilarating, scary, touching ride Kersten Hamilton takes the readers on! I am NEEDING the third and final book. Now, please.

As you can see, I'm still having a hard time giving away any details. Hopefully that's enough to persuade you to continue the story. My enthusiasm for Tyger Tyger and In the Forests of the Night is hard to explain, except to say that the entertainment value and writing caliber is so strong that it whisks me away and makes me forget I'm reviewing the book. These are the kind of books that keep me a bibliophile, through and through.

For me this book was one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year (along with So Silver Bright by Lisa Mantchev, which I'll be reviewing in a few days) - and I was not even a tiny bit disappointed!

So, what are you waiting for? Go read your copy of In the Forests of the Night!!!!!

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Lasting Impression


A Lasting Impression is Tamera Alexander's newest historical fiction novel.

This story begins in 1866 in New Orleans, Louisiana, which is where we meet Claire Laurent. Claire is not yet twenty but already mourning her mother, whom she was close with. She's also desperately trying to match Francois-Narcisse Brissaud's style of painting - her father wants the forgery to be good enough to sell.

Claire hates it. She knows what her father insists she do is wrong - and she'd rather explore her own talents anyway. She wants to sign her own name on her own painting - to make an impression on the art world she loves with such a passion.

She wants to get out from under her father's thumb.

When tragedy hits suddenly, Claire finds herself being shipped off to Nashville, Tennessee where she is to wait for her father and his business partner Antoine DePaul, the two who actually fake the "authenticity" documents and sell her copies, to join her. To start again. To continue with their "business".

But she doesn't want to wait. She doesn't want to do this anymore.

So, she takes the first opportunity she has to get out of the lodging Mr. DePaul arranged and seeks shelter in a church - which is where she meets the handsome attorney Sutton Monroe, who kindly doesn't tell anyone she was sleeping on a pew. It's also where she hears about the job opening at Belmont Mansion for a personal liaison to the wealthy and demanding Adelicia Acklen.

Before she knows it, Claire is thrown into Nashville society - and for the first time in her life she feels free. Yet as her loyalty to Mrs. Acklen grows and her feelings for Sutton Monroe grow stronger, her secrets become harder and harder to bear...

After reading Rekindled and Within My Heart by Tamera Alexander, I'm a huge fan! I loved those two books so much that I literally didn't even care what the synopsis of A Lasting Impression was - I just knew I wanted to read it! I know all of you bibliophiles out there know exactly what I'm talking about.

And, my oh my, I was not disappointed!!!

The very first chapter immediately gives us a chance to be introduced to Claire and empathize with her - as well as be wowed at the turn of events! I was in the story's grips, right out of the gate! I'm leaving out big chunks of plot for you to experience it like I did - in the moment, in the story, like you're meant to.

A Lasting Impression is elegant, softly presented, and quietly persistent in showing us a gorgeous manor and a lovely cast of characters. Tamera Alexander excels at creating three-dimensional characters and continues to do so with every character in this novel - from Claire, to Sutton, to Mrs. Acklen, to all of the servants and secondary characters. They feel alive, like if only you could travel back to 1866 you could meet them all. They each have flaws, pain, joy and a human need for redemption and forgiveness - of both themselves and for others. Each time I read a book by Alexander I'm floored by how utterly invested I become in these people she pens, how I want to laugh when they laugh, cry when they cry - it makes for a heartrending experience, but also a joyful one! Amazing!!!

Richly detailed with period history, decor, customs, and ways of speech I felt completely transported to Belmont Mansion. So much so that I am ecstatic that there will be more novels involving Belmont Mansion - because I really want to return!!!

As I've mentioned before, there aren't too many historical fiction writers that can make the romance half of it authentic to me. Especially in inspirational fiction, where sometimes the chasteness (which I like) can become phony and almost devoid of attraction and chemistry completely. Tamera Alexander doesn't fall into that trap. Sutton Monroe is, in our modern language, hot. You feel an undeniable pull between him and Claire, an attraction that is both physical and soulful. It may be appropriate for all ages (and I think a lot of you YA fans would love this book), but it's steamy. Alexander's characters are human - they're real. They do feel attraction, hurt, love, failures, etc. That's what is so great about her novels!

I was extremely satisfied as this suspenseful, beautiful, encompassing, inspiring story came to a close, as well as ready for more from this fantastic author. And the way she subtly but powerfully shows the grace and love of God - well, lets just say I got goosebumps more than once. She's not heavy-handed in the way she portrays the Christian element of the story, but it's absolutely perfect.

If you haven't read Tamera Alexander yet, pick up A Lasting Impression to find out why you should. If you have, then what are you waiting for? :)

*I received a copy of A Lasting Impression 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, November 23, 2011

Overbite


Overbite is Meg Cabot's answer to the vampire craze, and the sequel to her adult-oriented paranormal novel Insatiable.

