Monday, December 31, 2012

Stand-Out Books of 2012!

Happy New Year’s Eve!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

It is now time for the third annual Stand-Out Books of the Year (2012) post!

Despite working full-time and never seeming to have quite as much time as I want to read, I’m happy to say that I DID top last year’s stats by a bit. Interested? Okay, then, here goes the numbers for 2012:

How many books did I read?

190

That is 19 more than in 2011.

How many pages did I read?

61,957

That is 6,920 more than in 2011!!!

How many pages (on average) did I read per day?

170

That is 19 more than in 2011!!!

Just in case you don’t have a general idea how this post works: I am incapable of naming any of the books I read in the year “my favorite”. I get hung up on different categories, different titles, different strengths and weaknesses of each book. You really wouldn’t want to see that. There are tears. There is guilt. It’s not pretty.

Instead, I look over all the books I read all year and pick the books that stand out to me. This doesn’t mean that a book that’s not on here wasn’t AWESOME!!! In fact, even picking with this criterion still makes me feel guilt-ridden and torn.

It was tough picking, as always. Please know there are many AMAZING books that I had on this list that I had to whittle off, or this post could be stuffed with 70+ books. This is by no means the only books that left an impression on me in 2012.

Like last year, even with the cuts I forced myself to make to keep the list down (*sob*), the Stand-Out Books of 2012 list is still long. That’s why to keep it easier for you (and me!) I’m breaking them up into categories again. A lot of the books could be placed in multiple categories, so work with me here. Again, I’ll just give a quick few sentences for each and a link to the review in the title.

I hope you enjoy it!!! Be ready to make up a new to-buy/to-read list!

The 44 books that made the cut are:

Mysteries:

Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot
Meg Cabot’s fourth installment in the hilarious, entertaining Heather Wells adult mystery series is a fun, great addition. As well as a great new sleuth-worthy story, we also got a chance to meet with hunky Cooper’s sisters – a scene so memorable it still makes me laugh just thinking of it! Fantastic comedic whodunit!

Dying to Read by Lorena McCourtney
I must have an itch for murder mysteries that have a laugh-out-loud style. Call it morbid, call it awesome – we’re all different. But I know that some of you bibliophiles have that same itch – and if you don’t start howling with this adult hysterical mystery within minutes, call me a book-hater!

Clarity and Perception by Kim Harrington
These two YA paranormal mysteries go hand in hand. What’s fantastic is that you can read them one after the other because they’re both available! I absolutely LOVED the Veronica Mars meets psychic abilities tone that Harrington brought to the table. I’m crossing my fingers that we haven’t seen the last of Clarity!!!

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron
This YA historical novel has a Jane Eyre gothic touch, not to mention a smart, practical heroine, ramblingly creepy mansion, clockwork brilliance, quiet romance, AND a subtle mystery. Impressive? Yes!

Eyes to See by Joseph Nassise
Here we’ve got quite an excellent adult supernatural novel with a male protagonist that gave his sight to use otherworldly methods to find his kidnapped daughter. Now, working with the police, he uses his newfound expertise and link to the spirit world to help solve cases. It’s the first in a series and was really original, scary, and very striking!

Fantasy/Magical:

Dragon’s Keep and Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey
Companion YA novels, these two poetic, intimate novels have lovely, fully realized magical, period history environments and enthralling, resonant tones that give them a top tier dragon fantasy superiority, in my opinion. Carey’s writing is always perfectly hypnotic and sometimes heartbreaking.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Another incredible YA dragon novel that takes a different approach. I was stunned by the psychological element involved, mixed with a medieval kingdom on the precipice of war, espionage, and secrets. Intelligent and well-plotted, I can’t wait for the sequel!

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Sometimes you just want a fairy tale! Here you get exactly that with a whimsical, new story that weaves in some of the classics but remains a tale all its own. Fun escapism.

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
This YA/middlegrade adventure novel never really has any magic in it, per se, but the setting of a faraway land, believed dead prince, and a slew of orphaned boys recruited to learn to impersonate him or face possible death feels very fantasy, even so. I was riveted all the way through and kept guessing the whole time! Here again I’m excited for book two in the trilogy, The Runaway King, coming out in 2013.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
As a lover of Jane Austen, I love it when an author can catch that tone and style – here is the closest I’ve experienced lately (besides Stephanie Barron’s OUTSTANDING Jane Austen Mystery series) and I loved it!! Plus, the gentle, naturalistic infusion of “glamour” (a.k.a. magic) gives it its own feet to stand on. Yet again, I’m happy to say that I’ll be reading the sequel soon! Notice a pattern here?

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Wow. This YA novel is probably one of the MOST memorable of the year for me. It’s a lyrical beauty of a book featuring an original myth of man-eating horses, a highly dangerous race, and a boy and girl that understand each other. I mean, really, I could hardly stop crying. Definitely a MUST for animal lovers, as odd as that may sound. Actually it’s a MUST for EVERYONE!!!

The Girl in the Steel Corset and The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross
Probably two of the most flat-out diverting books I read this year. We’ve got a ragtag group of Victorian teens with special abilities (controlling the aether, super strength, half-clockwork bodies, ability to speak to machines, etc.) fighting bad intentioned automatons, their own personal difficulties, among other things. It was a blast and I’m THRILLED that there’s another book coming out next year. This is an awesome steampunk series that I hope continues for quite a while!! FUN!

Extraordinary* the True Story of My Fairy Godparent, Who Almost Killed Me, and Certainly Never Made Me a Princess by Adam Selzer
Hilarious, spoof-like urban fantasy with a surprisingly well-fleshed out world of zombies, vampires, and the like. When our gal meets the foul-mouthed guy who tells her he’s her fairy godparent, who is she to argue? But is he really supposed to make everything WORSE?! A laugh-out-loud read!!

Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough
Mix of contemporary father/daughter sweet and painful relationship drama and magic, as she learns the true reason of his often absent father syndrome. A gene involving the ability to grant wishes – a fairy godmother gene that she now possesses! Both satisfying and funny, I’m dying for the follow-up!

Contemporary:

Flyaway by Lucy Christopher
Stunner of a middlegrade novel about a young girl dealing with the illness of her father. Hard to explain all the expressive loveliness that exists in this story, except to mention that it involves wanting to help a struggling swan. I’d recommend it to animal lovers for sure, but anyone who appreciates a touching; beautifully written story will enjoy this. Killed me!

First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci
An offbeat, very short YA novel that takes an angry teen convinced he was abducted by aliens years ago and presents him with another boy that says he actually is an alien and needs help getting home. Is he lying or could this be the proof he’s long waited for? Distinctive, absorbing, and refreshingly different – I found this to be a quietly compelling story that’s shockingly relatable.

Hooked by Catherine Greenman
Teen pregnancy novel that neither glorifies it nor bashes it. Far more graceful and painfully candid than I expected.

The List by Siobhan Vivian
Shockingly frank and realistic look at the effects on multiple lives when a list of the high school’s most beautiful and most ugly is posted. Truly superb. The last line was profound and lasted in my mind for days afterwards.

Real Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart
All four of this sincere YA series were excellent – all of them funny, fresh, and believably angsty – but I thought for the sake of this list I would only include this final book. It was perfect finale, in my opinion. Loved the close, the focus on self-confidence and growing up, independence and real romance. The sidesplitting situations and narrations helped to make it unforgettable, too!

Science Fiction:

The Copper Room by Henry Melton
Whaddya know? Mr. Melton has made the list again! Always an expert at creating believable science situations and taking them to that sci-fi place, this story of two teens moving forward in time in a copper room was mind-bending. Favorite thing was seeing how their existence in different periods left impressions and legends. Very cool!

Green Heart by Alice Hoffman
Oh. My. Gosh. This compilation of Green Witch and Green Angel was like poetry in motion. Taking an end-of-the-world scenario and weaving grief, loss, heartbreak and hope was phenomenal. If you haven’t read it – change that immediately!

Revived by Cat Patrick
Cat Patrick is officially becoming one of my favorite authors. With this amazingly matchless look at a girl that has died multiple times (yes, you read that right) and her constantly mobile life and her previous Stand-Out (2011) Forgotten, I see her as an energetic voice in YA fiction. Heartfelt, touching, funny, suspenseful, and always oh-so-intriguing, Revived was EXCELLENT!!!

Pure by Julianna Baggott
A YA epic start to an apocalyptic adventure. New, different, chilling, and WOW – I was won over by the character’s strength and the pure creativity brought to the table here.

Sequels (You Ain’t Getting No Spoilers Here):

The Forgetting Curve by Angie Smibert
Sequel to the excellent Memento Nora – taking a futuristic world where people take pills to forget unpleasant things – and if that isn’t disturbing enough, there’s an ulterior motive to it. This is the second installment of the series when we see the struggle to remember, to fight against it. Wowza!

The Calling by Kelley Armstrong
Oh how I love Kelley Armstrong! Her YA series just have me all up in arms to get her adult books too, if that day presents itself. This is the second book in the Darkness Rising trilogy, a companion series to my BELOVED Darkest Powers trilogy. Made me love the characters more, brought more layers out, and gave me all kinds of sci-fi/paranormal goodness!

Dreamless by Josephine Angelini
I really don’t understand how anyone can’t be flat out in love with this and its predecessor Starcrossed! I know that y’all are out there – and I know we’re all different – but REALLY? Oh, Greek myths revisited, dark curses, messed up romance, strong family connections, and really a phenomenal plot!!! I cannot wait for book three!!!

Taken By Storm by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
If you haven’t read the first two books in the YA Taken by Wolves series before this, you need to rectify that. Stunningly effective, smart and heartbreakingly suspenseful I found this third book to be just as magnificent as the others. I hope it’s not the end, I don’t know. But I treasure these books.

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake
Sequel to the acclaimed Anna Dressed in Blood, I felt this follow-up was even better! Hair-raising, freaky, and still involving on a character level – this is definitely a must-read for fans of Supernatural or any cinematic-like ghost hunter vs. ghost readers that like an unusual twist to their story.

Historical Fiction:

The Bad Queen by Carolyn Meyer
Marie Antoinette is a fascinating woman in history. Here we get a fictional, but primarily historically accurate, look at her perspective from childhood to her death. Hurts to read at times, but it’s so beautifully well-done by a truly talented author – I was speechless.

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
This is an adult novel that takes the known Tussaud name and puts life behind it. Oh my goodness is the French Revolution a bloody, gory, extremely disturbing moment in history! Moran really made it feel real, terrifying and gripping from start to finish. I was impressed and transfixed – if also looking for a lighter read afterwards.

With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin
WWII era romance between a soldier and a nurse – all in the form of anonymous letters. Very touching, gently written, and highly affective.

Escape From Home and Into the Storm by AVI
These two novels of Irish siblings and a runaway English boy gaining passage to America in the late 1870s have a classic tone and a breakneck adventure feel that never felt melodramatic. I was absorbed from start to finish and quite often on the “edge of my seat”.

A Promise to Love by Serena B. Miller
Astonishingly well-written and tender novel of a widowed father, accused/suspected of causing his wife’s death, and the immigrant, strong young woman determined to help him by offering marriage is a exquisite story of love. Miller is quickly becoming one of my favorite inspirational historical fiction writers.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
As he did with the magnificent The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznick created another lovely story through both words and illustrations. This time it’s the tale of two different children in two eras, and we get to see how their lives parallel and, eventually, meet. Tear-jerker achievement.

