Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Danielle and Jessie's Bookish Bingo Wrap-Up

Winter is finally over! That's probably far better news for the blogger in Ohio than the one in Phoenix, but regardless. With the beginning of April comes a new Bookish Bingo, and a time to say goodbye to the old one. Jess and I both did AMAZING this time around, (four Bingos on her first card and I was able to clear the board!) I love participating and opening myself up to new books. Of the 31 books I've read in 2015, 9 of them wouldn't have been on my radar without Bingo. So let's round these up! - D




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 1. Middle Grade: Alistair Grim's Odditorium by Gregory Funaro - 1/2/15

2. Fairytale Retelling: Firebird by Mercedes Lackey - 1/3/15

3. Epistolary: The Martian by Andy Weir - 1/4/15

4. Gold Lettering: Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle - 1/5/15 - 1/6/15

5. LGBTQIA MC: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz - 1/6/15

6. PoC MC: The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton - 1/8/15 - 1/9/15

7. Mental Illness: I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios (PTSD, depression, survivor's guilt) - 1/12/15

BINGO!

8. Over 400 pages: The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima (Seven Realms #2) - 587 pages - 1/14/15 - 1/15/15

9. Start a series: Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan - Maids of Honor #1 - 2/1/15 - 2/2/15

10. White Cover: Soulprint by Megan Miranda - 1/26/15

11. Magical Realism: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby 2/12/15 - 2/13/15

12. Pretty Dress Cover: Venom by Fiona Paul - 2/14/15

BINGO x 2! Pretty Dress, Middle Grade, White Cover, LGBTQIA, Epistolary 

13. Graphic Novel: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud 2/14/15 - 2/15/15 

14. Fairies or fae: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas - 

15. Mystery or thriller: Liars, Inc by Paula Stokes - 3/17/15

BINGO x 3! Start a series, middle grade, mystery/thriller, mental illness, fae/fairies 

16. Blue cover: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman 3/8/15 - 3/11/15

BINGO x 4! Blue cover, mystery/thriller, free, over 400 pages, graphic novel

2015 Debut: The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace - 3/17/15 - 3/19/15

Male POV: Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



2014 Release You MissedLegion: Skin Deep (1/4)
POC MC: The Oathbreaker's Shadow (1/11)
Forgotten Fridays Pick: Saving Francesca (1/11)
Mental Illness: I'll Meet You There (1/16)
Based on Mythology: Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes (1/18)
Male POV: The Piper's Son (1/26)
Romance: Trade Me (1/26)
Fairy Tale Retelling: The Mermaid's Madness (1/30)
Start a Series: Finnikin of the Rock (2/2)
Blue Cover: Seeker (2/8)
Mystery or Thriller: Iron Kissed (2/13)
Faries or Fae: Crown of Midnight (2/14)
Over 400 Pages: The Sculptor (2/18)
Pretty Dress Cover: The Sin Eater's Daughter (2/24)
Gold Lettering: A Tale of Two Castles (2/26)
Middle Grade: Witherwood Reform School (3/1)
White Cover: A Darker Shade of Magic (3/11)
Super Powers: Steelheart (3/12)
LGBT: None of the Above (3/16)
Magical Realism: The Dream Thieves (3/19)
Epistolary: The Boy Next Door (3/21)

Book Tour Review: Miramont's Ghost by Elizabeth Hall

Title: Miramont's Ghost
Author: Elizabeth Hall
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 334
Published: February 1 2015
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3/5


Miramont Castle, built in 1897 and mysteriously abandoned three years later, is home to many secrets. Only one person knows the truth: Adrienne Beauvier, granddaughter of the Comte de Challembelles and cousin to the man who built the castle.

