Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review of Seeing Redd (The Looking Glass Wars #2)


Alyss of Wonderland's rules has only just begun and already those who prefer chaos to peace are threatening to destroy everything worth imagining. Trailed by newly appointed Royal Bodyguard Homburg Molly, Alyss is doing her best to keep pace with the non-stop demands of being Queen while attempting to evade Molly for a few private moments with Dodge. Alyss's life is already a challenging mix of duty, love and imagining when a series of phantom sightings set fire to an urban myth of her imperial viciousness's return and have everyone...Seeing Redd.
[from Goodreads]

Rating:  4 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Grown-up fairytale readers
High point:  The quality of the re-imagining
Low point:  Adult Alyss' bland personality
Reader maturity: 13+

I wasn't a huuuuge fan of Seeing Redd's predecessor, The Looking Glass Wars, but Seeing Redd captured my attention more fully. Alyss' dethroned aunt Redd is a much more interesting villain this time, less All-About-Redd and more Must-Defeat-Alyss. The first novel felt more cold and calculating while Seeing Redd has more whimsy (albeit the war-faring kind) and more Wonderland. Coincidence? I really enjoyed getting to know Hatter Maddigan and Homburg Molly's stories since they were two of my favorites from the first book, as well as Alyss' growth as Queen.

The imagery was fanciful and over-the-top, as befits any story of Wonderland. I was constantly amazed by Frank Beddor's power of imagination. The weapons, defenses and creatures of Alyss' realm are wondrous and plentiful. The descriptions were perfect--giving enough information to clue the reader in to the manner of operation but leaving enough unsaid for the reader to puzzle out through their own imaginative efforts. Fans of The Looking Glass Wars will enjoy Alyss' exploits in Seeing Redd.

Title:  Seeing Redd
Author:  Frank Beddor
Genre:  Fiction - Fairytale
Year:  2007
Book Source:  Borrowed from library

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review of Nailed

One girl. Two guys. Who says three's a crowd? When Mandy takes an unusual summer job-in construction-she has to prove she's just one of the guys. But she gets more than she bargains for being the only girl on the job. The mixture of hot guys, sunscreen, raw wood and testosterone proves to be an elixir she can't protect her heart from. Brooding Boston and flirty AJ find themselves looking at Mandy as more than just a girl who holds a hammer. Mandy soon finds herself not only lost in a whirlwind of a male-dominated world, but also the center of an inadvertently "constructed" love triangle. Mandy must choose between two guys who want her heart. But what's a girl to do when she wants them both?
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:   2 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: YA contemporary readers
High point: The messages
Low point: Mandy's cluelessness
Reader maturity: 15+

I really enjoyed Heavenly and A Season of Eden by the same author, but Nailed didn't connect with me as a reader.

While it's great to read about nonconformist female characters, Mandy was frustratingly oblivious and naive. (For example, she wears an actual swimsuit to a construction site and doesn't understand how that could be a problem working with a group of guys.) I like the messages of self-respect, following one's dreams and not settling for the wrong guy, but I couldn't connect with Mandy enough to enjoy it.

Mandy also didn't understand prejudice against women at the work site. While she has a point in that gender shouldn't matter, I found it hard to believe that she had grown up around construction and yet had no expectation of discrimination. My frustration with Mandy aside, her best friend was really fun, and the character of her brother was well-developed as he seesawed between the protector and the antagonist, depending on his mood.

Title:  Nailed
Author:  Jennifer Laurens
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2008
Book Source:  Purchased

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review of The Lady of the Rivers (The Cousins' War #3)

A story rich in passion and legend, The Lady of the Rivers is the story of Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, a woman who navigated a treacherous path through the battle lines in the Wars of the Roses. When Jacquetta is married to the Duke of Bedford, English regent of France, he introduces her to a mysterious world of learning and alchemy. Her only friend in the great household is the duke’s squire Richard Woodville, who is at her side when the duke’s death leaves her a wealthy young widow. The two become lovers and marry in secret, returning to England to serve at the court of the young King Henry VI, where Jacquetta becomes a close and loyal friend to his new queen.

The Woodvilles soon achieve a place at the very heart of the Lancaster court, though Jacquetta can sense the growing threat from the people of England and the danger of their royal York rivals. As Jacquetta fights for her king and her queen, she can see an extraordinary and unexpected future for her daughter Elizabeth: a change of fortune, the throne of England, and the white rose of York. . . .
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:  3 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Die-hard history fans
High point: Bringing Jacquetta out of the past
Low point: Very confusing historical setting
Reader maturity: 13+

The War of the Roses is complicated. Even the helpfully-included genealogical charts in Lady of the Rivers weren't enough for me to keep it straight. Wikipedia was even less helpful. so, strike #1 right there, I was confused. Alliances were made and broken in an instant, and it was too much for me to keep straight. It did, however, give me an appreciation of Philippa Gregory's research abilities and made me wonder how anyone in England ever survived.

One of the things that I liked about Lady of the Rivers is how Philippa Gregory took a relatively minor historical figure and brought her to life. As I understand it, not much is known about the real Jacquetta, but the the fictional version is a fascinating creature, both unusually powerful and unusually bold for her time. (She was also unusually lucky!)