Paranormal:

Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Familiar author? Yep. My, oh my, is she good! This is a stand-alone YA novel with a girl who is human for 24 hours, then something else entirely the next 24 hours – back and forth continually. And when she’s not human she’s super powerful and likes to kill other non-human things – monsters, zombies, and the like. But when she knows someone’s in danger? Wrong 24 hours. So, so different and FANTASTIC!!!

The Game of Triumphs and The Master of Misrule by Laura Powell
These two YA mind-puzzles are AWESOME!!! If you like books that twist and mess with reality, here ya go! Four teens in London become involved in a game that takes place in an alternate universe – with some serious stakes. I don’t want to give more away except to say READ THEM BOTH!!!!!!!!!!

Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay
You think you know how Romeo & Juliet ended? Think again! Neither is truly dead but in a centuries long battle over the souls of true love – jumping into other teen’s bodies to complete their next assignment. It’s Juliet’s choice to try and bring the two together and keep the souls safe – Romeo chose long ago to try and steal those souls, in exchange for his immortality. Thrilling, unique stuff. Awesome.

Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown
YA dark take on mermaids. We’ve got a merman and his sisters that are out for revenge on a human man they blame for their mother’s death – but he’s an adult with two daughters. To get closer to him, the main character tries to get in good with the teen girl – but finds himself falling for her. Nicely creepy and nerve-wracking new approach to mermaids!

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Freaky things are a-happenin’ in 1920s New York City. Bray really showed her stuff here, interweaving multiple young adult characters into a sprawling novel of absorbing writing, frightening plot, funny lines, and dynamic characters. Happily it’s the first in a series. I was turned off by the few scenes of animal violence – that’s a big no-no for me. I only let it slide because of the way it’s done, and the fact that I understand the purpose – but I’d still prefer it without, and don’t believe it’s necessary.

Okay, so there are 44 books for you to look into, to buy, to READ!!!

I want to thank the authors that write – that provide us these worlds, these stories to soak ourselves in. I want to thank the publicists, publishers, and writers that promote books and have provided me so generously with the opportunity to review books throughout the year.

And I want to thank YOU, reader of the Bibliophile Support Group. At times it can be tough to keep up with this blog, to remember why I created it in the first place – but every time you comment, click a link, or subscribe to this blog it reminds me that I wanted this site to be a place that readers’ who felt as passionate about reading and books as I do could have something to share - thank you!!!

Have a wonderful New Year’s Day – and I’ll see ya in 2013!!!

*I dedicate this year's Stand-Out post to Ritchie - my cat that died on April 3rd of this year at almost 14 years of age. For over half my life he was a near constant companion while I read - purring, snoring, and being his sweet self. I miss him every day. I also want to dedicate this post to Rusty and Nippy, Ritchie's siblings, that bring joy and love into my life every day. I cherish every moment!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Girl of Nightmares

Girl of Nightmares is the YA paranormal sequel to Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood.

You know the drill, book lovers. If you haven’t read Anna Dressed in Blood yet then read that review here, and avoid this review like the plague!!! Got it? Okay, I’m trusting you…

Girl of Nightmares takes place months after Anna Dressed in Blood ended. Months since the ghost of Anna Korlov, a strong young woman cursed to be a bloody menace after death, opened a door to the afterlife in her basement to pull the evil spirit of the Obeahman though.

She sacrificed herself for Cas and his friends.

Though Carmel and Thomas try to tell him that moping and resisting moving on is not what Anna disappeared through that hole for, Cas can’t seem to stop himself. He misses her. And, impossibly, he loves her…

But when he starts to see Anna everywhere, always with dead eyes, always in some sort of agony, Cas becomes convinced that she’s trying to tell him something. And he’s worried that she’s not at peace.

Where exactly did she go?

The curse that Anna’s mother put on her forced her to become the monster that killed people for years after her murder – it wasn’t her fault. She doesn’t deserve to suffer forever – and if Anna is in Hell, well Cas is going to get her out.

No one, including his father’s longtime English friend Gideon, seems to think it’s possible…

But that’s never stopped Cas before.

I found Anna Dressed in Blood to be an original page-turner, and Girl of Nightmares excels that level of awesomeness and reaches a whole new level.

The ghosts and spirits are creepy – and the visits by the abnormal, constantly wounded Anna are spooky to say the least. Mix that in with Cas’s sharp, sarcastic wit as a narrator and his deep pain and grief and we get a fresh, non-angsty YA paranormal.

Girl of Nightmares has great friendship and mystery. I was engrossed, held in suspense, as we followed the plot of why the mute, scary Anna is haunting Cas. It’s like one of those super rare, excellent horror movies that isn’t pure stupidity and scantily clad girls but instead is intelligent and absorbing.

Implausibly romantic, fascinating twists and a brand new evolving plot that takes the story to London really propels Girl of Nightmares to heights of mythology and answers. Super frightening, nerve-wracking, and just CREEPY! Did I say that already? I’ll give you two words: Suicide Forest.

You’ve been warned.

Really, Girl of Nightmares is a heartbreaking, bloody, and a kind of brilliant finale!

One to remember, for sure. Read it with the lights on, though.

*Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Dec 31st, when the third annual Stand-Out Books of the Year list is posted with all kinds of great ideas for those brand new gift cards to hopefully got for Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Far West

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!!! If any of you lucky ducks received gift cards or cash and would like some awesome recommendations on what to spend it on, make sure to remember and stop in at the Bibliophile Support Group on Monday, December 31st for the third annual Stand-Out Books of the Year post!

The Far West is the third YA frontier fantasy/adventure novel in the Frontier Magic series by Patricia C. Wrede.

The series started with Thirteenth Child and then went on to Across the Great Barrier, if you haven’t read those books I’d recommend clicking on the titles and reading those reviews instead of this one. Don’t wanna spoil anything for ya!!!