As always with a sequel, it's definitely a must to read Insatiable before reading the review of Overbite. You don't want to spoil yourself, do you? Go read my review of Insatiable here and then read the book! After you do that, go ahead and come back and see what I think of the second book, okay? :)

For all of you who have already read Insatiable: read on...

Meena has never had a normal life. She's always been a bit odd to people - after all, she tends to be a bearer of bad news. She can tell if you're going to die - and her conscious doesn't allow her to keep her mouth shut about it. This has always led to problems - but not as many as when she decided to fall for a vampire.

To be fair, Meena didn't know Lucien Antonescu was a vampire when she fell for him. She only knew he was an incredibly handsome, magnetic, intelligent man that made her feel special and loved... that is, until she saw him turn into a gigantic, fire-breathing dragon and found out he was not only a vampire but THE vampire: son of Dracula, prince of darkness.

Kinda put a damper on their relationship. And after all the things she saw that day, Meena has begun to work for the Palatine Guard - a super-secret vampire-hunting sect of the Vatican, using her special ability to help them all out best she can. She's moved herself, her still unemployed brother, and her dog Jack Bauer to a new apartment as well - who'd want to stay where a bunch of hungry, crazed vampires tore everything up?

But despite her new job, Meena still feels like Lucien isn't 100% evil. She'd like to believe that if he was, she never would have fallen for him in the first place. Yet Alaric Wulf, one of the premier vampire hunters and her "partner" of sorts, doesn't believe her. Nobody at the Palatine really does.

Then people from Meena's past seem to become targets for a new threat - and she finds the danger coming close to home yet again. Everything Meena's sure of is being tested, her loyalties are confused, and who has her best interest at heart appears to be a big question.

What Meena is sure of though - she really needs to start choosing better boyfriends.

By the end of Insatiable I was pretty invested in Meg Cabot's characters and was VERY happy to hear that it wouldn't be the last we saw of them. I enjoyed revisiting Meena and Alaric - and was very happy to see the two still had sparks (if perhaps still more misunderstanding and guardedness). I know there are people who want Meena with Lucien, some who want Meena alone, and then there are those (like me) who felt her chemistry with Alaric was just too perfect to ignore. You will not find spoilers here - just opinions. You'll have to read Overbite to find out what actually happens!

Overbite is a little less lighthearted than Insatiable, but just a tad. Meg Cabot always manages to throw in a bit of humor and sizzling romantic heat, no worries. From beginning to end I was really liking Overbite!

One of my small complaints from Insatiable was that Meena cried a lot. Well, she's crying again - a bite more than I personally prefer - but she's a sweetie and still a feisty heroine in her own right. And Alaric's still a hottie. To me personally, anyway. :)

The mystery at the center of Overbite (which I just don't really want to give any details about, don't want to ruin it for ya) was very interesting and almost gave a paranoia feel to the book. It always felt like there was something big going on that we couldn't grasp, but would be a danger to our beloved characters.

In every book she writes, Meg Cabot always keeps me turning pages. No exception here! She is one of the most involving, consistent authors out there - it never takes me long to finish her books, ever!

I was very, very happy and satisfied with Overbite! It's hard, sometimes, with sequels to say much without giving stuff away - so I apologize for being vague. Here's what I can tell you: there were truly surprising twists, romantic suspense, an energetic plot, and a perfect, awesome end!!!

I, personally, thought Overbite was excellent! Think there's a good likelihood you'll agree.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ready Player One


Ready Player One is a futuristic, '80s nostalgia, video game-esque novel by debut author Ernest Cline.

In 2044 things are even worse than they are now - economically and environmentally. Eighteen-year-old Wade Watts, like many others, lives in a precariously stacked mobile home with many other people - one of whom is his not-so-loving Aunt who took him in after his mother died from a drug overdose when he was young (never knew his dad). It's not very pleasant. But because of his technology smarts, he's able to fix up old laptops and devices and sell them in his free time in order to have enough to eat, despite his Aunt taking his government-issued food vouchers, which is more than others can say.

But where he spends most of his time is OASIS. It's a vast, incredibly detailed, brilliant virtual reality created by a now deceased genius: James Halliday. OASIS allows you to be whomever you want - whether that may be just a better, wealthier, more attractive version of yourself or something out of this world like a fairy, dragon hunter, or alien. Essentially it's a utopia that almost everybody escapes to and spends the majority of their life in.

And before James Halliday died he presented a whole new game: a riddle that once solved would put you on track to become the new caretaker of OASIS, as well as inherit the billions of dollars he left behind. For years, millions have tried to solve the first riddle (it's a series of puzzles, not just the one), but no one has ever gotten anywhere. Finally, people are starting to give up except the devoted few who call themselves "gunters" and a corporation called IOI that desperately wants to control OASIS.

Wade is a gunter. He has studied Halliday and everything Halliday loved since the contest became known. He shares in his love of 1980s television, movies, music, and games. And then one day... he becomes the very first person to solve the first puzzle.