Those without an interest in history may find Jacquetta's story dry and factual, but those who enjoy historical fiction (and, perhaps, have a better grasp on English history than I do) would do well to try out this addition to the series on The Cousins' War.

Title:  The Lady of the Rivers
Author:  Philippa Gregory
Genre:   Fiction - Historical
Year:   2012
Book Source:  Won from The Eclectic Reader

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review of Size 12 and Ready to Rock (Heather Wells #4)

Summer break . . . and the livin' ain't easy

Just because the students at New York College have flown the coop doesn't mean assistant residence hall director Heather Wells can relax. Fischer Hall is busier than ever, filled with squealing thirteen- and fourteen-year-old girls attending the first ever Tania Trace Teen Rock Camp, hosted by pop sensation Tania Trace herself--who just happens to be newly married to Heather's ex-boyfriend, heartthrob Jordan Cartwright. But the real headache begins when the producer of a reality TV show starring Tania winds up dead . . . and it's clear that the star was the intended victim.

Grant Cartwright, head of Cartwright Records, wants to keep his daughter-in-law (and his highest-earning performer) alive. So he hires his oldest son, black sheep of the family and private investigator Cooper Cartwright--who just happens to be Heather's "new" fiancE. Heather should leave the detecting to Cooper. But with a dorm full of hysterical mini-divas-in-training, she can't help but get involved. And after Tania shares a really shocking secret with her, "this" reality suddenly becomes more dangerously real than anyone ever anticipated.
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:  4.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Grown-up fans of The Princess Diaries
High point: Heather is back and as awesome as ever
Low point:  I don't know if there's going to be another sequel!
Reader maturity: 15+

If you follow me on Twitter, you may remember how excited I was to find a copy of Size 12 and Ready to Rock in my mailbox. And I was so right to be psyched!!

There's always a little bit of apprehension when picking up a book in a series that was dormant for years, then recently resurrected. In most cases, I would be right to be apprehensive but with Meg Cabot at the helm, my fears were unfounded. I wonder now, post-read, if Cabot didn't plan for more than 3 books the whole time...

In case you didn't know, this is a new book in one of my favorite series, so I hold Size 12 and Ready to Rock to an extremely high standard. Cabot managed to avoid all of the pitfalls I would've expected of the fourth book in a series. The mystery was fresh, with a suitable explanation for Heather's involvement (i.e. why she's involved in yet another mystery); there are a myriad of new characters, as well as the return of some old favorites; and Heather remains Heather, albeit a little older, wiser and more concerned with her relationship, though still as charming as ever.

Cabot delivered a wonderful addition to my shelf of Heather Wells mysteries, and that got me thinking...Do I detect a book #5 on the way?

Title:  Size 12 and Ready to Rock
Author:  Meg Cabot
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2012
Book Source:  Received for review from publisher

Friday, October 5, 2012

Kindred Review: The Gatling Gun

Love of reading runs in the family! Today, I'm featuring one of my dad's recent reads. 

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 boxes


As an aficionado of military arms and a mechanical engineer, I have always viewed the Gatling gun with fascination:  a weapon ahead of its time. Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling’s invention has also been used in Hollywood films since 1939, including The War Wagon, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, and The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Although schooled as a medical doctor, Dr. Gatling found pleasure in mechanisms. Ironically, his main purpose for inventing this powerful weapon was to help shorten the war!

The authors obviously dug deep into the history books before writing this book. The book is generous with illustrations, patents and period newspaper articles. Coupled with official military reviews, as well as those of the actual soldiers using the weapon, the history takes on a tangible significance. However, the authors appeared to have ignored proofreading, as the text is fraught with grammatical and spelling errors. While I enjoyed historical content, it was very difficult to read at times. My copy of the book has been relegated to the coffee-table.

Title:  The Gatling Gun
Author:  Paul Wahl & Don Toppel
Genre:  History, Nonfiction
Year: 1965
Book Source: Received as a gift

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review of The Princess Bride

A tale of true love and high adventure, pirates, princesses, giants, miracles, fencing, and a frightening assortment of wild beasts - The Princess Bride is a modern storytelling classic.

As Florin and Guilder teeter on the verge of war, the reluctant Princess Buttercup is devastated by the loss of her true love, kidnapped by a mercenary and his henchmen, rescued by a pirate, forced to marry Prince Humperdinck, and rescued once again by the very crew who absconded with her in the first place. In the course of this dazzling adventure, she'll meet Vizzini - the criminal philosopher who'll do anything for a bag of gold; Fezzik - the gentle giant; Inigo - the Spaniard whose steel thirsts for revenge; and Count Rugen - the evil mastermind behind it all. Foiling all their plans and jumping into their stories is Westley, Princess Buttercup's one true love and a very good friend of a very dangerous pirate.
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:  3 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Everyone
High point: The "good parts"
Low point:  The commentary
Reader maturity: 13+

I'd never read this book before. Actually, when I saw the movie, it took quite a bit of convincing on the part of my friends that there was really a book. Short version of this review:  Movie trumps book. But movie would not exist without book. Hmmm...

