Monday, December 30, 2013

Stand-Out Books of 2013!

It’s that time of year again!

You (hopefully) have your gift cards and holiday money clasped excitedly in your hand after last week’s festivities and you’re wondering: just what do you want to buy?

Well, books of course!

So, here I am with my fourth annual Stand-Out Books of the Year post – compiling my personal recommendations for your convenience.

Just as in every year – there are way too many good/great/excellent reads to list out – so I have picked just 35 novels that stood out to me as I look over the last year of reading. Even though a book may not be on here, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t like/love it.

These are choices among the books I reviewed, not only read. Some books I read in 2013 aren’t going to have reviews post until 2014 – so I don’t want to confuse everything by including those in this year’s post.

Also, the books listed may or may not have actually been released in 2013 – I just read them in 2013.

My stats are down a little bit this year, but I did start working at a job that sadly I cannot read my day away at (great job, though). So here goes the numbers for 2013:

How many books did I read?

165

That's 25 less than in 2012.

How many pages did I read?

56,309

That's 5,648 less than in 2012.

How many pages, on average, did I read per day?

154

That's 16 pages less per day than in 2012.

Considering how crazy busy I've been this year, I wouldn't say that's too bad!

This year only 35 books made the cut for the Stand-Out Books of the Year. Yet again, there was a lot of painful, tear-ridden whittling to be done – but it’s one of the most exclusive lists yet! Get your Amazon.com clicking finger ready!!!

Remember you can click on each title to read a more in-depth review from yours truly.

Literary/Realistic Fiction:

What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton
A painful, genuine, beautiful portrayal of a teenage girl who has something terrible happen to her while away on a school ski trip – and keeps it a secret. It’s a moving, lovely story that resonated deeply and focuses on the psychological aspect of moving on.

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo
Here is a bittersweet story of first love set in Australia. Each character is written in such a realistic manner as to sometimes be pathetic, sometimes be unlikable, but also be very sympathetic and understandable. I found it to be a compelling, and sometimes quite funny, read.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
The sole reason I could not name this category “contemporary” fiction. An uplifting, exquisite, heartfelt tale of first love in the 1980s – and an insight into the life of a girl singled out by being different and the one boy who makes different feel special. Extraordinary, touching, and memorable.


Truth or Dare
by Jacqueline Green
Okay, this one stretches the description of “realistic” fiction – but, go with it okay? Among the campy Pretty Little Liars and series like it, I found Truth or Dare to have a refreshing, creepy spin. The characters didn’t feel dumb, the plot of someone essentially blackmailing these girls into performing terrible dares was suspenseful if a little crazy, and I truly enjoyed reading it. I am not ashamed to admit I’m excited for book two.

Since You Asked by Maureen Goo
Hilarious, fun, coming-of-age novel that tackles familial expectation amongst a strict Korean family and their all-too-American daughter. I had a ton of fun reading this one and secretly (okay, not so secretly) wish for a sequel as we follow the irreverent fifteen-year-old Holly Kim navigate her friendships and her strained mother-daughter relationship.

Dolled Up to Die by Lorena McCourtney
More of a mystery, but takes place in contemporary times!! The uproarious second book in the Cate Kinkaid Files, a murder mystery series that isn’t afraid to feature some great humor and sense of fun.

Historical Fantasy/Paranormal:

Glamour in Glass & Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
Improving upon the already delightful mix of Jane Austen-like Regency romance and naturalistic, every day magical abilities in Shades of Milk and Honey, these two follow-up novels in Kowal’s series were enough to make me squeal with love! Original plots, fantastic romance and characters, and a truly great fantasy that feels so grounded it could be real.

Starflower & Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
These two latest additions of the Tales of Goldstone Wood series are just as poetically written and lyrically sweeping as the prior books. In fact, I think they may be even better. Not taking place in any particular time period, they are more of a traditional fairy tale type of world – but with entirely new stories. Touching, suspenseful, and soaringly romantic – I look forward to more from this series!

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Oh my gosh. Do you want a hilarious, witty, clever novel that takes place in an alternate, steampunk Victorian England? How about following a smart young girl as she enters a finishing school that is actually teaching espionage in a giant dirigible? Um, yeah. If you’ve read the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, this is a must (I haven’t yet, but I’m planning on it), and if not, it’s still a must.

Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters by Suzanne Weyn
A gothic sequel-of-sorts to the original Frankenstein novel, this imagines that the famous doctor had twin daughters who return to his mansion in the Regency time period years after his death. There’s mystery, danger, and a whole lot of creepiness. I was impressed.

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Stunning retelling of Rumpelstiltskin in (what do you know?) the Regency time period. Beautiful characterizations, a realistic tone, lovely period details, romance and a suspenseful story involving one of the more devious Grimm Brothers characters, but with more meat on its bones.

The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan
1899 Paris opens the City of Light trilogy, which features sisters who have just recently moved to their new gothic, sprawling home surrounded by stone gargoyles. Gargoyles that may… come to life? A unique paranormal story with a fleshed out backstory, lots of attractive male characters (just being honest here), and a hook that has me ready for more.

Golden Girl by Sarah Zettel
Taking place in 1935, this second novel in the American Fairy trilogy cemented by belief that this is going to be an impressive, original trilogy. Grounding it’s tale in period details that illuminate the Depression-era and a heroine who is likable and different, the fairy elements manage to be quite frightening and nerve-wracking. There’s a level of surreal-ness that I very much appreciate. I am anticipating the final book more than I ever thought I would.

Contemporary Paranormal/Supernatural/Sci-Fi:

The Raven Boys & The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
I don’t know about you, but Maggie Stiefvater is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. These first two books in the Raven Cycle are hard to explain except to say they are AWESOME. Excellent, layered characters, a dark, magnetic plot, and a story I want to read over and over. I can’t even fully describe my love.

Eternally Yours by Cate Tiernan
The final novel in the Immortal Beloved trilogy, I found it to be a satisfying, mature conclusion to what was an original, mature series. The dark, stark view it had on individuals who have lived far longer than their sanity can fully support? Talk about fascinating! It was a redemptive, inspiring, truly unusual paranormal novel.

In a Fix & Quick Fix by Linda Grimes
The first two books in an addictive, fun, laugh-out-loud urban fantasy series, these are entertaining reads. With a unique ability called being an Adapter, the heroine Ciel can “adapt” to any aura she wants, which she utilizes for her own atypical business. There’s also romance and a bit more, ahem, heat than I normally go for – but I have to overlook that when the remainder of both books are so delightful! Looking forward to more from this series.

Unspoken & Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan
Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!!! Kami is one of the best female characters in contemporary literature, in my opinion. In fact, Brennan has penned a horde of colorful, three-dimensional characters in these first two books of the Lynburn Legacy. These novels combine a dark, scary supernatural storyline of magic and danger, a small English village, and characters that can be laugh-out-loud funny. Not to mention a romance that I feel is miles above most others. A MUST READ!!!

Fuse by Julianna Baggott
The Pure trilogy is wholly inventive, new, and striking as a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world of destruction and hope. Switching viewpoints from multiple fascinating characters and revealing superb twists while taking us on a nail-biting thrill ride; I am desperate for the final book in 2014. This is an epic story, for sure.

Every Day by David Levithan
Stunning, creative storyline involving “A” who wakes up each morning in a different body – no matter the gender. There’s a refreshing newness to this story, and a hopeful tone that is irrepressible. It also features a love story that is beyond general attraction. I will say there were a couple moments in the book that I felt were contradictory to the message and surprising in their lack of sensitivity, and an underlying preachiness that at times went a little too far. Yet the original plot and lovely writing alone earn this book a spot on the list.

Touched by Cyn Balog
Nick has had a “script” running in his head since he can remember. Essentially he is being narrated as to what to do every moment of every day. But when one day he veers off script and can’t restrain himself from saving another teen’s life, things begin to fall apart. This is such a unique novel that tells us a touching, twisty, revelatory story that I will not forget.