For those of you bibliophiles who are up-to-date on the series, you’ll remember that Eff proved herself to be quite the powerful magician when her traveling party went beyond the Great Barrier in the last book – meeting dangerous saber cats, steam dragons, and an entirely unknown species that they’ve named the medusa lizard because of its ability to turn you to stone.

But her feat doesn’t make too much of a dent back home. She’s still helping with chores and actively participating in wildlife studies at the college, which she enjoys very much. Yet her heart keeps drawing her back to the Far West.

Her mother and sisters think she’s crazy to want to venture into the unknown again – but for Eff it is fascinating and adventurous.

So, when the government decides there needs to be a new expedition and her twin brother Lan, longtime best friend William, and mentors are all going to go – well, she wants to go with them.

Will this journey finally push her luck too far?

I absolutely love the naturalistic, softly elemental magic drenched in organic frontier life – as well as Eff’s matter-of-fact personality in The Far West and the previous two novels.

The thing I struggle with in all of these books, though, is this slowness that is just so relaxed (which I actually like) that can tend to be sluggish. However, I wasn’t bored at all while reading The Far West – that I want to be clear on. I’m always intrigued reading this series. It can just feel like it’s plodding at times.

Yet I care for these characters that Patricia C. Wrede has created and the simplicity of the storytelling pulls me in. The gentle relationships, surprises and expeditions have a unique, consistently excellent way about them – and we get a smart, independent heroine in Eff.

It’s hard to put my finger on anything I’d change. Because the thing that frustrates me (the leisureliness) also charms me. Wow. This book makes me sounds like I have a split-personality! Hopefully, as fellow book lovers, you know where I’m coming from with all this gibberish.

Thing is, The Far West felt like a conclusion to the Frontier Magic series. I don’t know for a fact that it is, but it really felt like an ending. And I have to say that I am satisfied and happily contented by the way things wrapped up. I did skim some of the more detailed paragraphs, but I really did enjoy the story would look to maybe read the series again someday – when I have time (what a thought!).

I do recommend The Far West and the entire series – but just don’t expect to whip through it. This is one to take your time on, soak in the language and find interest in smaller things. Sounds like your kind of book? Check it out!

*Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Dec 31st, when the third annual Stand-Out Books of the Year list is posted!!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Queen of Babble

Merry Christmas Eve, everybody!

Queen of Babble is an adult contemporary novel by Meg Cabot.

I know I’m way behind here. This is one of the few Cabot novels/series I got sidetracked on. Happily, though, I’m finally getting caught up!! So, this may just be review for you – but if you’re a bibliophile who, like me, finds that a few gems get lost in the shuffle, join me in taking a look at an older title today!

Lizzie Nichols has just become the first person to graduate college in her family. She’s lost thirty pounds, and she’s taking her first trip outside of the US to join her hot British boyfriend in London.

Life’s good.

Or is it?

First she finds out that her graduation is a farce since she never wrote a thesis. Then she gets herself in an overall terrible situation in London because her biggest flaw is her inability to keep her mouth shut.

Feeling rather deflated, Lizzie decides to join her best friend Shari who is spending her summer at a sixteenth-century chateau in France. Sure, Lizzie’s on her first international trip and the idea of leaving London to go to France all by herself without directions sounds daunting.

But that’s the kind of situation she’s gotten herself into.

Once there, though, Lizzie is head over heels with the utter beauty and charm of the chateau and countryside – not to mention the extremely attractive Luke, son of the chateau’s owner.

As she tries to settle in and enjoy her diverted vacation, Lizzie can’t help but wonder… how long before her blabbermouth syndrome screws it all up?

Lizzie’s first person voice is laugh-out-loud hilarious and very much present-tense. Though she’s naïve and unable to keep a secret, Meg Cabot manages to make her charming and likable.

Queen of Babble was a really fun book to read. As always with Meg Cabot, it felt like a little reading break – getting to just enjoy a bit of giggle-inducing, fast-paced, pure entertainment.

Some of the topics brought up in Queen of Babble are rather crude, and I wouldn’t have minded them not being in the book, but Cabot makes it lighthearted and funny, so it has less of an ick factor.

This book seems to effortlessly tie a vibrant European setting with romantic entanglements and comedy. Crackling chemistry, cinema worth romance, and a hysterical final climax makes for an amusing read. Now, there are a couple of scenes that were more graphic and adult-oriented than I’d prefer, but this was a fun, fluffy read!!!

Next month I’m going to treat myself to book two, Queen of Babble in the Big City!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Lies Beneath

Lies Beneath is a YA paranormal novel by Anne Greenwood Brown.

Calder White is a merman. Not the Disney kind. When he’s not living in the warm waters of the Bahamas he’s being called back to his home of the cold, clean waters of Lake Superior where his sisters, otherwise known as murderous mermaids, live.

To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans to absorb their positive energy. It’s instinctual and impossible to resist. Except for Calder. He finds a kind of warped satisfaction out of holding off as long as possible – battling the strong urge to kill. Though he’s done it before – how could he not?

This time, though, Calder cannot deny the pull to target their next victim. Revenge is practically part of mermaid DNA and the man they blame for their mother’s death, Jason Hancock, is back in the Lake Superior area. That’s something they cannot ignore. In fact, they don’t want to.

Because Hancock is fearful of the water, Calder’s sisters decide that Calder must be the one to lure him to them. He’s to gain his trust by getting close to the family – via his eldest daughter Lily. For the first time, though, his good looks and charm aren’t having the desired effect, especially as Lily’s suspicions have her wondering about her grandfather’s stories about “monsters” in the lake.

And he finds that he’s caring way more about Lily than he’s supposed to.