The world flips out. Renewed interest and enthusiasm in the contest puts Wade's avatar at center stage - and he soon realizes that there are those who take controlling the most powerful interactive virtual game and getting their hands on all that money very seriously - and may be willing to commit murder to do it...

But Wade wants to win.

Oh my. This book is insane! There's a zest to Ernest Cline's writing that makes Ready Player One fun and crazy right off the bat. Seriously, I was in its joyous grips within three pages. That's right. Three pages.

OASIS is awesome, even if the world outside isn't. Cline is excellent at making this sprawling videogame realistic and a little disturbing, as you realize almost no one is actually living their life in the real world anymore. Ready Player One is lively and bursting with '80s references - classic iconic pieces of pop culture from John Hughes to Pac-Man to the more obscure. It has such a vibrancy and enthusiasm that it's hard to imagine anyone being immune to it!

Halliday's contest brings a hope and excitement to people - and as a plot the contest is enormously entertaining! It's like playing an expansive, amazingly awesome video game right beside Wade. Ready Player One is truly an utter blast to read - pure fun!!! Have I made that clear yet? ;)

Then once the novel takes a more suspenseful turn - what with Wade becoming in danger after powerful people make it clear they want his info - I was made even more riveted. It was still a delight to read, but had an honest-to-goodness sense of stakes - of loss and fear. But despite some of the darker moments (which gave the book more depth and character development - great!), Ready Player One always remained, for me, a positive, creative breath of fresh air.

Ready Player One is a phenomenal, adrenaline pumping, hilarious, geek-loving, sci-fi thrill ride that I absolutely loved!!!

If you're a fan of any 1980s pop culture or just video games in general - I can almost guarantee that you'll adore this novel. But even if you're not - even if you've never watched or heard anything from the period of history - I still urge you to read Ready Player One - because it is just pure awesomeness!

And I think I might have another book to put on my Best of 2011 list on December 30th. Be there on December 30th to see if it makes the list!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Highest Frontier


The Highest Frontier is a sci-fi novel by Joan Slonczewski.

Jenny, still mourning the loss of her twin brother who died in an accident, is entering her first year of college at Frontera. Frontera is the first college built in orbit, away from the environmentally wrecked Earth and the ultraphyte alien species, a still mysterious plant-like creature that has killed many with its cyanide defense system, which has invaded almost every area of the world.

She just wants to feel safe and live a semi normal life. She has interesting, if odd, professors and begins to become quite involved in her classes. But she soon realizes that though Frontera is far away from familiar problems, it also presents new ones. New dangers that may place her already fragile mind in a state of near constant nervousness... As well as place her in the midst of a political mess...

The Highest Frontier presents us with a futuristic world that is fascinating and not all that pleasant. The world seems ravaged. Political corruption and moral values are still an issue, and technology has increased to the point where hardly anyone ever does anything physically anymore - for example, people control the ball in sports with their minds, while standing on the sidelines. Slonczewski makes this future feel believable and not as strange as you'd think. This is because she still allows normal human interaction, grief, and fears to be part of her world. She keeps her story grounded. Though I appreciated this, I also felt that perhaps it was more grounded than it needed to be.

There was a lot I liked about The Highest Frontier. Jenny's character is sympathetic, and watching her fight with her "mental", a sort of therapeutical block and watch on her mind, as she tried desperately to visit her deceased brother in a virtual world of memories was quite something. And though this future world was a bit confusing, it was also thought-provoking, interesting and disturbing as it delved into genetic modifications. Almost everyone has bits of Marilyn Monroe or Paul Newman mixed in with their specifically chosen DNA, among the choice of the parents to decide if their child would be heterosexual or homosexual. Politics and religion have evolved into something familiar but altogether different. All of this is intriguing in its pure weirdness, to be sure.

However, the reason why I didn't absolutely love The Highest Frontier was that the plot didn't hold me. Like I said earlier, its almost like the novel was too grounded for me. Following a normal freshman girl to college, dealing with normal issues and normal emotions among a world that is abnormal to us could work... but I kept finding myself wishing for a slightly more thrilling plot. After the first one hundred pages of awe at Slonczewski's excellent imagination and intricate detail, I felt like the story really slowed down - and besides being occasionally effectively disturbed by the "advancements" made to technology, I wasn't all that involved or invested.

The psychological complications that the revealed dangers of Frontera presented to Jenny and the ultraphyte mystery were probably the most interesting of the multiple layers of plot. And there was a nice twist (which I kind of saw coming, but not all the way) near the end. I think a lot of people that like contemporary fiction with a crazy different, science fiction setting will absolutely love this. Clearly they already have! The reviews of The Highest Frontier have been great.

It's just that for me, personally, I didn't have enough reason to keep from skimming the last portion of the novel. The Highest Frontier is a smart, creative novel but lacks, for me anyway, entertainment value. But you know what I always say! Don't take my word for it - read it yourself!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Floors


Floors is a quirky middle-grade novel by Patrick Carman.