Amber House by Kelly More, Tucker Reed & Larkin Reed
Much more than a ghost story, this is packed, complex, gorgeously awesome first book in a projected trilogy. It goes to so many unexpected places, I can’t even elucidate. Bizarre, addictive, suspenseful, creepy and completely absorbing – you just need to read it, okay?!?

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty
Golly, I was pulled in by this doozy! When I read this, I didn’t realize there were three prior books that all tie in together. Ahem, I have ordered them – we’ll leave that at that. Anywho, this book is hilarious, mysterious, inventive, fun, startling, surprisingly perceptive and overall amazing. Genres that don’t normally mix fruitfully mix here to create a novel of near perfection and cleverness.

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
I’m sure anyone who read Daughter of Smoke & Bone has already dived into this gem. But for those of you who have read neither, GET WITH IT! Let’s see, we’ve got a strong, smart female character, mythological beasts and angels that have been at war for millennia – and a star-crossed love story. But it’s so much more than that. I cannot wait for the final book in the trilogy, as it is a magnificently written, exceptional tale.

The Originals by Cat Patrick
Has it been every year almost that I’ve featured a book by Cat Patrick? Quite possibly. Yet again she has penned a reflective, intimate, addictive book involving mystery, danger, and identity issues involved with being one of three clones. It’s suspenseful, exciting, and touching. Excellent.

Spirit and Dust by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Featuring a Goodnight girl, relative to the heroine in Texas Gothic, Rosemary excels at writing funny, scary, smart contemporary paranormal. A feel of Nancy Drew mystery, involving romance, a supernatural ability and twists around every corner – I look forward to more from this author, as always.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
You like vampire books? Well, this is a whole new vampire book! Taking a different approach and telling a nail-biting story of survival amidst a vampire virus, we get to see a new type of vampire life behind enclosures designed for regular ol’ humans’ safety. What an original, can’t-stop-turning-the-pages novel!

When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears by Kersten Hamilton
A fantastic, heart-wrenching, action-packed conclusion to the Goblin Wars trilogy. Irish mythology, fantastic characters, and a theme of friends and family that is irresistible – I can’t say much without giving stuff away. What I will say is that if you haven’t read this trilogy you are truly missing out. You should read it and then tell everyone you know about it. Capice?

Historical Fiction:

The FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper
A memorable, heart-wrenching, gorgeous conclusion to the Montmaray Journals – about a fictitious European royal family displaced by the Nazi’s as World War II rages around them. This is an epic family story, romance, and character study. I was entranced from beginning to end. And though it is painful, it is beautiful.

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow by Olivia Newport
As the second book in the Avenue of Dreams series, servant and single mother Charlotte is given the spotlight in this turn of the century Chicago setting. With a heartfelt, but not overly mushy, plot of a mother trying to make a living while being separated from her beloved son – it’s a novel that pulls at those heartstrings and doesn’t let go.

The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Okay, this isn’t historical fiction in the traditional sense. But it does center on a kingdom at the brink of war, intrigue, and action-packed peril amidst a perhaps medieval-type setting. This is the second in the Ascendance Trilogy and is a gripping, intelligent, addictive second book. Very, very good.

Well, there you have it! 35 books to start 2014 off for you in bibliophile happiness!

As this New Year begins, you’ll notice that my blog will be featuring more old books mixed in with new releases. This is me getting back to my roots and exploring novels I missed in the past, or haven’t gotten a chance to get to until now. I hope you’ll enjoy this change as much as I plan to!

Just as I say every year – it gives me great joy to know you are out these reading this blog. Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with it, and I know I have scaled back immensely on things like giveaways as my personal schedule lacks the accommodation to do such things – and I appreciate the fact that you’re still reading the Bibliophile Support Group even so.

It makes me believe that you truly just want to learn about books that are out these and want to join me in heralding them.

Have a fantastic New Year’s, and see you in 2014!!!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales

Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales is a YA fantasy/speculative fiction anthology edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt.

In this novel we have a collection of retold fairy tales, science fiction, dystopia, etc. written by a mass of modern day, award winning, best-selling authors such as Kelley Armstrong, Neil Gaiman, Kami Garcia, Holly Black, Carrie Ryan and more!

As always in an anthology there are the stories you find stronger than others, but overall I found Rags & Bones to be a solid, impressive collection.

By taking familiar (sometimes not so familiar) tales and boiling them down to their rags and bones (an apt description from the inside jacket cover) we are presented with something new.

It’s an eccentric, varied group. Below I’ll go over some highlights.

Carrie Ryan’s story, given first, That the Machine May Progress Eternally was creepy and thought-provoking. A dystopian world made more real by man’s own weakness. I have yet to encounter a short story by Carrie Ryan that I did not find satisfying.

Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle but a twist on Sleeping Beauty that I did not see coming, and was just pretty darn awesome!

Time Pratt’s The Cold Corner was very interesting but could have gone farther, I think. Stopped short of being truly compelling, in my opinion.

Becoming more and more of a Holly Black fan – her Millcara was instantly dark and gripping. Excellent narration and spookiness. Very, very cool. Need to start looking more into her work now that I’ve been impressed by this and her novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown!

When First We Were Gods, by Rick Yancey, was fascinating and impacting – mixing a little bit of disturbing reality with a dystopia that is not pleasant. Immortality isn’t always something to desire.

All the stories had their merits – I love the mix provided. I do wish that there were a few more fairy-tale retellings, as those often catch my interest the most. I admit, I’m a sucker for fairy-tales.

Definitely worth the read – and maybe a re-read! Each story is followed by an Author’s Note, which I liked.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Who Needs Magic?

Who Needs Magic? is a YA contemporary fantasy novel, and the sequel to Don’t Expect Magic, by Kathy McCullough.

I really, really enjoyed Don’t Expect Magic – a new twist on fairy godmothers – so, if you haven’t read it, I suggest you read my review here.

And maybe avoid this review of the sequel…

Delaney Collins knows she is a fairy godmother (f.g.) – in fact, she’s sort of embraced it.

After all, it brought her together with her boyfriend and kinda/sorta helped to repair her relationship with her dad.

So, she’s ready for her next client. Ready to make some magic.

But months have gone by with… nothing.

While working at Treasures, the second hand shop that allows her to do her retooling of vintage boots, Delaney meets Ariella – apparently another f.g.

She’s everything you’d expect for an f.g. Perky, pink, and powerful.

Once Delaney runs across Jeni and finally feels that f.g. pull to make some magic, she finds that having another f.g around might not be helpful.

At all.

Like I said earlier, I loved Don’t Expect Magic. It managed to take fairy godmothers and put a modern twist on it – incorporating Delaney’s grief over the loss of her mother and the strained relationship with her dad.

Who Needs Magic? continues that excellence.

Fully invested in the plot, I felt as *ugh* about Ariella as Delaney – not liking her energetic annoyingness.

The author makes it very easy to get behind Delaney as a sarcastic but caring heroine. It’s another fun, buoyant read – if occasionally frustrating as we see some believable mistakes get made.

Who Needs Magic? is funny, smart, and REALLY entertaining!

Not to mention touching.

Yet again, I loved it.

I would like more books.

Please, Ms. McCullough?!?!?

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Man Who Was Poe

The Man Who Was Poe is a middle grade/YA historical mystery novel by AVI.

It’s been two days since Sis and Edmund’s aunt left them to hide in a solitary room. The food’s run out and though Edmund desperately wants to follow his aunt’s final directions of not leaving the room until she returns, he sneaks into the shadowy streets of 19th century Providence, Rhode Island to buy some bread.

He’s only gone minutes. But when he returns, though the door is still locked – Sis is gone.

When a strange man offers to help Edmund find his sister, Edmund’s desperate fear causes him to agree.

Yet the man is volatile, gloomy and seems to have his own agenda.

