Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Escape From Home

Happy Halloween, Bibliophiles!!!

Escape From Home is a children’s historical fiction novel by AVI, the first of the two Beyond the Western Sea novels.

In 1851 Ireland, fifteen-year-old Maura O’Connell and her twelve-year-old brother Patrick are living day to day knowing that at any moment they will be turned out of their home. Poverty is terrible in their village and when a letter arrives from their father containing the money to purchase tickets to join him in America, where he went to find work, it feels like salvation.

Yet the lifetime spent in Ireland is too hard for their mother to give up, and Maura finds herself and her brother fighting to get to the ship that will get them to America all on their own…

Laurence Kirkle is an eleven-year-old son to an esteemed English lord. He finds himself at the brunt of his elder brother’s jealousy and cruelty every day and finds no comfort in his parents. He despises his life and desires to get away from them – his life doesn’t seem to ever improve, but instead worsens. After a particularly bad lashing at the hand of his gleeful brother, Laurence runs away with dreams of America.

All three children have hopes of a brighter future of freedom and prosperity – but getting on the ship that will set sail to America is a difficult, danger-fraught journey. They face theft, liars, hunger, loneliness, and those who purposely take advantage of their vulnerabilities of age and lack of protection.

Will they ever make it out of Liverpool?

When I read Murder at Midnight by AVI, which was the first book I’d read by him, I wasn’t so sure I was fan. It was a fine book, but didn’t really get me involved – and the writing felt younger-oriented than I preferred.

However, with Escape From Home I was completely and totally amazed by how opposite my opinion was here. The characters are mostly quite young, yes, but the style of prose AVI uses here is ageless. In fact, there was an old-fashioned, classic feel that I got from Escape From Home that I not only loved, but gave the novel a sense of authenticity. Almost as if the book was written in 1851!

Escape From Home makes the hopelessness and poverty of the O’Connell’s life in Ireland potent. It’s a scary, suspenseful journey for liberty, prosperity, and a brighter future – though the task of getting to the ship leaves them alone, young, and defenseless.

This is an adventure that is frightening, forlorn, and gripping. The varied paths of the characters find ways of crossing, which somehow never feels coincidental – more fateful. AVI is superb at providing a vivid, detail-oriented historical setting. But his greatest achievement in Escape From Home, in my opinion, is how much he made me care for Maura, Patrick, and Laurence.

Of course, as this is a two-part story, so Escape From Home ends on a cliffhanger! The second book is called Into the Storm – and there will be a review of it this Friday!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Poltergeeks

Poltergeeks is a YA paranormal novel by Sean Cummings.

Fifteen-year-old Julie Richardson has never led a normal life. Her mom, a powerful witch, has been training her in her powers since she was very young – and it’s all quite common-place to her.

Though her mom almost never lets her do anything without calling her first. Annoying.

But when Julie and her best friend Marcus (who’s been in on the secret for years) witness a poltergeist literally throwing a little old lady out of her home – Julie figures it’s time she take care of something herself.

Unfortunately, it appears there’s more behind the supernatural attack than a plain poltergeist – instead it’s starting to feel like a targeted paranormal assault, one that becomes increasingly personal as a full-out display of vengeance is unleashed on Julie’s high school, resulting in a tragic event.

And once Julie no longer has her mother’s experience to rely on, is it even possible she can fix everything on her own?

Poltergeeks is an awesome title. It drew me in from the get-go. Sadly, for me, the writing and Julie’s narration came across as more juvenile than I’d prefer. Though I can’t deny that the beginning was certainly a rip-roaring, fast-paced, ghostly start!

Yet things kinda went downhill from there, in my opinion. Peppered with an unnecessary amount of swearing and violence that didn’t propel character development or plot, it felt scattershot. Plus, it was difficult to really root in the story when Julie as a main character is really just not likable. She rubbed me the wrong way throughout the entire book. For me, she came across as smug, immature, rude, sarcastic, and unrealistic.

Sean Cummings is clearly a lover of pop culture sci-fi references, which I love and appreciate, but it sadly wasn’t enough to help me connect when I was having so many other issues with Poltergeeks. It was a lightweight narration style that never worked for my personal bibliophile tastes. I ended up having to skim once I was more than halfway through and still disliking Julie and not feeling an interest in the story at hand – which I feel bad about.

This could maybe be a good read for younger readers (those who wouldn’t be shocked by the language). There’s a surprise at the end that many are sure to enjoy. I’ve been seeing several positive, shining reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, etc. There’s clearly going to be a lot of fans of Poltergeeks that will disagree with me – and I’m glad! As I’ve said before, every book deserves a champion! In this case, it’s not me.

Unfortunately, I would much rather read what I consider to be a superior version of a similar genre from the likes of Rosemary Clement-Moore, Kim Harrington, and Meg Cabot (among others).

I feel like I “should” have liked Poltergeeks better than I did – but we all have such varied opinions and tastes, and books are most definitely polarizing at times!

Do try Poltergeeks out for yourself – if only for the potential of such an awesome title – and find out what you think! If you’re a fan, you’ll be happy to know there will be a second book called School Bodies.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Dark Unwinding

The Dark Unwinding is a Victorian-era YA mystery novel with some steampunk flavor by Sharon Cameron.

