Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I'm hoping to find The Lost Sun......under Thor's breastplate!

Book:  The Lost Sun (The United States of Asgard #1)
Author:  Tessa Gratton
Publisher:  Random House Books for Young Readers
Date:  Available now
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade: B

Fans of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Holly Black's The Curse Workers will embrace this richly drawn, Norse-mythology-infused alternate world: the United States of Asgard.

Seventeen-year-old Soren Bearskin is trying to escape the past. His father, a famed warrior, lost himself to the battle-frenzy and killed thirteen innocent people. Soren cannot deny that berserking is in his blood--the fevers, insomnia, and occasional feelings of uncontrollable rage haunt him. So he tries to remain calm and detached from everyone at Sanctus Sigurd's Academy. But that's hard to do when a popular, beautiful girl like Astrid Glyn tells Soren she dreams of him. That's not all Astrid dreams of--the daughter of a renowned prophetess, Astrid is coming into her own inherited abilities.

When Baldur, son of Odin and one of the most popular gods in the country, goes missing, Astrid sees where he is and convinces Soren to join her on a road trip that will take them to find not only a lost god, but also who they are beyond the legacy of their parents and everything they've been told they have to be.

Initial Reaction
Hmmmm.  That was different.  Not bad different, just different.

Cover Story
I don’t like it.  No, I take that back.  I don’t like the giant face on it.  It makes the cover ugly.  And the title was ok until I saw what the original title was.  New Songs of Asgard?  Hello, awesome title.  Oh well…..::sighs::

What’s the Story?
So, this book has given me work to do.  In the form of research.  About Norse mythology.  I mean, I know a smidgen about it, but now I want to know a LOT about it.  I’m seriously going to get some books on it.  I’m inspired!

At first, I wasn’t sure that I would like this book.  I mean, the description was awesome and a book about a teen berserker?  Yes, please!  But when I started reading, it felt….disjointed at first.  The names seemed weird and out of place and it didn’t feel organic.  And then, suddenly, it did.  I guess I needed some time to get used to the new names and references in the book, because after a while, it all felt natural.

The premise for this book is that the U.S. is modern, but it’s part of the ancient Viking culture.  The Norse gods are real and they live in the U.S. and people sort of interact with them.  Soren Bearskin is the main character and narrator.  Is that a great name or what??  He is a berserker, like his dad, but he doesn’t want to be one.  His dad went crazy and berserked in the middle of a shopping mall, causing the SWAT team to come gun him down, all in front of Soren. 

A berserker, if you are not familiar with the term, is a Viking warrior who worked himself into a complete frenzy and rage to go into battle, so it seemed as if they were going crazy and leaping into the fight.  Because of their rage, they were difficult to defeat.  They are often described in the Germanic epics and sagas.  Now, in modern times, if you start displaying the signs of a berserker, you have to get this thing tattooed on your face so that people will know to steer clear of you.  For this reason, Soren is a bit of a loner and people really don’t want to have anything to do with him.

Until he meets the girl, of course.  Astrid shows no fear of Soren, and suddenly he finds himself on this quest with her across the country in search of the god, Baldur.  It’s a pretty typical adventure/quest, but all the elements of Norse mythology are what really gave it that extra something.  In spite of the bad case of insta-love between Soren and Astrid, I found myself rooting for them.  I mean, who doesn’t like a couple named Soren and Astrid??

I enjoyed all the references to Norse gods and to the ideas of Valhalla and the threat of the start of Ragnarok.  (Just go look that crap up on Wikipedia if you don’t know what it is!)  Of course, the image of Soren as a young Chris Helmsworth (Thor!!) seriously helped my enjoyment of this book, but by the end of the book, I found that I really wanted to see what would happen next.  So, in spite of a slow beginning and some jarring use of anachronistic vocabulary, this book gave me enough cool Norse references and interesting adventure to keep me reading into the second book.

The Soundtrack

Ok, I had a lot of fun with this soundtrack and did something completely different.  So, here for your listening pleasure is a mix of Nordic music, both ancient and modern.  Yeah, I don’t understand any of the words either, but it sounds awesome, right?

The Dreaming ‘Ere the World Ends by Helene Bøksle

Trøllabundin by Eivør

Ólafur Liljurós  an Icelandic Folk Song

I Riden Så by Gjallarhorn

The Secret Path by The Moon and the Nightspirit

Sólstafir by Fjara

Ólavar Riddararós by Valravn

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is a B.  It started out a little rocky, but eventually smoothed out into a fun and interesting adventure…..with visions of Thor in my head!  I’m interested to see what will happen next.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review.  Not even a giant poster of  Chris Helmsworth. ::sobs::

Monday, July 29, 2013

fml, and Simon's life too

Book:  fml
Author:  Shaun David Hutchinson
Publisher:  Simon Pulse
Date:  Available now
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade:  A-

There’s more than one way to get the girl in this fun and fast-paced novel about one epic party and a kiss that could change everything.Tonight’s the night: Simon’s big chance to finally get with Cassie. Cassie, who he’s loved for ages. Cassie, who is newly boyfriend-free. Cassie, who just happens to be throwing the biggest party of the year. Simon’s plan is simple: He’ll go to the party, she’ll fall in love with him, they’ll make out like crazy, and the night will be a complete success.