Will this man help Edmund find Sis? Does Edmund have a choice but to let him try?

The Man Who Was Poe has a lightly spooky, lightly atmospheric tone. This tone increases as Mr. Dupin, the man who offers to help Edmund – and who may also be actually Edgar Allan Poe – becomes more illuminated.

Mr. Dupin is creepy, disturbingly unstable and truly unpredictable. I definitely did not find him likable, and don’t suspect I was supposed to. His character made for a rather sad overall feel from The Man Who Was Poe because poor Edmund has to deal with this horrid man while searching for his sister!

Essentially all alone in his worry, Edmund’s concern over those he loves is never met with any empathy by Mr. Dupin – so throughout the book I just felt wretched for the young boy. Made the book a bit depressing, though the plot was interesting.

The Man Who Was Poe tells a mystery – in the end it is outshone by the unsettling, ambiguous mood that Mr. Dupin (Poe) creates in his rather delusional obsession with death.

It was a different sort of read.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Golden Girl

Golden Girl is a YA 30s era fantasy novel, the second in The American Fairy Trilogy, by Sarah Zettel.

I am a broken record. Doesn’t change the importance of the message though: Do not read this review on Golden Girl until you have already read the first book Dust Girl!

Haven’t read Dust Girl? Check out my review here. It’s a terrific book!

If you have read Dust Girl, then go ahead and proceed to a brief synopsis and then review of Golden Girl

It was not long ago that Callie LeRoux was in Kansas, deep in the midst of the Dust Bowl.

Now Callie is in search of her mother and a father she’s never known – whom she now knows is a fairy prince.

Making her half-fairy. And heir to his throne.

Her search has brought her and her friend Jack to California, knowing that amidst the great weather and glamorous starlets the fairies are sure to be thriving.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Callie is now in enemy territory.

It’d be great if that prophecy about her started yielding some results about now…

Golden Girl is a truly unique fantasy.

It has a genuine, awesome feel of the 1930s – and the Hollywood golden age has such a nostalgic impression.

Just as in Dust Girl, the fairy/magical aspect of the plot manages to be down to Earth. When faced with new creatures, there is a surreal, incredible sense of real danger, suspense and creepiness.

Personally, I am finding The American Fairy Trilogy to be increasingly impressive with this second book. The characters are great – scrappy and likable – and the storyline is engrossing, putting a new, historical spin on a fairy plot.

Plus, the villains are villainous! Seriously, these books truly go into the creepy realm – definitely good stuff here!

By the end, my notes generally boil down to, “Excellent! Excellent!”

Final verdict? I want the final book!!!

Definitely a book, and trilogy, to read and spread the word about!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Unbreakable

Unbreakable is the start to a new YA supernatural contemporary series called The Legion by Kami Garcia, co-author to the popular book Beautiful Creatures.

Kennedy’s life has changed drastically.

When one night her beloved cat Elvis slipped out of the house (out of the ordinary as it is) and she chased him to a cemetery (not the best place to be at night, kinda creepy), her eyes became glued on an apparition.

A girl.

Floating.

Maybe transparent.

After grabbing her cat and heading home, Kennedy convinced herself that what she saw wasn’t really what she saw and headed out to the movie theater with her best friend in new boots her awesome Mom just bought her.

It was when she came home that the world shattered around her.

Her Mom was dead.

They said heart failure.

But then, four weeks later, as Kennedy is spending her last, tearful night in her bedroom before starting what she thinks will be her new life at a boarding school, identical twins Jared and Lukas Lockhart break in and destroy a deadly spirit sent to kill her.

Suddenly it’s all too clear that her Mom did not die of heart failure.

As Kennedy listens, shell-shocked, she learns that there is a secret society called the Legion of the Black Dove that has been around for generations fighting ghosts and a particularly vengeful demon – and all five members were murdered on the same night.

Her Mom being one of them.

Swept away with the haphazard replacement group, of which she is told she is one of, Kennedy realizes that she is missing any special skill as to which to help.

And she might not stay alive long enough to find out the truth about her Mom’s life in the Legion…

Unbreakable is a fast-paced book fraught with some early sad emotions and decently creepy scenes.

As the novel continued, I have to say I was not sure how invested I was in Kennedy. I was enjoying the story, though it seemed to have shades of a lot of familiar concepts without being awfully original about it. Yet one of my biggest issues was that I wanted Kennedy to start being tougher – or at least less in need of rescuing so often.

It’s an action novel, a clue-following story as they work to destroy a demon that is responsible for the recent Legion’s mass murder. Not to mention it features lots of demon/spirit fighting. Kinda fun, but I feel it could’ve been even better.

Unbreakable is definitely a quick read – and entertaining. The relationships (and attractions) between characters happen a little quicker than I prefer, but I can’t say I was bored in the slightest.

In my opinion Unbreakable is a good fit for fans of Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, though it’s not as atmospheric or – just speaking from personal taste – filled with as many believable, likable characters.

After finishing it, I am interested in book two – but not clamoring.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Darkbeast Rebellion

Darkbeast Rebellion is a middle grade fantasy novel, and the sequel to Darkbeast, by Morgan Keyes.

Yet again this is a review that you want to avoid unless you’ve read Darkbeast first (review here).

Deal?

Keara and Caw are fleeing for their lives with their previous Traveler companions Goran and Taggart. Only recently has Keara found that they too spared their darkbeasts instead of sacrificing them on their twelfth birthday as is the law.

Caw is more than a creature that takes on her darker deeds and thoughts and gives her an emotional boost. He’s her friend. She could not, and will not, kill him.

Now that they are being hunted by the ruthless Inquisitors, Taggart is convinced that he can take them all to a safe haven for darkers – a group of people who have spared their darkbeasts and live in secrecy.

But they are freezing and exhausted and the journey just might kill them…

Just as in the first novel Darkbeast, Darkbeast Rebellion portrays a sweet bonding between man and animal as its focus. A friendship that runs deep. As an animal lover, that is a win!

At times, I will admit, I felt that the book was a little meandering – but the prose fleshes Keara out so well. She’s a three-dimensional, flawed, likable, brave girl that tends to be an outsider no matter whom she’s around.

Darkbeast Rebellion is an increasingly suspenseful read – at times utterly nerve-wrangling as its twists surprise and worry you. This is truly well done world building, if not always completed riveting in so doing.

Bursting with emotion and raw feeling, I feel this book is a survival story – not just for the human characters we follow, but those they love – their darkbeasts.

It’s a touching story with an ending that I can be satisfied with as a conclusion or (preferably) an opening to another book.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Untold

Untold is the second book in the gothic YA supernatural Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan.

The first book, Unspoken, was amazing – as you can read in my review here.

The second book, Untold, is also amazing – which you can read below.

HOWEVER, if you haven’t read Unspoken yet don’t you dare!!! You don’t want to know ANYTHING about book two before you read book one, ya hear?

Okay then. If you’re still reading this that better mean you’ve read Unspoken…

Sorry-in-the-Vale is a small, quiet town in England.

Or so it seems.

Actually it is the center of a terrifying sorceress family called the Lynburn’s, where they ruled for generations through blood and power. It’s been some time since it’s been that way.

But Rob Lynburn is determined to bring the old ways back.

That’s why Rob brought his family back to Sorry-in-the-Vale, including his troubled nephew Jared – though they didn’t know that was the reason initially.

The battle for Sorry-in-the-Vale is gearing up to be a tough one as there are more sorcerers in town than originally believed. And Rob’s tactics of swaying by fear seem to be working.

For Kami, however, things are personal. Kami and Jared have been linked since birth – always in each other’s minds, never alone – and before they met they each they thought the other may just be imaginary. Perhaps proof that they were crazy.

But each is real. And the bond that developed between the years is unique – not able to be understood by others.

Now that bond is broken.

Kami is free. But it doesn’t feel that way…

Wow, Untold is immediately hilarious and spooky – wait till you see what inanimate objects come to life in the first chapter!

