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!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Runaway King

The Runaway King is the second in the YA intrigue/historical Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A Nielsen.

Yet again, just like Monday, we have a second book – which means I don’t think you should read this review until you have read the first book, in this case The False Prince.

You can check out my review of The False Prince here.

This is a trilogy with so many twists and turns, I REALLY recommend not reading this review unless you’ve read The False Prince. I don’t want you to ruin the fun for yourself! There will be inevitable spoilers here, if I want to give any idea of what The Runaway King is about.

Final warning… SERIOUSLY

It’s only been weeks since Jaron took the throne after being threatened, tortured, and forcibly educated to impersonate the missing-and-thought-dead youngest son of the now-murdered royal family.

When all along he was the true Jaron to start with.

Now, on the day of the funeral for his family, he finds himself the almost-victim of an assassination attempt by someone he once thought of as a friend.

And he’s being forced into yet another deadly situation.

Despite his people’s resistance to the thought, rumors of war coming to Carthya are very real – and the young king is coming to realize that abandoning his kingdom may be the only way to save it.

Unsure who is trustworthy, Jaron draws on his years of being Sage and tries to find a way, any way, to rescue his country from almost certain ruin.

Will he ever return home? Or will he have to lay down his life to ensure that home’s freedom?

As you can tell by my review of The False Prince, I was a fan of the first book. There’s always a certain apprehension when you enter into the second book in a trilogy – sometimes it feels like meaningless filler, sometimes it ruins all the stuff you loved about the first book, and so on.

The Runaway King was a FANTASTIC second book!!!

Here we have a suspenseful adventure with stumbling blocks that aren’t irritating but instead are nail-biting. We have a new chapter now that Jaron is king, who recognizes that his new status does not take him out of danger – but places him more in the center of it.

Jaron is a truly likable hero without being invincible or too much to believe. He has an honor that makes him determined to save his people even as his kingdom is infected with corruption and lies. He can be foolhardy and reckless, but he almost always has a plan – as Nielsen’s writing is superbly intelligent.

Nerve-wracking political intrigue, adventure, espionage and exceptional three-dimensional characters make The Runaway King a page-turner to the maximum!

There are twists, turns, and craziness! How can the shocks be so non-stop?!?

Then it can all of a sudden be touching, or subtly romantic! Those softer moments just elevate the status of The Runaway King to me even more.

All I can really boil it down to is: AWESOME.

And: I. Want. Book. Three. NOW!!!

Who’s with me?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Love's Awakening

Love’s Awakening is the second book in Laura Frantz’s historical fiction series The Ballantyne Legacy.

As this is a series that follows the legacy, the generations, of a family – I strongly feel that reading the books in order are important. So, if you have not already, start with Silas and Eden’s journey in Love’s Reckoning – review here – before continuing on with Love’s Awakening.

Until then, I recommend avoiding this review for inevitable spoilers.

In Love’s Awakening, we return to Pennsylvania – this time in 1822.

Elinor Ballantyne, youngest child of Silas and Eden, is headed home – having made the executive decision that she had been “finished” enough at finishing school. Longing to see her family and friends again, she’s only slightly concerned what they will think of her choice.

As the lovely, delicate, mannered daughter, she’s been blessed with the chance to get the best schooling and opportunities – and with a fortune to rival others, she is extremely eligible.

Yet, the posts in the paper and near constant balls announcing this were enough to make her ill.

Starting a day school in her hometown for young ladies seemed like a good way to pass the time and do something useful, so Elinor puts her energies into that.

She didn’t expect for one of the students to be Chloe Turlock – the young sister of the slaveholding, whiskey magnate Turlock family – a family always shrouded in suspicion and fear.

Not one to turn a child away, Ellie finds it brings her closer to Jack Turlock. One of the wild, at least previously wild, older Turlock boys. She’s surprisingly drawn to him… though their families are essentially rivals.

Since returning home she finds that things have changed. There are secrets in her previously peaceful house. There are unexplained sounds in the attic. Unspoken dangers…

She never would’ve guessed that one of those dangers would be her heart.

I absolutely loved Love’s Reckoning – and in Love’s Awakening Laura Frantz continues to sweep us away in a spectacular manner!

This is a family saga that is gripping – truly.

Love’s Awakening instantly drew me into the time with unobtrusive details and ways of speech to make everything feel authentic. None of the characters feel strained or forced, as hers never seem to.