Clairvoyant from the time she could talk, Adrienne’s visions show her the secrets of those around her. When her visions begin to reveal dark mysteries of her own aristocratic French family, Adrienne is confronted by her formidable Aunt Marie, who is determined to keep the young woman silent at any cost. Marie wrenches Adrienne from her home in France and takes her to America, to Miramont Castle, where she keeps the girl isolated and imprisoned. Surrounded by eerie premonitions, Adrienne is locked in a life-or-death struggle to learn the truth and escape her torment.

Reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, this hauntingly atmospheric tale is inspired by historical research into the real-life Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs, Colorado.


Miramont's Ghost is a nice blend of a historical fiction novel with a somewhat mysterious/supernatural element. It has the dark allure and plot structure reminiscent of Rebecca but Hall crafts a capable and solid story that is rather hard to forget and ultimately, all her own. The loose addition of the supernatural --- Adrienne's visions, etc -- fits well within the frame of the story and also helps to create an added air of atmosphere to Miramont's Ghost.

The POVs of this book are distinct. Adrienne is easily identifiable and differentiated and by the end, the only real voice left in Miramont's Ghost. I wasn't a huge fan of the use of multiple narrators and thought that Adrienne carried the story best and most ably. It helps that Adrienne is the most developed character in the entire novel. She's pretty well-rounded and realistic (if a taaaaad too passive for my tastes), despite the situation she finds herself in. The other characters of the novel tend to be rather one-note, be they villainous or good-natured. I wanted to see more from the secondary cast; it would have strengthened the novel.

There's an even hand for the novel's progression and tension. The pacing moves along smoothly, even though it can feel a bit fast at times. As Adrienne grows and her story becomes ever more dark, it's easy to appreciate Hall's ability for crafting a creepy, unnatural atmosphere. It's a feeling that lingers, even after the close of the novel. The novel only becomes more interesting if you read the afterword and learn that it's a fictional tale based on real events and real people.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

Title: The Start of Me and You
Author: Emery Lord
Genre: contemporary, young adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Published: expected March 31 2015
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.25/5

Following her pitch-perfect debut Open Road Summer, Emery Lord pens another gorgeous story of best friends, new love, & second chances.

Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?
  

Emery Lord has only gotten better since she debuted last year with Reagan and Dee in Open Road Summer. Everything I liked about ORS - the writing, the humor, the realism, the understanding of teenage minds and attitudes - is present here and improved in her second novel. The Start of Me and You has heart and emotion going for it from early on. The book only improves as you continue to read. The characters are well-drawn and three-dimensional, the romance will bring the feels, and Paige makes for a good main character and narrator. The author balances out grief and life in a way that makes even the harder parts of The Start of You and Me still have hope.

Characterization is often key for contemporary novels like this - the characters involved will make or break a novel when it's thoughtful and often introspective like this one. Thankfully, Lord is a skilled writer when it comes to her cast of characters. Paige is far more than a list of virtues and vices, as are her extended family and friends that surround her storyline. Lord showed her potential for crafting characters in Open Road Summer and that talent is on full display here for The Start of You and Me. It's refreshing and wonderful to read about Paige's strong relationships with her three best friends, especially since the author took time and care to show each of the three girls to be individuals and more than just cardboard cutouts.

Paige's life is complicated -- doubly tough for a nerdy introvert like Paige. Her struggles don't begin and end with grief and new crushes and friend issues. Her family life is an authentic and big factor throughout the novel. A child of divorced parents, the situation she finds herself in is rather unexpected and makes for some new familial drama, rather than focusing on sister/sister antagonism. Paige's relationship with Cameron is rather downplayed even as the two disagree about how to feel about their parents' actions. The interactions - familial and fraternal - between this varied group of people felt natural. There was an easy chemistry to their social interactions.

The ship from this book is pretty damn boardable. It takes a while to gather steam (it's a coal-burner-ship, I guess?) but Emery Lord definitely sells it; you want to see a relationship chapters before its a possibility. There's a lot of chemistry and camaraderie between the two that it just feels natural for the characters. It's a quieter kind of romance, but one that is totally apt for both Paige and the plot the novel follows. Finding love isn't the only story for The Start of Me and You, just a really really well-done part of the plot that wraps up slightly too late in the game.