We get a smart recap with Angela’s brother Rusty, which really helped me out. I didn’t have time to reread Unspoken and it gave me a good little refresher.

Untold is surprisingly funny while also being heartbreaking. It made me laugh out loud, caused my heart to break and made me want to cry.

Talk about causing a range of emotions effectively, Ms. Brennan!

Plus, Kami is one of my favorite modern-day literary heroines. Period.

She’s smart, witty, strong-willed yet vulnerable in a believable way. Truly a girl that would be an awesome friend.

The Lynburn Legacy features on of the deepest, most soulful romances I’ve read, also. Especially for YA. It’s honestly beyond the superficial and never feels forced or cheesy. This is about a connection like no other, and knowing someone through and through.

Amidst all the awesomeness is a line-up of equally excellent supporting characters like Angela, Rusty, Holly and (of course) Jared.

Untold manages to be horrifying, suspenseful, and nail biting.

And oh my gosh I need the next book NOW.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Midnight for Charlie Bone

Midnight for Charlie Bone is a middle grade fantasy novel and the first in the Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo.

Having lived with his odd, less-than-pleasant paternal grandmother (along with his mother, fraternal grandmother, and secretive uncle), Charlie has always known that she has thought little of him. That he wasn’t “special”.

What Charlie didn’t realize is just how “special” she expected him to be.

When he discovers a sudden ability to hear the conversations of people in photographs when he looks at them, his grandmother makes it clear this is what she’s been waiting for.

Suddenly he’s being pushed to go to an elite private school for the magically endowed – a place Charlie would rather not go.

But once he’s roped into a mystery involving a dangerously sought after item and a missing girl, Charlie realizes he may find more answers at the school…

A British children’s fantasy? I was VERY ready to give it a shot.

It had a little bit of an eccentric, pleasant tone – but sadly that was all, and even that grew thin, for me.

Midnight for Charlie Bone
lacked any real humor or a strong enough plot to truly snare me. I wasn’t fully uninterested, but by the end I didn’t really feel it went anywhere.

Charlie’s magical talents are never really utilized, I never had a sense of him as a character, and the plot felt very unclear and nonsensical (and not in a fun way).

At times I honestly felt like Nimmo was trying to write another Harry Potter, and I’m sorry to say didn’t even come close.

Midnight for Charlie Bone had some admirable qualities, it wasn’t wholly boring or offensive to me in any way, but I just felt consistently ho-hum.

As I already have the second book Charlie Bone and the Time Twister, I will give it a shot and see if it improves. However, if it is more of the same – I don’t see me continuing this series.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Faerie After

Faerie After is the YA post-apocalyptic fantasy conclusion to Janni Lee Simner’s Bones of Faerie trilogy.

Of course, you want to read Bones of Faerie and Faerie Winter before Faerie After – click on the titles to read my reviews.

In my opinion spoilers are never good, so even though it probably wouldn’t be dire to the overall story, I recommend you don’t read my review/synopsis of Faerie After until you’ve read those first two books…

Liza has been away from her home, learning more about her magic from Karin over the last few months. Though she misses her mother, Matthew, Kyle and others at home, life has been steadier than it was for quite some time. And the spring seems strong.

But when Liza stumbles across a new danger – piles of ash where living creatures once stood – Liza comes to the realization that both the world of Faerie and the human realm are still deteriorating since the War.

Everything will eventually turn to dust.

Searching for a solution may mean crossing over into Faerie – and putting all she knows and cares about in danger.

Will Liza sacrifice herself to heal both worlds and save her family and friends?

Faerie After is a sad, complicated yet straightforward conclusion.

The entire Bones of Faerie trilogy has a sweet, slow building romance that never takes center stage but manages to be very effective. Anyone who has read the books knows what I’m talking about. It’s a subtle but lovely side story.

In the world Simner has created, magic has morose consequences. In this world, she shows how people (and faeries) can be both terribly cruel and beautifully courageous.

At times I felt like this final novel was a bit of a jumble, in and out of various circumstances, but still good. There were moments that were heart-wrenching. It cannot be denied that Simner creates a gorgeously told narrative, a dark faerie tale with strong characterizations.

I also appreciated what ended up being a very cool, meaningful twist and revelation near the end.

And despite my misgivings at times of Faerie After truly meeting its full potential, by the end, what do you know? I felt like sobbing. And I was covered in goose bumps!!!

The goose bumps don’t lie.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves is an incredible YA contemporary fantasy, the second in The Raven Cycle, by the ever-awesome Maggie Stiefvater.

The Raven Boys, the first book in this cycle, is undeniably fantastic – so if you have yet to read it, check out my review here and then go grab a copy, you crazy person!!!

In other words, you may want to avoid this review of the second book until you’ve already sunk your teeth into book one. Only looking out for you, bibliophile!

Final chance to turn away…

Blue and her Raven Boys all have secrets.

Ronan’s is that he can steal things from dreams.

While Blue, haunted Ronan, damaged Adam and the always-charismatic Gansey continue their search for the dead king Glendower amidst the enigmatic ley lines of their small town, Ronan begins to realize that his ability to take things out of his dreams may be an ability sought after by others.

And may be connected to his father’s brutal murder…

Okay, this synopsis is pretty bare-bones, I agree.

But, really, if you read The Raven Boys (um, you better have since you’re reading this!!), should you really want more?

All I knew is that I HAD TO READ The Dream Thieves.

It almost wasn’t a choice – more of a bibliophile compulsion.

Anywho, Maggie Stiefvater has done it again. She is now firmly cemented in my I-have-to-read-everything-by-her-no-matter-what category.

The Dream Thieves is written in words that wrap you up into them. There’s a sensation of magic, of mystery, of longing. The characters can be dark – a few of them have been through very dark things – and they are oftentimes deeply flawed, but oh so sympathetic and real-feeling.

Presenting switching viewpoints keeps The Dream Thieves moving, while maintaining a carefully moderated pace – never ceasing to be magnetic and utterly compelling.

Personally, mixing mythology and fantasy elements with such a purely character driven yearning, friendship and romance is irresistible – when done so very right, as it is here.

I was already anticipating book three before book two was over!

The Dream Thieves is heartbreaking, upsetting, but oh-so-well-written, hypnotizing and stunning.

Give. Me. Book. Three.

Please???

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Spark Unseen

A Spark Unseen is a YA historical suspense novel by Sharon Cameron, as well as a sequel to The Dark Unwinding.

You know what I’m going to say. If you haven’t yet read The Dark Unwinding, you should avoid this review for potential spoilers of the first book. Read my review of The Dark Unwinding here.

Last chance to avert your eyes before the synopsis begins!

Katherine Tulman has been in life threatening situations before.

That’s why when she wakes in the middle of the night to hear strange men’s voices, she is instantly alert.

It doesn’t take much to deduce that they want to kidnap her uncle – a man with childlike innocence yet a mind with genius enviable by nations at war.

Katherine’s Uncle Tully’s sprawling manor Stranwyne Keep is not as secure as they need as the Crimean War creates an ever stronger desire for his elusive inventions.

So, Katherine decides to have them flee to Paris.

And while she is there she will search for Lane – the young man who knows her Uncle Tully even better than she – the young man that she’s given her heart to – the young man feared dead.

But as Katherine is swept up into the political intrigue of Napoleon III’s court, she finds herself quickly in danger once more…

I very much enjoyed The Dark Unwinding, so I was thrilled when I found out there was going to be a sequel!

As in the prior novel, A Spark Unseen presents us with strong, smart women in a glorious time period (in my opinion).

Here we are provided with suspense, nail-biting political intrigue, surprises, heart break, and a wonderful sense of family and of mystery.

I have to say that I did not find A Spark Unseen to have as much of a gothic or steampunk tone as The Dark Unwinding, however – which was too bad.