But things don’t ever go as planned…especially when it comes to Cassie.

In two alternating plotlines, Simon goes after the girl of his dreams and stumbles toward his destiny. It’s one night, one party, and a thousand ways for things to go wrong…but a million ways for them to go right.

Initial Reaction
This book was like a Jedi mind trick!!!

Cover Story
I really like this cover, with the exception of one thing.  I think it’s completely white-washed.  Why would you do this, Simon Pulse?  Here you have a fantastic cover design with all the little bits of pieces of a party night and then you don’t even put a girl of color on the cover when a girl of color is the main crux of the plot??  Really?  Am I missing something here??

What’s the Story?
This book is about choices.  And how one choice can change everything.  Or maybe not.  Actually, I’m not sure if this book is trying to make a statement about anything like that.  But it is a story about a boy learning to grow up and move on, so I suppose both story lines are really about Simon sort of coming into his own.  Or not.  Oh hell, I don’t really know but I do know that I enjoyed the book and I liked seeing the two different storylines separate and interconnect and I liked watching Simon step out of the shadow and take that first real step into becoming a man.

Now, at first, I didn’t think that I would like this book.  It sort of snuck up on me.  I was a little befuddled to begin with since the story kept changing back and forth based on the one decision.  I was sort of ho-hum and then suddenly, I found that I really liked Simon and cared about what was going to happen to him.  In that “I would like to slap some sense into the main character” sort of way.  Because I could see Simon’s potential if he would only get his head out of his ass, or Cassie’s, as it were, long enough to see what was right in front of him.

Honestly, at the end of the book, I can’t really remember which decision led to which part of the night, but it really doesn’t matter because they all led to sort of the same conclusion.  And I loved that conclusion.  So the details are really unimportant.
But the details!  Ah, the details!  This book was full of fun details.  It all takes place in one long night at a high school party.  Remember those?  I do, which is probably why I want to lock my 15 year old in the dog kennel and not let her out except to go to school.  This was one of those parties.  Imagine Jake Ryan’s house at the end of the party in Sixteen Candles and that is what Cassie’s house will look like.  And it was crazy!  The party was full of moments that were funny, absurd, cringe-worthy, endearing, horrifying and much, much more.

The characters were good, too.  I eventually came to love Simon.  I never really cared for Cassie too much and I didn’t see what the big deal was with her, but who am I to judge?  The best friends were good and the whole high school cast of characters was there.  I have to say that I liked the storyline with Stella showing up earlier in it because I loved Stella!  She rocked!

I’m glad I stuck with this one.  I was just coasting along when suddenly, the roller coaster ride of the book took off and I couldn’t let go until it stopped.  And even in the moments where I wanted to hide my face, I couldn’t help but watch and enjoy all the thrills when I reached the end.

The Soundtrack

(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party) by The Beastie Boys

Popular by Nada Surf

Last Friday Night by Katy Perry

Girl Is on My Mind by The Black Keys

Almost by Bowling for Soup

Straitjacket Feeling by All-American Rejects

The Final Grade
The final grade for this one is an A-.  It lost some points for a slow start and for leaving me a little confused at the beginning, but by the end, I just loved Simon.  No matter how much I wanted to smack him.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for my review.  Not even an invitation to an all-night kegger.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mermaid Parade: A Conversation about September Girls

Interested in talking to Bennett Madison about his highly controversial novel, September Girls?  Well, now you can!  The author will be hosting an online chat on Tuesday, July 30th at 8:00 p.m.  You can talk for free, but you need to register for the event.

You can register here.

I loved this book, personally, but there have been many accusations of sexism leveled against it.  I am excited to see what Bennett Madison thinks about all this controversy and what he says about his own novel.  You can find my review here and you can also find reviews on Goodreads.  Hope to see you there!

Marni Bates, you will never be Invisible to me.

Book:  Invisible
Author:  Marni Bates
Publisher:  K-Teen
Date:  Available now
Source:  Publisher via Netgalley
My grade:  A

Jane Smith has survived three years of high school without making a single enemy, all by keeping a low profile. Not even her three best friends, Kenzie, Corey and Isobel, can say the same. But with Corey dating the lead singer from ReadySet and Kenzie in a relationship too, being invisible tends to be lonely. But now she's written an article for her school newspaper that has accidentally snagged the attention of some celebrities. Turns out, people get really upset when their innermost secrets are splashed all over the front page. And new her well-ordered life is being blasted to hell, with results that are wildly unexpected.

Initial Reaction
Marni Bates, you are the queen of teen chick lit.

Cover Story
I like that they kept the same theme going here, but that picture!  Can you say Home Alone??  Just….no.  If they would change that picture, the cover would be perfect.  The title is very appropriate.

What’s the Story?
This book picks up where Awkward left off, but this book focuses on Jane.  She is one of Mackenzie’s geeky friends who didn’t get a ton of screen time in the first book.  Obviously, based on the title, she is the friend who is invisible.

