Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Uhtred Rides Again

If you have picked up Bernard Cornwell's The Pagan Lord, chances are quite good that you've read the previous six books in the series. So it should come as little or no surprise to know what you've got ahead of you as a reader, and, if you are like me, you are going to be just as thrilled with this seventh installment as you were three, four, five, or six installments ago.

So what is our Uhtred up to in The Pagan Lord? Being his usual arrogant, irrepressible self, and leading a small core of men across what is now England and back again. Early on, Uhtred accidentally kills a church officer, an incident that incites much of Christendom to want his head on the proverbial platter. After having his estate burned, Uhtred decides the time has come to reclaim his right to Bebbanburg, and he attacks with little or no support. From there, he finds himself deciphering the mystery of whom is holding Cnut's family hostage, and, in the process, putting himself and his men willingly in danger in order to give Alfred's son Edward the time he needs to attack the devious Cnut. It's all business as usual for Uhtred, a man whose intelligence and bravery place him amid the major battles of the early tenth century.

Cornwell has given us a true hero in Uhtred; even when he's at his most arrogant, he still exudes the charm and wits that make him a leader in a time of outlaws and kings. I love how Uhtred gets himself into tight spots from which there seems to be no escape, and yet, somehow, he does; I love that he faces the day with a clear knowledge that it may be his last but he will still make the most of it. Cornwell's battle scenes are exceptional; he places you among the fighters, allowing you to feel every thrust and blow. I admit it; I'm totally enamored of Uhtred and his tales, and there will never be enough chapters for this reader. The Pagan Lord is yet another riveting entry that kept me enthralled right up to the last word. I cannot wait to find out where we will head together next.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Top Ten Books + More

I recently did the challenge on Facebook where you list ten books that have impacted your life. OF COURSE I couldn't stop at ten...and have since thought of a few more that should certainly be added.  So here goes...

1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
2. Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher
3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
4. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
5. When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman
6. The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George
7. The Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling
8. The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick
9. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Honorable Mentions (Yeah, I'm doing it...I really couldn't stop at 10)
~The Georgia Nicolson books by Louise Rennison Official UK
~Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati
~The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard
~Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
~The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly 

And also--

Unforgiven by Laura Hillenbrand
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

What's in your Top Ten?

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Independent Study

Independent Study picks up where The Testing left off; Cia has lived through The Testing (always capitalized!) and is ready to embark on her University studies after taking a placement test. She doesn't precisely remember the trauma she experienced while completing The Testing, but the voice memo she saved on her Transmitter tells her things she knows must be true. In Cia's careful, measured world, it is beyond believable that The Testing is allowed to exist, but the knowledge that her boyfriend Tomas and her mentor Michal know what she knows helps her decide not to leave Tosu City...but only if she can become part of the rebellion team working to overthrow Dr. Barnes and his Testing. Things go from bad to worse for Cia; she attempts to discover information while being constantly watched and overloaded with studies so that she will fail, all without Tomas, who is placed elsewhere. Lots of conspiracy and duplicity ensue, with Cia thinking and overthinking and thinking some more, figuring things out logically yet always trying to do the right thing.

Independent Study could honestly be called The Testing Part II, as there is still a good deal of problems to be worked through and even more tests to pass. While the tests are just as mentally and physically exhausting, it does feel to some degree as though it's just more of the same. Fortunately, Cia has to learn to rely more on herself throughout this one; she learns to trust her instincts and act accordingly. There are horrible situations made worse by horrible people and isolation from those she loves, and a couple of twists near the end that are great set-ups for the final book. 

While I enjoyed Independent Study almost as much as The Testing, I did grow weary of Cia's stilted way of speaking and her overly moralistic views that she imposes on herself and others. I understand that this is all part of the situation in which Cia finds herself, and yet it makes her seem stand-offish and a tiny bit arrogant at times. But the story, even with its similarities to the first book, is still interesting and action-filled. If I'm a tiny bit let down with this entry, it would have to do with Cia's cardboard personality rather than the general storyline itself. I would actually give this novel 3 stars but am rounding it up because I sense that Cia's going to continue to grow as she finds herself drawn further into the takedown of The Testing. Still an enjoyable, intriguing read overall.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How a Terrific Series *Should* End

Daylighters, the final book in the Morganville Vampires series, still keeps the action fresh and constant, and I think that's what I'm going to miss most of all about these books. Even though I believed that things would work out whenever I first picked this book up, it was still a long, twisted ride along the way, just as it's been through the previous fourteen books.

Daylighters opens with our vampire friends in grave danger from an organization that has arrived in town to "cure" the vamps. The tables are turned; no longer in control, Amelie and friends are herded up and held in an abandoned mall while they await a procedure that will rob them of their vampire status. Yes, this includes Michael, and no, Eve and Company are NOT HAPPY. While Claire and Shane work to help Eve, they discover that their beloved Glass House is in danger as well; meanwhile, Claire is accused of murder and taken away in handcuffs. Oh, and remember that strange dog bite Shane got in the last book? Yeah, well, it's the mark of the beast so to speak; at the bidding of Fallon (the head of the Daylighters, the group taking over Morganville), Shane goes hellhound and begins attacking vampires. It's a mess, made even worse with Police Chief Hannah Moses on the Daylighters' side, lots of lost clothing, and the fact that the "cure" has a less than 25% success rate.

I have grown to love all the characters in this series, with the possible exception of Eve. She's just never grown on me; it's as though she's never made it past the emo girlfriend in high school stage, always charging head first into situations without thinking things through, putting herself and others in harm's way. But even Oliver has grown on me; he at least never varied from his same general demeanor and he knows who he is inside. And Claire? Even Oliver remarks on her not being the mouse she was on the day they met. Truly coming into her own, this girl now knows how to survive, with or without her beloved Shane. I absolutely can buy into their relationship because it's mutual and built on a firm foundation, something I feel is lacking in Eve and Michael's. But it's Myrnin, as per usual, who steals the show. More manic than ever, more calculating and emotional, he rescues Claire and treats her as an equal. His slowly revealed feelings for Jesse bring more depth to him, and yet, when Claire is racing back to the lab, he reminds her to check on his pet spider, Bob. Myrnin is magical, and I suspect most of us adore him the most.