Yet, even still, A Spark Unseen – with its spunky heroine and gripping story – was a good sequel!

Monday, November 18, 2013

When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears

When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears is the third and final book in the YA contemporary fantasy trilogy The Goblin Wars.

I am absolutely serious when I say this trilogy is far too remarkable to spoil yourself by reading this review – or book – without reading the first two books.

So, if you are a lucky duck and haven’t yet read The Goblin Wars novels, therefore getting a chance to experience them for the first time, you can check out my review of Tyger Tyger here and In the Forests of the Night here.

Don’t go perusing this review and ruining any surprises!

They are TOO excellent for that!!!

Okay, now on to When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears:

Teagan has declared war on the Dark Man – knowing that her family will always be hunted unless she faces those who wish them harm head-on.

But the danger is very real.

Creatures of destruction and death are spilling out of Mag Mell into the streets of Chicago, Teagan’s little brother Aiden has been marked with a new song that is frightening him, and Teagan finds herself facing the fact that she is now almost all goblin in DNA – and fighting it.

Not to mention that her relationship with Finn, the Mac Cumhaill who is bound to fight goblins, is riddled with the concerns over her very ancestry being a wall between them.

Yet as Teagan finds the Dark Man pulling her and her loved ones into a life-threatening trap, she knows she must find a way to destroy him once and for all…

Oh my goodness!!!

I finished the last pages of When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears in the lunch room of my workplace and had to hold back some serious emotion.

As any fan of The Goblin Wars would agree, I’m sure; Kersten Hamilton has created a charming, eccentric, truly lovable group of people. Teagan’s strong love of animals is only part of the deep compassion rooted in the trilogy – there’s also a marvelous sense of family at its greatest.

When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears is the conclusion to what is in its entirety a beautifully original fantasy, mixing Irish mythology with contemporary humor and nail-biting suspense. Of course there’s also the romance aspect, which is nothing to scoff at either.

There’s so much I could say – but I dare not give anything about this conclusion away. There were moments that my heart was so terribly saddened, other times I laughed out loud, and almost always I felt a sense of understated, soaring emotion from the excellence of the storytelling.

To me, it is a mark of an honestly great book, when I feel so incredibly touched multiple times. I cared, and still care, about these characters. Because of that, Kersten was able to break my heart – as well as make me feel joyful.

This is not a conclusion to miss!!!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gorgeous

Gorgeous is a YA contemporary fantasy by Paul Rudnick.

When Becky Randle reaches her eighteenth birthday, life isn’t so great. Her mom has died, and she won’t be able to afford the trailer she’s lived in all her life if her fast food job lays her off.

Then she meets Tom Kelly.

A recognizable name to almost anyone in the world – Tom Kelly has a hand in almost any industry, but primarily is known for fashion – and being insanely wealthy.

He offers to make her three dresses – one red, one white, and one black. He tells her that by wearing these dresses Becky will be transformed into the most beautiful woman in the entire world.

Thinking he’s insane, but not seeing a better offer, Becky accepts.

And Becky becomes Rebecca – gorgeous, stunning, publicity-hounded Rebecca.

Underneath, though, isn’t she still just Becky?

First off I want to say that the cover of Gorgeous, I think, is very pretty and eye-catching. Agree?

Second, what was the first thought that came to mind when I finished Gorgeous?

I’m glad it’s over.

I know! It’s terrible!!! As a bibliophile, I really hate giving negative reviews (seems to be happening more lately, been having a ho-hum streak), and I never want to dissuade readers!

I also want to be honest.

For me, even when Gorgeous was trying for an optimistic tone, it was pessimistic. There was a lot of negativity, mostly through gossip. I know that Paul Rudnick has written for Entertainment Weekly, and at times it almost felt like I was reading a book length rant on social commentary or something. Not pleasant. I usually skip those articles anyway.

Also, there’s a TON of swearing. Listen, I deal with swearing – I get it, people swear. But, really?! This was pretty much every single page – excessive! The Lord’s name was taken in vain a TON, too. Again, I have to deal with this in novels, but my goodness! Talk about pushing the boundaries on what is tolerable! This language limitation only spurred on the negative vibe Gorgeous gave off.

Then, there’s the fact that Gorgeous has long winded, purposeless narration. We read pages of gossip-column like “memories” or information on fictional celebrities. It just went on and on. Again, felt more like a long, real-life gossip column than a book.

For me, the story was not that original and was full of crass, crude moments – sucking the class out of what little was redeeming about the novel.

You know, I hate to disagree with Meg Cabot – who has a praising blurb on the book and a high rating for the novel on Goodreads – but Gorgeous was NOT a book for me.

Maybe it will be for you?

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a YA contemporary fantasy novel by Holly Black.

In Tana’s world, Coldtowns exist.

They are walled cities in which quarantines were set up to house the monsters that came into the spotlight long ago – blood thirsty vampires, and the humans that are desperate to be them – or were trapped behind the walls when they went up.

With a tragic past that left an ugly scar on her arm, Tana knows the effects of getting Cold, the vampire infection that occurs when you are bit, first hand.

When one morning Tana wakes up, disoriented after a long night of partying, she finds herself surrounded by corpses. Everywhere she looks she sees people she’s gone to school with for years – bloody and lifeless.

A vampire attack.

At first it seems she is the only survivor of the massacre, but then she finds her ex-boyfriend tied up in a room, fighting the first impulses of going Cold. He was bit.

With him is a painfully gorgeous, terrifyingly dangerous vampire – also tied up, and seeming in need of rescuing just as much as they.

Against her better judgment, she gets all three of them out of the house.

The only way to save them is to go to Coldtown…

This is the first Holly Black novel I’ve read. I’ve heard of her, of course. But really I was intrigued by the title of this novel and decided to give it a try without even bothering to pay much attention to what it’s about.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was fantastic!!!

It’s immediately fascinating, extremely original and very, very suspenseful. Holly Black puts a new twist on vampires, vampire lore, and a picture of what maybe the world would be like if vampires did all of a sudden become a real thing in the present-day world.

I was engrossed incredibly quickly and hungry for more after only mere pages. I loved the brisk, genuine, contemporary way it is written – and the fact that there is a dark, desperateness to Tana that makes her character interesting, disturbing, and altogether likable.

Revealing, flashback-like chapters give more insight into vampires, Tana’s childhood and psychological state and Tana’s friends and family – all of which is insightful and compelling.

Though seductive, alluring and increasingly romantic with time – the focus of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is never ROMANCE. And I have to say thank God for that, because doesn’t that get old??

No, the focus is SURVIVAL.

There’s never a slow second, whether we’re seeing character growth or plot growth – and I LOVED it!!!

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a refreshingly DIFFERENT vampire story – and I was glued!!!!!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Path of Names

The Path of Names is a middle grade contemporary fantasy novel by Ari Goelman.

Dahlia Sherman doesn’t want to go to a sleep away camp highlighting learning Hebrew and focusing on her Jewish roots.

She loves magic – magic tricks, sleight of hand, math and video games.

Yet her parents did not give her much of a choice when they dropped her off at Camp Arara.

Amidst her glowering and sulking, Dahlia can’t help but acknowledge that there are a few things of interest going on. Such as two little girls who appear to walk right through the wall of a cabin.

Also, she starts to have vivid dreams of a young Jewish man decades ago being chased through New York. Someone she’s never seen in her life.

Not to mention a huge maze with a mysterious caretaker that won’t let anyone near it…

Dahlia figures she can manage a few weeks at Camp Arara if she has something to do.

The Path of Names lacked the humor, zaniness and quirkiness I expected from the cover and premise, sadly.

It focused a lot on Jewish mysticism but didn’t make it compelling – in my opinion.

Plus, I can’t say Dahlia was the most likable character either. She doesn’t seem all that nice to her brother or her parents – and is often moody. Again, this was just my view.