And herein lies the problem with Jane.  She makes sure that we know how she feels about being invisible because SHE IS CONSTANTLY WHINING ABOUT IT!!!  It took me a long time to warm up to Jane as a character.  I liked Mackenzie almost instantly.  Jane?  Not so much.  I just wanted to kick her in the ass and tell her to put on her big girl panties already!  If you don’t like feeling invisible, then tell your friends how you feel!!!  I eventually started to like her, but it took much longer.

Of course, I really wanted to smack Mackenzie and Corey as well, because they really did treat Jane like she just wasn’t there any more.  I think all of these kids needed to work on some communication issues!  Of course, that’s what makes the book work, right?  I really liked Scott and Logan was adorable in this book.  I even liked Chelsea and I’m looking forward to reading her story in the third book in the series.

This story has the same sort of situations as the first book.  It’s a real comedy of errors with plenty of ridiculous situations and crazy characters.  It follows the same formula as Awkward, but it’s a formula that works!  I found that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and of course, it all works out in the end. 

This book has sealed the deal for me with Marni Bates.  I will definitely be putting her  on my list of author’s that I will always read!  I can’t wait for the third book in this series to come out.

The Soundtrack

Around You by Ingrid Michaelson

Waking Dream by Natalie Walker

That’s Not My Name by The Ting Tings

Me by Paula Cole

High School Never Ends by Bowling for Soup

The Clique by Good Charlotte

No One by Aly & AJ

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is an A.  Even though it took me a little longer to warm up to this one, it was still just as fresh and funny as the first one.  Marni Bates, you’ve made me a fan for life!

I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review.  Not even a headline in the school paper.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

You may be Awkward, but I love you regardless

Book:  Awkward
Author:  Marni Bates
Publisher:  K-Teen
Date:  Available now
Source:  Purchased
My grade:  A

Mackenzie Wellesley has spent her life avoiding the spotlight. At Smith High, she's the awkward junior people only notice when they need help with homework. Until she sends a burly football player flying with her massive backpack and makes a disastrous - not to mention unwelcome - attempt at CPR. Before the day is out, the whole fiasco explodes on YouTube. And then the strangest thing happens. Suddenly, Mackenzie is an Internet sensation, with four million hits and counting. Sucked into a whirlwind of rock stars, paparazzi, and free designer clothes, she even catches the eye of the most popular guy at school. And that's when life gets really interesting...

Initial Reaction
Squeeeee!!!!  That was too cute!

Cover Story
This cover is as cute as the book inside.  I love the font they used for the title and the way the whole thing looks like a lot of doodling in a notebook.  I think this is a great cover for this type of book.  Of course, I was also glad I was reading it on my Nook because I would NOT have read this one out in public otherwise.  But that’s because I’m a 43 year old mother of 2.  If I were 15, it would have rocked.

What’s the Story?
So, this is the typical nerdy girl becomes popular sort of story….with a twist.  A great big internet YouTube twist.  I think that’s part of what made this book so much fun.  It was great to see how Marni Bates used YouTube to create a new twist for an old formula.

This is funny chick-lit at its best.  In the tradition of Bridget Jones’ Diary and Confessions of a Shop-a-holic, this novel was laugh out loud funny.  There were tons of ridiculous situations and a wonderful, likeable main character who was completely relatable.

I loved the outlandish rom-com feel that this novel had.  Yes, most of the situations were completely ridiculous, but it was so funny and told in such a fresh, fun voice that I didn’t really care.  In fact, I couldn’t wait to see what sort of disaster Mackenzie was going to fall into next.

The characters were wonderful.  In the same way that my adult self could relate to and sympathize with poor Bridget Jones and her bathroom scale, my teen self could relate to and sympathize with Mackenzie and her geeky friends and their attempts to navigate the rough waters known as high school.  I loved the way Mackenzie and all her friends referred to the popular kids as the Notables!  It was great to see a group of kids who were so well-adjusted while being geeky and socially awkward.  Those things don’t normally seem to go together, but in this novel, they worked.

This book was a scream!  I laughed, I cringed and I cheered.  Even though it seems improbable, who knows?  With YouTube, maybe this could happen.  And I think that’s one of the things that kept this novel grounded.  I mean, if people could walk around for months singing some terrible song about Fridays, why couldn’t this one happen too?  If you’re looking for a fun read that will leave you feeling great when you close the book, Awkward definitely fits that bill.

The Soundtrack

The Way I Am by Ingrid Michaelson

Crucify by Tori Amos

The Middle by Jimmy Eats World

Suspension by Mae

Fruit Tree by Nick Drake

Doll Parts by Hole

Somebody Told Me by The Killers

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is an A.  This is a cute, funny, smart book that will make you laugh and leave you smiling.  If you’re looking for a fun book, this is the one.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Cahill witches may be Star Cursed, but I feel blessed to read these books!

Book:  Star Cursed
Author:  Jessica Spotswood
Date:  Now available
Publisher:  Putnam Juvenile
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade:  A++++

With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate's friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.

Cate doesn't want to be a weapon, and she doesn't want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood's schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she'll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.