In 1852 England, seventeen-year-old Katharine Tulman yearns for independence – but finds herself in want of it since she is an orphaned daughter living with a rather greedy, dictatorial aunt. But she finds ways to exert her usefulness and look to the future when she hopes to have a bit more influence over her own life.

When Katharine’s aunt hears rumor of Katharine’s uncle squandering the family fortune on bizarre, nonsensical pursuits she sends Katharine to be a witness to his madness and get him committed to an asylum. Though an unpleasant task, she is willing to do it – as it is also her future comfort being wasted as well.

But what she meets is not a lunatic – but a genius. He’s childlike, certainly different and eccentric – but a man that is employing hundreds of workers and their families on his land – all of whom were rescued from the workhouses of London. It’s a strange, unorthodox set-up – and she knows that many would consider it insane…

Yet Katharine is terribly torn about notifying her aunt about her uncle’s behavior as she knows that not only his future hangs in the balance, but also the many workers he’s employing, including that of the prickly but handsome apprentice. Her feelings are deepening for them, and she’s remembering that she doesn’t want to be like her aunt.

The estate holds many secrets, though - and before Katharine is able to come to a decision it becomes clear that there are mysteries here – some of which are endangering Katharine herself.

I really, really liked The Dark Unwinding!

It has a spooky start with the sprawling, near-empty manor, disembodied giggles and the disturbing contents in a closet. Sharon Cameron provides a gothic, classic feel.

Katharine herself is a fresh character – she’s poised, self-assured, and trying to better her future. She has a logical mind, a no-nonsense outlook but she’s also got a heart – one that makes her all the more affable. In fact, The Dark Unwinding is populated with all kinds of mysterious, relatable, likable characters that are surrounded by creepy occurrences that question the mind’s very sanity. The linking, emotionally, of these people centers the novel on the tenderness the book delivers as we begin to love this unordinary family.

There’s an intrigue, danger, and curiosity about The Dark Unwinding that is a lot of fun. I especially like the quiet build – the suspense, suspicion, and ambiguity – not to mention the subdued, refined kind of romance I am partial to!

The Dark Unwinding is definitely striking, memorable and great – evoking intense feelings from me and an odd sort of loyalty and love for the book. Very impressive debut! I look forward to more of a similar vein from Sharon Cameron – I hope!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Crush

Crush is a humorous middlegrade novel by Gary Paulsen, and the companion to Liar, Liar and Flat Broke.

For maximum reading pleasure, I’d recommend reading Liar, Liar and Flat Broke before Crush – that way you’ll have all the background on these amusing books!

Usually fourteen-year-old Kevin Spencer has a superb gift of gab – that is, until Tina Zabinski, the Most Beautiful Girl in the World, is within eyesight. In that case he’s a frozen, mute, dumb, clumsy involuntarily foolish facsimile of himself.

But he knows that they are Destined to be together – if he can ever speak two words to her without tripping.

When a new guy arrives at school and begins spending time with Tina, Kevin knows he needs to speed up the process of actually asking her out on a date. But before he does that, Kevin decides that he needs to take a scientific, observational approach to the ways of men and women’s romantic lives.

Kevin wants to be an expert before he attempts anything. He’s determined to figure out the formula that will cause Tina to realize his perfect-boyfriend material.

So, with the aplomb that only Kevin has, he begins to set up experiments, like a good researcher.

Only problem? His experimentations involve people. People that don’t actually know they’re being used as test subjects…

Oh, Kevin.

I thoroughly enjoyed both Liar, Liar and Flat Broke as Kevin is just one of those memorable, stand-out characters. So, are all the secondary characters in fact! Gary Paulsen really does know how to divert us – and with a shockingly small amount of pages!

Crush features our laugh-out-loud character in yet another light-hearted, fun novel. Hilarious dialogue and one-of-a-kind characters populate the slim story, which is a snapping plot full of clueless shenanigans and schemes. This is a truly desperate Kevin in need of romantic assistance – looking in all the wrong places!

While Kevin makes a good-natured mess of things, I’m entertained. Plain and simple. Crush is a delightful change of pace, a chance to read something very quickly with a smile on your face nearly 100% of the time.

I know that, for me, among life, work, and the tiredness that former brings – a book like Crush can be a breath of fresh air. Join the fun and read Crush!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Assassin's Curse

The Assassin’s Curse is a YA fantasy adventure novel by Cassandra Rose Clarke.

Ananna of the Tanarau is a pirate’s daughter. A captain’s daughter. And she has always wanted to one day sail her own colors through the vast, gorgeous sea – but instead of fulfilling that dream, her parents want to marry her off to another pirate clan.

Well, that just doesn’t work for this seventeen-year-old buccaneer. Instead, Ananna takes off – but escaping her betrothal isn’t simple in this world. Soon the pirate clan she’s rebuffed has sent assassins after her – the kind that never lose, the kind that use the abhorred blood magic.

Wouldn’t you know, though, that Ananna would screw up their record? When she stands off against one, she accidentally causes a curse to be activated that binds her to her would-be assassin.

Now, not only is she escaping her past but she’s on a quest to break the curse by venturing into an area of magic, beings, and lands fraught with danger she never looked to seek, with the assassin ever by her side… and more worrisome, she’s starting to mind his company less and less.