The Whippet Hotel is the creation of Merganzer Whippet, an eccentric yet brilliant billionaire. There's no place quite like it. It sits, small and incredibly exclusive, on a huge patch of land that seems unnecessarily large, surrounded by enormous bush sculptings of ducks (a favorite of Mr. Whippet's).

Each floor (of which there are only nine) has a wacky, specific design that tends to only be occupied by fellow wealthy oddballs. But Leo Fillmore, the janitor's son, loves it. He and his dad have access to every corner of the masterpiece, and Leo helps keep the air conditioning working in the Cake Room and the ponds circulating right in the Room of Ponds and Caves. He helps walk the ducks and keep the smartest of all the ducks, Betty, happy and less likely to bite the guests.

But something hasn't been right about the Whippet Hotel for the last many weeks. Mr. Whippet is missing. He is always a very active part of his hotel, often the only one to work on specific parts of it. And now it seems to be falling apart without him. Leo and his dad have more work to do than ever, and it almost feels like someone may be causing trouble on purpose!

Then Leo finds a box addressed to him in Mr. Whippet's handwriting. It leads him to secret entrances to hidden floors, riddles and puzzles and dangerous games - all the while helping him pick up a friend or two. It appears this bizarre array of cryptic messages are all for one purpose: save the Whippet Hotel.

Leo, as always, is only too happy to help!

Floors is a zany, inventive, good-humored, and lighthearted tale of a whimsical hotel and it's nonsensical residents. The search for the mad, missing billionaire owner and the mysterious deviant purposely trying to destroy the hotel is delightful and pleasant - full to the brim with ducks, robots, and rooms designed as giant pinball machines and more! There is no lack of creativity here!!!

It's amazing how Patrick Carman can switch gears from something as dark as Thirteen Days to Midnight (which I reviewed earlier this year) to this! Floors made me almost as tickled as Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. It's stuffed with charm and nutty fun, making it an excellent, diverting family friendly read that I really enjoyed!

There's a quality of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (that is, the movie - I've never read the book - can you believe it?!) to Floors. Yet still completely original. By the end, I kinda wanted to go to the Whippet Hotel (especially the 13th floor - you have to read it to understand)!!! Happy to report that the book says it is "Book One", so there seems to be more in the works.

I found Floors to be madcap fun - and hope for much more to come!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Daughter of Smoke & Bone


Daughter of Smoke & Bone is a one-of-a-kind YA fantasy by Laini Taylor.

Karou is an enigma to all who know her. Her sly smile is her only answer when questioned about where she goes for days at a time, why it seems that she lives without a guardian though only seventeen, how her hair is always a perfect shade of blue, where she got her strange tattoos...

Prague does not contain Karou. The monsters that fill her sketchbooks are real - and the only family she's ever known. And unease seems to be stronger than usual as she steps into the shop that they live in.

Before she knows it, black handprints begin appearing on the different doorways that gain access to their shop throughout the world - and unknown danger lurks. A war Karou had no knowledge of seems to threaten all she knows and loves, yet may bring to her a supernaturally good-looking, winged stranger that she feels an intense, frightening connection with. But she may lose it all, without ever knowing how she came to be part of it.

Karou has always wanted to know, but now it seems imperative: Who is she?

The synopsis is a bit vague, but primarily because I don't want to let slip any spoilers. You know how I am. ;)

What I can say is that enigmatic, mysterious Karou and her international setting is absolutely fascinating. The story is sizzling with creepiness and suspicion, yet I quickly became emotionally attached to these otherworldly creatures/monsters that are Karou's family. They appear threatening, yet not. It's confusing and bizarre and oh-so-interesting!!! I was riveted by the strangeness and exoticness of it all!

Daughter of Smoke & Bone is an original, never-before-told, epic myth. I never knew where it was going and was willing to go along for the crazy, wild ride. I joined Karou in her yearning to find her monster family, worried for them along with her, as weird as it seemed. I was curious as she was to know why she had an emptiness that felt like it was waiting to be filled by something specific that she couldn't put her finger on, as curious as she about the mystery of her origins. Laini Taylor made me very invested very quickly.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone flips you on your head and spins you around. It's an astounding plethora of beauty, betrayal, hope, and love wrapped up in an entirely new and exquisite package! I was left hanging, and oddly inspired. Whoa.

Sequel now please.

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

To Have and To Hold


To Have and To Hold is an inspirational historical fiction novel by Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller.

In late August 1886, Audrey Cunningham finds herself displaced to Bridal Veil Island, Georgia with her father. She didn't really want to move there, and considering she's quickly nearing thirty she didn't have to - but her loyalty to her father runs deep. After all, she did love their ancestral home when she was young. They only moved away for financial reasons. Now with her mother gone, Audrey's father feels his attachment to the land is more about making sure Audrey is provided for than some misplaced pride, as before.