The Princess Bride (the book) is very much like The Princess Bride (the movie):  comedic, dramatic and with a distinct narrative style. Book Buttercup is much more annoying and selfish (I never really got that from movie Buttercup). Book Fezzik, however, shows a deeper, more interesting side than just being "the muscle" like his movie counterpart.

One thing I didn't consistently enjoy, however, was the author's technique of interjecting into the fictional Morgenstern's story. I found the commentary very distracting in its tendency to quickly veer off topic. Some of it was amusing, like informing the reader of certain things in advance so they don't get too worked up and the inclusion of Florinese "trivia," but some places seemed to take it a bit far.

It's a great story to be enjoyed by all. Some of the plot points and humor might go over the heads of younger readers, but that's what allows it to appeal to older readers as well as kids who want swashbuckling, Dread-Pirate-Roberts-type fun. If you've only seen the movie, you might be interested in checking out the origin of The Princess Bride.

Title:  The Princess Bride
Author:  William Goldman
Genre:   Fiction - Fantasy
Year:   1972
Book Source:  Purchased

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Supernatural Saturday Review: Cold Kiss

It was a beautiful, warm summer day, the day Danny died.

Suddenly Wren was alone and shattered. In a heartbroken fury, armed with dark incantations and a secret power, Wren decides that what she wants--what she "must" do--is to bring Danny back.

But the Danny who returns is just a shell of the boy Wren fell in love with. His touch is icy; his skin, smooth and stiff as marble; his chest, cruelly silent when Wren rests her head against it.

Wren must keep Danny a secret, hiding him away, visiting him at night, while her life slowly unravels around her. Then Gabriel DeMarnes transfers to her school, and Wren realizes that somehow, inexplicably, he can sense the powers that lie within her--and that he knows what she has done. And now Gabriel wants to help make things right.

But Wren alone has to undo what she has wrought--even if it means breaking her heart all over again.
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:  2.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: YA paranormal readers
High point:  N/A
Low point:  N/A
Reader maturity:  13+

I spent over a week trying to decide how to write my review of Cold Kiss. The problem is that I can't muster anything other than apathy.

The writing is on par for YA--not too flowery, not stilted. The main character, Wren, is standard YA material--average looks, special abilities, irresistibly attractive to inexplicably mature guys. Her mother is frequently absent; there are family secrets and a love triangle. Overall, it's very formulaic YA. It's good, predictability notwithstanding, but I was disappointed by the feeling of sameness. I had hoped for more from a zombie-ish novel.

Perhaps if I had read this years ago, before I got burned out on vampires and teenage heroines, I'd be more enthusiastic, but as it stands, I don't have strong feelings either way.

Title:  Cold Kiss
Author:  Amy Garvey
Genre:   Fiction - Paranormal
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Purchased

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kindred Review: Spoken from the Heart

Love of reading (and history) runs in the family! Today, I'm featuring one of my mom's recent reads. 

The intimate and startlingly candid memoir from one of America's most beloved and private first ladies.
In a captivating and compelling voice that ranks with many of our greatest memoirists, Laura Bush tells the story of her unique journey from dusty Midland, Texas, to the world stage and the White House. Her compassion, her sense of humor, her grace, and her uncommon willingness to bare her heart make Laura Bush's story deeply revelatory, beautifully rendered, and unlike any other First Lady's memoir ever written.
 [from Goodreads]

Rating:  4 out of 5 boxes

No one’s story is theirs alone.  In telling the story of her hometown, its people, jobs, economy, history and neighborhoods, Laura Bush told her story.  I enjoyed the way she described who she became by describing the influences around her.

The book appeared to be honestly written.  Ms. Bush did not leave out or glaze over her father’s drinking and gambling, her husband’s alcohol use, nor the tragic accident that took the life of a friend; yet, she was gracious in writing about those in the realm of politics for whom she did not particularly care.

I enjoyed the book and Laura’s story.  While reading it, I was disappointed each time I had to put it down and anxious to get back to it to see “what happened next”.  Perhaps it was partly because this is an All American Girl story.  She was the average girl growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, yet it was also an American Dream story.  She married the future President of the USA and was privileged to meet Kings and Queens and influence initiatives; yet she appears to still be grounded and grateful.

I would definitely recommend as a good read if you enjoy autobiographies and/or history whether you are interested in politics or not.

Title:  Spoken from the Heart
Author:  Laura Bush
Genre:  History, Memoir
Year:  2010
Book Source:  Borrowed

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: The Unnaturalists

In an alternate London where magical creatures are preserved in a museum, two teens find themselves caught in a web of intrigue, deception, and danger.

Vespa Nyx wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life cataloging Unnatural creatures in her father’s museum, but as she gets older, the requirement to become a lady and find a husband is looming large. Syrus Reed’s Tinker family has always served and revered the Unnaturals from afar, but when his family is captured to be refinery slaves, he finds that his fate may be bound up with Vespa’s—and with the Unnaturals.

As the danger grows, Vespa and Syrus find themselves in a tightening web of deception and intrigue. At stake may be the fate of New London—and the world.