I gave a more sparse description of The Assassin’s Curse than the back cover does – and to be honest, I’d suggest you don’t read it if you haven’t already. It gives a bit more away of the plot than I think is needed – it’s always better to be surprised, right?!

I have to say, The Assassin’s Curse was a lot of fun!

At first, the main character Ananna came across as vulgar and uneducated – but her colorful narration is instantly drawing. She’s clever, brave, and fiercely independent – an excellently capable female protagonist. It’s about time we get to follow a pirate lass through YA fantasy, hmm?

Our self-preserving gal is determined to not be married off even as it puts her in far more danger than she’s ever been. Without going into too much detail, I’ll say that Naji, the assassin that ends up being bound to her, is a fascinating character himself and together they make an interesting duo both on the surface and below – Cassandra Rose Clarke brings about enough questions, conversations, and scenes to grow their development as characters and spark curiosity.

The Assassin’s Curse
has the true makings of a classic swashbuckling fantasy adventure – entertaining and involving, with small touches of romance. This is a unique story that occasionally had its lulls but never lost its hold.

And the end?! Oh my goodness – there is a second book to come, thankfully! Because The Assassin’s Curse left off at such a point that I knew that just could NOT be the end. I require the next book to keep my sanity!

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Promise to Love

A Promise to Love is Serena B. Miller’s newest historical romance novel.

When Ingrid Larsen arrived in Michigan in 1871, from her native Sweden, she certainly didn’t expect to end up the servant of an irrational, cruel woman who would be screaming at her about accidentally breaking a tea set.

Instead, she thought she’d be happily starting to live the American dream of religious freedom when meeting up with her twin brother, Hans, whom she is very close. But he wasn’t waiting for her as he was supposed to. Once the money ran out, she had nothing else to do but start working. Ingrid didn’t mind working – but her worry about her brother’s disappearance and the continual abuse of her new employer has her wondering what the future will hold now.

Then she crosses paths with Joshua Hunter. A handsome, newly widowed farmer with five children and a farm he’s trying to make successful. When circumstances arise that Ingrid sees in his principled, ocean blue eyes would destroy him – she spontaneously suggests, in her broken English, a marriage of convenience to help solve both their problems.

Life will still present many difficulties, though. One of which will be wondering if her still grieving husband will ever love her…

I’ll admit that I’m not always a fan of mail-order bride books or, like in this case, marriages of convenience. So often I feel they’re done with an oddly romantic ideal in the author’s mind. It can depend. But with A Promise to Love I was more than willing to give it a try because Serena B. Miller blew me away last year with The Measure of Katie Calloway.

And wow. She’s done it again!!

Both of the main characters here, Ingrid and Joshua, feel different, fresh, likable and genuine as real people. Ingrid, especially, really resonated with me – her personality is so strong, admirable, and oftentimes truly hilarious. She’s a woman to look up to – with a backbone. She was never simpering, which I tend to get tired of, unlike many other female characters in historical fiction/romance. I loved her!

I didn’t give all the info in my synopsis as to why a marriage of convenience comes about – because the circumstances are heart-rending, and I want you to experience it for yourself when you read A Promise to Love. What I will say is that it was one of the noblest reasons I have ever read. Plus, once it took place there was such a credible awkwardness, hesitance, and timid hope I was astounded.

A Promise to Love features charming, sweet, moving characters hobbling a life together out of faith and love. It’s a slow-building, unaffected, beautiful story of family and falling in love. I was truly swept away by the simplicity of joy, of strength and honor.

Then there ends up being connections and interweaving of the characters of The Measure of Katie Calloway, which thrilled me to pieces!

As the tension of multiple storylines I won’t give away come to climatic conclusion, I found that A Promise to Love could be one of my favorite historical romance novels of the year!

I’m a sucker for relationships built on friendship – and a glimpse of integrity that sadly doesn’t seem to be as commonplace anymore. A Promise to Love is definitely a must-read, in my opinion!

*Available October 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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

Kingdom of the Hill Country

Kingdom of the Hill Country is a YA sci-fi follow up to Henry Melton’s Star Time, and the second in the Project Saga series.

Since this is a book two, I would recommend reading Star Time before reading this review. My review of Star Time is right here and I strongly encourage you to read it!

To avoid spoilers, I am hoping that you are only continuing to read this because you’ve already read Star Time. Yes? Okay…

It’s been eleven years since the supernova flare that caused the death and sickness of many on Earth and destroyed technology as we know it. Civilization has been trying to hang on, pockets of law and order and towns desperately hold on to the way of life and safety they’re used to.

But not everybody is so willing to rebuild society. There are violent, bloodthirsty, selfish bandits that are slowly but surely terrorizing the Texas Hill Country where Helen Black, the young, headstrong and independent horse doctor, resides. Her horses are in danger – and so are the women that the bandits prey on so cruelly…

As a survivor of the Star Time, Helen is not one to give up. Determined to save her people and her horses, she travels to ask for help in fighting the bandits – help the Austin City Guards seem reluctant to provide.