In the highly anticipated sequel to Born Wicked, the Cahill Witch Chronicles continue Cate, Maura and Tess's quest to find love, protect family, and explore their magic against all odds in an alternate history of New England. (Description and cover taken from www.goodreads.com)
Initial Reaction
Well, that ending only broke my heart and crushed my soul, Jessica Spotswood, but it’s no biggie, k?  ::sobs inconsolably::

Cover Story
I hate it when they change the covers in the middle of the series!  I really liked the cover on the first novel, but then they changed it in the paperback and now this one matches the paperback.  It’s not a bad cover, but I LOVED the original one and wanted a great one to match it with this book.  So, I shall stomp my foot and pout like Maura!

What’s the Story?
I wouldn’t think it possible, but this book was even better than the first Cahill witch book!  It was unbelievable!  I mean, a lot of times, second books sort of fall flat, but not this one.  This one actually ramped it up a notch and then POW!!  Punched me right in the gut!

I have to warn you—if you are one of those people who hates to wait for a third book, you’re going to be really upset waiting for this one.  But there is no way I could recommend that you wait because these books are JUST THAT GOOD!  It’s worth all the torture that I will go through waiting for that third book.  And I will probably try to re-read this one before the third one comes out.  And I don’t re-read books anymore because I really don’t have time, but I will MAKE time to re-read this one.

There are spoilers for the first book here, so if you haven’t read the first book, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WAITING FOR????  Drop everything else you have to do and beg, borrow or steal a copy of that thing.  Don’t worry—your kids can eat cereal for dinner.

The second novel picks up with Cate in the convent of the Sisterhood in New London.  Here, Spotswood introduces the reader to a whole cast of characters in New London.  Some of them are great and some of them are just horrid, but they are all interesting and woven seamlessly into the story.  We learn a lot of the secrets of the Sisterhood, get to see inside the Haywood Asylum, meet Cate’s godmother, learn more about the prophecy and see the Brothers get more and more oppressive.

And, as if that’s not enough, Tess and Maura show up and we get more of the rivalry between Cate and Maura.  There is also the whole battle between factions in the Sisterhood.  I’m worn out just listing it and reading it just took my breath away.  It hardly seems that there’s time for a love interest, right?

WRONG!  Finn is still there and Paul even shows up a bit.  I don’t know how Jessica Spotswood does it, but let me tell you, girlfriend can sure write the swoon.  And with just some kisses!  It’s a good thing she’s not writing erotica, because if she can create this kind of sexual tension with just some innocent touches, she’d make women’s ovaries explode with anything else.  And it would not be good for half of America to have no ovaries, just sayin’.

This book had everything- romance, rebellion, espionage, true love, betrayal, subterfuge, secret plots, evil leaders, abuse of innocents, family issues, you name it.  The only thing it really needs is some sword-fighting and maybe a ninja or a pirate.  No, actually, that would probably ruin it.  I just can’t believe how jam-packed this novel was with relevant details and storylines and they all worked!

Of course, then there is the ending that literally took my breath away and left me reeling.  I’m sure I looked pretty stupid, sitting there staring at my Nook with my jaw hanging open.  I had to go back and read it several times, hoping I had read it incorrectly.  But no, Jessica really did reach into my ribcage, rip out my heart and step on it.  I am still thinking about those last few pages a few days after reading the book and I’m just shocked and horrified because there is no way to reverse what happened.  No way.  And I never saw it coming.  Never.

Please, please, please, do yourself a favor and go read this book.  Now.

The Soundtrack

Don’t Leave Home by Dido

Your Love Is a Song by Switchfoot

Cornflake Girl by Tori Amos

Adia by Sarah McLachlann

I Am Woman from Sex and the City 2

Better Day by Saving Jane

So Beautiful by Superchick

My Love by Sara Bareilles

The Final Grade
My final grade for this one is A+++++!  I can’t really give it a high enough grade.  I am so totally enamored by this series now.  If you haven’t started this series or you haven’t gotten this book yet, run as fast as you can to get it.  I hope you will fall in love too!

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, in exchange for this review.  Especially not a hot scholar boy.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I Was Born Lucky to find Born Wicked

Book:  Born Wicked
Author:  Jessica Spotswood
Publisher:  Putnam Juvenile
Date:  Now available
Source:  Library
My grade:  A+

Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship—or an early grave.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word... especially after she finds her mother’s diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood—not even from each other. (Cover and description from www.goodreads.com)

Initial Reaction
Why did I wait so long to read this??  Stupid, stupid, stupid!!!

Cover Story
I LOVE the original cover for this book.  The paperback one is not bad either, but there is something about that first cover with the girl in the dress looking back at the reader that just grabbed me.  The flowers are a nice touch as well.  The title is catchy and made me want to pick up the book right away.  I approve!

What’s the Story?
If you hear a pounding noise, that’s the sound of me beating my own ass for not reading this book sooner.  I cannot believe just how good this book was!  It’s phenomenal.  Seriously, one of the best books I’ve ever read.