But his mermaid sister’s won’t put up with him screwing up the plan…

Lies Beneath has a super creepy beginning and carries that ever-present vibe through the whole novel. Calder’s introduced as a distinctive male lead character that has an undeniable bloodthirsty streak that desperately needs the tiny bit of empathy he displays soon to make him easier to follow.

I adore mythology. Here the mythology behind Calder and his disturbing sisters’ actions and intents are dark and mysterious – which I loved!!! Lies Beneath is hypnotic, spooky, and powerful – the pages were flying as I read it all in ONE NIGHT! I literally “soaked it up”. Mermaid humor, you see.

Anne Greenwood Brown created some sizzling chemistry here, witty humor, and nail-biting suspense. It kind of had a feel of horror occasionally, but the romance and splash of humor helped to lighten the heavy intensity, without lifting it entirely.

I was fully invested in Lies Beneath and was really held hostage by the story – that’s why I must read Deep Betrayal, the sequel, ASAP!!!

What with Lies Beneath and Jackson Pearce’s Fathomless, I’ll never look at mermaids the same way again!

How about you?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Invisible World

Invisible World is a YA supernatural historical fiction novel by Suzanne Weyn.

Since a very young age Elsabeth James has known she had powers – sometimes hearing people’s thought, seeing their memories. In 1681 England this is a dangerous thing – that’s why her father is working hard to study her and her sister who also has gifts and put scientific facts behind it. He wants his daughters to be safe.

Elsabeth primarily wants to learn how to control and increase her abilities. Her goal is to be an independent woman, perhaps paid for her gifts by individual clients. She wants to be financially self-sustaining and not have to worry about marriage.

When her father decides to take them to America, however, tragedy strikes. Unfortunate events lead Elsabeth to be washed ashore in South Carolina where she falls in love with a young man who works on the plantation as a slave.

But their relationship catches the attention of the wrong people, and against her will Elsabeth is sent to Salem, Massachusetts to be a servant.

And accusations of witchcraft are beginning to be flung…

I definitely found Suzanne Weyn’s Distant Waves to be a memorable, creepy yet sensitive book last year – which is why the idea of Invisible World appealed to me. Again she is weaving a fictional, paranormal-edged tale with a historical event.

The Salem Witch Trials always fascinated me and disturbed me since I first learned of them. Sadly, though, Invisible World spends very little time on that subject. Elsabeth’s character and her supernatural powers make for an interesting story but surprisingly it didn’t meld well with the Salem Witch Trials. In this case, history itself is far more dark and scary in its realistic truth than in the embellished, fictional manner it’s presented here, in my opinion.

Invisible World is in no way a bad book. I read it quick, it flew by, and wasn’t boring. It just felt a bit all over the place and was overall a disappointment to what I was expecting.

If you’re looking for YA novels that focus more of the Salem Witch Trials, and admittedly do not delve into the supernatural, I would personally recommend Beyond the Burning Time by Kathryn Lasky, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, and A Break With Charity by Ann Rinaldi.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dust Girl

Dust Girl is a YA historical fantasy, and the first in the American Fairy Trilogy, by Sarah Zettel.

In 1935 Kansas, the dust is stifling. Callie LaRoux is dying from the buildup of dust in her lungs, though it’s not been acknowledged outright. Not many people remain in town as this dust storm is the worst on record… when the doctor himself decides to move his family elsewhere he pleads with Callie and her mother to leave with them.

Yet Callie’s mother is steadfast – she will not leave the hotel they own, even with no guests or employees to occupy it but the two of them.

Callie knows her mother’s reason. This is where her mother last saw her father, a man that she’s never met. He is their biggest secret. The dark color of his skin has left Callie with a dangerously ambiguous darker coloring that leads her mother to lie about her father – to protect Callie. Her mother is determined to stay at the hotel, no matter what comes, because it is where her father said he’d return to them.

But Callie knows her health is failing, that she can’t stand this dust much longer. And she fears her mother is beginning to lose her mind – and that she’s not too far behind now that she’s hearing voices…

When strange occurrences cause her mother to be lost in a particularly horrible dust storm, Callie is visited by a enigmatic man that seems to know more than he should – about her, about her mom, and about her father. He tells her she must find her parents in “the golden hills of the west”. And that’s not all…

For the first time, Callie is given reason to believe that she’s not entirely human.

I’m afraid that’s a bit of a messy synopsis, but I don’t really want to give away any more – and a lot goes on in this book! So, hopefully you’ll work with this summary here.

I liked the vibe of Dust Girl from the get-go. Somehow, in less than twenty pages, I already had a sense for the characters and already cared! There’s a mysterious, magical tone that has a vivid, dusty environment and a plot full of creepy, tricky fairies and piles of questions.

Happily, Callie has some decent smarts! I was enchanted by the bewitching story and really quite entertained from start to finish. The 1930s period was an interesting and rather original time to place a fantasy fairy story – but it was done fantastically, I felt! Great historical detail and character development mixed in with fairies, destinies, and magic!

Dust Girl is very involving, hair-raising at times, and fast-paced. It’s a suspenseful tale that’s fun to read with great, likable, humorous characters. It kind of reminded me of a book that belonged in a category with Kersten Hamilton’s Goblin Wars books, Janni Lee Simner’s Bones of Faerie, or Kiki Hamilton’s The Faerie Ring. If you’re fans of those books, then I think Dust Girl will fit into your bookshelf quite happily!

I am definitely looking forward to the second book in the trilogy, Golden Girl. It was constantly interesting and really quite good – so Golden Girl? I’m ready for you now!!

Friday, December 14, 2012

All Things New

All Things New is a historical fiction novel by Lynn Austin.

The Civil War has just come to a demoralizing close for the South. So many died. Land has been destroyed. And a way of life has been crumbled…

Josephine Weatherly is struggling to return to her previous position of eldest daughter in a privileged household when her family returns to their Virginia plantation. Everything is a shell of its former self. Just like her. Her spirit, her faith has been shattered – her father and oldest brother are dead. The return home of her remaining brother Daniel is no help – he’s even more bitter and broken than she is.