I ended up skimming The Path of Names after giving it over 100 pages to grab my interest – and didn’t. It just wasn’t as fun as I expected!!

Of course, there are many bibliophiles who will gobble it up and be great fans of The Path of Names, though!

So check it out for yourself and see what you think!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Half Lives

Half Lives is a YA sci-fi apocalyptic novel by Sara Grant.

It was an ordinary day for Icie.

She was being consoled by her best friend over the break-up text message she had gotten when her parents started to urgently reach out to her – telling her she had to get home immediately.

When she did, she didn’t expect to be strapped with cash and given a backpack full of survival supplies – but that’s what happened.

Then the gravity of what her parents were telling her started to sink in.

They were privy to knowledge that a major, world-changing bio-terror event would be happening very soon and they wanted to get to a bunker in Vegas before it happened.

Or rather, get Icie to a bunker.

Getting there and then staying there ends up being more terrifying than she could imagine.

Hundreds of years in the future, life has changed. People live and worship in the very bunker Icie is desperate to reach.

They don’t leave. They fear terrorists.

Their leader is Beckett, a teenager that has ties to Icie.

Generations apart, Icie and Beckett face the threat of extinction and the fight for survival…

For me, reading Half Lives was a given after having read Sara Grant’s debut, Dark Parties, a while back and LOVING it.

Here, though, I wasn’t as in love…

I was much more captivated and interested in Icie’s story than Beckett’s.

The future that was being presented was confusing and felt a little familiar – and its use of bizarre new vocabulary made it hard to take seriously at times.

Then when it came to Icie’s story there was a thrill, a danger, a horror that was represented well as we see the world swiftly fall apart and her try to follow her parents’ wishes despite it all. Yet… even her story began to wear a little thin.

I kept waiting for a bit more to happen. Though there were moments Half Lives still managed to give me chills and touch me, I never felt it reached its full potential.

The alternate point of view in the future really didn’t connect with me, which I think was one of the main reasons I had issues with it.

After giving it my best try, I finally began to skim the future side of things.

Sadly, I didn’t feel Half Lives was nearly as powerful or original as Dark Parties.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Watcher in the Shadows

The Watcher in the Shadows is a YA supernatural thriller novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

In the summer of 1937, fourteen-year-old Irene Sauvelle’s family has moved to the coast of Normandy for a fresh start.

Still mourning the death of her father, they are struggling to find happiness once more – a new normal.

When Irene’s mother receives a job offer from a wealthy, reclusive toymaker she takes it. The toys he makes are automatons – some of which almost appear to have a life of their own…

Their slowly healing family gets a shock when a young girl is found dead in the forests surrounding the toymaker’s mansion.

Suddenly all of the ghost stories they’ve heard since moving to their foggy home become more possible.

It seems that there is an evil – and a mystery surrounding it – pervading their new town.

In order to keep her family from undergoing yet another loss, Irene knows that she must figure out what it is…

The Watcher in the Shadows is very successful at being quietly suspenseful, creepy and atmospheric. It also has a strong sense of summer, and memories.

However, I was concerned very early on that I was guessing the big twists to come.

In the meantime, the story told itself very smoothly, keeping a tense yet calm-before-the-storm vibe throughout.

I do wish that animals did not so often pay a price in horror stories. But I digress.

Sadly, the smartest decisions aren’t always made in The Watcher in the Shadows but I did feel pulled into the supernatural tension. And really the premise is pretty hair-raising. Respectably chilling.

I’ve never been one to deny being freaked out by, say, ventriloquist puppets. Automatons are right there. Almost worse, because they can and do move/talk on their own. They are fascinating, though.

The Watcher in the Shadows is darker that what you would expect for younger readers, but it’s a good ghost story.

Unfortunately, my concern that I was correctly guessing the big twists? Well, I was right.

So, it was predictable, and not altogether original – but decent.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Free Kindle or Nook version of iTunes Book of the Week: Tyger Tyger!!!

Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton is a contemporary fantasy, and first book in The Goblin Wars trilogy, that is unique, amazing, suspenseful and AWESOME!!!

In fact, to hear me go on and on, read my review of Tyger Tyger here.

I don't want ANY of you to miss out on this week's opportunity!

This week only, get your copy of Tyger Tyger FREE when you go to iTunes, Barnes & Nobles Nook or Amazon's Kindle! Learn more HERE!

DON'T MISS THIS!

I am actually rereading the first two books in this trilogy RIGHT NOW (really, no joke) to ready myself for the last book, When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears.

The Goblin Wars trilogy is just too fantastic to deny!

Enjoy - and spread the word!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Double-Trouble: Identity Theft & Defriended

Happy Halloween, Everybody!

Well, on Thursday, that is.

In honor of the spooky holiday, I am reviewing TWO of Scholastic’s Point Horror novels, YA suspense.

First up is Identity Theft by Anna Davies.

Hayley gave up what is considered a normal teenage life a while back to pursue what she felt she did best: academics.

As a finalist for a prestigious college scholarship, she is getting closer to her goals and believes soon all of her sacrifices of friendship and free time will be rewarded with a great future.

But she has to continue to keep a spotless profile in the meantime.

When a Facebook profile in her name suddenly shows up online with pictures of her partying and altogether NOT acting like herself – she is astounded. Clearly someone is using Photoshop to sabotage her.

But things get more disturbing when pictures of a birthmark no one knows she has appear in the pictures and the Facebook page seems to appear and disappear randomly.

Something is going on that Hayley, for once, does not understand…

Though at times Identity Theft bore strong resemblances to certain Lois Duncan books, there is a building suspense here that is very enjoyable to read. It’s a creepy and fun mystery that confronts some of the more obvious theories head-on.

Identity Theft has a moody, eerie atmospheric tone and is a great Halloween read. And even though the end is a bit cliché for a horror story, it has enough of a wink-wink feel to keep me satisfied.

Next up is Defriended.

Jason has met the perfect girl. Her name is Lacey.

She’s into all the same music as him. They agree on class lessons, they have similar senses of humor. They can talk for hours.

But it’s all online.

Jason wants to meet Lacey in person, but she always seems to avoid his request.

Then, one day, he gives in and does a Google search on her. He’d avoided it before because it always felt kind of stalker-ish.

Of all the things that he could have imagined finding out about her, he’s dumbfounded by what he discovers.

Apparently, Lacey died almost a year earlier.

Suddenly, Jason is thrown into a disturbing puzzle.

Either someone is playing a bizarre trick on him, or he’s suddenly talking with the dead…

Defriended started off intriguing enough, but never really became scary.

The concept was a little TOO unbelievable to me. Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that the things Jason becomes willing to do is a little odd – and the mystery itself, I felt, was very muddled.

Plus, once the resolution becomes clear – I felt there were quite a few holes and things that didn’t make sense earlier on in the story. But, that’s just my opinion.

So, of the two, my recommendation would definitely lean toward Identity Theft – though both could potentially be campy, cyber fun.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Since You Asked...

Since You Asked… is a YA contemporary humor novel by Maureen Goo.

It all started when happily-under-the-radar fifteen-year-old Holly Kim was bored to tears while performing her duties as copyeditor for her high school newspaper.

Reading about some senior’s love of “the best years of their lives” was enough to make her gag and fall asleep.

So, once she was done copyediting it to perfection – as her education-minded Korean family would expect – she decided to have a little fun by doing another copyedit – and changing the SATs-are-fun! vibe to her much more sardonic humor.

Guess which version accidentally makes it into the newspaper?

Suddenly Holly is not so under-the-radar anymore. In fact, she is actively hated by a substantial group of students – but abruptly offered her own column in the paper.

This’ll be an interesting year…

I really, really, REALLY liked Since You Asked…

Holly is a funny, cheerful, invisible good girl with just enough snark to be entertaining without being flat-out mean. Her hilarious accidental fame spurs a delightful plot arc that spans a year of learning how to balance her family’s suffocating traditional Korean values with her bountiful personality.