This book has an outstanding premise.  Imagine that Harry Potter got together with The Hunger Games and had a love child.  That would be this book.  Of course, it also inherited just a few traits from its great aunt The Handmaid’s Tale.  Here’s the deal-- it is the late 19th century.  There are real witches in the world.  The Salem Witch trials really happened, but they were caused by people rebelling against the real witches.  The Brotherhood took over New England and it is still under Puritan rule.  Witches are in hiding and women are extremely oppressed.  People are thrown in prison for immorality and girls suspected of witchcraft or other immoral acts are also put into an insane asylum.

This is the world that the book takes place in and I have to say that Spotswood’s world-building is without rival. For that reason, the first few chapters are a little slow, but it was totally worth it because once the world was established, then the action could start with little need for explanation.  So, get through the exposition, and then the novel really takes off!

I have to say that at first, I was skeptical of Cate as a main character.  It took me a while to warm up to her, but soon, it was easy to see that she was just a girl who had waaaaay too much responsibility in a world that just doesn’t care about girls.  After a while, I grew to love her and I would totally be her BFF.  I think she needs someone to have a sleepover and braid her hair.  Really, all of the girls do.  Tess doesn’t really get a lot of attention in this book and at first, I liked Maura, but I started to dislike her at the end.

The love triangle is not really a love triangle because it becomes pretty apparent early on that only one of these “love” interests even has a shot with Cate.  Still, some of the scenes are totally swoon-worthy.  There’s a scene where Paul reaches down and grabs her wrist and kisses it on the inside.  The way that scene is written totally gave me that butterflies in the stomach feeling and no one was even copping a feel, peeps!  ::fans self::  And you will thank me when you get to the scene with the feathers!!!  (way better than the Breaking Dawn feather fiasco, for sure!)  The sexual tension in this book is incredible, especially given the strict Puritan laws in this world.  Jessica is hitting us with her best swoon here, folks.

This book was amazing.  I’ve read some pretty good books this year, but this one is up at the top.  I think this may be the best paranormal I’ve read so far in 2013 and I have a feeling that this series is going to end up in my top 10 of all time list.  Don’t be stupid like me.  Go read this book ASAP.  Your husband, kids, boyfriends, parents etc. may not thank you, but you will definitely thank yourself!  And it won’t hurt them to do everything for a day or two.

The Soundtrack

Witch Hunt by The Church

The Angels Are Weeping by Nox Arcana

Little Sister by Siouxsie and the Banshees

Send Me to the Moon by Sara Bareilles

Can’t Help Falling in Love by Ingrid Michaelson

All I Know by Five for Fighting

Life Is Beautiful by The Icarus Account

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is an A+.  I was so happy when I reached the end of this book and realized I had the next one waiting.  This is going to be one of my favorite series, I know it. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Belle Epoque? Oh La La!!!

Book:  Belle Epoque
Author:  Elizabeth Ross
Date:  Available now
Publisher:  Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade:  A-

When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive.

Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.

But Isabelle has no idea her new "friend" is the hired help, and Maude's very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose. (Description and cover from www.goodreads.com)

Initial Reaction
Is it really so hard to give me some closure, people??????

Cover Story
It’s a pretty cover, but I’m not so sure it really reflects the novel. I mean, Maude is supposed to be not so pretty.   There’s another cover on the Goodreads page that I like better.  It has a girl in a dress with the Eiffel Tower, which is also an important element in the book.  I like it better.  Of course, I love the title and that’s what attracted me to the book.

What’s the Story?
This is a retelling of a short story by Émile Zola called “Les Repoussoirs”.  I’ve never read the original, but now I’m going to google it and see if I can find it somewhere.  Come to think of it, we never read any Zola in my French lit classes.  How is that possible?

Anyway, Maude is the protagonist and I liked her a lot.  Girlfriend has some gumption!  She took off from her small village so she didn’t have to marry the gross old butcher and she ran away to Paris!  She tries her hand at several jobs and eventually realizes that this repoussoir job is just better since she’ll make more money and really do less work.  Now, a repoussoir, in English that would be a “repulser”, is an unattractive girl who is hired by a socialite to accompany her to events so that she looks prettier.  At first, Maude was horrified by the idea, but she eventually gets used to it.

This is an interesting book because it looks at how Maude has to navigate 2 lives:  her real life and her socialite life.  It made me very nervous and anxious because I was always afraid that the 2 lives were going to overlap and there were some places where that happened and caused some misunderstandings. 

The characters in this book were just fabulous.  Now, that doesn’t mean that they were all nice, but they were all interesting, even the most wicked ones!  Isabelle’s mother was one of the worst, but I was constantly waiting for her to drop the next ax.  I really grew to love Isabelle and in many ways, I liked her more than I liked Maude.  My favorite character by far, though, was Marie-Josée.  I felt both proud of her and sympathetic for her.  She may not have been the most beautiful person on the outside, but she was one of the most beautiful people in the novel because she was so lovely on the inside.

Which is sort of the point of the novel, right?  French literature is full of these social commentaries and even though I haven’t read it, I’m sure Zola’s original story is no exception.  This little glimpse into the lives of these girls who are willing to take a job as an ugly foil in order to get by speaks volumes about Zola’s position on rich society.  As a reader, I grew to love the repoussoir girls and loathe most of the society people.