Daylighters begins strong and never lets up, even when I couldn't possibly see a way for our heroes to win. All of the major players in the past are back, including the vampires of the town of Blacke. Though at times some of the plot resolutions stretched my imagination to its skeptical limits, I was still enthralled, racing toward an end I really didn't want to see. The final chapter is a bit of a fluff ending, but it's nice and happy and I can live with it. This is a series that goes out on a high note, and I couldn't be a bigger supporter. Highly recommended!


Friday, November 15, 2013

Sweet, Light Tale

Loving Liberty by Belinda Boring is the story of Liberty (the character's actual name), a girl who has been bullied by basically everyone her entire life. Her parents tell her who to see, what to do, and how to do it; her older sister is cruel and threatening; the man her parents have chosen as a future mate is sick and sadistic. And what does Liberty do about all this? What she's always done: nothing. She seethes on the inside but her fear of failure and disappointment doesn't allow her to fight back in any form, even when she's facing a lifetime at the hands of the disgusting Andrew. Until, that is, she meets Oliver, who is everything she could have ever hoped for. Little by little, Liberty begins to gain a sense of herself and her own desires, even if she must sneak around to achieve them.

This is a sweet little story with a powerful message about standing up to the bullies in your life, even if you happen to be related to them. Liberty is at times quite frustrating; I wanted her to stand up for herself much earlier in the story, but naturally that would not have advanced the plot well. For this rather independent, headstrong reader, it was hard for me to believe anyone would react as Liberty does when her family dictates her every move, but I do believe there are people out there who suffer as silent victims beneath the auspices of those who should love them. Oliver was almost too perfect at times; I wanted to see him have at least one flaw so that he would seem more human.

The best part about Loving Liberty comes toward the end, of course; Boring has given us an exciting, action-packed climax that pays off in the best way possible. My problem is that I now want to know more; I am left hanging to see what Liberty accomplishes next. There's no explicit sex at all; in fact, this is a rather chaste story that focuses more on character development than on passionate love. This is definitely an engaging story in the New Adult category that I truly enjoyed.


From:  My virtual stack; Purchased by reviewer

Friday, November 08, 2013


Allegiant brings the Divergent trilogy to a close, and it's full of promise: Tris and Tobias are headed into the outside, toward a new life that they know nothing about. There had been so much action before, culminating in Tris's almost execution; I was glued to the pages while reading the first two books, and was so looking forward to this one. Unfortunately, it's not a particularly thrilling ending to a great series.

Don't get me wrong; there are parts to Allegiant that are good, and even clever. I liked the back story given for Tris's mother; it made sense and gave new layers to what happened. There's some action, and it's generally well-written. The character development is solid, if irritating; there's way too much over-thinking and not enough just going with the flow of emotion. However, Allegiant is overly padded with loooooong segments of talking about what might be going on, what is going on, what will be going on, and almost all of it has to do with genetic damage. I have to admit that my eyes began to glaze on the topic after a while because really...who cares? I never did understand who started damaging the genes to begin with, and how the "repair" was taking place. All of it seemed so secondary to the characters and yet it was the main focus of the story. Meanwhile, things are going down back in Chicago that must be rectified immediately and yet it seems as though there's ambivalence about it. 

My biggest issue with Allegiant, after the overly long segments wherein little seems to happen other than Tris and Tobias fighting and talk of genetic damage, is the dual points of view. I understand why we needed them, but I swear a chapter would change, and with it the point of view, and I would not notice. I'd actually read a few pages into the next chapter before I'd think, "Oh, this is Tris talking now".  It's not good when your characters are so inter-changeable, and not in a good way. The voices were the same, and neither offered much in the way of excitement.

I know a lot of people are upset over the BIG twist, and rightfully so; I do feel let down by how Roth chose to end her story. It just seemed pointless, even if it was in character for the most part. I think I could have lived with it had I felt it was a necessary sacrifice to the overall story but it just felt wrong on so many levels. Instead of being left with a feeling of completion or understanding, I'm just left empty. Sadly, this ending has soured me for the series and definitely made me unexcited about the upcoming motion picture. I'm just left feeling...damaged.


Monday, October 14, 2013

A Did Not Finish

I really wanted to like More Than This; it came very highly recommended to me by someone whose opinion I respect greatly. After the first few pages, wherein the main character, Seth, drowns, I was thinking...well, this has possibilities, even if I wasn't too keen on the writing style. Unfortunately, as soon as Seth "wakes up" wherever it is that he's gone after dying, I quickly lost interest. It's not that the story isn't well-written; I suspect Ness is a genius in many ways as his use of words and his slow descriptive style are certainly intelligent enough. It's just that...I didn't care. I at first felt badly for Seth, a young man with a troubled family, dying much too young; and then, I just didn't care at all because the story was taking so long to get going and was so cryptic that it was just...uninteresting, at least to me.

Full disclosure: This book was, unfortunately, a Did Not Finish for me. Like I said, I wanted to love it but there are just way too many books out there that capture me quickly for me to spend so long struggling to pay attention to one that just doesn't. Realizing it may just be me and my moodiness as a reader, I am still giving this novel 3/5 stars out of a sense of fairness. And who knows? I may try it again at some point and find myself completely enthralled. But for's a definite pass for this reader.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

If You Like YA Fiction...Read This Book. Now.

Well, if you are expecting anything less than a glowing review for Tandem by Anna Jarzab, you're going to be very, very disappointed. I totally loved it: the world building, the characters, the action...all of it adds up to page-turning excitement and fun. Let me explain.