It’s not long, though, until James Fuller – the Mayor’s leadership-oriented son – realizes the extent of the danger the bandits pose – especially as one declares himself the “King” of the Hill Country. All they have to fight with, though, are broken weapons, small troops, and the haunting, cryptic words of the city’s fortune teller – who’s never been wrong.

Now that technology is no more, will Earth sink to the depths of the terrors of the Hunters Cult bandits, or persevere to create a new future?

Star Time was an excellent book (made my Stand-Out Books of 2011 post!) and I was sad I didn’t get a chance to reread it before jumping into Kingdom of the Hill Country. There were quite a few familiar names in this novel, but because of that lack of refreshing my mind earlier, it took me a while to remember “who was who” from before. I’d recommend reading Star Time over before this, if you’re able.

Kingdom of the Hill Country has an action-packed, scary, heartbreaking beginning. Actually, it’s that way all the way through! The rather haunting, gloomy start drips with the heavy weight of abilities – can you imagine seeing the future but having no way to change it?

This is a dystopia, in a sense. What I like, though, is that instead of everyone and everything being negative - there is a substantial majority of people that are hanging on to civilization and order, which I’ve always found to be far more realistic than everybody immediately becoming crazy and/or sadistic. It’s just that those who are determined to use others for their own benefit and bloodlust are throwing that tentative grip on humanity into chaos as they try to take control.

What we have here is definitely a darker novel from Henry Melton. It’s definitely not the happiest book – instead it’s disturbing, brutal, and unsettling – but I can see it as a vital step in an epic tale of world building. It’s very adventure oriented – and well-done – but didn’t provide that sci-fi/fantasy kick nearly as much as Star Time, or as many twists, which I can’t help but prefer. This is more the inevitable aftermath of what happened in Star Time – and I appreciate that. There is some paranormal plot twists that have that Henry Melton stamp of intelligence and ingenuity, just not as many as we spend most of the time embroiled in the fight for freedom and decency.

One other thing I’ll say is that I was excited to see Hodges since he flat-out fascinates me. I look forward to the next installment of the Project Saga and hopefully more time with him and the other more “otherworldly” elements.

I can’t help but hope there might be a little more of an element of fun in the next one though…

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Wild Queen

The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots is a YA historical fiction novel by the great Carolyn Meyer.

When she was only six days old, Mary of Scotland was crowned Queen after the death of her father. Her mother was concerned for her future and set up a match for little Mary – a match that would one day make her the Queen of France as well by marrying the little dauphin. So, at only five years old Mary is sent to France to be raised alongside her future husband and the rest of the royal family.

It was unorthodox upbringing for a queen, but Mary grew close as siblings to her future husband and became a French girl through and through. Yet everything fell apart when her young husband dies and Mary, now a young woman of eighteen, sees her life fall apart.

All the years in France, away from her mother and her homeland, have come to nothing. She is childless, stripped of her title of Queen of France, and unwanted by her deceased husband’s grieving mother.

Trying to pull her future together once more, Mary is determined to return to Scotland and reign over what is rightfully hers.

But does Mary have what it takes to be queen?

The story of Mary, Queen of Scots might be familiar with many of you. If not, though, I didn’t want to go beyond the information I provided. In fact, I would’ve liked to have left even some of the information out – but I supposed you might want a general idea of what the novel’s about! Understandably so.

Carolyn Meyer has been feeding my captivation of young royals and historical tragedy with the Young Royals series for years. I have read all of them – except for Duchessina, which I need to remedy. One of the best things about the way she writes – she’s completely non-judgmental. For example, there are books focusing on Elizabeth I, Mary Tudor, and here Mary, Queen of Scots individually, all of whom were certainly not friendly with one another – yet each is given their own story and chance to see the difficulty of each life without an obvious preference from the author.

With The Wild Queen, I am once more floored by the pressure and expectation on young children – it’s both fascinating and deeply sad. Carolyn Meyer yet again creates a riveting drama with flesh-and-blood characters out of the pages of history.

An air that is ominous and soaked in heartbreak yet to come permeates the story, yet I was glued from start to finish by its expertly written, never-ceasing intrigue. The desire for power instead of mere title is an ambition of headstrong Mary’s that plagues her life. It makes her a cautionary tale, but also an admirable one of a sort.

Here we have gripping historical detail with excellent pacing. The Wild Queen is a sad story of bad decisions shaping a dismal future – definitely one of the most melancholy downfalls of a strong female ruler that I know of.

Among the disappointments and shattered aspirations, though, there is an amazingly strong bond of friendship among Mary and her three close friends since childhood – possibly some of the only relationships that could truly be trusted in her lifetime.

The Wild Queen may be an utterly despairing tale, and one that leaves behind many questions about its mysterious subject, but it is also an unforgettable one.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Nevermore

Nevermore is the final novel in the YA fantasy adventure series Maximum Ride by James Patterson.

If you haven’t been reading this series, this certainly isn’t the place to start! Go back to the beginning, to the two gloriously entertaining and cinematically fun books Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment and Maximum Ride: School’s Out – Forever. I can’t guarantee you won’t be disappointed after those first two, though… I know I was.

Point is, don’t read this review if you don’t want to be spoiled by future plots. Only seasoned Maximum Ride vets should be reading beyond this point…

Max and her flock – minus the recent loss of one of the beloved members and the abandonment of another – are trying out school again. Max really can’t stand it, but Nudge is so desperate to be normal she figured there in enough of a lull in the whole “Save the World” mission to let her try.