[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Want to Read Wednesday: Breathing Room

Evvy Hoffmeister is thirteen years old when her family brings her to Loon Lake Sanatorium to get cured of tuberculosis (TB). Evvy is frightened by her new surroundings; the rules to abide are harsh and the nurses equally rigid. But Evvy soon falls into step with the other girls in her ward. There’s Sarah, quiet but thoughtful; Pearl, who adores Hollywood glamour; and Dina, whose harshness conceals a deep strength. Together, the girls brave the difficult daily routines. Set in 1940 at a time of political unrest throughout the U.S. and Europe, this thought-provoking novel sheds light on a much-feared worldwide illness. Hundreds of thousands of people died each year of TB, and many ill children were sent away to sanatoriums to hopefully recover.

This is a masterful novel—both eloquent and moving—that gives voice to those who fought hard to overcome the illness.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Kindred Review: Inside the Oval Office

Love of reading (and history) runs in the family! Today, I'm featuring one of my mom's recent reads. 

In 1940, inventor J. Ripley Kiel was taken by Secret Service men to the Oval Office, where he planted a microphone in FDR's desk lamp and connected it to an experimental sound recording machine. Since that day, almost every president has found some use for recording, sometimes covertly, sometimes not. The tapes and transcripts left behind from this sixty-year recording experiment are a cockpit voice recorder of the presidency, time capsules from crucial moments in American history. During four years of research in the National Archives and Presidential Libraries, William Doyle unearthed scores of White House tapes and transcripts, many never before published. He interviewed over one hundred Oval Office insiders, Cabinet members, and White House aides, from FDR's personal secretary to Henry Kissinger. Inside the Oval Office is the result, a flesh-and-blood drama of the presidency in action.
 [from Goodreads]

Rating:  4 out of 5 boxes

Politics is not of great interest to me, but history is.  I was pleased while reading this book to find it contained much more of the history of the White House than the politics.  The author gave a synopsis of each president‘s executive style.  This was not to create a political discussion, but to explain how each person utilized the rooms in the White House according to personality or need and to explain what each one taped and why.  Because of these tapes we have a piece of history preserved in time.

 The White House is a transient home to our Presidents and their families.  I enjoyed reading how each family created a home there for 4-12 years and then turned it over to the next occupant with either grace or grudge.  The book belongs to my husband.  He asked me if I had read it and I had not because I didn’t think it sounded interesting, but I’m glad I gave it a try.  Well written, never dull.  I would highly recommend to anyone interested in history or bibliographies.

Title:  Inside the Oval Office:  The White House Tapes from FDR to Clinton
Author:  William Doyle
Genre:  History, Nonfiction
Year:  2002
Book Source:  Received as a gift

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Review of Book of a Thousand Days

When Dashti, a maid, and Lady Saren, her mistress, are shut in a tower for seven years for Saren's refusal to marry a man she despises, the two prepare for a very long and dark imprisonment.
As food runs low and the days go from broiling hot to freezing cold, it is all Dashti can do to keep them fed and comfortable. But the arrival outside the tower of Saren's two suitors--one welcome, and the other decidedly less so--brings both hope and great danger, and Dashti must make the desperate choices of a girl whose life is worth more than she knows.
 

With Shannon Hale's lyrical language, this forgotten but classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm is reimagined and reset on the central Asian steppes; it is a completely unique retelling filled with adventure and romance, drama and disguise.
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:  4 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Fans of sweet romance and historical fiction
High point: Dashti's wit and charm
Low point: Lady Saren was really quite annoying
Reader maturity: 13+

Book of a Thousand Days is a positively enchanting story. Though it took me a few chapters ("days" in fictional time), it soon won me over with its charm and unique story.

I had no idea being locked away in a tower could be so dramatic! But Dashti's wit and tales of muckers, as well as her mistress' insistence that she take on a noble identity, enliven their stay. The threads of this tale are delicately woven. The mysteries are solved in due time, and the romance is one of my all-time favorites. In a case where the reader knows more than the characters, the reader is rooting for a happy ending. Some might consider the pace slow, but I thought it deliberate, giving each element its time to develop and shine.

Book of a Thousand Days is a beautiful story based loosely on Mongolian myth that brings folklore and legend to life.

Title:  Book of a Thousand Days
Author:  Shannon Hale
Genre:   Fiction - Fantasy
Year:   2007
Book Source:  Purchased

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: What's Left of Me

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t…

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable–hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet…for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.


[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hiatus

I never figured on writing one of these since my short absences have been more likely to go unnoticed if I didn't announce them. This time, however, I'm looking at a two month hiatus so I thought I'd deliver an explanation.

I love reading and reviewing. This break is not because I'm tired of reading or because blogging doesn't interest me anymore. This break is because my offline life is about to get really busy. Normally, I would schedule posts in advance, but real life has been really busy for a while now, and I'm all out of reviews. My posting schedule has been stressing me out (I was trying to complete the 100+ in a year challenge, and since I'm so busy, it was sucking the fun out of reading and reviewing) so for the next few months, I'll read what I can, review what I can and call it good.