All Audrey knows is that her father's sobriety is being strengthened by his newfound faith in God, and if living in Bridal Veil helps to keep him on the right track after years of heavy alcoholism - she's all for it. But there is competition for the property that they weren't aware of. Wealthy investors are looking to buy up the land to use it all for a luxurious resort.

Though Audrey's father refuses the offer, he does accept to use their home as a boardhouse for all the workers employed by the investors to start building on the surrounding land. One of the contractors is Marshall Graham who shares a past with Audrey's father - a past that frightens her.

Yet what she finds she should truly be afraid of is the fact that someone seems to be trying to sabotage the construction work on the island. Among the danger, Marshall begins to see his feelings for the feisty and stubborn Audrey may be growing... But can he keep her safe?

To Have and To Hold really makes Bridal Veil Island the main character. The island is written vibrantly, the setting being naturalistic and a lovely, swampy green in my mind. Unfortunately, Audrey never popped quite so much for me. Neither did Marshall.

Now, don't get me wrong - there's a lot I like about these characters and the plot. The struggle with alcohol and the bruising Audrey's trust has taken is potent and a wound that is slowly healing, but still causes misunderstandings and a tendency to jump to conclusions. This causes a good amount of drama between Audrey, her father, and Marshall. It felt realistic and undramatic, which is kind of nice.

Yet I never felt fully invested in the characters. Was I bored? No. But was I riveted? Sadly, that's a no too.

The clubhouse being constructed on the island sounded absolutely gorgeous and I couldn't help but wonder if more books taking place on Bridal Veil, with a finished clubhouse, may be planned. I could possibly be interested to continue if it were a series. Though I would like to have more period detail than To Have and To Hold has. Besides the description of the island, I could almost say I wouldn't know it was 1886 except for the mentions of the War of Northern Aggression by the cantankerous housekeeper.

When it comes to the mystery in To Have and To Hold, it was slight but interesting - what with the contruction continually being delayed, and some very dangerous and possibly purposeful tampering going on. It kind of gave the novel a lightweight Nancy Drew feel at times, which was fun - but again didn't quite reach the level of story I wanted it to get to.

To Have and To Hold was a very nice novel. It was charming and sweet with a burgeoning romance that is engaging and a love between father and daughter that was inspiring. The book didn't capture my imagination as much as it could have, and I wasn't as wrapped up in the characters as I wanted to be - but it's a pleasant novel.

But you know what? I may have had lack of connection with it, but that may not be the case for you at all. As I always say, read it for your self! This is one gal's opinion - find out your own! :)

*I received a copy of To Have and To Hold 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, November 9, 2011

A Heart Revealed


A Heart Revealed is an inspirational historical fiction novel by Julie Lessman.

Emma Malloy has been living in Boston for ten years now, having left Ireland because of an abusive husband. Charity O'Connor (now Dennehy) helped persuade her to leave, and Emma is now fully a part of the O'Connor family - practically a surrogate sister. She loves the big family, and is happy to call them her dear friends.

It's 1931 and the depression is hitting them all hard. Emma is working long hours at Dennehy's, the store she manages. After a mishap at his last job, Sean O'Connor, one of Charity's brothers, comes to help out. She's known him for years, and their mutual respect and admiration is strong. But soon his charm turns more than brotherly... but Emma's still married. She's come to term with her situation long ago, and knows that she will never again be romantically involved with another man. But now that the spark has been ignited in her heart and body, how can she bury it once again and see Sean as only a friend?

In the meantime, Charity's own marriage is on the rocks as her husband Mitch has to work longer and longer hours at the Herald. Plus, the fact that his new supervisor is an attractive widow has Charity in a tizzy. Then there's Katie, another one of the O'Connor girls, who just married Luke. But before the honeymoon is even over, she's already hiding something from him. Does being married mean giving up personal dreams?

There are many relationships in the spotlight in A Heart Revealed. Emma is most certainly not the only character we follow. But the beginning of the novel does bring her and her abused and fearful past to the forefront. We see that's she's now free physically, but maybe not emotionally. Her external and internal scars are still there.

Oh, my goodness did I love A Heart Revealed!!! In it we have fiery, playful, lively Irish characters and an easy, teasing banter that hooked me quickly. This is a rich, stunning tapestry of multiple people, all with distinctive personalities, and an epic, multigenerational feel to top it off. The time period is vibrant and believable and among the emotional honesty there is also a fun humor to it.

I absolutely loved this novel from start to finish - I was held helpless in it's clutches. I could hardly believe how much I was invested in these characters. Before I was even halfway done, I was thinking about how much I wanted the previous books from Julie Lessman, which seem to all still focus on this large, wonderful family - A Passion Most Pure, A Passion Revealed, A Passion Denied, and A Hope Undaunted. And now that I've finished A Heart Revealed, I want those books more than ever!!! I want (and need) to fill in all of the O'Connor family stories that I've missed!!!