She knew it wouldn’t end well.

And while things are going kablooey, yet again, Max also finds herself more and more drawn to Dylan’s polar opposite personality to Fang’s (his leaving still stings) and his undeniable attractiveness.

But romance has to be put to the side when new information comes in that the plan the crazies have been coming up with to wipe out a significant portion of humanity to make way for a “better world” is beginning to take place… and events force Fang back into the fold.

Um, awkward

How will it all end? You gotta read Nevermore to find out.

Okay – so. Nevermore.

First off, I have to say that it is really sad for me, as a devout bibliophile, to see a series that I LOVED so much at the start take such a nosedive creatively. Of course, this is only my opinion. I know that there are many readers that still adore the series. But for me, I’ve been very disenchanted as its continued.

Plus, before reading Nevermore I accidentally heard a couple things about the end and inadvertently may have glimpsed a spoiler (you know how I hate spoilers!) and I had to really try and not let that possible knowledge affect my opinion as I was reading. It ended up not being quite accurate, actually. What I read happened, but then there was a weird "twist" that changed it. That's all I'll say on that for now.

Nevermore started off weak for me. It was focusing far too much on the romance, and even that was frustrating since I don’t know of anybody (sure you’re out there!) that wants Dylan and Max together, or even Fang and Maya to hook up. But, really, especially in a last book – I want the flock! Where’s Iggy, Gazzy, and Nudge? In the background – not given much to do, unfortunately.

Surprisingly, as Nevermore continued, all of a sudden touches of the early books pop in, like Erasers and the haunting memories of their lab experiment pasts. It helped, but I couldn’t dare trust that it would really get better. And, in my opinion, it did not.

Repeating storylines, occasional cliché scenes, overall lackluster plot – yet still whip-fast with characters I once loved so much that they break my heart to see how much they’ve changed, and not for the better.

Nevermore really kinda brought me down. The end seems to appear out of nowhere with nothing really feeling resolved or satisfied. The explanation given for the Voice doesn’t make sense to me when I think back to the first book – made me feel like there was never a planned answer on that, which is even more disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong – Nevermore is not a terrible book. I’m sure many of you will enjoy it. For me, it was a letdown to what was an explosive series full of action and twists – not political/inspirational messages or some kind of mushy romance.

To be honest, I’m less likely to read James Patterson going forward.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, though!

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Love Surrendered

A Love Surrendered is the third and final novel in Julie Lessman’s 1930s era historical series Winds of Change.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to read the Winds of Change series from the first book, A Hope Undaunted, I would suggest avoiding this review. In fact, I’d recommend reading the Daughters of Boston trilogy first and foremost – a luxury that I forewent when I got the chance to read the second Winds of Change novel, A Heart Revealed. I started late – but that doesn’t mean you have to! Don’t ruin the surprises!

I’m trusting that you’ve made the right decision…

The youngest O’Connor sibling and officer of the law, Steven, finds himself the only single man left in his large Irish-American family. From his sisters and his best friend he feels pressure to give the world of women another shot – but Steven is haunted by mistakes he’s made in the past and doesn’t trust himself anymore. Not much can convince him otherwise.

But then there’s Annie. Orphaned in Iowa, she’s moved to Boston with her little sister to live with their wealthy, estranged aunt. She’s always been the good girl, the inexperienced, sweet, hard-working student. But now she’s beginning to put her toe in the water of the fast crowds of Ocean Pier – Steven O’Connor’s friends, actually – and finds herself in over her head.

It’s not long before an attraction to Steven feels like it’s turning deeper – and a connection to his big, loving family pulls her deeper into the fold. Annie’s hiding something, though – something that could ruin her and Steven’s tentative, hesitant steps towards love…

Anybody who has read Julie Lessman’s books (and you better have, if you’ve read this far!) knows that while each book might focus on one new love – it also expands on the established love lives of the other family members (introduced in the other books in the series’), which I adore!

With A Love Surrendered appearing to be the end of the O’Connor novels (*sniff*), each moment spent with the characters is precious – and that’s coming from someone who’s only read one other book! I still can’t wait to read all the other tales of each sibling, even though I know some particular plot points are spoiled for me – which is sad. But as a HUGE fan of A Heart Revealed, I was especially pleased to see more of Emma and Sean’s story!

Here we meet Annie, whose softhearted naiveté grows into a true person as we delve into her struggle with faith, insecurities, and heartrending grief. Steven is also much more believable as a red-blooded man, far more realistic than most inspirational, Christian-based fiction portrays them. In A Love Surrendered, and all of Julie Lessman’s books, the sizzle, passion and desire of human nature do play its proper part amidst this romantic family drama. The struggle with longing is much more frank and genuine than you ordinarily see, and shows the beauty of turning to God in that fight.

Oh, how I love the large, boisterous, multi-personality O’Connor family and want desperately to read about them from the beginning!!! We get to see love at many different levels and lengths – from the first moments of burgeoning love, to newlyweds, longtime marrieds, and parents with full-grown children! We get to follow their commitments, beliefs, financial and health difficulties, and LIFE – with a sparkle of hope and joy.