Hopefully I'll see you around!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: Burning Blue

When Nicole Castro, the most beautiful girl in her wealthy New Jersey high school, is splashed with acid on the left side of her perfect face, the whole world takes notice. But quiet loner Jay Nazarro does more than that—he decides to find out who did it. Jay understands how it feels to be treated like a freak, and he also has a secret: He's a brilliant hacker. But the deeper he digs, the more danger he's in—and the more he falls for Nicole. Too bad everyone is turning into a suspect, including Nicole herself.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: Lovely, Dark and Deep

About a high-school senior, who, in the aftermath of a car accident that kills her boyfriend and throws her carefully planned future into complete upheaval, retreats to the deep woods of Maine to live with the artist father she barely knows and meets a boy who threatens to pull her from her safe, hard-won exile.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Supernatural Saturday Review: Texas Gothic

Amy Goodnight's family is far from normal. She comes from a line of witches, but tries her best to stay far outside the family business. Her summer gig? Ranch-sitting for her aunt with her wacky but beautiful sister. Only the Goodnight Ranch is even less normal than it normally is. Bodies are being discovered, a ghost is on the prowl, and everywhere she turns, the hot neighbor cowboy is in her face.
[from Goodreads]

Rating:  5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Ghost story enthusiasts
High point: Amy, the ghosts, sister Phin...
Low point:  Nothing. I LOVE THIS BOOK.
Reader maturity:  13+

There are so many great things about Texas Gothic, I hardly even know where to begin...

First off, it's a ghost story--a good one. It's not cheesy or formulaic (beyond the normal amount of formula for ghost stories--sighting, haunting, revelation of mystery, ghost is gone, voila!) and mixes in a heaping helping of skepticism from a lot of different angles that keep it feeling fresh and, dare I say, realistic.

Second, there's Amy, who is the type of main character that I would really, really like to be friends with (although, truth be told, I'm more likely to friends with her sister, Phin, the science-y, nerdy one). She's polite, smart, fiercely protective and stubborn when she needs to be. She's also the liaison between her family and...everyone else, which makes her more world-wise than most people her age.

Third, there's Ben (the hot neighbor cowboy mentioned in the blurb), who I maybe shouldn't like as much as do, him being so gruff and cocky and occasionally rude and all, but...well, if you read Texas Gothic, you'll understand why I like him so much. (I almost made this point seven, but this is getting a bit long, so I'll add here that I also love the other characters in Texas Gothic. They're a motley crew of unique personalities that each hold their own. Fantastic!)

Fourth, the title rocks. It caught my eye in the library because the state of Texas isn't usually associated with anything Gothic. How could I pass it up?

Fifth, it handles the Texas part well. A lot of novels set in Texas make me wonder if the authors have actually ever been there....But Texas Gothic uses the history of the conquistadors and missions in Texas to craft a great story.

Sixth, there are so many little details and elements in Texas Gothic that make it come alive. It's not just a story that jumps from point A to point B; there are lots of little zigs and zags and emotional elements that combine for something rich and intricate.

(So, apparently I figured out where to begin...)

Texas Gothic is AMAZING. If you like ghost stories, even a little bit, you need to read Texas Gothic. If you don't necessarily like ghost stories but you like archaeology (yes, archaeology--I told you, awesome zigs and zags!), you need to read Texas Gothic. And if you like neither of those things but you like a good book, then you also need to read Texas Gothic.

Title:  Texas Gothic
Author:  Rosemary Clement-Moore
Genre:  Fiction - Supernatural
Year:  2011
Book Source:  Borrowed from library

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: Renegade

Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has been trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes all her life she’s thought that everything was perfect; her world. Her people. The Law.

But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into their secluded little world, she’s forced to come to a startling realization: everything she knows is a lie. Her memories have been altered. Her mind and body aren’t under her own control. And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.

Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb... and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.


[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review of Being Nikki

Things aren't pretty for Emerson Watts.

Em was sure there couldn't be anything worse than being a brainiac the body of a teenaged supermodel.

But it turned out she was wrong. Because that supermodel could turn out to have a mother who's gone mysteriously missing, a brother who's shown up on her doorstep demanding answers, a former best friend who's intent on destroying Stark Enterprises to avenge the death of his lost love, and a British heartthrob who's written a song about her that's topping the charts.

How can Em balance all that with school, runway shows, and weekend jaunts to St. Johns — especially when she's got ex-boyfriends crawling out of the woodwork who want more than just a photo op; a sister who is headed to the high school cheerleading championships; a company she represents that seems to be turning to the dark side...

Not to mention trying to convince the love of her life that models aren't really airheads after all...especially one model in particular.

But then, nobody said it was going to be easy being Nikki.
[from Goodreads]

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Teens and Meg Cabot fans
High point:  Uniqueness of plot, more engaging than Airhead
Low point: Missing some of the pizazz that Cabot's other books contain
Reader maturity:  10+
Being Nikki is even better than the first in the series. I enjoyed Airhead, but I didn't enjoy it the way I do most of Meg Cabot's books...or the way I enjoyed Being Nikki.