We are now two novels in and I am undoubtedly an Emery Lord fan. Her second novel both impressed and wounded me -- in the best possible ways. The Start of You and Me was a story of flawed people doing the best they can with what they have and it was a damn good story. It was memorable and real and worth pushing on other people.



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Tour Review: The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young

Title: The Heroes' Welcome
Author: Louisa Young
Genre: general fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 262
Published: May 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 3.5/5


The Heroes’ Welcome is the incandescent sequel to the bestselling R&J pick My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You. Its evocation of a time deeply wounded by the pain of WW1 will capture and beguile readers fresh to Louisa Young’s wonderful writing, and those previously enthralled by the stories of Nadine and Riley, Rose, Peter and Julia.

LONDON, APRIL 1919.
THE GREAT WAR HAS ENDED.

In a flurry of spring blossom, childhood sweethearts Nadine Waverney and Rilery Purefoy are married. Thos who have survived the war are, in a way, home. But Riley is wounded and disfigured; normality seems incomprehensible, and love unfathomable. Honeymooning in a battered, liberated Europe, they long for a marriage made of love and passion rather than dependence and pity.

At Locke Hill in Kent, Riley’s former CO Major Peter Locke is obsessed by Homer. His hysterical wife, Julia, and the young son they barely know attempt to navigate family life, but are confounded by the ghosts and memories of Peter’s war. Despite all this, there is the glimmer of a real future in the distance: Rose Locke, Peter’s cousin and Riley’s former nurse, finds that independence might be hers for the taking, after all.

For those who fought, those who healed and those who stayed behind, 1919 is a year of accepting realities, holding to hope and reaching after new beginnings.

The Heroes’ Welcome is a brave and brilliant evocation of a time deeply wounded by the pain of war. It is as devastating as it is inspiring.

 "If Peter were to die now, he'd be dying of the wounds. Whatever he died of, whenever he died, if he were to die in fifty years, it would be of wounds. Nothing bigger, greater, worse than that war would ever happen to any of them." -p.103


Though it's the second in an unnamed series by the author, The Heroes' Welcome made for an engrossing and dark read. I have not yet read the book's predecessor, My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, but still easily managed to get caught up with these characters as they go through the fallout of World War I together (and apart). Louisa Young's look at life for soldiers and wives after the Great War is unflinching; occasionally uncomfortable but honest and real. It's an honest look at the past; one with clear parallels to today. It's not always a pretty read, but Young's sparse style works so well for the melancholic subject matter of her second novel. It's hard to put down.

The characters of the story are widely disparate in how they approach the changes they face in their lives during the course of the novel. Each individual grapples with the same main issue - the damage of WWI, be it mental or physical or emotional - in varied ways, with varied amounts of success. Young's storytelling is strong; reading Riley and his wife Nadine struggle to communicate over the most basic of issues engenders sympathy and empathy for the characters. While Peter's struggle is more volatile and emotional, he too is capable of being identifiable to the audience. PTSD is a serious issue and has been, especially after wars and conflicts, for a long, long time. Peter and Riley and Julia and Nadine each come to terms with things with their own, authentic methods.

The Heroes' Welcome is a dark novel from the start and remains so for its shorter length. In a way it reminded me a lot of Revolutionary Road -- same kind of bitterly honest tone, same kind of presenting a diverse POV to the lives of these unlikely people. It's more thoughtful than anything, however. There are no easy answers to be found here, but still remains a rewarding read. There's due to be a final book set with these characters. I think, after the conclusion of The Heroes' Welcome, there is  still plenty of room to further explore the stories of Rose and the others. I look forward to seeing with Young does with the series completion.