There’s an intensity of feeling that is soaked, seemingly effortlessly, into every page. It’s emotional without being melodramatic. It’s powerfully romantic without being maudlin. It’s heartbreaking without being manipulative.

Another thing I really appreciate about Love’s Awakening (and all of Laura Frantz’s novel that I have read so far) is that it is far more gritty, earthy and REAL than a lot of other Christian literature out there.

Love’s Awakening is an excellent family drama with soaring romance and profound character studies.

I know that there is another book coming in The Ballantyne Legacy – but I can’t help but hope there’s more than one to complete a trilogy of some sort.

To be honest, I’d like to follow this family’s legacy to present day times. Personally, I think that’d be awesome.

What do you think?

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

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Quick Fix

Quick Fix is a humorous paranormal mystery novel, and the follow-up to In a Fix, by Linda Grimes.

I adored In a Fix – it was fun, breezy, original and stuffed with romance, mystery and humor.

And so is Quick Fix!!!

But if you have not read In a Fix, you really have no business reading the synopsis of Quick Fix– spoiling awesomeness should not be a priority, thankyouverymuch!

Instead, you can click here to read my complete thoughts on In a Fix.

Those of you, who HAVE read In a Fix, carry on:

Ciel Halligan, aura adapter/life fixer enjoys her job of stepping into her clients lives and assisting with their problems – as them.

If only she could fix her own life and confused romantic entanglements.

Anywho, whilst on a job at the National Zoo with her new, recently-turned-maybe-boyfriend Billy and his little sister Molly she ponders her suddenly complicated emotions.

Billy, best friend since childhood and longtime ne'er-do-well, has morphed into more – but her heady childhood/adult crush on CIA agent Mark seems to now have more potential to become something.

Yet her thoughts during the seemingly simple job are interrupted when Molly begins to show signs of being an adaptor herself – by taking the form of a baby orangutan!

Which is NOT supposed to be possible.

When Molly seems to not be able to turn human again, they find themselves escaping a zoo that thinks they’re stealing an exotic animal – and everything falls apart from there.

Murder, scientists, and mystery – oh my!

Okay, that’s just a quick peek at Quick Fix.

Though Quick Fix is often racier than I prefer – certainly not as detailed as some sex scenes I’ve encountered in books, but not as vague and restrained as I’d like either – Ciel’s life presents a bevy of laugh-out-loud hilarity, excellent dialogue, and narration!

There’s an amusing, eccentric family element – not to mention that paranormal aspect is fascinating and fresh.

Quick Fix offers up a great plot, yet again, that provides growth opportunities for the characters and plenty of twists and turns in the smart mystery.

I won’t lie and say the romantic triangle isn’t hot, either.

This is a complicated, entertaining mystery with a Ciel as a heroine that manages to be both upbeat and self-deprecating.

I definitely hope for another book… SOON!!!

Friday, September 20, 2013

City of Ice

City of Ice is a middle grade fantasy adventure, and book two in the City Trilogy, by Laurence Yep.

As I stated on Monday, I decided to wait on reading the first book in this trilogy, City of Fire.

Because I’m waiting, not skimming because of dislike or disinterest, I’m also waiting on the second book, City of Ice.

But for those of you who are interested, I figured I’d give you some information about City of Ice – though it’d be best to avoid unless you’ve already read City of Fire, because the less you know the better!!!

In an alternate version of our world in 1941 there are lap griffins, legendary Chinese warriors, Japanese folk creatures, dragons taking human form, and gods in disguise!

Scirye and her companions have pursued the dragon Badik and Mr. Roland all the way to the Arctic Circle, intent on avenging the deaths of their loved ones.

With help they chase their enemies across the desolate Wastes, determined to stop Mr. Roland from locating the second of the Five Lost Treasures of Emperor Yu. If he finds them all, he could alter the very fabric of the universe…

Many, though, who enter the Wastes never return…

Again, I have not read City of Ice, nor finished City of Fire.

The description certainly sounds like it could be fun, if written well!

I know it is out of the ordinary for me to post a review of a book I have not read, but I want to give it its due by presenting it to all of you bibliophiles for your possible reading enjoyment.

Let me know what you think!!!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Invention of Sarah Cummings

The Invention of Sarah Cummings is the third novel in Olivia Newport’s Christian historical fiction series Avenue of Dreams.