Because the science and story have already been established, Being Nikki is free to indulge not only in guy-chasing, but family drama (from both of Em's families!) and the big, dark secret of Stark Enterprises. Nikki's life is transformed from one of luxury and great lighting to one of secrecy and intrigue, which makes the series much more interesting. Before, it was fun, albeit fluffy, but now it's taken to a whole new level of awesome with layers of mystery and romance.

The cast of characters in Being Nikki is awesome; I love how they react when they're thrown together. They're not a big, happy family, and yet they're a boisterous, entertaining mix. I can't say too much more on this point without there being MAJOR spoilers, so I'll just say that Meg Cabot did a great job with plot and character development.

Even though it's a touch more serious than its predecessor, Being Nikki had me laughing aloud more than once (which made me really glad I wasn't reading it in public). Em possesses great wit, and Lulu is the perfect counterpoint.

Now that I've read Being Nikki, I'm really excited about the Airhead series. Fortunately, I have an ARC of the third in the series, Runaway, tucked away that I can't wait to read. I want to know what happens next!

Title:  Being Nikki
Author:  Meg Cabot
Genre:  Teen Fiction,  Entertainment and Arts
Year:  2010
Book Source:  Borrowed from library

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review of Where I Belong

Corrinne Corcoran’s upscale Manhattan life is perfectly on track—until her father announces he’s been laid off and she’s shipped off to Broken Spoke, Texas, to live with her grandparents. All alone in a big public school and forced to take a job shoveling manure, Corrinne is determined to get back to the glamorous life she’s supposed to be living. But as she grudgingly adjusts—making new friends and finding romance along the way—this city girl begins to realize that life without credit cards and shopping sprees may not be as bad as it seems....

In this sparkling debut that flawlessly balances romance and humor, readers will grow to love sharp and sassy Corrinne as she goes on her totally reluctant but completely irresistible journey of self-discovery.
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:   3 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: City slickers
High point: Corrinne's natural transformation
Low point: The dialogue
Reader maturity: 13+

Where I Belong is the perfect book to curl up with on a summer afternoon. It's set during high school football season, but the warm atmosphere and slow drawls are perfect for relaxing.

Where I Belong chronicles the metamorphosis of Corrinne as she is forced from her spoiled city life into the heart of the country. Stubborn and prideful, she digs her heels in (so to speak) against enjoying anything related to Texas, but when she finally changes her mind, the transformation feels very natural. It's not rushed; it's all on Corrinne time. It's hard to say that I liked Corrinne since she spent most of the novel complaining about moving to (what she considered) the middle of nowhere, but after she accepted her situation and moved on with her life, her kind, intelligent side made an appearance and allowed her to shine. I really liked her no-nonsense grandparents, peppy best friend and sweet younger brother. They make things just the teensiest bit corny but in a warm-fuzzy, feel-good way.

The only complaint I have is that the dialogue of the Texans is very formal. I read it in every twang and drawl I could think of, and I never got it to sound quite right in my head. I don't know if the problem is on my end or if there really did need to be more contractions. Since the New Yorkers all sounded just fine, I'm inclined to lean towards the former possibility.

Where I Belong is a sweet, refreshing bite for a lazy afternoon in the sun. Lots of spice and a little sugar make it a great light read with enough substance to be satisfying.

Title:  Where I Belong
Author:  Gwendolyn Heasley
Genre:   Fiction - Contemporary
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Purchased

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: Breathe

Inhale. Exhale. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe . . .

The world is dead.
The survivors live under the protection of Breathe, the corporation that found a way to manufacture oxygen-rich air.

ALINA
has been stealing for a long time. She’s a little jittery, but not terrified. All she knows is that she’s never been caught before. If she’s careful, it’ll be easy. If she’s careful.

QUINN
should be worried about Alina and a bit afraid for himself, too, but even though this is dangerous, it’s also the most interesting thing to happen to him in ages. It isn’t every day that the girl of your dreams asks you to rescue her.

BEA
wants to tell him that none of this is fair; they’d planned a trip together, the two of them, and she’d hoped he’d discover her out here, not another girl.

And as they walk into the Outlands with two days’ worth of oxygen in their tanks, everything they believe will be shattered. Will they be able to make it back? Will they want to?


[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review of Across the Universe

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:  2.5  out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Sci-fi fanatics
High point: The workings of life on the ship
Low point: Amy
Reader maturity: 15+

Due to the beautiful cover and the glowing reviews of the book review bloggers I follow, I had such high hopes for Across the Universe. Longtime readers of this blog know my aversion to male POVs, and about 50% of Across the Universe is narrated by a teenage boy, Elder.

I liked Amy's point of view well enough, but Amy was something of blank canvas to me. I didn't get her. Elder and his friend, Harley, had much more interesting personalities.

As for the plot, it reminded me of Inside Out by Maria J. Snyder, and I had to actively refocus myself on Across the Universe as a completely different novel. (I realize that this isn't the fault of Across the Universe, but it may explain my feelings towards the characters.) I also figured out everything involving Eldest from the beginning, although it took me almost 75% of the book to figure out the rest.