As a Francophile, I loved this book.  The descriptions of Paris are spot on and it was fun to have the building of the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop to the whole thing.  The juxtaposition of modern progress versus the stagnation of the upper classes was a perfect storyline for this backdrop of turn-of-the-century Paris.  I loved all the descriptions of Paris and could imagine myself right there in the streets, eating crepes with Maude and Marie-Josée!

The only complaint I have with this novel is the ending.  I know that authors don’t want to suffer from Breaking Dawn Syndrome and have everyone live happily ever after, but there was NO closure for me at all.  It felt like the novel just sort of…… stopped.  And let’s face it; I knew that Maude was not going to meet some wonderful society gentleman who would her station in life to marry her and make all her dreams come true, but I would like to know a little bit more about what eventually happened to her.  ::sighs::  I suppose I’ll just have to write my own closure chapter.

The Soundtrack

À Paris by Yves Montand

Aux Champs-Élysées by Joe Dassin

Cœur de Parisienne by Rufus Wainwright

I Love Paris by Les Negresses Vertes

The Shadows of Paris by Elsie Bianchi

La Romance de Paris by Charles Trenet

Sous le Ciel de Paris by Edith Piaf

The Final Grade
My final grade for this one is an A-.  It lost some points for the non-ending ending, but otherwise, this book was très magnifique!!  Run read it and then get busy planning your trip to Paris!  Or at least cooking some crepes in your kitchen……

I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review.  Not even a Nutella crepe.

Friday, July 19, 2013

I was Burning for this novel to be better than it actually was.....

Book:  Burning
Author:  Elana K. Arnold
Publisher:  Delacorte
Date:  Available now
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade:  C-?  Or could I give it back for some revisions?

Ben: Having just graduated from high school, Ben is set to leave Gypsum, Nevada. It's good timing since the gypsum mine that is the lifeblood of the area is closing, shutting the whole town down with it. Ben is lucky: he's headed to San Diego, where he's got a track scholarship at the University of California. But his best friends, Pete and Hog Boy, don't have college to look forward to, so to make them happy, Ben goes with them to check out the hot chick parked on the side of Highway 447. 

Lala: She and her Gypsy family earn money by telling fortunes. Some customers choose Tarot cards; others have their palms read. The thousands of people attending the nearby Burning Man festival spend lots of cash--especially as Lala gives uncanny readings. But lately Lala's been questioning whether there might be more to life than her upcoming arranged marriage. And the day she reads Ben's cards is the day that everything changes for her. . . and for him.

Initial reaction
I don’t even know where to begin with this one.

Cover story
This cover is absolutely GORGEOUS!  I loved it!  It grabbed my attention and made me want to read this book and love it.  I just hate that I didn’t. ::sighs::

What’s the Story?
I’m not even sure how to go about reviewing this book.  There were parts that I loved, parts that I hated and parts that had potential but fell through.  Maybe I’ll just make 3 lists!  So here goes:

What I liked
  1. I liked Ben.  A lot.  He was a great guy.
  2. I liked the premise of the story. 
  3. I liked the introduction to gypsy culture.
  4. I liked it that Lala was a strong female protagonist.

What I hated
  1. I hated the ending.  Seriously.   It was a cop-out.
  2. I hated the way Lala’s voice was written.  It felt like she was a foreigner, but she was born and raised in the U.S., so I don’t think she would be so awkward with English.
  3. I really didn’t like Lala very much either.  She was a hard character to love in spite of her difficult circumstances.

What needed more work
  1. Even though Lala was a “strong female”, she sort of came across as mean and unfeeling, so it was hard to sympathize with her.
  2. I don’t like the way she treated the boys in the town.  It felt like she just used them.
  3. The damn ending!  Would it hurt to give me an epilogue with a glimpse into her future????
  4. Not sure what the gay brother story line was all about.  It felt like it was thrown in as an after thought.  There was no real development of that story line.

In my humble opinion, this is a book that had a lot of potential, but it just fell through.  The story felt disjointed, rushed and poorly executed.  I ending up not liking Lala very much when I think I was supposed to really feel sorry for her and eventually cheer for her.  Instead, I sort of wanted to smack her.

The Soundtrack

Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac

Gypsy by Suzanne Vega

Featherstone by The Paper Kites

This Used to Be My Playground by Madonna

Graduation (Friends Forever) by Vitamin C

The Final Grade
::sighs::  I really wanted to love this novel, but in the end, it just didn’t work for me.  It wasn’t terrible, but I just couldn’t connect with Lala and I closed the book wondering what the point of it was.  My final grade is a C-.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review.

Monday, July 15, 2013

How Insomnia Kept Me Up All Night

Book:  Insomnia
Author:  J.R. Johansson
Publisher:  Flux
Date:  Now available
Source:  Publisher via Netgalley
My grade:  A

Her eyes saved his life.
Her dreams released his darkness.

After four years of sleeplessness, high school junior Parker Chipp can't take much more. Every night, instead of sleeping, he enters the dreams of the last person he's made eye contact with. If he doesn't sleep soon, Parker will die.