Monday, March 23, 2015

Two Minute Review: Little Peach by Peggy Kern

Title: Little Peach
Author: Peggy Kern
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 208
Published: March 10 2015
Source: publisers via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

What do you do if you're in trouble?

When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York City, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: she is alone and out of options.

Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels.

But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution where he becomes her “Daddy” and she his “Little Peach.” It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition.

This hauntingly vivid story illustrates the human spirit’s indomitable search for home, and one girl’s struggle to survive.

You wouldn't expect such a punch in gut from such a short book, but damned if Little Peach doesn't do just that in only 208 pages. It's short, but really powerful. Sobering, saddening, and depressingly close to real life because this could so easily be someone's real life. Human trafficking, drug abuse, child abuse, rape.. it's a book full of harsh realities and terrible circumstances (trigger warnings for all the aforementioned). It's horribly real and authentic; Peggy Kern spares no feelings and hides no truth in her book from Michelle and thus, her readers. It's not a easy read by any means but it's also so necessary for just these reasons.

Little Peach is bound to provoke some strong reactions. It made me angry. It also made me sad, deep in my bones. So much of what Kern shows is hidden or ignored or just plain unknown when it should be a huge concern and more than that, prevented in the first place. Michelle's story is a narrative that should and will ignite conversation. Michelle is more than just a victim -- she's also a survivor. And finding the small kernels of hope in Little Peach is far from a happy ending, it's a believable and appropriate ending for the story and characters. Like Speak before it, this is a book has the potential to open eyes and begin real dialogues. 

Peggy Kern's short story of 208 pages made me think and made me feel while reading. It was an uncomfortable, awful, necessary book and I can't react but to try to make as many others read it as possible. Fans of All the Rage and Speak will likely find another to recommend. It's sobering but worth the read for the strong voice of Michelle, for the skilled storytelling framing the two timelines of her life, for the hard look at issues most people would rather ignore than acknowledge.





Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Two Minute Review: Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes

Title: Liars, Inc.
Author: Paula Stokes
Genre: thriller, mystery
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Published: expected March 24, 2015
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

For fans of Gone Girl, I Hunt Killers, and TV's How to Get Away with Murder.

Max Cantrell has never been a big fan of the truth, so when the opportunity arises to sell forged permission slips and cover stories to his classmates, it sounds like a good way to make a little money and liven up a boring senior year. With the help of his friends Preston and Parvati, Max starts Liars, Inc. Suddenly everybody needs something and the cash starts pouring in. Who knew lying could be so lucrative?

When Preston wants his own cover story to go visit a girl he met online, Max doesn’t think twice about hooking him up. Until Preston never comes home. Then the evidence starts to pile up—terrifying clues that lead the cops to Preston’s body. Terrifying clues that point to Max as the murderer.

Can Max find the real killer before he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? In a story that Kirkus Reviews called "Captivating to the very end," Paula Stokes starts with one single white lie and weaves a twisted tale that will have readers guessing until the explosive final chapters.

Liars, Inc. is a convoluted story that makes for an entertaining read. It's a fast-paced and twisty ride; one full of surprises and revelations, sordid histories and coverups. Stokes does an admirable job of keeping the central mystery a secret by throwing out enough dead end leads and red herrings to keep the ending just as explosive as promised. It's one of those rare books that lives up to the "thrillride" label that so often pops up in the mystery and thriller genre.

Riding along for a few days in Max's head helps keep the story immediate and inescapable. His POV is distinct and believable. Even when he makes bad decisions, you can understand how and why he ended up doing so. That isn't to say Max isn't a frustrating character at times, but Stokes ably captured the feeling of what a teenage boy might think and act in such a situation. Max had a somewhat unusual background for a YA character - orphaned, on the streets, a foster kid, and an adoptee - which I appreciated.