Jarzab's novel opens with Sasha being asked to the prom by good-looking Grant, a boy who has never shown an interest in her before. Sasha's puzzled but intrigued enough to accept, not realizing that Grant isn't who he has always been, and this date is going to be life-changing in more ways than one. For a girl who grew up listening to her grandfather's stories of multiple universes and princesses in other realms, Sasha's about to get first-hand knowledge of just how parallel worlds actually work when she is forced to slip into the life of her analog (the person who looks just like her). Is she able to pull it off? Why should she? What follows is complicated in more ways than one, and Sasha's very life could depend upon what she does...or doesn't do.

This novel had me trapped almost from the start with its rather unique premise and Sasha's honest storytelling. Of course there's a bit of a romance, but it's a slow build and not at all certain; Sasha's rebellious in more ways than one. Jarzab uses just enough science to lend credibility to her story, but it's the idea of everyone having a double out there somewhere that really brings this story alive. I actually made myself put this novel down before I went to bed last night just so I wouldn't finish it too fast; it was that enjoyable and that enthralling. Now of course I'm mad that I have to wait until next July for the second book, but you better believe I'll be acquiring the sequel on the day of release. Not truly a dystopian, not really a teen romance, Tandem is so much's a book that you'll find yourself absorbed into. What are you waiting for? Go read it now. Highly recommended!


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Emerald Green

Emerald Green is the final book in Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red Trilogy, bringing this delightful series to a close and tying up loose threads along the way. Gwyneth and Gideon are, once again, preparing to travel back in time to meet with Count Saint-Germain, and to close the Circle of Twelve. The closing is supposed to bring about a great good for mankind, but Gwyneth and Gideon begin to have their doubts, and these are only reinforced the more they interact with the Guardians. The presence of a second chronograph will allow them to time travel independently of the Guardians, but it brings its own dangers; will they find the mysterious substance the count is seeking? And what will happen if they do? Along the way, Gwyneth struggles with Gideon's wish to be friends, her uppity cousin Charlotte, and the presence of the friendly demon Xemerius.

Lots of nice twists populate this novel, and Gwyneth's voice is perfectly written with her angst and cleverness. I did get a little frustrated with the Gwyneth/Gideon relationship at times; I had trouble buying into it until perhaps the last third of the novel. The mystery that surrounds the chronograph moves along well, and the revelations make good sense in the course of the plot. I do feel that I'm left hanging just a bit after the close; I want full, complete answers to everything!

Emerald Green is just as much fun as the first two books in the series, and I was happily engaged throughout the storyline. Nothing too deep, but definitely lots of fun. Even the presence of the annoying little demon doesn't distract from the overall enjoyment, and I'm not one who normally enjoys that sort of thing. I'll be looking for more by this author!


Sunday, September 29, 2013

And...I'm BACK! With a REVIEW! Of a terrific book, no less! And another really good one!


Actually, I haven't really been anywhere...other than reading some books for review for the Historical Novel Society and trying to keep my head above water at school and with a bunch of volunteering for the high school band. I know, I know, everyone tells me I will miss volunteering for band once K graduates this spring, but somehow I doubt it. It's so time-consuming and I just don't have it in me to want to continue. Plus, my reading mojo has been lacking; I've allowed other things to keep me from finishing books, so this looks to be one of my worst reading years EVER. That sucks.  Big Time.

But anyway, I have finished a few books, and one that I can share here is Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis. If anyone is looking for a GREAT dystopian YA, look no further. This is a good one that doesn't focus on romance or saving a nation. It's about...well, here's my review:

The only life Lynn has ever known is one of desperation and defense; in a world where water is at a premium, she and her mother must protect their pond from anyone and everyone. That means Lynn has learned to shoot a rifle at a very young age, and at sixteen, spends much of her time either purifying the water or sitting on her rooftop, waiting to pick off anyone who comes near. Off in the distance lives a neighbor man, Stebbs, but Lynn has been taught that everything is about survival, and that means trusting no one. Until her mother is killed and Lynn finds that there's more to life than protecting the water; what good is it when there is no one else around?

So much emotion in a dystopian book that brings us heartbreak and hope in equal measures. The loss of Lynn's mother is both tragic and yet freeing; Lynn has to rely on Stebbs, which opens her closed world to the possibility of friendship and even love. The rescue of young Lucy further stretches Lynn's world view, and the introduction of Lucy's young uncle, Eli, brings the possibility of closeness cautiously, perilously close. As the story progresses, I can feel the edges being pulled back, though there's still danger as a band of evil thieves survive the harsh winter and pose a threat to both the water and the small group of friends. Though I could feel where this story was headed, it still had me turning the pages rapidly, hoping against hope that Lynn would be able to protect what was hers.

I absolutely loved how the layers to Lynn's heart were revealed slowly and subtly, and the characterizations of the people involved in her small world were vivid and believable. This story is as much about survival of spirit as it is about a dystopian world where water is everything. McGinnis has written a story of change that makes this a much different take on the dystopian novels which are so popular; it focuses not on a love story, or trying to right a wrong in an entire world, but instead is about real people who have much to learn and much to give. Excellent and highly recommended.

And also, I read another fun one by J. Maarten Troost:  Headhunters On My Doorstep. Seriously, this guy is the bomb when it comes to travelogues. Here's my review:

I love J. Maarten Troost. Seriously, he seems to be someone I'd really love to hang out with: smart alecky, observant, witty, and skeptical. Plus he seems to know where all the coolest spots are in the South Pacific, and he always seems to have some sort of adventure that defies believability. And nowhere is this more apparent than in Headhunters On My Doorstep, his newest travelogue entry wherein he retraces the journeys of Robert Louis Stevenson in the late 1800s.