Then he meets Mia. Her dreams, calm and beautifully uncomplicated, allow him blissful rest that is utterly addictive. But what starts out as a chance meeting turns into an obsession; Parker's furious desire for what he needs pushes him to extremes he never thought he'd go. And when someone begins to terrorizing Mia with twisted death threats, Parker's memory blackouts leave him doubting his own innocence.

Initial reaction
Thank goodness there’s a sequel….this book was creepy good!

Cover story
Creeptastic!  I love this cover.  I think it also has great “boy appeal”.  I like the title too.  I mean, we all know how horrible it is to suffer from insomnia, so it’s relatable.  And it makes me want to pick up the book and see what’s what.

What’s the Story?
This book was really cool.  I really liked it.  It’s about this boy, Parker, who basically hasn’t slept in 4 years.  Why?  Because when he goes to sleep, he actually just enters the dream of the last person whose eyes he met.  And so he watches that person’s dream or nightmare all night and wakes up the next morning with no sleep of his own.  But then, miraculously, one night he meets eyes with a girl he doesn’t know because he almost hit her car on his way home.  And he’s able to enter her dream and go to sleep in it!  It’s the first time he’s slept in 4 years!

Of course, she shows up the next day as a new girl at his school.  So he basically goes all stalkerish on her as he tries to look at her eyes every day so that he can sleep.

Now, at the same time, he seems to be developing that alter ego that he calls Darkness.  It’s him, but with a dark side.  And as he stalks Mia more and more, she becomes afraid of him because she is actually being stalked by someone.  So all these mysterious things start happening and Parker isn’t sure if it’s him or not and he thinks he’s blacking out and doing stuff and…….you get the picture, right?

I thought this book was a great thriller.  I was on the edge of my seat trying to figure out who the mysterious people were, who the stalker was, if Parker was a good guy or a bad guy or what.  I couldn’t put it down.  So I guess it gave me some insomnia!  But seriously, if  you like paranormal thrillers that are a little on the creepy side, I suggest you pick this one up.

The Soundtrack

Every Breath You Take by The Police

I Will Possess Your Heart by Death Cab for Cutie

Sleeping Sickness by City & Colour

Insomnia by Faithless

Burn by Nine Inch Nails

Perfect Insanity by Disturbed

Welcome to My Nightmare by Alice Cooper

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is an A.  It’s a paranormal psychological thriller that had me turning pages as fast as I could.  I liked Parker a lot and I can’t wait to see what is going to happen in the next book.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears, at least they didn't hit my gorgeous Irishman!

Book:  When the Stars Threw Down Their Spears
Author:  Kersten Hamilton
Publisher:  Clarion Books
Date:  Available now
Source: Author
My grade:  A

“People will die.”

Locked doors are opening, and uncanny creatures are tumbling through mysterious portals from Mag Mell, the world-between-worlds, into the streets of Chicago. The Dark Man has marked Aiden with a new song that’s scared him badly, and a frightening new group of sídhe is lurking nearby.

Teagan knows this is war, and she must protect her family. She leaves her flesh and bones behind to join Finn in hunting the evil beings across the city. Meanwhile, their relationship is heating up—almost faster than they can control. But he is still bound to fight goblins his entire life . . . and by blood she is one of them now.

Then the gateway to Mag Mell cracks open again, and the Wylltsons find themselves caught in a trap. As her loved ones begin to die, Teagan realizes that she must destroy the Dark Man and his minions once and for all in order to save those who remain . . .

. . . before it is too late. (cover and description from www.goodreads.com)

Initial reaction
Gah!  Do I rejoice because it ended so well or cry because it ended?!?

Cover story
I love the covers for these novels.  They are PERFECT!  I mean, just look at it!  It says “creepy fantasy novel” all over it.  The colors are gorgeous and the title is perfect.  ::sighs::  This is what a cover should be. 

What’s the Story?
I hate to review books in a trilogy because I don’t know how to do it without spoilers, so if you haven’t read the first two books and you don’t like spoilers, beware!

Let me start this review by saying that the Goblin Wars trilogy is one of my MOST FAVORITE series.  In fact, I think that it ranks in my top 5, definitely top 10.  I mean, Mortal Instruments, Harry Potter and Hunger Games are ahead of it, but I’m having a hard time putting anything else in that number 4 spot.  So if you haven’t read this series yet, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WAITING ON??!!??

This series is so unique.  I love the way Kersten Hamilton uses Irish mythology and pulls it into modern day to create this fabulous story.  Her worldbuilding is beyond reproach.  She has carefully constructed every detail in a way that makes all the supernatural creatures and the human world mesh together seamlessly.  Seriously, have you ever read another novel that can put together goblins and other fair folk, Irish legend heroes, angels, normal humans and a bunch of Italians with mob connections, and MAKE IT WORK??  Didn’t think so.  That’s how good Kersten Hamilton is.

Another thing I like about this book is that the girl is not just falling all over herself and ready to leave her life behind for the guy.  And honestly, I’m not sure how Teagan even manages that, because Finn is to die for!  I mean, he’s cute, he’s built and he has a freaking Irish accent!  And he talks about canoodling with Teagan!  Canoodling! 

Fangirl moment is now over.