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning and The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow are the first two books, and I definitely recommend reading them in order to maximize the storytelling experience, not to mention avoid some plot spoilers!

You can click on the titles to see my reviews.

If you’re up-to-date with this series, you should be aware of Sarah Cummings character. She takes the spotlight in this book. Here’s a little synopsis:

It’s the turn of the century in Chicago, and a life of a maid – of an orphan – is not what Sarah was meant to have. She feels this through and through, every day that she mops a floor or serves a supper.

With her amazing sewing skills she has managed to take her wealthy Banning employers castoff gowns and make them into fashionable garments. It’s when she’s wearing one of her creations that she meets newcomer Lillie Wagner.

Lillie takes Sarah as an equal and speaks to her as such, confessing her desire to have a friend in this strange city. Unable to refuse an opportunity for better things, Sarah creates a new identity: Serena Cuthbert, affluent, independent lady traveler.

While she begins to sample the better life, carving out time to get away from her duties to join new friends, Sarah also has new burdens at the orphanage with the new director Simon Tewell. He wants her to help the young girls learn sewing skills.

It’s not long before keeping up with two polar opposite lives becomes difficult – and Sarah realizes one will have to unravel…

Olivia Newport really swept me away to this other time period with the two prior books, and she did that again here with The Invention of Sarah Cummings.

Yet, what I had a more difficult time with this go ‘round was the character.

Sarah is the least sympathetic and likable main characters of the novels. Her personality tends to be arrogant, ungrateful and resentful. Plus, the plot itself gave me a hard time as it appeared to lean more towards cliché regarding pretending-to-be-rich.

However, Olivia Newport’s strong writing persevered and as resistant as I was to like Sarah, with steady patience The Invention of Sarah Cummings finally paid off.

In my opinion, the novel really improved when everything began to blow up in Sarah’s face. How it all comes about, or what occurs, I will not say – but things start to not be so easy for Sarah, and it definitely helps the book begin to humble her.

Then there’s a horrifying, emotional climax that won back my affections fully. It ends up being very, very touching – this eventual turnaround.

So, by the end, The Invention of Sarah Cummings was quite gripping and effective – it just took a lot longer to feel that way than the prior two novels.

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

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

City of Fire

City of Fire is a middle grade fantasy novel by Laurence Yep.

Scirye loves her older sister Niske – she’s been getting fighting lessons from her and spending as much time with her as she can while she’s escorting their people’s treasures to San Francisco in 1941, as well as guarding them.

But when an otherworldly being steals a precious item, Niske dies trying to protect it.

Determined to avenge her death, Scirye sets out with Bayang, a dragon disguised as a Pinkerton agent, Leech, a boy with powers he has yet to discover, and Leech’s best friend Koko with secrets of his own. They all have a reason to hunt down the evil dragon Badik.

Not to mention the mysterious Mr. Roland.

Even as the group gathers new friends, their enemy may be too strong to stop. His plan runs much more evil than they initially realized…

City of Fire was a Fall 2009 IndieBound Kinds’ Next List Selection, an Amazon.com Best Books of September Selection, and has received numerous admiring reviews.

Unfortunately, it never caught my attention and held it.

It seems to have many interesting elements, such as this alternate 1941 San Francisco with magic, supernatural creatures, and mini griffins for pets (I want one!).

Laurence Yep looks to have penned an intricate fantasy adventure here.

Yet, still, after many pages of attempting to read it – I just was not getting sucked in.

Did I not like it? No.

I just wasn’t excited to turn the page.

I decided to set it aside and try reading it again in the future – I have a feeling it may be a great book. For some reason, it was just not the right book for me at this time.

Don’t let that stop you, though!

Are you a fantasy lover? Like epic fantasy adventures?

Then check out City of Fire!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Janie Face to Face

Janie Face to Face is a YA contemporary novel, and the fifth and final novel in the Janie books, by Caroline B. Cooney.

On this blog you won’t find a review of The Face on the Milk Carton, Whatever Happened to Janie?, The Voice on the Radio, or What Janie Found.

The reason? I read them over ten years ago.

These books had an effect on me as a youngin’ and when I heard that Cooney was revisiting these characters to give us a follow-up, I knew I had to read it. But, first, I had to refresh my memory by rereading those prior four books.

At times I felt the writing level wasn’t as up to par as other novels – but no matter what there still was a core of heart wrenching pain, suspense, and readability that you really cannot deny.