Troost begins his latest book by sharing his own personal journey through alcoholism; recently sprung from the land of rehab, he realizes it's time to get back on track in lots of ways. This time he uses maps and other sources to follow RLS's life-changing trek through the South Pacific (a story I knew nothing about). Going off the beaten track, Troost, in his trademark style, swims with sharks (and also avoids them when necessary), runs across islands, and basically explores anything and everything that will take him closer to Stevenson's journey. I'm ever amazed at the places he stays and the people he encounters, all while describing worlds that I'm sure can only be truly experienced first-hand. A bonus for this reader was Troost's return to Kirabati, the island where his first book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, took place. Like all things, time has moved the island forward and yet some of it is still the same. I would have liked him to spend more time there, revisiting with sites and people, but his time on Kirabati is only a short stop along the way.

Though this is a short read, I did labor over it as I pictured the places being visited and tried to absorb the mini-history lessons and the cultures. Troost does spend quite a good bit of time sharing his feelings about addiction and his need to not relapse; while I understand how much this impacts his daily life, I did wish there was less time spent recounting that portion of Troost's life (to the detriment of more details of the islands). But overall this book shows Troost's deep, abiding respect for the islands he called home for a time, and it only reinforces my own wish to visit them myself some day. Until I can, I'll continue to enjoy Troost's trademark humor and attention to detail as he gives me a glimpse of lives I can only imagine.


Thursday, September 05, 2013

28 Signs...

And, yes, I know this is about English majors, but for reals, this could apply to readers...

28 Signs You Were An English Major


Sunday, August 11, 2013


Hey, notice my title? Ha Ha...I can be clever and funny, too. Unfortunately, Rogue is over-packed/padded with this sort of humor, and it doesn't necessarily stand up any better than my feeble attempt.

Don't get me wrong...I loved the first two books in this series and was sorry to see it end. But when I got to this one, it just From the very first pages, it felt like it was missing something. Yes, it still had the snarky humor that is a hallmark of the series, and yes, the setting is unique and smart. But this entire entry just felt padded with way too much extra stuff, most of which could have been whittled down into a book about half its size. There's lots of anguish over what's happening to the Afterlife, what's happening to Lex and Driggs, what needs to happen. There's a bunch of "we've got to get through this obstacle to get to the next obstacle" action, and surprises that really weren't all that surprising. I just grew weary of the forced funniness about halfway through; a book that should have the excitement of protecting the Afterlife and the fun of teenaged hormones just didn't. And while the ending was not what I expected, I do have to say that it was actually different enough that I am left feeling bittersweet and bizarrely hopeful.

Still, there's a good deal to like in Rogue, including Lex coming to terms with herself and the bonds of friendship becoming stronger. I wasn't offended by anything, even the rough language and the sexual situations, but none of it hit an emotional chord with me, either. I just felt that the ultimate solution really didn't resolve anything fully, and there was way too much filler action. I liked Rogue, but didn't love it. And that's my Grim diagnosis.


Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Outside

The Outside follows The Hallowed Ones, a tale of rampant vampirism overtaking the world and even amid the land of the Amish. While The Hallowed Ones was one of my favorite reads so far this year, I was a bit skeptical that its follow-up could be as good. Color me happily surprised and deliriously engaged with the equally eerie sequel, which opens as Amish Katie, her Englisher sort of boyfriend, Alex, and her Englisher friend Ginger are cast into the vampire-filled world Outside, either to live or to die.

First, I'll say that my creeptastic monitor hit a solid ten early on with the appearance of the nasty vampires and the race to find secure ground every day as the night closed in. With just a vague plan to head north to Alex's family, the three outcasts head out, hoping to find food and shelter along the way. Time after time, Katie follows her heart rather than her head, almost getting herself and her friends killed; time after time, her instincts prove her to be correct. Not wanting to give any major plot points away, I will say that eventually a surviving group is encountered that might possibly offer hope for the future, but naturally major obstacles exist. Lots of action, lots of emotion.

It's Katie's struggles between how she was raised and what the world is now that held me glued to the pages; her evolving relationship with Alex rings very true, but it's Katie's growth personally and emotionally that is the heart of the story. I loved the symbolism of the water throughout, and I loved that Katie grew to be someone who decided to take chances, despite of her beliefs. I loved that Katie felt as strongly about animals as she did about humans, and I loved that she was ready to take on forces bigger than herself for what she felt was right. Most of all, I loved the creepy scenarios, with their dark spaces and terrifying moments.

The Outside is the final book of this two book series, and it's a well-written, unique sort of young adult book. Sure, it's post-apocalyptic, but the settings are different and the characters attach themselves to you. Definitely recommended for those with a strong stomach and eager for a good read.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Letters From Skye

Letters From Skye is set during both World War I and World War II, tied together with a love story told entirely in epistolary form. A young American sends a fan letter to an author of poetry as he prepares to leave college; far away, on the Isle of Skye, the poetess receives his letter and begins a 5 year correspondence that results in a love affair. As time progresses, the two meet and fall deeply in love, but the war is not their only obstacle: Elspeth, the poetry writer, is already married to a childhood friend who is gone off to fight in the first War. When he disappears, it would seem that the way to happiness is cleared, but the family issues Elspeth faces draws her away from David, who has volunteered to drive ambulances in France. Interspersed throughout their letters are letters written by her daughter Margaret at the beginning of the Second World War as Margaret struggles to unravel the mystery of her mother's "first chapter".

This is a delightful book, one that flows well and can easily be read in one sitting. The ease with which Elspeth and David converse through their writings is both engaging and believable, and the mystery of what happened so long ago is revealed slowly, building to twists of fate and time. I loved seeing the evolution of the relationship as time went on, and the family issues Elspeth experiences adds well to the overall story. If things do tend to go rather predictably at times, it didn't detract from the sweet story set against the turbulence of World Wars. An excellent first entry by Ms. Brockmole. Recommended.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

One More Series Book...The Evolution of Mara Dyer

There's just enough doubt laid out in this Mara Dyer actually crazy? Or is she really seeing the boy she thinks she killed when an abandoned asylum collapsed? I went back and forth at times--I so wanted to believe there was nothing wrong with Mara, yet she seems unstable at times. And that's just one part of this sequel that had me gripped as I wove my way through the darkness.