That said, the characterization is pretty minimal. I liked what I saw from Parvati -- she's driven and smart, uncompromising, half-Indian -- but she always remains a background character; never entirely on the same playing field as Max or Preston (even in absentia.) The parents of the story are also vaguely realized. Some of the decisions Darla, Max's adoptive mom, made seem to stretch suspension of disbelief, especially once the stakes get raised later in the novel. 

All in all, Liars, Inc. is a pretty solid mystery/thriller for the YA genre. It grabs your attention and rarely relents. It doesn't go for the obvious plays and keeps the mystery fresh. If the level of suspense isn't quiiite what it could be, well, it's still a fun and a rousing read.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill

Title: Reluctantly Charmed
Author: Ellie O'Neill
Genre: magical realism
Series: N/A
Pages: 416 pages
Published: March 17, 2015
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 3.5/5

Kate McDaid is listing her new-year’s resolutions hoping to kick-start her rather stagnant love life and career when she gets some very strange news. To her surprise, she is the sole benefactor of a great great-great-great aunt and self-proclaimed witch also called Kate McDaid, who died over 130 years ago. As if that isn’t strange enough, the will instructs that, in order to receive the inheritance, Kate must publish seven letters, one by one, week by week.

Burning with curiosity, Kate agrees and opens the first letter – and finds that it’s a passionate plea to reconnect with the long-forgotten fairies of Irish folklore. Almost instantaneously, Kate’s life is turned upside down. Her romantic life takes a surprising turn and she is catapulted into the public eye.

As events become stranger and stranger – and she discovers things about herself she’s never known before – Kate must decide whether she can fulfil her great-aunt’s final, devastating request ... and whether she can face the consequences if she doesn’t.

Witty, enchanting and utterly addictive, Reluctantly Charmed is about what happens when life in the fast lane collides with the legacy of family, love and its possibilities … and a little bit of magic. 

Ellie O'Neill's debut is...well,  it's just so charming. Sorry to go for the obvious introduction, but it really is. Set in a modern Ireland, it's full of the whimsy and magic you would expect from a magical realism novel with fairies, but all is not as it seems with this author's version of the Fair Folk. With a good central romance, excellent female friends, aaand eccentric but loving family members surrounding the main characters -- it can feel bit Marian Keyes-ish, if a tad more fantastical and slightly less on the humorous side. Reluctantly Charmed has heart and boasts some engaging characters to make the read fun throughout.

Though it's over 400 pages, O'Neill's debut moves along at a good clip. The first section of the novel sets up the characters and plot rather well and transitions into the more supernatural aspects quite naturally. It can be a pretty atmospheric read at times, especially when main character Kate talks about Dublin or leaves the city for the small Western town of Knocknamee. The magical realism angle is a great fit for this story, these characters and especially this location. The fae have always had strong roots in Ireland and O'Neill makes a lot of good use from that association.

Kate McDaid, the main character, is well-rounded and characterized. She leads a perfectly normal life- friends, work, unrequited crush, bad decisions -- until one day she is invited to the reading of the will for... Kate McDaid. From there, her world slowly changes from the norm (working as a copywriter) to the fantastical (possible witch/unwilling cult leader?). Kate is a good character; she's likeable, funny, self-deprecating, and engaging. She doesn't have the flash you might expect, but her relate-ableness is key and well-done. Even when her life spirals out of control, Kate keeps it real.

The characters that surround Kate are also well-drawn and realistic. From Matthew to to Jim to Fiona to Lily, there's a revolving cast to keep the reader engaged. The romantic storyline might be slightly predictable (as well as who Kate will end up with), but it was a pleasure watching Kate realize what -- and who -- she wants from life. I also really enjoyed that Kate was surrounded by such strong friendships (both male and femasle) and that her family was a good force in her life -- if a bit silly and eccentric. It was a nice touch.

Reluctantly Charmed is due to be published on St. Patrick's Day. It's a great for reading on just that holiday. There's just enough whimsy and magic mixed with the familiar to create a magical realism story well within the bounds of suspension of disbelief. 




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