A Heart Revealed presents the readers with a multitude of fascinating, amazing, enjoyable characters, relationships, and stories. Julie Lessman is phenomenal at creating chemistry that boils over, passionate desires, raw emotions, and human flaws that make for one of the most realistic, beautiful, gripping Christian fiction books I've ever read!

Julie Lessman shows us painful, truly painful, pasts that don't hesitate in showing the darker times of life, the bad choices and mistakes that are of an entirely human nature and the guilt and shame that can haunt us - all the while illuminating the hope that comes from God alone, showing His grace, love, and power in an understated yet meaningful way.

I do believe that those of you bibliophiles who may not ordinarily read inspirational historical fiction might want to give this one a shot. It is sweepingly romantic and touching - and despite the fact that the Christian faith of the characters gives more depth to the Christian reader, I believe that whether or not you're a believer you'll find A Heart Revealed to be a lovely, exquisite panorama of a novel.

I know I did. And I can't wait for another installment in the series. The sooner the better!

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

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Interview with Joanna Philbin!






Today we have an extra special guest! Joanna Philbin, author of The Daughters series, is here to tell us about the fourth and (*sniff*) final book in the series - The Daughters Join the Party - as well as answer some other questions!

Welcome to the Bibliophile Support Group, Joanna! We're happy to have you!

So, for anybody who hasn't read the first three books in The Daughters series (read my reviews here: The Daughters, The Daughters Break the Rules, The Daughters Take the Stage) can you give everybody a general idea of what they're about?

Lizzie, Carina, and Hudson are best friends who are normal fourteen year-old girls in almost every way. Except for one: each girl has a parent who is incredibly famous. And her parent’s fame complicates her life in a big way. Lizzie’s mom is a supermodel, but Lizzie isn’t what most people would call “beautiful” – in fact, she’s what most people might call “unusual-looking.” How do you deal with having a supermodel mother when you don’t look a thing like her? Carina is the daughter of a famous business tycoon, but her dad decides to stop giving her money to teach her a lesson. Does she admit this to the world or does she keep playing the part of the Upper East Side princess? Hudson is a musical prodigy, but her mom is a mega-selling pop star, who wants Hudson to follow in her record-breaking footsteps. Can Hudson find a way to develop her talent and enter the music business without turning into her mom’s mini-Me? That gives you an idea of what each of the books are about.

You've already made me fall in love with Lizzie, Carina, and Hudson! Who is this new 'daughter' we're going to meet in The Daughters Join the Party?

Emma is a bit of a rebel. She’s not a bad kid, but causing trouble is her way of standing out in her high-achieving family. She has an older brother who gets straight A’s and is headed for Harvard. Her dad is a popular senator, her mom is a successful lawyer. Emma’s smart, too, but she doesn’t believe she is, and she’d so much rather goof off in class and make people laugh than take it seriously. When their dad announces to the family that he intends to run for President, Emma faces a dilemma: does she stay the “black sheep” of the family, or does she try to change who she is to better fit in with the image of a “perfect” family that her dad’s handlers are trying to create?

Being the daughter of Regis Philbin gives you insider knowledge and personal experience when it comes to the subject you're writing about. What's it like being the daughter of someone so universally liked and well-known?

That’s such a hard question to answer because I’ve never known anything different! My dad has been on TV since before I was born, so I’ve never known what it’s like to have a parent who’s not well-known. I still think of him as my dad, first and foremost. When we go out to dinner or walk down the street, that’s when I remember what he does for a living. So sometimes it’s a little surreal for me when he’s recognized.

With all the terrible behavior of many young celebrities, I found your books very refreshing as they show a different, more mature and positive perspective. Was this something you were striving for when writing The Daughters books?

Well, the Daughters are not actually celebrities. Their parents are. And this is what I was trying to show: how strange it is to live on the periphery of fame. And I based so much of the books on what I know of that personally, and my sister and I led lives that were much more normal than most people would think.

Of Lizzie, Carina, and Hudson (or the new daughter Emma), who do you most identify with?

That’s so hard. I think I can identify with all of the girls. So I’ll just have to say, all of them??

In that same vein, of all the swoon-worthy guys you populate your books with (and there are many - thank you for that!), which one do you have the biggest author'scrush on?

Aahh! You’re killing me here. They’re all so swoon-worthy in my opinion! But I have a special fondness for Todd. Maybe because he was my first guy character. I think I fell in love with him right alongside Lizzie as I wrote that book!

Have you noticed if there is a particular favorite 'daughter' among the majority of your fans? If so, why do you think that is?

That’s a great question! To be honest, I don’t think there is a favorite. I just ran a contest on Facebook and asked people to name their favorite Daughter. It seemed to be a tie between Lizzie and Carina, but when I get reader mail, there seem to be a lot of letters about Hudson. So I’m not sure. I’m interested to see if girls will be writing about Emma, too.