The second book in Michelle Hodkin's series which began with The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer picks up almost immediately after Mara's breakdown in the first; Mara is convinced she has seen Jude, the boy who she believes died in the collapse. Mara's receiving treatment for her "breakdown", and that includes going to Horizons, a sort of day camp that will work on her issues. Still at her side is her boyfriend, Noah; both he and Mara seem to have some sort of superpower but neither knows why. Much of this book is spent in their attempts to discover the reasons behind what they can do. It's harder for them in this second book, with Mara's parents (and Noah) determined not to leave her alone for any time at all, and the creepiness factor is upped substantially: Jude somehow invades Mara's bedroom while she is sleeping, leaving her scary messages and moving things around. Delicious and intriguing: How is he getting in? And why won't anyone believe Mara when she says he's still alive?

The mystery is revealed only a bit at a time, and it includes flashbacks to a time long ago, somewhere in India; it is definitely becoming apparent that whatever is going on, it's genetic. But even when we get an answer, it seems as though there's another one in its place. Hodkin is a master of making the reader doubt what's going on; even her characters show distrust and skepticism. I love Mara's voice; she's definitely a teen, first and foremost, but it's easy to see how lost she feels.

My biggest issues with this book aren't too overwhelming, but they did bother me as I read. First is pacing; at times I felt I was spinning my wheels, waiting to move forward, then at others, it was whiplash as events flew by. I also am still on the fence about the relationship between Mara and Noah; I want to feel the depth and the tension, but somehow, it's just eluding me. I want them to be together, but I need some sparks, not just random outbursts of "I need you!" followed by distance.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer is filled with interesting characters and a highly atmospheric creepiness that keeps the pages turning. It's a long read (around 500 pages) but it's a fairly quick one. I'm definitely invested and can't wait for the third in the series to see how all is revealed.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Two Very Different Books

I finished two very different books over the weekend, both enjoyable for very different reasons. First up is The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

I am such a Gaiman Fangirl that I suspected I would love The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but what I ended up feeling after closing this novel was something beyond that emotion. Enraptured, entranced, enthralled...yes, all of those, and complete, total adoration. The Ocean at the End of the Lane exceeded my expectations on every level.

I always expect something different and otherworldly when reading a Gaiman young adult novel, and this one is no exception. Told from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old boy (whose name we never learn), it's the story of a summer when a houseguest commits suicide on the farm of a mysterious trio of females. The young man becomes involved with the eleven-year-old girl who lives on the farm, and together they embark on an adventure that leads to an odd creature escaping its confines through the boy, and the desperate fight to get rid of the creature as it wreaks havoc on the boy's home life. All of this plays out in a magical fantasy filled with lovely descriptions and colorful environments that are as creepy as they are intriguing. The ending is perfection; heck, the whole book is!

If you've never read a novel by Neil Gaiman, definitely take the time to search out The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It's true that it's a fantasy, but underneath are the common feelings we all experience and the characters we all recognize. This is a slim book that packs a wonderful, fantastic tale that I will want to revisit time and again.

The second one is Holy Ghosts, written by Gary Jansen:

Holy Ghosts is a very quick read; it's the non-fiction tale of Gary Jansen and his family, whose home is invaded by ghosts. Jansen had lived in the home growing up, and his mother even told him once that there was a ghost living there, but it's once he is older and has purchased the house for himself and his growing family that the odd incidents began to increase. After his wife's miscarriage, Jansen experiences electric sensations, sounds, toys going off randomly, and lots of unexplained shadows. Through his work in the publishing industry, he is able to contact Mary Ann Winkowski (the lady on whom the tv show The Ghost Whisperer is based) and she advises him of details of the two ghosts and also how to rid his home of them. Along the way, Jansen, a spiritual Catholic, discusses how the presence of the ghosts affected him on religious levels, doing research and leading him to a stronger faith.

This book is quite engaging, even if there is a good deal about Jansen's personal upbringing; this is understandable due to the fact that he's spent much of his life living in the same place. I liked that much of his research and experiences were backed up by the facts, and his interactions with Winkowski are particularly amazing. If Jansen is to be believed, (and I feel strongly that he is telling the truth), then this story is fairly solid proof that there is something more out there. This is an enjoyable read and definitely one to get you thinking, particularly if you have any interest at all in the paranormal.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I want to be fair in this review of Myra McEntire's sequel to Hourglass, Timepiece: It's been quite a few months since I read Hourglass and it took several pages of "refreshing" before I was back into the storyline. I think this was not helped by the fact that this entry was told from a different point of view; this time we are treated to seeing the story from Kaleb's eyes. Not that that is a bad thing at all; once I got my feet under me, I think I prefer Kaleb telling the story. At least he's highly entertaining and his flirtatious "relationship" with Lily was perfect (and more believable than the one with Emerson and Michael).

Timepiece begins with another appearance by the time-traveling Jack, and ripples in time that are becoming stronger. Kaleb's father is back from the dead, but their relationship is strained. When Jack delivers an ultimatum (and Poe does something truly shocking), the Hourglass kids take off to Memphis to try to track down clues to a possibly real Infinityglass. Along the way, they run into Kaleb's father's former partners, Dr. Turner and Teague, and it's a race to see who can establish the authenticity of an item that would allow Jack to change history all on his own.