Though I'm not a fan of Amy or the male POV, I have to admit that I'm interested to know what happens next. I didn't agree with Amy's decision at the end of Across the Universe, and I'd like to see how that plays out in the next part of the series.

Title:  Across the Universe
Author:  Beth Revis
Genre:   Fiction - Science Fiction
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Borrowed from library

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Supernatural Saturday Review: Hourglass

For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn't there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents' death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She's tried everything, but the visions keep coming back. So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson's willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.

Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he's around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:   4.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Ghost story fans, time travel fans, maybe even sci-fi fans (and anyone who likes reading YA ever)
High point: Emerson Cole--she's awesome!
Low point: Emerson Cole falling head over heels
Reader maturity: 13+

I love Hourglass!

Emerson Cole is one of my favorite YA characters ever. She's smart and funny and a little bit sarcastic but still sweet and thankful and well-adjusted, all considered. All those adjectives I just used combine to make a fictional teenage girl who could easily be a real teenage girl.

My only complaint (which I'll get out of the way first) is that I wanted to know more about Emerson's best friend, Lily. There's something going on there and Myra McEntire teases the reader and doesn't give up much in the way of information. I hope we find out more about Lily in Timepiece!

If you've been with me at Bookish in a Box in a while, you'll know that I have a few bookish pet peeves. One of them is when the characters (especially young ones) fall in love instantly. Em does fall head over heels pretty fast, but she regularly acknowledges that it was a) fast and b) potentially not possible. Her wonderment over this development occurs so frequently that I'm inclined to overlook it as a fault. At least she realizes it's not normal, right? (You know if someone can convince me to overlook insta-love, the book must be good.)

I also love Em's brother and sister-in-law (they're so supportive!); they're a refreshing change of pace from the absentee or absent-minded parents in most YA fiction. The villains in this story are a little cheesy, but they kind of rock the cheesy...AND I was surprised by the ending. If the villain has me fooled, I'm impressed, regardless of how melodramatic they are.

So there you have it! Hourglass is an all-around good book, with a solid (and surprising) plot, a love story, a great supporting cast and a main character that you'd want to be friends with. If you ever looked at the cover and thought, "Hmm, that looks like it might be good," please, please, please run out and get it right now because it's awesome.

Title:  Hourglass
Author:  Myra McEntire
Genre:   Fiction - Paranormal
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Purchased

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: Alice in Zombieland

She won’t rest until she’s sent every walking corpse back to its grave. Forever.

Had anyone told Alice Bell that her entire life would change course between one heartbeat and the next, she would have laughed. From blissful to tragic, innocent to ruined? Please. But that’s all it took. One heartbeat. A blink, a breath, a second, and everything she knew and loved was gone.

Her father was right. The monsters are real….

To avenge her family, Ali must learn to fight the undead. To survive, she must learn to trust the baddest of the bad boys, Cole Holland. But Cole has secrets of his own, and if Ali isn’t careful, those secrets might just prove to be more dangerous than the zombies….
I wish I could go back and do a thousand things differently.
I'd tell my sister no.
I'd never beg my mother to talk to my dad.
I'd zip my lips and swallow those hateful words.
Or, barring all of that, I'd hug my sister, my mom and my dad one last time.
I'd tell them I love them.
I wish... Yeah, I wish.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review of The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:  4  out of 5 boxes
Target Audience: Action, adventure and girl power proponents
High point: The lifelike characters
Low point:  Too much focus on Elisa's size
Reader maturity: 15+
Just so you know how I feel about it up front, The Girl of Fire and Thorns is awesome. When I found it on the shelf at my local library, I squealed and lunged. My spastic outburst was not in vain. The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a swashbuckling (though not pirate-related) story of adventure and intrigue with a healthy dose of self-confidence and girl power added in for extra reading enjoyment.

The Girl herself, Elisa, starts out as a weak character (in personality, not in development) and experiences a unique journey to an appreciation of her abilities. The novel focuses on weight and size more than I would have preferred--the emphasis could have been on her cessation of stress-induced binge eating and an appreciation of her body's abilities in its current state--but Elisa is strong even before her adventures, whether or not she knows. Therein lies Elisa's magic. She discovers her strengths through her journeys, but she was already an incredible, if untested, person.

There are a lot of characters in The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but Rae Carson manages to make each one special and forge an emotional connection with the reader, however brief the encounter. Descriptions of scenery and legend thoroughly immersed me in each stage of Elisa's life. I could picture the castles and the desert as if they were right in front of me.

As for reader maturity, there are some references to adult activities (Elisa gets married in the first chapter so...), but there's nothing vulgar or objectionable (or, SPOILER ALERT, really anything at all, just a discussion and Elisa's musings).

If you're looking for a solid adventure story with a satisfying emotional component, The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a great pick.

Title:  The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Author:  Rae Carson
Genre:   Fiction - Fantasy
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Borrowed from library

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Supernatural Saturday Review: Falling Under

Theia Alderson has always led a sheltered life in the small California town of Serendipity Falls. But when a devastatingly handsome boy appears in the halls of her school, Theia knows she's seen Haden before- not around town, but in her dreams.