There are many funny parts in The Daughters series, but I'll admit that all of the scenes in The Daughters Break the Rules in which Carina was dealing with the ancient panda cell phone had me cracking up like no other! That was classic! Is this hilarious cell phone based off a real one or summoned up from your extraordinary imagination?

Nope, it’s real! I used to have a cell phone that had a panda crawling across the screen in slow motion. I’m not sure why any phone would have that as a selling point, but this one did. This was during a time when I was in New York after graduate school, making no money, working at a bookstore, and struggling to be a writer. I was always in these ridiculous situations, trying to keep up with my friends. But they turned out to be great material for The Daughters Break the Rules.

Very few books, in my opinion, are done justice by the film world - but let's imagine you had the dream job of casting the movie version of your books with absolutely anyone you wanted! Who would you cast as Lizzie, Carina, Hudson, and Emma? And if you have ideas for any of the other characters too, we'd love to hear them!

Believe it or not, the only person I “cast” in my head as I wrote was Carina’s dad, the Jurg. For some reason, I had Richard Gere in my head the entire time. But I didn’t cast the girls. I always love to hear who people think should play them, though!

What are some of your favorite books and authors? Who would you recommend to your fans?

I worshiped Judy Blume when I was a kid and a young teen. Her characters felt like real people, people I might actually know. Reading her books made me feel like someone understood me, and they made me want to be a writer. I also loved Madeleine L’Engle and the Wrinkle In Time trilogy, Paul Zindel, Norma Klein, Lois Lowry, Island of the Blue Dolpins by Scott O’Dell (I think I read that three times), and anything by Roald Dahl. In highschool I fell in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger, Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, and William Styron but I also loved popular writers like Anne Rice and V.C. Andrews and books like The ThornBirds and Endless Love.

Okay, I can't avoid it any longer: Why must this be the last Daughters book??? I know that I am not alone in wanting many more books featuring these awesomegirls! As you can tell from my reviews, your books made me laugh - but theyalso inspired and touched me. Why did you decide to make this fourth book the last in the series?

It just seemed like it was time. Each of the Daughters changed and grew so much over the course of four books. And after I finished Join the Party, I realized that it was time to move on to new characters and a new setting. But this book definitely presents the possibility of another Daughters book one day down the line, so we’ll see.

Do you plan on writing more books? Can you give us any hints?

My next book is called THE RULES OF SUMMER and it’s about two seventeen year-old girls spending the summer in East Hampton and the unlikely friendship that develops between them. One girl has never had a boyfriend, the other is very confident with guys – and both have a relationship that turns their world upside-down. It will be published just in time for the summer of 2013.

Well, I have to say, it was a lot of fun to have you here, Joanna! Thank you so much for visiting the Bibliophile Support Group and answering all my questions! And thank you for writing books that make me (and so many others) happy while I read them!!!

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Faerie Locket


The Faerie Locket is a middle-grade high-fantasy book, a companion novel to A Practical Guide to Faeries, written by Susan J. Morris.

It's Jade's 12th birthday but so far no one seems to be remembering. Her sister Vira isn't around to play, as she's off being important at her Ranger training, hanging out with elves all day. But Jade is determined to have fun. Vira's the one that got her obsessed with faeries, what with the abundance of stories of a faerie world in which Jade was a pixie and Vira was an elf - stories where Jade got to be the heroine sometimes.

So Jade slips off to the treehouse that is one of her favorite places and hopes to get a peek at real, live faeries. In the treehouse there is a locket! She's convinced it's a birthday present from the faeries. But when all of a sudden a pixie appears and begins to lead her on a dangerous adventure to Feywild (the faerie land), Jade doesn't realize that the pixie believes her to be Vira.

But it's too late. The locket is already around Jade's neck and cannot be removed. So she finds herself stepping into the role of prophesied savior of the summer faeries! Apparently the Ice Queen and winter faeries are slowly but surely taking over the summer faeries land - putting them all in great jeopardy. Vira was brought to help them with her known cleverness and training. But instead they got young Jade - but she isn't saying a word!

Thing is, putting on the locket also turns you into a faerie. So it's not just the entire faerie kingdom hanging on Jade's incapable fingers - it's her own survival as well!

The Faerie Locket is a fun, lighthearted, magical tale of faeries. We have a delightful, enjoyable, dangerous quest for our birthday girl whose been sadly mistaken for her older sister. There's a childish tone to the book, but it's entertaining, funny, and sweet even for older fantasy lovers. The Faerie Locket brought out something like nostalgia in me. It reminded me of how it felt playing as a little girl, without ever being boring.

Plus, it's full of imagined characters and a likable, adorable pixie friend named Pip - the only one who knows Jade's secret. The Faerie Locket may not be a book for everybody - but any of you bibliophiles who like a bit of fantasy fun, and don't mind it fluffy and young, will find a core of good-natured entertainment here.

I was rooting for Jade the whole way through to prove herself and have victory against the Ice Queen (which, yes, has some shades of a faerie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but manages to pull it off somewhat). I was always involved and smiled often.