I really enjoyed this novel at times, and at others, I felt the plot was rushed or just didn't flow. Specifically, any time Kaleb and Lily were front and center, I loved everything going on. Their voices are real and they just leap into life from the pages, even when it feels as though very little got resolved. It's when Michael and Emerson come into the story that I felt everything slowed and became wooden; there is a very unsatisfying resolution to those two toward the end that really feels out of place.

Overall, this is a fun story that has a lot of twists and turns and definitely reminds me of a Doctor Who episode. As a Tennessean, I totally love all the accurate references to Memphis and Nashville, and I'm intrigued to see where all this ends up. If at times events seem to be a little conveniently tied up, it's excusable for the fun I'm having. Rounding up from 3.5 stars for the fun factor.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Boundless (Another series you really need to read)

Boundless is the final book in Cynthia Hand's excellent trilogy that began with Unearthly. I've just closed the last page, and I'm already sad. These characters have worked their way into my soul and I'm hoping Ms. Hand finds a way to include them in future tales.

Clara has broken up with Tucker, and she, Christian, and Angela are going to Stanford as the book opens. Clara and Christian are still having visions and they are terrifying, with blood and fighting and swords involved. Angela is also having a vision, but she feels certain she knows how hers will play out...until she turns up pregnant. The Black Watchers are still around, and Clara's brother Jeffrey has turned up, working in a pizza place not far from Stanford. When Clara's father shows up, she and Christian know events are moving to a head, but they still don't know what's coming. There are lots of other things going on as well, including Christian's longing for Clara and her determination to stay away from Tucker (which doesn't always go so well).

One of the best things about this series is the character development Clara experiences over the course of the books. She grows from an unsure teenager to someone who knows she can stand up for herself and those she loves. Her sense of humor is absolutely the best part of the story; I could totally hear her voice in my head and it was dead on with what a teen would say. I also love Christian and his devotion, his willingness to wait; though I always wanted Clara to end up with Tucker, Christian held my heart in a lot of ways.

The beginning of the book is a little slow, but not annoyingly so. Once the action picks up, however, it's next to impossible to put the book down. I actually became reluctant to pick Boundless up again this afternoon, knowing I was so close to finishing it and not wanting to let go. Definitely going on the keeper shelf, this series is probably the best I've accidentally discovered in this genre. Highly recommended!


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Hero's Lot

The Hero's Lot by Patrick W. Carr picks up where the last book leaves off: our hero, Errol, is in Erinon, facing his future as well as the Judica (the ruling ecclesiastical body), who is accusing him of consorting with spirits. Wrongly convicted, Errol is placed under a compulsion to track the fallen, evil former church leader, Sarin Valon, into the land of Merakh, and kill him. This is not a trek that can be made lightly, so accompanying Errol on his quest are two men whose presence will prove to be very helpful: Elar Indomiel and Naaman Ru. Errol's friends Martin and Luis do not join him; they instead travel back to Callowford to try to discover just who Errol really is and why he is so important to the kingdom. Meanwhile, did I happen to mention that Errol's feelings for Princess Adora are growing and that it seems those feelings are being returned?

There is a lot going on in The Hero's Lot, with the chapters moving back and forth among Errol and his traveling companions and Martin and his adventures. I must admit to a certain amount of frustration with the back and forth, but only because I would find myself involved in what Errol and Co. were doing and then bam! I'm back with Martin, and vice versa. That's a minor complaint really, though; there's plenty of storyline to go around, and everything advances the plot. We find out some key secrets along the way, and discover a few more mysteries as well. Carr's writing is such that I felt as out of breath as his characters as I followed them through fights and escapes; I particularly enjoyed the latter one third of the book when things were most dire and seemingly hopeless, even if I wanted to throttle Errol at times for getting lost inside himself. Excellent writing there.

I do have a suggestion for the next book (besides hurry up and publish it!): Please, please supply 1) a map (or two or three), 2) a list of characters with relevant relationships, and 3) a list of church/religious offices (and whom is currently occupying what would be even better!). I did spent a good deal of the first few chapters trying to refresh my memory of who is whom and what the church does/expects. My mind's eye could provide a fairly accurate map based on Carr's precise details but a visual would be extremely well-received. If I were reading this series back to back, I doubt I'd need such reminders, but throw in several other books between readings and my mind needed a refresher.

This is epic fantasy, people; those who love a good tale with lots of detail and ever-expanding mystery will definitely find lots of enjoy and love, as I have. Carr's got a true gift of engaging the reader, and I'm looking forward to seeing how all this wraps up. Highly recommended!


Friday, July 05, 2013

Weird and Wild

Fuse picks up right after Pure left off; Partridge has escaped the Dome and has met up with his sister, Pressia; both have watched their mother and brother die because of Partridge's father. Both are fighting attraction to their respective "friends", Lyda and Bradwell, and unsure what their next step will be. Bradwell has a black box, named Fignan, which is surprisingly human and may hold the key to defeating those in the Dome; El Capitan, with Helmud still on his back, is determined to help Pressia and Bradwell as they attempt to decipher a complex code left behind by Arthur Walrond, one of the Seven; Partridge must decide whether he should leave his love Lyda behind outside the Dome in order to stop the slaughter of Invalids. Once Invalid children begin to disappear and then reappear as Pures, the race to find the formula that will prevent cell degeneration is front and center. in exploding spiders, a wild car ride, an abandoned amusement park, brain surgery, and an air ship, and you pretty much have Fuse.

Of course there's so much going on it would be hard to recap it all here, and I won't even attempt to do so. The chapters move among the different points of view, and while the action is almost constant (in one form or another), it's the characters' depth that truly steals the show here. By the time the last page is read, no one is emotionally where they were at the beginning, and some are so changed it's hard to tell who they once were. I fell in love with El Capitan especially--the devotion to his brother (however enforced) is so deep and his feelings for Pressia are so real that I could forget any physical issues he may have.