As the Haden of both the night and the day beckons her closer one moment and pushes her away the next, the only thing Theia knows for sure is that the incredible pull she feels towards him is stronger than her fear.

And when she discovers what Haden truly is, Theia's not sure if she wants to resist him, even if the cost is her soul.
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:  1 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  N/A
High point:  N/A
Low point:  N/A
Reader maturity: 15+

I didn't realize that this was a book with demons. I thought, from the cover and description, that it was about vampires. That misunderstanding, combined with the insta-love and "perfect"-type love interest would have made this a DNF (since, based on the paranormal creature, it's not my kind of book), except that I'm taking part in a challenge to read 100+ books this year. So I finished it anyway.

I think I summed it up pretty well above, but to expand a little bit, insta-love is one of my literary pet peeves. I don't understand the appeal of a character who falls in a love with a guy just because...He's there? He's attractive? He's dangerous? Theia didn't seem to care.

Haden was supposed to be dark perfection, but I found him grandiose and melodramatic. I didn't understand Theia's attraction to him, and their whole relationship, if it can be called that, was dysfunctional, if not emotionally harmful.

In short, due to the demon thing, this isn't a series I care to continue..

Title:  Falling Under
Author:  Gwen Hayes
Genre:   Fiction - Paranormal
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Borrowed from library

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review of Glamorous Illusions (Grand Tour Series #1)

It’s the summer of 1913 and Cora Kensington’s life on the family farm has taken a dark turn. Not only are the crops failing, but someone dear to Cora is failing as well.

In one fateful afternoon, a stranger comes to call, and Cora discovers a terrible secret about her past…a secret that will radically change her future.

Cora is invited to take the “Grand Tour” of Europe, a journey intended to finish a person’s eduction, to solidify an understanding of ancient culture and contemporary refinement. As she travels from England to France, with kin she’s never known, Cora encounters the blessings of a family name, as well as the curses. But when an unbidden love begins to form, she realizes the journey is only beginning…
[from Goodreads]
   
Rating:  4.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Historical fiction buffs
High point:  Cora
Low point: I don't know if the next book is about Cora!
Reader maturity: 13+

I’m not a huge fan of Christian fiction (although I make an exception for Siri Mitchell’s work) so when I realized that Glamorous Illusions falls into that genre, I wasn’t sure I wanted to finish. Lucky for me, I gave it a chance because it’s one of the best books I’ve read in 2012!

First off, I love historical fiction, which is why I downloaded the ebook in the first place. The prewar 1910s are underrepresented (at least in the fiction I read) so I jumped on the chance to get to read about a Grand Tour in Europe.

Secondly, the heroine not only sounds cool from the back cover (farmgirl from Montana thrust into money and high society), but she’s actually pretty cool in the rest of the novel. Cora is a character that girls (and women) of today will be able to relate to with ease. She’s self-doubting but finds inner strength, cautious but ultimately unafraid and sensible (well…most of the time). She also has a solid moral compass that allowed me to enjoy the novel more fully. She was placed in a few awkward situations with eager suitors where, in my experience, most heroines would then succumb to the advances of the man in question. [Possible spoiler] What I like about Cora is that she doesn’t. She’s not judgmental or preachy about her morality; however, she knows that there is right and there is wrong and she lives it, without further ado.

Third, Cora tackles several hurdles in Glamorous Illusions. Betrayal, forgiveness and humility all play a strong role. Though there is a lot going on with Cora’s family and many emotions to process, they never become muddled or overwhelming. The references to faith are frequent, but the novel never proselytizes.

Fourth, the writing was fantastic. Not only is Cora a beautifully explored character, Will is, as well. He’s one of my favorite love interests in all of fiction, although I’m interested to see what becomes of another one, Pierre. Glamorous Illusions takes place in Montana, England and France so there are many mentions of foreign places, but it isn’t too heavy on description. The plot engaged me, dulling the outside world until I tuned everything else out, which is a rare and admirable quality in a book.

Whether or not you’re a fan of Christian fiction, if you like historical novels or light drama that’s all-age appropriate, then I highly recommend Glamorous Illusions. Since it’s referred to as Glamorous Illusions (Grand Tour Series #1), I’m hoping there are more novels to come. I’m eager to know what becomes of Cora (and especially Cora and Will) on the rest of her European Tour.

Title:  Glamorous Illusions
Author:  Lisa T. Bergren
Genre:   Fiction - Paranormal
Year:   2012
Book Source:  Downloaded free from Amazon.com

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Want to Read Wednesday: Velvet

Velvet is a laundress in a Victorian steam laundry. With both her mother and father dead, she is an orphan and has to rely upon her own wits to make a living. The laundry's work is back-breaking and Velvet is desperate to create a better life for herself. Then Velvet is noticed by Madame Savoya, a famed medium, who asks Velvet to come to work for her. Velvet is dazzled at first by the young yet beautifully dressed and bejewelled Madame. But soon Velvet realises that Madame Savoya is not all that she says she is, and Velvet's very life is in danger.

[from Goodreads]

With Want to Read Wednesday, I'll be spotlighting books I want to read, whether they've been out for 10 years or won't be released for another 10 months.