And I'll frankly admit it: The Faerie Locket is a sparkly, girly, cotton-candy kind of novel. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that! :)

*Check back here tomorrow for a special Tuesday post! Joanna Philbin, author of The Daughters series, will be stopping by the Bibliophile Support Group for an interview! Don't miss it!!!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tomorrow Girls #4: Set Me Free


Set Me Free is the fourth book in the futuristic middle-grade series Tomorrow Girls by Eva Gray.

If you don't want to be spoiled for the earlier books, I suggest you avoid this review and look into the first three books: Behind the Gates, Run for Cover, and With the Enemy.

You've been warned - synopsis starts... NOW!

Maddie is still reeling. She's only just been rescued from the clutches of the Alliance, where she was brainwashed and persuaded that she wanted to stay - until her awesome friends didn't take no for an answer. And then, well... she found out her mother is the LEADER of the Resistance! The mysterious "Hornet", those that all who fight against the Alliance follow = her Mom. Wow.

And now she has a little device thing, shaped like a honeycomb, that seems impenetrable but apparently carries super-important information for her mother. She's been tasked with getting it to her ASAP. Only problem? She has no idea where her mother is!

Not to mention the fact that Drew, Alonso, and Helen, all of whom were waiting on Maddie's rescue mission back at the old, dilapidated car wash building, have all disappeared and the building has been demolished.

So, yeah - there's a lot on their plate right now.

First they have to find Drew, Alonso, and Helen (hopefully alive), and then Maddie needs to figure out if her Mom ever left her any clues to find her.

Because the entire War may depend on it!

Set Me Free is an action-packed little book targeted at a tween audience. What's great about that is that all the girls' are portrayed as smart and capable, giving it an inspiring tone. Now, that same tone can be a bit cloying and obvious to an older read - causing it not to translate real well (like the entire series), but the very fact that it is juvenile is the point!

The repetition and cornball-esque feel Set Me Free and the entirety of the Tomorrow Girls series sometimes sends out, just doesn't quite make for entertaining reading for us older readers. And that's perfectly okay. It's probably a great book for 9 to 13 year olds!

And I do really like the overall ideas of the series and the ultimately strong patriotic tone. It's the actual execution that is rather exclusive to young readers only. Definitely a pick for younger sisters, nieces, daughters, etc. A fun, futuristic, light-dystopia novel that might help young girls get interested in sci-fi in the future!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Anna Dressed in Blood


Anna Dressed in Blood is a YA paranormal ghost story by author Kendare Blake.

Cas is a teenage ghost killer. He has inherited his father's powerful athame, the knife he uses to send deadly ghosts out of this dimension, after he died. And with each kill he is training himself to hunt down the one that brought down his Dad...

His Mom is a kitchen witch, selling mystical stuff on the go, and helping to keep the two of them safe. She's along for the ride somewhat reluctantly, but she knows that just like with her husband - this is Cas's choice, and he's good at it. They move from place to place following legends and leads - and the latest brings them to a town harboring a ghost that is more dangerous than ever - Anna Dressed in Blood.

She's unlike any other ghost he's encountered before. She's fascinating, extraordinary and wears the same dress she was wearing in 1958 when she was brutally murdered. And it drips, neverendingly, with blood. Cas witnesses what she's able to do - how she kills mercilessly with rage.

No one who sees her ever lives to speak about it.

But yet... she lets Cas live.

And there begins Cas's toughest mission yet.

Anna Dressed in Blood has a fantastic, creepy, sad, yet fun opener that gives you a hint at how awesome the book is going to be. The best part? The book follows through!

Cas is an excellent protagonist - he's witty, intelligent, and savvy - fun and interesting to follow. He's like a mix of the hot guys from Supernatural and something entirely new.

Twisty, freaky, and legitimately scary - if Anna Dressed in Blood were a movie, the gore would make it R-rated. Yet Cas's sarcasm and unflappability keep it from becoming too much. The writing maintains a fun and entertaining tone, but allows a deliciously dark edge.

Anna, our title character, is a ghost unlike any other and she astounds both me AND Cas. We are presented with our hero's dilemma and mystery - all of which is very, very intriguing. There's an addictive, but intensely spooky, feel as Cas's obsession with Anna washes over to the reader. It's hard to say too much without giving anything away...

Anna Dressed in Blood is obstinately original, wonderfully bizarre, refreshing, and extremely well-done. It's deeper than you'd initially expect, but does provide you with depth and gravitas to make it even more enjoyable. The end was a little rushed for such an amazing buildup, but it was still great.

This is the kind of story that YA paranormal lovers will fall for - and adult fans as well! Everybody else? Well, you should still give it a shot because there's always a chance you'll be surprised and find that a genre that you didn't think you were a fan of convinces you otherwise!

And me? Well, I am just hoping there's going to be a sequel!!!