Once again, I marvel at the world Ms. Baggott has created; the intricate details make this so much more than just a run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic story. It's layered and imaginative; it's dark and resourceful. I'm a willing victim who finds herself absolutely enthralled with these books and is so eager to find out how all this is going to play out in the third book. Bring it on!


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Seriously, There Needs To Be a Law

Yes, there does indeed need to be a law. For what? For writers who get us invested in characters and settings through two and 3/4 books, then leaves us with a non-ending. If we had such a law, I'm afraid Lauren Oliver would be paying the price for Requiem right this minute.

Possible spoilers ahead...

Don't get me wrong...I love Ms. Oliver's writing and this trilogy was no exception. I love that right up until the last moment, our heroine Lena is conflicted about her relationships, and that means almost all of them--the one with her mom, the one with Hana, the one with Alex, the one with Julian. I like that she's unafraid to fight for what she wants, and she even questions whether or not it's all worth it. I do like that we get the sense that the story's not really over, that our Invalids will continue the Good Fight for change. And right up until the final chapter, I was right on board the whole plot...still not sure how things would get resolved, but still on board.

And then they didn't get resolved.

There are open endings, and there are open endings. A good open ending leaves you feeling good about the characters and their futures, with a good idea of how everything will eventually play out. This ending is not one of those. No, indeed, this ending, with its talk of tearing down walls, doesn't let me know that the Invalids gained a thing, or that Fred paid the ultimate price, or that Hana learns to experience any emotions again, or that Lena even makes a choice. Of course, I believe her feelings for Alex are deeper and stronger than those for Julian, but if they do get back together, what does it say about her that she can turn her back on the one boy who never questioned her, never let her down? Quite honestly, after all we experienced in Requiem, I'm not even sure what the Invalids were fighting for was actually worth it. I mean, who wants to be hunted and mowed down repeatedly, always having to struggle for food, warmth, a home? No amount of love will overcome the fact that these people will die young and not in a good way through their deprivations. I'm not saying love isn't worth it exactly, but that even if the Invalids did succeed in taking over Portland, who is to say the other cities don't send more troops to destroy them?


It's very sad that an ending that I'm sure the author labored over strikes the overall tone of this novel and its predecessors down so far. I could have overlooked Lena's indecisions and hurt had I found her relationships more redeeming, but as it stands, Hana is the one who stole the entire show in this finale. Hana made the big choices and gathered information along the way. Lena just rode the coattails of those around her and when the going got tough, she struck out on her own, leaving behind the boy who'd saved her life over and over.

I'm not saying to not read this entry; in general, it's well written and I can interpret the ending as I wish. But seriously, I am so let down that I'd like to ask Ms. Oliver to consider one more novel to help wrap things up. As it stands, consider this reader very underwhelmed--but still giving the book 3 stars because of my enjoyment until the last chapter.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Diva by Jillian Larkin

While I've known The Flappers series was light, gossipy fun, I still became attached to the characters and was looking forward to Diva, the final book in the trilogy. And Diva starts off well enough; Gloria is being released from prison (if she helps the cops), Clara is bereft without Marcus but still writing, and Lorraine has started college and is ready for love. So what happened? What went wrong and what went right?

What Went Right: Issues are resolved, and I'm basically pretty happy with them. Clara doesn't back down; she's absolutely the best character in the book and comes the furthest as far as character development. There's a huge, exciting climax with a major dramatic flair that really feeds a romanticist's dreams.

What Went Wrong: So, so much. This is going to be a bit spoilery, so consider yourselves forewarned.

Marcus? Really? He breaks up with the love of his life and then is actually marrying someone else he basically knows nothing about within a month? Nope. So ridiculous.
Forrest and Ruby? Just didn't care about either one, particularly a woman who so obviously uses men for her own ends. Got what you deserved. Still don't understand the whole bit with Forrest and his father. It just didn't make sense, no matter how it was explained.
Lorraine? Her character degenerated into ridiculous comic relief. I kept thinking she couldn't get any dumber and then...yep, it happened. Sort of a Lucille Ball, over-the-top airhead with no redeeming qualities at all. She never gets better, even when she finds love instantaneously with a boy whom she requires keep his glasses on so he'd look good.
Gloria and Jerome? I still don't buy that they sailed off into the sunset. Yes, I get that people still gave them a hard time as a mixed race couple in the 1920s, but I still don't see it. Maybe they did, but Gloria's immaturity and lack of foresight just seemed to make me feel that these two have more issues than race. Not feeling it.
Clothes? If I read one more description of clothing, down to the threads used, one more time...arrrrrrgh! I get that the author loves the period and knows her stuff. But it's self-indulgent to spend so much time describing costumes, not to mention it's just a filler for having nothing else to say.

I don't know...maybe my tolerance for superficial young women falling instantly and forever in love is low this week. Despite knowing that this would be fluff, I'm let down. Yes, it delivers what it should. Yes, I know it's young adult and therefore should be forgiven, perhaps, a little more than adult fiction. But then again, I don't think so. I expect a certain amount of believability in my fiction (unless I know in advance that it's fantasy), and I just feel shortchanged. I wanted to love this final book, and I just didn't. I didn't hate it, but it just fell short of what it could have been. I'll round up from 2.5 stars because I did enjoy the first two, so I'll give this one the benefit of my good feelings for those two.


Monday, June 17, 2013

The Lucky Ones

The final book in the Bright Young Things trilogy, The Lucky Ones, brings to a close the stories of socialite Astrid, bootlegger daughter Cordelia, and rising starlet Letty. The three young women were all looking for love and affirmation in the Roaring Twenties when booze was outlawed and life seemed to be one long party. And the finale, while not unexpected, was a fitting ending to a very good series.