Eugenia, Josephine’s mother, clings to the hope that she can get things back up on their feet, especially now that her son is back. She wants to make sure her daughters are married to good husbands soon, as there aren’t many young men left. But her wish to get the plantation back to its prosperous past is halted by the fact that very few of their former slaves have remained.

Lizzie is one of those few. She battles with her own hopes – the hope that she will now never be separated from her children or husband. Her hope for her children to grow up free. But her own past has left her reluctant to believe such wonderful things are possible.

These three women are working to rebuild their lives in a suddenly different world…

The cover of All Things New is truly lovely, I think. It draws you in like a painting and gives an excellent impression of the feel of the book itself. Which, as all bibliophiles know, is not always the case.

All Things New had a stark, real feel to it that takes us to varying perspectives. All the characters are adjusting to a new way of life, each with difficulty. The sting of sadness and cynicism can almost be tasted as you read the believable prose.

This is an emotionally tense, heartbreaking novel that is not a fun, easy read – but instead lingers in your mind between setting it down. I found it affecting my mood – leaving me reflective and melancholy often. All Things New is a disheartening character study at times – but I, of course, always hoped for a happy ending.

When a love story sneaks up in the later stages of All Things New, it never takes over the more steadfast goal of this book – which is the focus of the brutal transition of expectations and beliefs after the Civil War. It’s definitely worth giving attention, especially if the era interests you.

All Things New is an excellently written, deep, somber read that does manage to be uplifting and memorable in a personal, intimate way. But I’ll admit I was glad to move on to more cheerful, lighthearted stories afterwards!

*I received a copy of All Things New 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.

Flirting in Italian

Flirting in Italian is a YA contemporary with a splash of mystery by Lauren Henderson.

Violet has always known she’s looked nothing like her Scottish father and Scandinavian mother. Her darker skin, eyes, and hair have always appeared more Italian, Mediterranean… something different. But she’s never felt like her parents’ were hiding anything from her either.

Yet when she visits a museum near her London home, she’s riveted by her a painting of a young female Italian aristocrat – who could be her twin. Even the museum employees can see the stunning similarity – as if she was looking in a mirror with a period costume on.

Unable to get it off her mind, she decides to search for more information, as the painter was anonymous. Convincing her mom that she wants to go to Italy for a study course to get her into university was an easy enough thing.

Once she’s in Italy though, she’s distracted by the utter beauty around her – including the Italian boys that lavish attention and admiration on the girls in the program. Especially one called Luca whose mood seems to change at the drop of a pin, yet holds her thoughts captive.

Friendship with the other foreign girls, rivalry with the horrid daughter of the woman running the program, Elisa, and romantic confusion is getting Violet off track from her original intent of going to Italy.

But even so, Violet is still determined to find her connection to that painting…

Flirting in Italian is such a cheerful, chick-lit sounding title that I was surprised by how the main character, Violet, was far more serious and goal driven than bubbly. I actually wouldn’t have minded a bit more wit and humor, but I also wasn’t bored. I just wanted more… sparkle.

I did like Violet’s relatable mix of insecurity and confidence – that had believability to it. And the romantic elements certainly had chemistry.

My problem was that I never really liked Luca. He seemed mostly like a jerk that couldn’t make up his mind. Plus, like I mentioned, it was never enough FUN for me. The mystery element fell behind and felt forgotten, and when it was brought up it was sort of stale and solemn. When a little bit of danger cropped up, that was nice… but it still lacked OOMPH!

It just didn’t quite do enough of anything for me, alas. But it could for you!

There’s to be a sequel called Kissing in Italian. I wouldn’t actively seek it or eagerly wait for it – but if it fell in my lap? I’d read it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey is a historical fiction novel in the vein of Jane Austen, but with a magical twist, by Mary Robinette Kowal.

I absolutely adore Jane Austen, the Regency period, and magic/fantasy so I was super excited about this book. And I have to say: I was really pleased!!

Jane Ellsworth is toeing old maid territory, unmarried at eight and twenty. Her plain face and lack of social charms makes it unlikely for her status to change. Her fluttering heart when the gentlemanly neighbor Mr. Dunkirk calls is to be ignored and stuffed away – an impossibility that only the impractical heart could hope for.

Especially when her younger sister Melody is such a vision of loveliness! Eligible suitors vie for her attentions almost constantly.

At some things Jane is the better, though. Painting, music, and those ladylike pursuits. And most exceptional is her work with glamour. Glamour is essentially magic, and utilizing its skill to bring enhancements to art or coziness to a manor is sought after. But despite magic’s prevalence in society, Dorchester is similar to that of a Jane Austen novel.

And to be honest, I don’t want to say any more! It’s too delightful to read – and I don’t want to spoil one minute of it!!

The gentle, quiet Jane Austen era sensation pulled me in quickly, and the softly magical elements added a uniqueness that made it happily different.

I loved Jane. She’s instantly likable with her intelligence and relatable lack of beauty. The romantic element was right up my alley, subtle and charming. Plus, I was thrilled to not know for certain which gentleman the primary love interest was for quite some time! That’s most definitely rare in anything with a romance plot.

Shades of Milk and Honey was fun – and a reminder of why I love Jane Austen and that period in general! I adore the genteel manners, the conversations, and the slower pace of life. I’m enchanted by the speech, the delicately woven plot. I felt as though I was being drawn into a Masterpiece Theatre production with a magical twist!

Influences of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma sometimes undercut Shades of Milk and Honey, but I found myself loving it even so. Not to mention that was the wildly climatic close came to a heightened, surprising end; Shades of Milk and Honey really came into its own, with its own vibe, and originality.