A Love Surrendered also shocked me with some really messy turns of events in relationships, more twists than a pretzel – wow! I did not see some of these kinks coming at all! It’s so crazy, emotional, and mixed with the war between the honorable thing and the honest thing – and I had no idea how it’d end.

Julie Lessman has created yet another epic, family story and legacy to remember and savor! And though I am dismayed the O’Connor story is complete – I look forward to her next novel!

*Available October 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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

Cross My Heart

Cross My Heart is a YA mystery/romance set in 1585 Venice by Sasha Gould.

Sixteen-year-old Laura della Scala has spent the last six years in a convent – only ten when her father sent her there, forcibly, to save money. She has missed her older sister Beatrice desperately, and longed to clearly remember her deceased mother’s face.

But shortly before she’s about to be confirmed, her father sends for her.

Why? Because her beloved sister Beatrice is dead.

Before she even has a chance to grieve over the death that pierces her heart so deeply, her father expects her to replace Beatrice as the fiancé of Vincenzo – an old merchant with a monstrous disposition – to help continue his ambition to redeem his wealth and position in society.

The gowns, dinners, and sudden introduction once more into society does nothing to quell the building panic in Laura. The thought of marrying Vincenzo horrifies her, and the thought of her sister bearing the same future before her death saddens her.

When a woman she barely knows invites her into the Segreta, a powerful, underground, highly guarded society of women with luring promises of saving Laura from her inevitable marriage… she succumbs. But they ask for something as payment: a secret. Their power stems from them.

Laura’s secret is explosive though, and with the reveal comes a profound shame.

And soon Laura begins to suspect that her sister’s death, and other questionable events, might have the hands of the Segreta behind it… but as Laura is thrown into the world of Venice’s political intrigue and her own furtive romance, she finds she might be too entrenched to fight her way out…

Cross My Heart was a surprise in many ways.

The pacing was very crisp, the emotions were felt through the pages, and the increasingly cloak-and-dagger sensation was thrilling!

Sasha Gould creates a relatable, sympathetic character in Laura with her cold home, unfeeling upbringing in a convent, and her new grief and shock at the loss of her sister Beatrice. The disasters seem to keep piling on lonely, quiet, mournful Laura in Cross My Heart… All the more reason to feel glued to the pages.

Visions of gondolas slicing through the water and of 16th century Venice played a compelling picture in my mind sight. It’s an intriguing, unique setting for a YA novel and I am happy to say it worked well. Plus, with the shocking twists, murder, and the deadly mayhem of secrets it began to provide, Cross My Heart transformed into a read that cannot be denied!

And I can sometimes be harsh with romantic elements – it really depends on how it’s done… but here, wow! I’ll admit that as Cross My Heart morphed slowly, effortlessly into a riveting love story I was swept off my feet! That, coupled with the evolution of Laura, really sold me.

Cross My Heart kept me guessing, involved, and absorbed as to what may happen – and now that I know there is a sequel coming out called Heart of Glass in March 2013, I’m even more interested…

I think you will be, too!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Size 12 and Ready to Rock

Size 12 and Ready to Rock is the fourth Heather Wells mystery by Meg Cabot.

Oh my goodness!!! I have been waiting for this book for so long! Along with many of you, I’m sure. I’ve been a huge fan of this series (and of course the author) for YEARS – so long that reviews of the first three books aren’t even on this blog, since I read them farther back than that!

Anyway, it’s pretty clear that I’m thrilled to be back in this first-rate, humorous, mystery series once more!

If you haven’t read the previous books (Size 12 is Not Fat, Size 14 is Not Fat Either, and Big Boned), you most definitely shouldn’t read this review as it will give spoilers of awesome things that are always better read in order!

Final warning to look away unless you’re a Heather Wells reader…

Okay, it’s been three months since an extremely happy change happened in Heather’s life – and with the New York College residence hall she is the assistant director of, Fischer Hall a.k.a. “Death Dorm” nearly empty as the summer rolls in, she figures she’ll have some time to breathe.

Not so much.

Before she knows it, Fischer Hall is flooded with teenage divas in training attending the first ever Tania Trace Teen Rock Camp – which includes cameras for Tania and Jordan’s new reality show. So, instead of a relatively stress-free summer, Heather finds herself spending more time with her former longtime boyfriend and his newly pregnant superstar wife than she ever imagined.

But when a clear threat to Tania’s life begins to start hurting those around her – Heather isn’t the only one without time to breathe. Only the other person’s situation is much more literal.

Despite professionals getting involved, including private detective/Jordan’s brother/Heather’s new hush-hush fiancé Cooper Cartwright, Heather still can’t seem to keep out of the investigation…

I tried to be rather vague on things, because I’m of the opinion that’s always more fun to know less!

This latest edition in the Heather Wells series is just as fun, fast, and entertaining as the previous outings! And seeing Heather and Cooper together is so AWESOME! So often, once the couple gets together a series or book is over, in this case it’s different – and I love it!!!

Hilarious scenes and laugh-out-loud lines pepper Size 12 and Ready to Rock amidst it’s vibrantly realized settings of New York, the residence hall and their brownstone home. I absolutely always root for Heather and her colorful, crazy friends as we dive into a new murder mystery!