In Janie Face to Face, Janie starts off as a freshman in college – ready to see if she can leave her messy past behind her and move on.

Yet, there are others who are desperate to keep the past alive, to revisit it, to ask more questions – and those others are people working for a true-crime novelist who are doing research by pestering her, her friends, and her family.

She’s been betrayed by those close to her before – will it happen again?

Janie Face to Face starts with a glimpse of Hannah, Janie’s kidnapper, and what happened the day Janie was taken. This is the first time Caroline B. Cooney has given us that revelation, and I loved how those moments were sprinkled throughout the book. They are chilling and significant.

Everyone in the Janie books is flawed, sometimes even unlikable, but always understandable. I believe that is why the series stands the test of time, and the occasionally less than stellar prose.

Janie Face to Face has a fascinating start, and becomes painful, inexplicable as time flies when Janie makes tough decisions. It can be rather unsettling, if sometimes unbelievable.

My biggest complaint, about all the Janie books actually, is that various portions of the books are regularly, continually recapped. Yet the novel is still compelling with a wonderful sense of family, with its mistakes, messes, and love.

In the end, I felt that Caroline B. Cooney fulfilled my childhood (and now, adult) emotional investment in this series with Janie Face to Face. Definitely read the series in order for a maximum impact!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Spirit and Dust

Spirit and Dust is a YA contemporary paranormal novel by Rosemary Clement-Moore.

Daisy Goodnight has a unique talent for talking to the dead.

Her family has a history of supernatural talents, and Daisy has taken up the torch for working with the FBI and doing her part with the gift she has.

Being that the FBI agent she usually works with is tasty and young doesn’t hurt either…

This time, though, Daisy is whisked away from her college freshman chemistry class to help look into the disappearance of a wealthy young woman and the murder of her bodyguard.

And things aren’t going smoothly.

When trying to talk to the ghost of the bodyguard, something is off. He’s terrified of something.

Clearly, people are in danger here.

Such as her – as she ends up getting snatched by a crime boss that wants to utilize Daisy’s gift for his own purposes…

Oh. My. Goodness.

Have I mentioned that I absolutely LOVE Rosemary Clement-Moore?!?

In Spirit and Dust we have fantastic witty, pop culture peppered first-person narration and a super-fun, straightforward, non-secret supernatural element. We’re getting to revisit the Goodnight family after Texas Gothic introduced us to Daisy’s cousin Amy – so not really a sequel, but blissfully in the same world.

My opinion is that mystery is almost always awesome, and in Rosemary’s hands it most definitely is. Throw in some laugh-out-loud dialogue, hot guys, and older, likable teen heroine and an entertaining plot – hello bibliophile happiness!!

Plus, Daisy is clearly a Harry Potter fan, which makes her my bestie!

There’s a whole excellent aspect of a loving, eccentric family on top of a fiercely readable romance angle. Big surprises I didn’t see coming – AND a Princess Bride reference!

Oh, Rosemary, does the awesomeness never stop?

Well, my friends, no it did not. All I know is that I LOVED reading Spirit and Dust – and I am desperate for more!!!

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Lucy Variations

The Lucy Variations is a YA contemporary novel by Sara Zarr.

Eight months ago, Lucy walked off the stage of a Prague concert – leaving behind the promising future of an acclaimed child pianist.

Her future had been mapped out and executed flawlessly until that moment. People knew her name, her concerts were packed… everything was exactly as it was supposed to be.

For her family.

But Lucy faced the death of a loved one that day by walking away from what she knew – what she no longer loved.

Yet, at sixteen, it is as though her life is over. What does she do now?

Her little brother Gus is now shouldering the family expectations and hopes. And it’s when he gets a new, young piano teacher that Lucy starts to realize she might still love the piano… if only she can play on her own terms.

Sara Zarr has continually impressed me since I started reading her. Once Was Lost was compelling and then How to Save a Life blew me away!

The Lucy Variations again cemented my belief that I’ll want to read anything Sara Zarr comes out with.

Immediately I was sucked into Zarr’s intimate, unassuming writing style that seems to be both honest and hopeful.

Very quickly I cared about Lucy – her crush(es), her fractured family relationships, her bruised passion for music, and her feeling of being lost.

The Lucy Variations is a coming-of-age story, a personal awakening, a tale of struggling with choices and freedom – without being girls-gone-wild over-the-top. No, here we have a grounded, believable novel.