I’m thrilled to pieces that there are TWO sequels to look forward to! Get thee to Glamour in Glass ASAP!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Warlock

The Warlock is the fifth title in the YA fantasy adventure series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott.

If you haven’t read the series yet up to this point, I recommend avoiding this review’s inevitable spoilers. You can check out my review of the first book, The Alchemyst, here as well as find reviews of the other books on the Bibliophile Support Group.

I’m trusting that only seasoned Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel readers are continuing from here…

Sophie just watched her twin brother Josh turn away from her – leave her behind and follow Dr. John Dee and the mysterious Virginia Dare. Devastated and concerned, she wants to rescue him – to figure out why he would make a decision like that.

Yet the Flamel’s are dying – Nicholas is fading fast. And the day that the Elders will bring about their disastrous return is drawing near…

In the meantime, Scatty, Joan, Saint-Germain, Palamedes, and Shakespeare are all pulled back in time to the moment before Danu Talis was destroyed. They must make sure it falls – or the modern world they know will cease to exist…

Back in current-day San Francisco, Machiavelli and Billy the Kid are preparing to unleash the monsters of Alcatraz on the people and trigger a panic that will hand the human race to the Elders…

That’s pretty much all the synopsis I can give, I think.

I have to say that, sadly, at this point… I’m just finding the whole series quite tedious.

Where has The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series taken us? What kind of real development has occurred? Next to none, in my opinion. By this point, Josh is annoying and Sophie is nice, but bland.

I know there are a TON of fans out there. I’m happy for you! Please do read The Warlock for yourself!!!

I, unfortunately, ended up having to skim most of The Warlock because I was just too bored to read word for word. And disappointed.

There was one kind of cool surprise early on, but like everything else that’s happened in the series, it felt like a sudden choice of the author – not a planned twist. I could be wrong, but many things don’t add up right when you think back to the previous books.

And I’ve gotten very sick of Josh and Sophie constantly doubting if their on the right side, the wrong side, or does any of it even matter? Wondering if they can trust so-and-so or so-and-so? Truly irritating. It was one thing in maybe one book or occasionally cropping up in times of reflection, but this series make the question CONSTANTLY in the forefront.

The switching viewpoints feel clunky. Repeated exposition make paragraphs of action dull. Characters that were fun and humorous in The Magician (in my opinion by FAR the best book in the series) are now dead weight and buried beneath layers of convoluted, altering plots that seem to go nowhere…

Now, a shock at the end of The Warlock was certainly intriguing – but I just feel lackluster about the whole series. I’ll read the last book, The Enchantress, next month like I had planned – but there is no excitement or even strong interest to see what happens now.

Honestly, I’ll be relieved it’s over. Hopefully, it’ll be a while before I’m this frustrated in a book that many reviews claimed to be great for Harry Potter fans.

As a Harry Potter mega-fan, I strongly disagree.

BUT, again, this is MY opinion – read The Warlock, love it if you do!! I’m pleased it has fans. If it makes you happy and entertained, good for you!

Friday, December 7, 2012

At Every Turn

At Every Turn is a Christian historical fiction novel by Ann Mateer.

In 1916, twenty-year-old Alyce Benson is back home after being in school in Chicago. She’s thrilled to be near her father’s automobiles again, as she harbors a secret passion for driving – fast. Their mechanic, Webster, is also a friend to her – helping to keep her passion supplied with road trips and a friendly, non-judgmental demeanor. She never hears about not being ladylike from him.

Another reason she’s happy to be home is to return to her church. Despite her parents’ lack of belief, Alyce’s lovely grandmother made an impression on her very young, and Alyce is determined to use her life to do God’s will.

That’s why, when African missionaries discuss their work one Sunday, she recklessly pledges three thousand dollars to their cause. She just can’t look at the pictures of small African children without feeling compelled to help them learn about the Lord.

Only problem? She doesn’t have three thousand dollars, her father does. And he is none too pleased to hear that those “charlatans” would like his money, so he denies her request.

Alyce has to find a way to make the money on her own – and honor her pledge. So, she starts to think about her love for driving fast and asks Webster to train her to race her father’s automobile in the upcoming competition to win the prize money.

But she’ll have to pretend to be a man.

Will Alyce’s desire to fulfill her obligation crash and burn?

Alyce is certainly a spirited, emotional gal! But she’s also a ton of fun to follow. I often feel there aren’t enough female characters in inspirational historical fiction that are legitimately spunky. Here, we get it in spades!

She’s kind-hearted, generous, and in over her head. Alyce is the kind of character that gets herself into trouble by caring too much. I loved her independent, lively streak that gives her unique interests that, yes, may make her a bit of a mess sometimes but also helps to keep her from becoming a quavering, simpering cliché!

At Every Turn provides an original storyline that feels fresh, fast-paced, and entertaining. I especially enjoyed the subtle, but effective, romance that is unfussy – very nice!

This is a historical fiction novel for those of us that are bored with irritatingly gushy romance or recycled plots. Give it a try!

*I received a copy of At Every Turn 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.

Dear America: Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie

Dear America: Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie is a young reader’s historical fiction novel by Kristiana Gregory.

In 1847 Missoura, Thirteen-year-old Hattie Campbell has seen much tragedy at her young age. Her two older sisters died, and now her uncle perished in an accident. This has spurred her father to decide that their family needs to find a fresh start.

Selling almost all they own, Hattie and her family head toward Oregon City on the Oregon Trail. It feels like an exciting adventure at first, though Hattie’s mother is terribly upset about the move, until reality sets in.

Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. It feels like the trip will never end. And they’re bombarded with death, illness, bad weather, and an extremely coarse landscape that take a toll on the entire traveling party.

Hattie begins to wonder if all of her family will make it alive to Oregon…

I read many of the Dear America series when I was younger, and am pleased to see Scholastic releasing them again – even if I do far prefer the older layout and look. Even as an adult (figure I have to start calling myself that now at twenty-five), I still find the series to be gripping.