And, OH MY GOSH, Size 12 and Ready to Rock has to feature one of the most hysterically terrible songs written (via Meg Cabot’s oh-so-awesome imagination) through one of Cooper’s younger sisters. You’ll know it when you get there. Truly. Very, very memorable!

Without further ado, I cannot stress how much fun Size 12 and Ready to Rock was! It was comforting to return to beloved characters, a “cozy” mystery, and a chunk of cheerful diversion that made a long day at work float away.

Happily, in the Q and A section in the back, Meg Cabot says there will be another book in 2013 called Size 12 is the New Black. Thank goodness! Because this series is EXCELLENT!!!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Seraphina

*Yes, you're at the right place! With the change in seasons (and temperature!) I decided a change in look was appropriate here at the Bibliophile Support Group! Hope you like it!

Seraphina is a divinely unique YA fantasy by debut author Rachel Hartman.

The kingdom of Goredd has experienced four decades of peace between humans and dragons due to a treaty that allows dragons to fold themselves into a human shape and use their lucid, unemotional, scientific minds as scholars, teachers, and ambassadors. It isn’t a peace that all are comfortable with, though.

In fact, the knowledge that their old enemy walks among them ranges from uneasiness in some to outright hostility and violence in others. And as the anniversary of the treaty nears, tensions are even higher than normal.

Seraphina Dombegh, a musical prodigy that has almost implausibly joined the royal court as an assistant the belligerent court composer, has reason to fear both sides. That’s why she works so hard to guard her secret and stay behind the scenes, as overlooked as possible.

But when a member of the royal family is abruptly murdered in a fashion that raises alarming questions of dragon involvement, Seraphina finds herself drawn into the investigation where she begins to uncover whispers of a plot to terminate Goredd’s peace. But there’s someone else involved in the enquiry, Prince Lucian Kiggs. And not only is he the captain of the Queen’s Guard but he is also far too discerning – putting Seraphina’s secret at risk.

It’s a secret that could mean her life…

I really cannot say more than this – thankfully the inside jacket cover of Seraphina doesn’t either. The revelations and plot advances are just too great to even hint at, really.

And why do you not want to know one more word?

Because Seraphina is a poetically written, magnetic, slowly unfolding story with a fascinating setting, character, and potential. The unexpected psychological suspense and stunning intricacy of this new locale caught my imagination and heart!

Here we have a dazzling scene of politics, conspiracy, fantasy, and hidden truths done in a singularly intelligent, clever, and addictive way in its originality and likability.

Seraphina is irrefutably beautifully done. It’s hypnotically puzzling, detailed, and spellbinding – held firmly in place by a resilient, authentic, distinctive heroine. Intense, heartrending, and genuine – outstanding for fans of Janet Lee Carey, in my opinion. Among others, of course.

I don’t know if I can fully express how touching, gripping, and searingly romantic this world of wide ranging beings, settings, and ideas Seraphina is. I am elated to know that there is a companion/sequel coming out – hopefully no later than 2013!

Now I see why I’ve been seeing nothing but praise about Seraphina. I can almost guarantee that you’ll be seeing Seraphina on my annual Stand-Out Books of 2012 list at the end of December!!!

THIS is what I yearn for every time I read a book – everything!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Girl Out Loud

Girl Out Loud is a YA contemporary fiction novel by Emily Gale.

Kass Kennedy’s dad is On the Up, which means another chance at public humiliation in his quest to get her to superstardom. This time around he has decided she will audition for The X Factor.

Yep.

Only problem? She can’t sing. Not well, anyway.

She doesn’t have on-stage charisma, since she doesn’t have any desire to be on stage. At all.

But she realizes from experience that explaining this to her dad won’t do any good – though she’ll try.

In the end, Kass knows she’ll have to grit her teeth and get through it because it seems that these ideas he gets are the only thing that keeps him Up – otherwise she, her budding criminal mastermind little brother, and her quiet mother will be enduring the Dark Days of his sadness and depression.

They all know he has something – but he’s never agreed to be diagnosed or treated. And now she’s stuck auditioning in front of, potentially, the world’s definition of a “Mean Judge”. Simon Cowell himself.

Add all this to the sudden sour turn Kass’ longtime friendships are taking, Kass is left wondering if she has to let all the screaming she’s doing on the inside finally come out.

The contents of Girl Out Loud don’t really match the way it’s presented, unfortunately. It’s a bright pink book with a modern-looking, microphone yielding cover combined with a description on the inside jacket cover that leans more toward comedy than drama – not so much the case here.

I tried, and hopefully succeeded, to provide a more matching description above, as when I started Girl Out Loud I was ready for something fun, maybe frothy, and on the silly, amusing side. Because of that, from the outset I was thrown off.

Girl Out Loud is much more solemn than that. In it we are dealing with, essentially, childhood trauma and untreated mental illness in a parent, which is causing this British family – especially our main character – to be torn apart emotionally. Sound like buckets of giggles? Not really.

There’s nothing wrong with that, though. It’s just too bad that that was how it came across, to me anyway; when I picked it up to read. I hadn’t been in the mood for something somber at the time – perhaps that’s why I initially felt the first person voice of Kass sometimes felt forced. Because with a little bit of an adjustment of expectations, I began to feel that instead it was a realistic discomfort that I was sensing from her voice, which is at times riddled with self-deprecating humor.