As the book continued, I felt a growing tenseness – an awareness that a life lesson would be learned by Lucy, but not in an after-school-special kind of way, thank goodness.

I will admit that at times The Lucy Variations was a little frustrating. I wouldn’t place this book at the top of my Sara Zarr love pile.

However, the wrong turns Lucy makes, in the end, makes you appreciate the genuineness of the novel.

Truly a good read.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rules of Murder

Rules of Murder is a 1930s murder mystery, and the first in the Drew Farthering Mystery series, by Julianna Deering.

Drew Farthering returns home to his English countryside estate of Farthering Place just in time for one of his mother Constance’s weekend bashes.

And his room is occupied by one of the guests.

But ever the stylish gentlemen, he removes the unwanted visitor from his room promptly and at the prodding of his kind stepfather and estranged mother, joins the party.

Things take a turn, however, when a body is found.

A lover of mysteries on the page, Drew finds it a bit more difficult in real life – but enlists the help of his best friend Nick, son of the butler, and as-intelligent-as-she-is-beautiful Madeline, the visiting American niece of his stepfather.

Together they try to piece together the clues to what could have happened on his otherwise peaceful grounds and realize that murder is no game…

I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie. I adore her murder mysteries, which are so intricately crafted and feature such excellent sleuths/detectives! I have nowhere near read them all, but I hope to someday.

Rules of Murder
sounded like it was nostalgic to those novels, and there’s even a blurb on the front cover (a cover I quite like, actually) that specifically stated that ardent fans of Agatha Christie would be satisfied in this book.

I’m sure that’s true… of some.

Personally, I wouldn’t go that far.

Rules of Murder had a feisty start with just enough detail to let my imagination go to work on Farthering Place. It had a fun, large estate feel. Quickly the tone was enjoyable and light, but sometimes lacking in weight.

My issues were based a lot in the romance aspect – it really did little for me. And the spiritual aspects, involving Drew’s doubts about God, felt out of place and forced. I don’t know why so often Christian fiction has to so often have that plotline – I would be happy with the characters simply being Christians without being hit over the head with their affected reawakening. Just didn’t seem to fit in to this book at all.

I was also very concerned that I had the “big twist” pinpointed from very early on. Then I thought that my suspicions were confirmed. To be fair, though, there ended up being a lot more to the whodunit, and many more twists that I had no guesses on.

Despite some clunky moments, I felt that Rules of Murder was a good, if not great, mystery novel.

For me however, Agatha Christie this was not.

*I received a copy of Rules of Murder from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Beautiful and the Cursed

The Beautiful and the Cursed is a YA historical horror/paranormal novel by Page Morgan.

After an incident that has left rumors swirling behind them, Ingrid and Gabriella Waverly leave behind London for the unfamiliar city of Paris in 1899.

Their brother Grayson had gone ahead to secure a house for them, but when the sisters and their mother arrive they find not a house but an old, abandoned abbey, roof lined with stone gargoyles that Ingrid could almost swear moved.

And Grayson is missing.

Being Grayson’s twin, Ingrid senses that something is wrong. She doesn’t follow the opinion of the Parisian police that Grayson is off on the town living it up.

Someone else seems concerned, though.

Luc. A devastatingly handsome servant with piercing eyes. The way he looks at her is penetrating but always feels angry. He fascinates her.

As Ingrid and her younger sister Gabby take it upon themselves to find their brother, they are led down a path of otherworldly revelations and dark truths that they can never turn back from…

Ooooh, The Beautiful and the Cursed was a good one, bibliophiles!!!

It has a creepy, frightening start that gave me a hopeful feeling of awesomeness that was happily sustained!

Of course, I adore the time period – and let’s be honest here, there’s a gleeful amount of attractive young men in this book. I mean, truly – the OPTIONS!!

But the primary thing I loved was the supernatural suspense, the thrilling action and surprises, the spunky but not overly unbelievable main characters, and the fact that this plot has not been done ten gazillion times!!!

The Beautiful and the Cursed is extremely appealing and different. It’s dark, eerie, atmospheric paranormal horror with twists, passionate romantic interludes and enigmas to entangle.

Hooray!!!

More reason to elate? The story doesn’t end here!

The Lovely and the Lost will follow-up on The Beautiful and the Cursed come 2014.

Do I want to wait? Of course not. Will I? Um, YEAH!

Check out The Beautiful and the Cursed – it’s not just hype!!!