The sudden uproot of Hattie and the misfortune that has afflicted her family from the start reminded me, as historical fiction almost always does, how much we take for granted in the 21st century. To think of traveling by wagon for six months or more to get to a new land sounds unspeakable now. They had little to no protection against the heat, dust, wet… They watched friends and family die along the way.

Now, it’s simply a flight or drive away. Stunning when you really let your mind absorb it.

Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie really sucked me in. I felt like I was crossing the unforgiving prairie with Hattie. Gregory’s writing was very involving and felt alive. As it glimpsed also the speed of which young girls grew up so much faster than they do today – marriages at fourteen! – it’s both fascinating and contentious.

I was truly wrapped up and riveted as I followed this journey. Its enthralling historical detail and believable characters made Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie, a short little book, very memorable.

I start and finished it in one day. I recommend it to any age!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Winter White

Winter White is the second novel in the YA contemporary fiction Belles series by Jen Calonita.

If you haven’t read Belles yet (review here) then you should avoid this review until you do.

If you have, read on fair bibliophile, read on…

By the end of Belles, fish-out-of-water Izzie Scott found out that her never-before-heard-of wealthy politician uncle that took her from her home in gritty Harborside, South Carolina, to ritzy Emerald Cove, South Carolina, when her grandmother became too ill to care for her was actually her FATHER.

Still reeling from the news, she and Mira Monroe (sister instead of cousin!) find themselves unable to reconcile with him. Except for the cameras. His campaign continues, after all, and this is the kind of revelation that can ruin a good primary. Yet somehow their true feelings keep finding their way to the press anyway.

While they try to smile for the public, the family drama is overflowing at home. When cotillion, an event that Mira has dreamed of since she was very young, edges closer she realizes she wants to participate in spite of the betrayal of her dad. Yet it’s not the same without her bevvy of friends that have turned their backs on her… So, she ropes reluctant Izzie into attending with her.

In the midst of a modern-day coming out party, both girls are also dealing with the discovering or crumbling of their crushes. Can they trust anyone but each other?

Winter White has a slightly more earnest writing style that I prefer, kind of like I’m watching an ABC Family TV show. But I can’t deny that reading about these Southern belles from opposites sides of the tracks doesn’t have a family, romantic, and school drama type of frothy fun.

Here we’ve got soapy deceptions, cotillions, and misunderstandings like crazy. I’d say there’s a lack of originality and it can be predictable, but there’s something strangely addictive about it. Many times I felt like I’d not continue the series due to overall juvenile, cheesy feel I was getting – but then by the end of Winter White I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen next!

Probably the perfect book for younger teen girls, especially. And apparently can involuntarily hook those of us who aren’t too sure about it!

Hey, it’s entertaining and fast-paced! Nothin’ wrong with that!!

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

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Diviners

The Diviners is the first in a new YA historical supernatural series by best-selling author Libba Bray.

I am a HUGE fan of Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy. When it comes to my foray into her contemporary fiction? Almost a completely opposite reaction. So, when I heard about The Diviners I was hesitantly excited because I hoped it would remind me more of the former, not the latter. In fact, maybe it could make me forget all about Beauty Queens.

Maybe you’re a fan of that book. That’s great! I wasn’t, sadly, at all.

What’s The Diviners about?

Seventeen-year-old Evie O’Neill is a little too much of a wild child flapper for her hometown to contain, and as much as she tries to make herself normal she never seems to be able to. And this time she’s really gotten herself into a pickle.

She has a supernatural power that’s brought her nothing but pickles so far – and this latest round of excitement led her to drunkenly declare one of the town’s most admired young men of knocking up the maid. And of course she can’t prove it without telling the truth about her ability.

So, to let the scandal die down Evie’s family ships her off to New York City, which is preferable to Evie anyway. Because New York in 1926 is bursting full of speakeasies and her pen pal bud Mabel, as well as Ziegfeld girls and dangerously attractive pickpockets.

In order to come to the city, though, she must live with her uncle Will who runs a museum and classes on the occult. He’s a bit of an odd sort, but Evie doesn’t mind him – as long as his hobbies don’t dig up her guarded secret.

But when gruesome, ritualistic murders begin to occur and Will is called for in regards to his expertise, Evie realizes that she may be able to use her power to help catch a serial killer of the worst kind.

Meanwhile, we also meet Memphis, Theta, Jericho and other characters – each with their own mysteries, hidden pasts, and difficult decisions. This is, after all, the city that never sleeps!

What none of them know is that an unspeakable evil has awakened – and they all have a part to play…

The Diviners really brings Libba Bray’s excellent story-telling to the forefront. It has a smooth, cool, spellbinding element right from the introductory chapter, as well as an innate creepiness. She presents us with a large cast of dynamic, memorable characters that are increasingly three dimensional, often funny, and always interesting. New York City in 1926 is a setting that is alive with period details and descriptions that give just enough for the imagination to flesh it out.

As you can tell, I really, really liked The Diviners!

There is a TON of suspense and edge-of-your-seat tension. As the story develops we see a truly frightening psychopath as our villain. Every once in a while the level of how disturbing Bray allows it to get goes farther than I prefer, though. As an animal lover, I really hate seeing any violence to animals in movies or books. There’s about three specific scenes that go there, which I didn’t like – but I did understand how it underscored the pure evil we’re working with. I just still prefer it not to be there… That's the one hiccup I had with A Great and Terrible Beauty as well.

However, thankfully, the characters (especially Evie’s) humor lightens the heavier, spookier aspects of The Diviners and keeps it entertaining. Plus, a slow-burn, satisfying romantic tension is welcome too! Overall, I found The Diviners to be a first-rate, awesome into to a new series that I’m enthusiastic to follow!

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