This series tells such a wonderful story and this book ties it all up beautifully.  Now, like any good Irish story, there is tragedy aplenty, but I closed the book completely satisfied that if there were really goblins in the world, the whole story could have actually gone down this way.  And who am I to say there aren’t goblins?

There were few new characters in this book, which is a good thing since there are already so many, but we get to see some more of a few of the characters and I enjoyed that immensely.  I also appreciate the little epilogue at the end.  Thank you for that, Kersten Hamilton!  I just read one that had such a non-ending ending that I almost cried. (Yes, that review will be up soon!)

I’m not gonna lie.  I would love to see more books in this world.  There are some characters that disappeared, so I’m wondering if Kersten has a bit of a plan for a future trilogy involving one particular goblin princess??  Or maybe some more information about a certain social worker/dance therapist?  Hell, who am I kidding?  I’d be happy to read a book about Finn and Teagan planning a wedding where Teagan turns into Bridezilla and Abby’s mob family shows up.  I love this world so much that I hope she’s not quite done with it.

The Soundtrack

I tried to do an all Irish artist soundtrack, but I can't resist the Dropkick Murphys who are technically American and then there was one that just couldn't be left out.  You'll know it when you see it. : )

Love You Till the End by The Pogues

Signal Fire by Snow Patrol

Blue Tar Road by Liam Weldon

Funeral for a Fallen Leaf by Mercury Mouth

Cadence to Arms by The Dropkick Murphys

Goblin’s Song by Spellblast (yes, this is really an Italian folk metal band….)

The Fianna by Cruachan

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is an A and the series is A+!  This book series makes me so happy.  I wish more people would read it!

I received this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review.  Especially not a hot Irishman.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

You Look Different in Real Life....but you still look like a great book!

Book:  You Look Better in Real Life
Author:  Jennifer Castle
Publisher:  Harper Teen
Date:  Now available
Source:  Publisher via Edelweiss
My grade:  A

For the rest of the world, the movies are entertainment. For Justine, they're real life.

The premise was simple: five kids, just living their lives. There'd be a new movie about them every five years, starting in kindergarten. But no one could have predicted what the cameras would capture. And no one could have predicted that Justine would be the star.

Now sixteen, Justine doesn't feel like a star anymore. In fact, when she hears the crew has gotten the green light to film Five at Sixteen, all she feels is dread. The kids who shared the same table in kindergarten have become teenagers who hardly know one another. And Justine, who was so funny and edgy in the first two movies, feels like a disappointment.

But these teens have a bond that goes deeper than what's on film. They've all shared the painful details of their lives with countless viewers. They all know how it feels to have fans as well as friends. So when this latest movie gives them the chance to reunite, Justine and her costars are going to take it. Because sometimes, the only way to see yourself is through someone else's eyes.

Smart, fresh, and frequently funny, You Look Different in Real Life is a piercing novel about life in an age where the lines between what's personal and what's public aren't always clear.

Initial reaction
Another fabulous book!  If I had this streak in Vegas, I’d be rich!!!

Cover story
I like this cover.  It just shows a girl thinking.  It’s perfect.  I think the title captures the whole idea of the novel as well.  Hooray!

What’s the Story?
I’m starting to get worried.  I’ve read so many good books this year that I am just waiting for a real stink bomb to show up.  Thank goodness, this was NOT a stink bomb!  In fact, this book was just the opposite.  This book made me laugh and cry and feel so good!

I think this is a great book for our time.  With so much reality TV around, it’s easy to caught up in what happens without thinking about the effect it may have on the people being filmed.  I think this book did a good job of showing what it might be like to be those people.  I mean, everyone has seen people break down or be treated meanly in these shows, but does anyone ever stop to think about how those people feel about stuff when the cameras stop rolling?  I loved that this book gave us those inside glimpses into what happened.

This book is about kids being filmed in documentaries, but really it’s about the ties that bind us together.  These kids had all grown apart.  They suffered from all sorts of miscommunications and misunderstandings, but they always had that connection that the film gave them.  It was great to see that when it really mattered, they all came together to help out one of their own.

This was a very heartwarming book for me.  I really grew to love these characters, especially Justine.  Her voice was very compelling.  I enjoyed watching her grow into herself in the book.  She really was a wonderful character.  I liked the other characters as well, although I wish we had gotten to know Keira a little better.

Another thing I really enjoyed is that even though there wasn’t tons of action in this book, I still felt that I could not turn the pages fast enough.  I felt so connected to these characters that I really wanted everything to work out for them.

I really, really enjoyed this book.  It wasn’t overly angst-filled, but I think it addressed a very relevant topic by showing the other side of reality shows and what they can do to the people who are in them.  I also thought that the premise was an interesting way to show a group of teenagers going through a lot of common adolescent issues.  I think that teen readers will really identify with these characters.

The Soundtrack

We’re Going to Be Friends by The White Stripes

Home by One Republic

It’s Time by Imagine Dragons

I’ll Stand By You by The Pretenders

The Final Grade
My final grade for this book is an A.  I think it’s interesting, relevant and relatable.  What more could you want in a book?

I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I received no compensation, financial or otherwise, for this review.  Not even an offer to do my own reality TV show.