Girl Out Loud was actually surprisingly engrossing as the family life comes apart at the seams and Kass as a character becomes relatable amidst the pain of life. This book is, in my opinion, the opposite of how it’s packaged. Here we have a serious, bittersweet, coming-of-age tale that really has nothing to do with auditioning for a popular singing competition.

Instead in Girl Out Loud we have a good, solid book that is highly redeemable and enlightening enough to be moving.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Sorceress

The Sorceress is the third book in a YA fantasy adventure series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott.

If you haven’t read The Alchemyst or The Magician, I strongly suggest you avoid this review and the inevitable spoilers that will result. Be a smart reader! Don’t ruin your books!!! :)

Sophie and Josh Newman suddenly find themselves in London, after leaving Paris behind in shambles. Dr. John Dee and his cohorts are still after them – and the final pages of the Book of Abraham the Mage, the pages required for the Final Summoning.

Since the Dark Elders are determined to regain their power and access to the human race, they will not rest until those pages are found, and Sophie and Josh’s prophesied abilities are in their hands instead of Nicholas Flamel’s.

In the meantime, the twins are racing to find a moment to time-out and take in the new stunning skills they suddenly have. But Flamel believes their only hope in defeating Dee is to find someone willing to teach Sophie and Josh the third elemental magic – Water.

That’s all I’m going to give right now, I think.

I’ll admit my expectations were higher this time around because I liked The Magician so much more than The Alchemyst. So, I was looking forward to The Sorceress, since the last one cemented my interest in the series. Plus the relentless adventure of the series lured me that much more so since the book I read before this one was Twice Upon a Time: Beauty and the Beast, and it was sadly, for me, a disheartening foray into tedium.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the refresher I hoped it would be.

Initially it still held intrigue – there was a new city, new characters (especially one great one I don’t want to spoil for you – but it was awesome!), and the stakes still felt very high. But I was missing Scatty, Francis and Joan from the get-go – they were my favorite characters.

The main reason I wasn’t real pleased with this particular book was that it’s essentially one long, drawn out battle taking place in one place nearly the entire 487 pages! Sure, we sometimes get to spend time with Perry Flamel, who is still imprisoned on Alcatraz, and the occasional point of view of other people, but overall we’re stuck at this long-winded fight, which feels like it takes an eternity, at what originally was a cool castle of cars.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not bad. It’s probably a preference thing. The action is great, but in my opinion it lacked substance, and sometimes, logic. I kept waiting to move on to the briefly mentioned mad man that may teach them Water Magic, which sounded far more interesting, but everything just seemed to be taking forever.

With the lack of electricity that The Magician brought, I find my expectations for The Necromancer (book four) lowered once more. So far the series is coming across as uneven for me – which is sad. Hopefully it’ll pick up again and I can enjoy all three of the remaining books in the series.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Twice Upon a Time: Beauty and the Beast, or the Only One Who Didn't Run Away

Twice Upon a Time: Beauty and the Beast, or The Only One Who Didn’t Run Away is a middle-grade retelling of the classic fairy-tale by Wendy Mass.

Beauty’s name has always been laughable. She’s most certainly not beautiful, nor anything else you’d associate with such a name. Instead she likes to read and collect strange objects that are interesting to her. The worst thing, though, is that her older sister is indeed lovely and it seems to make the burden of her name all that much heavier.

Prince Riley hates dancing, sports, and being out with the public too much. Despite being second in line to the throne after his impressive older brother, he’s still expected to do these things – though he dreads it every time. Instead, he spends as much time as possible staring at the stars and working on alchemy to figure out the secret to eternal life, one worm at a time.

When odd circumstances force Beauty into the outside world on a expedition of sorts and Riley finds himself on the wrong end of an enchantment that makes him… well, a whole lot hairier, the question arises as to if Beauty and Riley will meet.

Can they save each other before it’s too late?

Hmm. This series frustrates me a bit. I wasn’t fan of the Twice Upon a Time retelling of Rapunzel, but I was surprised at how much more I liked the retelling of Sleeping Beauty. That made me hopeful for this take on Beauty and the Beast, since this particular fairy-tale tends to be one of my favorites.

Hmm.

Unfortunately, I was unexpectedly bored! The plot seemed empty and lacked any trace of magic for an inordinate amount of time. None of the characters stood out to me as dynamic, funny, or charming in any way. The length of time that nothing of real substance occurs is stunning to me – it got me concerned that by the time any romance or magic might kick in it would be lackluster.

And sadly, that was exactly my opinion. Since, after giving it a good one hundred pages to grab me, I was still completely unattached and had nothing compelling, fun, or intriguing to invest in, I began to skim Twice Upon a Time: Beauty and the Beast. I hate doing that, but I also feel that with as many books as I read, I don’t have enough time to force myself to read something that I have no urge to.

This is, of course, my personal opinion and I know for a FACT that there will be reader’s out there that will disagree with me – and I’m glad! I want every book to get a little bit of love!! Regrettably, my experience of the book was one of disappointment as a favorite fairy-tale was made bland and detached …

But do give it a try yourself and find out your own opinion!