Moving among the three points of view, there's an underlying theme of naivety and longing. Astrid has married Charlie but it doesn't take long for the shine to leave the marriage and her eye falls elsewhere fairly quickly. Cordelia has found perhaps the best relationship of her life with pilot Max Darby, but his African-American heritage casts a shadow in a time where blacks were still considered second-class citizens. And Letty? She's moved in with a famous movie star and his wife, ostensibly to "learn how to be a star", but her feelings for Valentine O'Dell may be the very thing that causes all her dreams to crash. All three end up in very unexpected places, some tragic, some wonderful, but very, very different than where they began.

The Lucky Ones (and obviously the title is very tongue-in-cheek) is a realistic finale but I found myself wanting more. It's a glimpse into a short time period into the lives of three beautiful, talented young women, a deliberate move on the author's part to show the wildness of the twenties and the recklessness of youth. Still, I wanted more. I wanted to know firsthand how it all plays out in the future. The book moves along at a good clip and yet I still felt I was only skimming the surface of what happened. Definitely a good read whose layers are probably going to reveal more as I continue to think about it. Godbersen is an engaging writer and this series is recommended.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Elite

The Elite picks up where The Selection leaves off--America is now part of the Final Six young ladies left vying for the attentions of Prince Maxon. She knows she cares for him, but there is still Aspen, her former boyfriend who is now a palace guard, hovering around and making her decisions next to impossible. Throw in the fact that she doesn't care for a couple of the girls also in the Elite and that the Rebels are closing in, and you've got the set up for this novel.

What's to like? America is refreshing since she doesn't apologize for who she is and where she comes from. Maxon is charming and it's easy to see he should choose America. It's a light, fun novel filled with a sincere voice and an agonizing love triangle--which is actually more of a love septangle if we include the other Elite. There is some danger and several secrets that keep the pages turning.

What's not to like? Well, some of the very things to like are those that make this novel so frustrating. America jumps to conclusions repeatedly and she doubts Maxon so often that I'd like to knock some sense into her. Toward the end, there is a revelation (or two) from Maxon that hits America hard, and she is shocked, though after her actions throughout, she shouldn't be at all. Though the book is about finding a spouse for Maxon, it's easy to see how immature these teens are by what they choose to do and say. And quite honestly, if Rebels could break into the palace so easily, I'm not so sure I'd be trying very hard to become a princess.

The Elite is a fast read and an enjoyable one, though definitely not very deep. Still, it kept my interest quite well and I found it fun and light. I'd actually give it 3.5 stars, but my overall enjoyment will boost it 4.


Friday, June 07, 2013

Another Little Piece

You know right away that something is off about Annaliese; the story begins with her in a hospital being interrogated because she's recently shown up after a year of being gone: Missing, no news type of gone. More oddly, she disappeared during a party...after showing up covered in blood. Everything went dark and Annaliese disappeared. Now that she's back, she has no memories of where she's been for the past year, but her hopeful parents believe they will be able to find their Annaliese somewhere inside the girl who is now home. Trouble is, their Annaliese disappeared forever the night of the party, and the Annaliese in their home is not the one they know.

The premise for Another Little Piece is riveting: Just who is this new Annaliese and why doesn't she remember anything? It doesn't take long to realize that there is way more than just a missing year going on here; Annaliese tells us what she knows as slowly the layers are peeled back to reveal someone who may not even be human. She doesn't want to become attached to the parents who are overjoyed to have her back but she does; she doesn't want the attention of the boy who took her virginity at the party from which she disappeared, but she can't bring herself to be mean to him. This Annaliese doesn't seem evil but there is definitely something evil happening and it centers on a razor, a strange boy named Eric, and her upcoming eighteenth birthday. Meanwhile, Dex, the odd boy next door, captures her interest as Annaliese struggles inside skin she doesn't really own.

Another Little Piece is a very different book, filled with violence and deception but also intense feeling and mythology. I wasn't sure I was going to like it at first, not because of the storyline itself but because I felt the book initially dragged in the first 50 pages; the very slow revealing of the layers of Annaliese had me wanting to skim ahead until the real action was revealed. I also didn't really get the attraction of Dex for quite a while; he was just too abruptly introduced and his circumstances were just too oddly written for me to feel a connection. But as I kept reading, the story became more intriguing until I found I was unable to put the book aside--I had to know what happened next. I may even need to reread it at some point to discover the carefully laid clues that make more sense the further along you go. It's not your run of the mill paranormal, and for this unique tale, that's a very good thing. I believe that the more I think about this one, the more I will likely want to bump the star rating up. Intriguing and imaginative.


Monday, June 03, 2013

The Testing

Cia has dreamed of being selected for The Testing all her life, but thinks her opportunity has passed now that she's graduated from school with no word. But when the Testing officials unexpectedly show up to her colony after graduation and select not just she, but three more graduates, she is elated, even if it means she will be leaving behind her family, possibly forever. Only her father, himself a Testing graduate, shows concern, and as it turns out, not without cause. Almost immediately upon being taken to Tosu City, the Testing becomes a brutal competition between 108 candidates, only 20 of whom will ultimately be chosen to go to University. For sheltered but brilliant Cia, it's an eye-opening experience that culminates in a weeks-long trek across 700 miles filled with danger, disaster, and death. Will it all be worth it?

The Testing is a young adult dystopian with echoes of The Hunger Games and other recent novels that share its theme. However, it is very well written, with the innocence of Cia being its main turning point; Cia believes in only the good in people, and it is both her downfall and its saving grace. There aren't a lot of surprises along the way; it's a dystopian novel, so we know there will be an uncaring government and people who aren't what they seem, with lots of harsh conditions and heartbreak. If I have a complaint about The Testing, it is that the relationship between Cia and Tomas is a little too sweet, but that follows Cia's naivety.

The Testing is the first of a trilogy, and it is well-plotted with its twists and its smart heroine. The set up for the next novel is well done, with a cliffhanger ending that promises more surprises and horror ahead. The Testing doesn't break any new ground, but it does provide page-turning action and an interesting premise which makes it a very good read. I'm hooked.