Her narration voice is delightful and caused me to laugh out loud multiple times. There are even some (very) occasional drawings and photos to keep the feel of Since You Asked… modern and real-feeling.

I really liked Holly and her awesome, if sometimes ungrateful, personality. And I hate to say, her attitude was truly enjoyable, except for maybe her harshness with her Mom – which still felt believable and gave the novel that added genuineness.

Plus, the secondary characters – such as Holly’s awesome friends – were also very well-written.

Since You Asked… was extremely amusing and very entertaining – made me a happy bookworm!!!

My only problem? I really, really, REALLY want a sequel.

Possible???

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Drowned Vault

The Drowned Vault is the second novel in N. D. Wilson’s middle grade/YA supernatural adventure series Ashtown Burials.

Personally, I thought that the first Ashtown Burials book, The Dragon Tooth, was awesome. So, if you haven’t read it yet check out my review here, and avoid this review for potential spoilers!

All you savvy bibliophiles have already read The Dragon Tooth, though, right? ;)

It’s been nearly a year since Cyrus and his sister Antigone found a home at Ashtown – though not necessarily one where they are welcome.

Nearly a year since they’ve been introduced to a life of mystery, adventure and mythology come to life as they earned a status of Journeyman amongst the order of explorers who’ve guarded the world’s secrets and treasures for generations.

As Cyrus failed to protect the Dragon’s Tooth against villainous Dr. Phoenix, and the simple fact that they are Smiths’, they are not well liked at Ashtown.

In fact, they are in extreme danger.

It’s not long before Cy and Antigone find themselves on the run – and desperate for a way to save not only themselves, but Ashtown also…

I made an executive decision to not re-read The Dragon’s Tooth before diving in here. It just didn’t seem like I read it that long ago. I would’ve liked a little bit more of a recap in The Drowned Vault, but I felt refreshed quickly enough.

Ashtown Burials is a series I’m excited about. The Dragon’s Tooth gave me a strong, good vibe – and the characters felt vibrant while the plot felt new. Sometimes a bit of a rare thing in this genre!

The Drowned Vault, like its predecessor, swept me into an environment that is unique and hums with adventure. It’s not so much magical as adventurous, action-packed, and mixed with lore a bit. There’s excellent character growth and maturity in the way it is written in such a way to make these siblings believable.

Real danger looms in The Drowned Vault. Serious stakes are felt. And with the way N. D. Wilson causes me to care for this family, including the sympathy for the children concerning their comatose mother and deceased father, it’s quite effective.

Fantastically, it’s also really funny! Modern, smart characters with witty senses of humor plus a very involving, creative and exciting plot makes a gratifying dish!

I was surprised that I felt it got a little slow toward the end – a little mish-mashy.

Maybe I was just tired?

But then the CLIFFHANGER had me ready for book three NOW. And I remembered why I’m kind of rooting for this series.

It has some serious potential, people.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Vote

Vote is a middle grade humorous novel by Gary Paulsen.

It’s also the fourth book featuring main characters Kevin Spencer. Personally, I recommend you read them in order – Liar, Liar; Flat Broke; and then Crush. You can click on each title to find my reviews.

Now that fourteen-year-old Kevin has become the boyfriend of Tina, the World’s Most Beautiful, Most Perfect, and Best-Smelling Girl – he needs to figure out how he can stay that way.

How will he hold her interest?

When Kevin’s nemesis, irritably good-looking new guy Cash Devine, announces his campaign for class president – Kevin gets a flash of genius.

He should run, too!

Recognizing his strength of always being a great leader, he knows this was inevitable. The first step in a long, rewarding political career.

And a way to impress Tina.

In order to do that, though… well, he’s going to have to win.

Therein lays the problem.

Since I read Liar, Liar I have always been eager to read another Kevin Spencer book. He’s clueless, a little bit crazy, but is always hilarious and good-hearted.

Vote, for me, wasn’t AS entertaining as the other three novels. I didn’t laugh out loud as much; I wasn’t delighted by as much quirkiness. In some ways, it was almost a shade more solemn.

However, it was still a fast read and enjoyable. The characters alone make reading it worth the time – which isn’t even much time since these books are SO short.

I kind of wanted more, though.

Kevin shows some great growth in Vote – but where was his sparkling charm, awesome personality, and out-there ideas? Not as present here, unfortunately.

I do have to say, though that Markie (the little boy neighbor that Kevin babysits) has to be probably the best toddler in literature. Honest.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Reluctant Courtship

A Reluctant Courtship is the third novel in The Daughters of Bainbridge House trilogy, a Regency era historical romance series, by Laurie Alice Eakes.

Though each novel focuses on a different Bainbridge sister, and therefore has its own story, reading A Reluctant Courtship before the other two books could potentially give you spoilers of events in the previous books.

I recommend reading the books in order. First is A Necessary Deception and then A Flight of Fancy. Click on the titles to read the reviews.

Honore Bainbridge, the youngest of the sisters, has been left to the country estate – in hopes she’ll stay out of trouble. And out of the public eye.

After two scandalously bad courtships – one of whom was a traitor, the other a murderer – it seems that Honore’s taste in gentlemen constantly leads her astray.

So, when she meets Lord Ashmoor – tall, dark and handsome – it’s almost a given that he also would be unsuitable.

Of course he is.

His American upbringing and fears that he helped French prisoners escape from Dartmoor Prison make him a highly dangerous match.

In fact, Lord Ashmoor himself is looking to secure a courtship that will bring him above reproach of the English and help get him out of the cloud of suspicion he’s in. Which means he should stay far away from disreputable Honore.

Yet the two are drawn together…

I love the Regency era. Yet it has to be done just so for me to feel swept into that time period in novels. I can’t ask everyone to compare with Jane Austen, who obviously lived in the era, but I do need to have a sense of the age through descriptions, language, and overall atmosphere.

Unfortunately, for me, that was truly lacking in A Reluctant Courtship.

I liked A Necessary Deception and A Flight of Fancy was okay – both of the heroine’s out of the ordinary personalities or situations helped the otherwise, in my opinion, lackluster stories. Yet, here, Honore just seems to be a typical blonde beauty – and she fell flat for me.

My feelings were ho-hum to start A Reluctant Courtship – and sadly they progressed that way. Descriptions of Honore’s loveliness and Lord Ashmoor’s handsomeness do not a romance make.

For this reader, anyway.

After continuing to not grab my attention after quite a few pages, I decided to skim the novel. I hate doing that, but there are so many books in the world – we have to make time for them!!

Unfortunately, A Reluctant Courtship just came across as too familiar, too cliché, almost too cookie-cutter of a story and then didn’t have the sweeping, engrossing sense of the Regency time for me to stick with it.

Hopefully, you’ll feel differently! Remember to try it for yourself – I’m only one opinion.

*Available October 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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

Monday, October 14, 2013

Red

Red is a YA contemporary novel by Alison Cherry.

Felicity has grown up in Scarletville – a town that was founded as a sanctuary for redheaded people, in order to recognize their true potential outside of the discrimination they usually found in the world.

Not to mention to foster the redheaded gene.

Here redheads are the popular ones. The ones with the best jobs. The best opportunities.

It’s been that way since Felicity was a baby.

This is why her mother started dying Felicity’s hair a constant shade darker of red in a very measured way to make it look natural.

Now, Felicity gets touch ups and dye jobs like a spy – sneaking around, never letting anyone know her true hair color – not even her best friends.

If anyone were to find out, her life would be over. Scarletville hates arties (artificial redheads).

So, when a note is slipped in Felicity’s locker advising her that they know her secret and if she wants to keep it that way she has to do what they say – Felicity already knows.

She’s going to have to do everything they ask…

Red has a concept that is hard to believe and sometimes difficult to swallow from a serious perspective, yet somehow it did grow on me.

There’s actually a real sense of becoming your own person, an individual, here – of being honest and facing irrational bias. That was nice.

Red is entertaining, at times suspenseful and presents an overall odd, out-there town that mirrors a less unbelievable bigotry.

In the end, I was kinda won over by Red – except that it had some leftover open ends that I would’ve liked resolved. It seemed to end sooner than it should have.

So, not perfect – not as quirky or satirical as I would’ve expected for such a strange plot – but largely an enjoyable, diverting novel.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Icons

Icons is a YA post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel by Margaret Stohl, of co-author of Beautiful Creatures fame.

Dol is haunted by vivid memories of The Day.

Of her father, her mother – her family – dying in that moment that took so many lives.

The Day the world changed.

Even though her life now is simple and quiet, hidden in the countryside along with her best friend Ro and others, the memories still hit her hard and strong, all these years later.

It’s because of what she is.

Telepathic-like abilities and the power of feeling others emotions plague her, just as strong anger and violent tendencies do Ro
They’re different. And they don’t know why.

But when she and Ro are captured on one initially normal day they’re taken to the Embassy where they meet Lucas and Tima – both with abilities of their own.

Questions, secrets, and dangers abound as they search for answers and a chance of survival under the shadow of one of the largest Icons…

I have a copy of Beautiful Creatures that I’m going to read here as soon as I can. I’ve heard so much good about it, and I’m excited. With Icons, though, since it was sent to me for the purpose of review I needed to get to it first.

I’ll admit… I hope that Beautiful Creatures is better.

Icons
has a startling, grim, intriguing prologue as we witness Dol’s terrible memory of The Day. Quickly thereafter we are introduced to a romantic triangle that is initially relatively effective. And though confuddling, it’s fast-paced and interesting from the get-go.

My issue was that I felt Icons was lacking real grounding in characters. I didn’t feel like I was getting a good feel for them, except for their abilities that are rooted in overwhelming emotions. It wasn’t long before the romantic triangle started feel a little The Hunger Games-lite, too.

At first the plot was holding the course for me, keeping me in the book despite my ho-hum feelings about the people involved.

However, that even started to crumble for me, unfortunately. The plot continued to be unclear, in my opinion. I kept waiting for more world-building, more explanation or flashbacks or something to make this novel’s present-day more clear. That would have been, I think, extremely beneficial.

Instead, terms are thrown about and The Day is bandied around without me ever really feeling like I had a handle on it. Because of that, the action portion of Icons fell flat, as I didn’t really know what was going on.

Icons began to jump all over the place, I became more and more lost, and eventually boredom started to sink in during the last quarter.

I have to say I was rather disappointed. In fact, I’m not real confident I’ll be interested in reading the next book.

You could come to completely different conclusions and be absolutely thrilled from start to finish, though. So, read Icons for yourself, bibliophile!

I’d love to hear what you think!

Monday, October 7, 2013

City of Death

City of Death is the third novel in the middle grade fantasy City Trilogy by Laurence Yep.

This review is for those of you who have read City of Fire and City of Ice.

If you haven’t, there is a possibility that the synopsis of City of Death will give away spoilers of the earlier books.

You’ve been warned!!!

Scirye and her faithful companions have chased Mr. Roland and the evil dragon Badik all the way from the Arctic to the Kushan Empire, where the City of Death is.

Now that she has been reunited with her parents and has new allies to assist her, Scirye feels more determined than ever to stop Roland from pursuing his goal with the stolen treasures he has gathered – and avenge her sister’s death.

Yet just as they begin to prepare for their closing battle with their adversaries, they realize there is an even greater enemy facing them…

As I did not get involved enough in the first novel, City of Fire, to finish it – I have not actually read City of Ice or City of Death. My philosophy was to present the synopsis to you, you crazy bibliophile you, so that you could decide if it sounded interesting to read.

I, however, don’t have much to say on it except that I found City of Fire to have an interesting, adventure/fantasy flavor that could possibly be quite good if I gave it another try in the future – which is why I didn’t want to ruin any future reading by skimming the latter novels.

Laurence Yep is a two-time Newbery Honor Award-winning author, and this trilogy has many devoted fans.

So, check it out and let me know what you think!

Maybe it’ll encourage me to revisit City of Fire (and the next two books) sooner than later!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dualed

Dualed is a YA sci-fi dystopian novel by Elsie Chapman.

The city of Kersh has avoided the turmoil of war by keeping their population strong. How they do that is a high price, however.

Every person has a genetic Alternate – essentially a twin or clone – raised by another family. And by their twentieth birthday the two Alternates will be “activated”.

That’s when they’re given thirty days to eliminate their Alt – proving their worth to the society as someone able and strong enough to kill another.

Once they’ve survived that test, better food and livelihood await them.

West Grayer, fifteen years old, has seen almost everyone she loves die. Having trained as a fighter, as a killer, she feels she’s ready for the day of her assignment to come – until another tragedy in her life shakes her confidence.

Unsure if she is worthy to survive the battle with her Alt, West decides to start making dangerous, risky decisions that will give her more of an opportunity to prepare – and maybe avoid thinking about all she’s lost.

But will she have a chance to win her survival?

Dualed, with its concept of an Alternate for every person, was appealing to me. I wanted to read it when I heard even just a tad of its premise.

Sadly, Dualed did not live up to my expectations.

The bizarre, but initially intriguing, plot felt like a game. I felt that, as a reader, I was thrown into the story without enough of an opportunity to really get a feel for the world and characters – and care. But I, of course, tried to give it a chance and be patient.

Just a few pages in, I realized that the storyline was actually rather upsetting and disturbing to me, not fun. And not in a way that is thought-provoking and compelling, but more in the way that I started to realized that I just didn’t like it.

I hate to say something like that because I know that an author, and others, worked hard to create this book and present it to the reading public – but that is how I felt.

Also, I continued to be disconnected to Dualed throughout the entire novel. Perhaps because there was a majority of telling and maybe not enough showing.

Plus, our heroine, West, was not at all likable to me. I didn’t feel like her decisions made any logical sense, or were even explainable on an emotional level. She frustrated and upset me.

I really didn’t feel anything as I read Dualed, except impatience.

Eventually I started to skim the novel, which I felt bad about – but it did nothing for me.

Even with an, in my opinion, lackluster romance – Dualed was stale, odd, and lumbering.

Hopefully you’ll disagree!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Truth or Dare

Truth or Dare is a YA contemporary suspense novel by Jacqueline Green.

When Tenley Reed returns to her hometown, she brings her age-old game of truth or dare with her.

It’s a way, along with her fabulous parties, to reclaim her popularity after being gone so long.

For Caitlin “Angel” Thomas, it’s a chance to reunite with her best friend and forget about her Harvard plans for a while.

Sydney Morgan didn’t even go to the party, consumed of thoughts of her kind-of-boyfriend being back in town – and never interested in that scene anyway.

All three, however, begin to receive mysterious, anonymous dares once the party is over…

Dares that involve very real threats.

Tenley, Caitlin, and Sydney all have secrets – how far will they go to keep them that way?

Truth or Dare was exactly what I would hope it would be!

Quickly, it presented hints of mystery, which I very much liked. The setting of Echo Bay is haunted by a past of drowning victims come Fall Festival time, at least one of which was later deemed a murder. So, there’s already that well-done atmospheric tone setting a creepy vibe.

It has a character driven plot – focused on these three girls, each of which I empathized and liked in different ways. I really liked that in Truth or Dare the girls really aren’t backstabbing but are instead the targets of manipulation.

Truth or Dare would probably be a great read for a fan of the Pretty Little Liars series, which it reminded me of a little – though I only read the first one in that series, and I actually liked Truth or Dare better.

As the suspense escalated, I was truly addicted to the page – especially as twists and shocks wowed me.

The ending kind of floored me, didn’t expect that to happen AT ALL.

And, well, I NEED THE NEXT BOOK!!!

Check out Truth or Dare!