Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review: Top Ten Clues You're Clueless by Liz Czukas

Title: Top Ten Clues You're Clueless
Author: Liz Czukas
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Published: expected December 9 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.5/5

Top Five Things That Are Ruining Chloe’s Day

5) Working the 6:30 a.m. shift at GoodFoods Market
4) Crashing a cart into a customer’s car right in front of her snarky coworker Sammi
3) Trying to rock the “drowned rat” look after being caught in a snowstorm
2) Making zero progress with her crush, Tyson (see #3)
1) Being accused—along with her fellow teenage employees—of stealing upwards of $10,000

Chloe would rather be anywhere than locked in work jail (aka the break room) with five of her coworkers . . . even if one of them is Tyson. But if they can band together to clear their names, what looks like a total disaster might just make Chloe’s list of Top Ten Best Moments.

My second Liz Czukas novel and my impression remains the same from when I finished her debut, Ask Again Later: this is a woman that knows cute. She knows how to write cute, adorable little romances that make you ship the two people involved. Her brand of books are the best kind of fluffy contemporary YA. They're light, immediately engaging, thoroughly fun, and often quite funny with memorable narrators and fresh scenarios.

I've yet to find any serious issue with this author's characters, but I found the plotting in Top Ten Clues You're Clueless too be a bit thin. The mystery plot concerning Chloe and her friends in particular is weak and easily guessed by the audience. There are a few red herrings given a chance but to anyone paying attention, it's rather obvious both who the culprit is and how the others will figure it out. The romantic plotline, slight as it is for most of the story, manages to be much more inventive and fun, though it is often ignored in favor of focus on the extended group of characters rather than just Tyson/Chloe.

Chloe makes for an entertaining POV to read. She's a nice girl, but she's not a perfect person or narrator, as her quirks and awkward moments can show. She can veer a tad silly but she's definitely likeable and dimensional -- she even has a disability. And while Chloe may not be as straight-laced as her fellow character Micah, but she's definitely playing the role of Good Girl in this (as Debby correctly says over at Snuggly Oranges) Breakfast Club-style narrative. And, an added bonus to Top Ten Clues is the diversity present in not just the background characters and Chloe's diabetes, but with the love interest Tyson as well.

Top Ten Clues You're Clueless is another entertaining YA read from Liz Czukas. Similar in tone and style to Ask Again Later, this author is carving out a nice niche and market for herself with her relate-able and diverse cast. Fun, funny, and light, this book is a great companion to Czukas's debut and will surely please current fans and welcome new ones. 


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Jessie's TBR Tag!

The phenomenal book blogger/artist of YA fandom Gillian from Writer of Wrongs has challenged me to answer these questions three (plus seven.) TBR Tag? Sisterhood of the World Blogging Tag? I DON'T KNOW, but the point is Gilly B asked me fun questions about books and I HAVE THOUGHTS, LET ME SHARE THEM WITH YOU.

1. Thank the blogger that nominated you and link back to their website.
2. Post the award’s logo on your blog.
3. Answer the ten questions you have been asked.
4. Nominate ten other bloggers and ask them ten other questions.

1. Which book do you own the most copies of or authors do you own the most books from?

Book I own the most copies of: Harry Potter series. I have 1-7 in classic softcover and hardcover and the new cover paperbacks. I still plan to collect the classic UK covers and the new UK covers. #sorrynotsorry

Author I own the most books by: "Carolyn Keene" and Francine Pascal with 31 each. My teen years are calling to me with this part of the question.

2. What book(s) do you think deserves more hype?

I have a long list, but I'll stick to the three I recommend the most. Rachel Aaron's Eli Monpress series needs more love always, as does Daniel O'Malley's weirdly fantastic The Rook. I would also be so happy to see The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender find a larger home in the world.

3. *whistles innocently* Seen any good TV lately?

HAH you fanatic, Gillian. I've watched the first two episodes of Reign, which is pretty much what you would expect from a CW "historical" show about Queen Mary. Aaaaaand that's it. I will await the community's decision to shun/quarantine myself.

I have added The 100 to my queue, though, so no need for total exile. I just am waiting for the pressure to abate before committing myself (I mean "commit myself" in both senses of the word. I see how this show has affected my friends.)

4. Do you have any secret talents or quirks?

I can wiggle my ears? I've never had a driver's license? I am not necessarily a "quirky" being. I'm just super clumsy and can fold my tongue in half.

5. What was your favorite book of the last month?

I'm sorry I can't hear you over my brain yelling MORTAL HEAAAAAAART.

6. How did you start reading YA?

When I was a nascent young adult for a very little while I was steered aright by teachers. I quickly then grew pretentious beyond all measure, stopped listening, and then didn't start reading YA again until I was 23. I'm still playing catch-up.

7. What food are you craving right this minute?

I'm not. I'm not really a food-type person. I am much more always craving a good drink -- tea, coffee, flavored waters, smoothies.

8. What's your Hogwarts House and why?

I'm a Ravenclaw twice-over, both my own decision and Pottermore's. But I do admit there's a good 27% of me that is definitely Slytherin-ish. As for why.... cause I'm awesome and all Ravenclaws are awesome, DUH. Because Queen JK knows me, in my soul.

9. If you could make any fictional animal your pet, who would it be?

TOOTHLESS. There are so many I would add on after that but HOLY SHIT DO I NEED TO OWN A NIGHT FURY. One that acts and thinks like Toothless.... so Toothless. Definitely the version in the movies, however, and not the books. That is not myyyy Toothless.

10. What's your superpower? (Not which one do you want, but which one do you have?)

READING LIKE A SPEED DEMON. No, really, it is. I can read super fast -- at least 100 pages in an hour and more if I am invested in the novel and/or there's no distractions around me. It makes for a high bodycount by way of books read per year.

Passing this along to:
My coblogger, Danielle!
Ash @ YAdult Review
Morgan @ Gone With The Words
Lili @ Lili's Reflections
Ellis @ Finding Bliss in Books/The Random Transliterator
Nikki @ There Were Books Involved 
Terri @ Starlight Book Reviews
Ashleigh Paige @ The YA Kitten
aaand I think everyone else has already been tagged? TAG YOURSELF, YO.

My questions!

1. What is your ultimate ship, your #1 "this is my OTP!"-level ship?

2. If you could change the ending to any one book, what would it be and why?

3. Is there a book that everyone hates and you love? 

4. Which book does the blogosphere go crazy for and you just don't understand?

5. What is the worst book you have ever read? THE WORST. Why?

6. Your top three recommendations for someone who "doesn't read YA."

7. What if there was only one book-to-movie production in 2015. You get to decide which book -- so which one do you pick?

8. Would you rather have a new Harry Potter series about Harry in his later years or a a Marauders-era book series?

9. How do you pick your next read?

10. What book have you owned the longest that is still unread on your shelf?

Book Tour Review: The Sharp Hook of Love by Sherry Jones

Title: The Sharp Hook of Love
Author: Sherry Jones
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/S
Pages: 352
Published: October 2014
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 3.5/5

Among the young women of 12th century Paris, Heloise d’Argenteuil stands apart. Extraordinarily educated and quick-witted, she is being groomed by her uncle to become an abbess in the service of God. But with one encounter, her destiny changes forever.

Pierre Abelard, headmaster at the Nôtre Dame Cloister School, is acclaimed as one of the greatest philosophers in France. His controversial reputation only adds to his allure, yet despite the legions of women swooning over his poetry and dashing looks, he is captivated by the brilliant Heloise alone. As their relationship blossoms from a meeting of the minds to a forbidden love affair, both Heloise and Abelard must choose between love, duty, and ambition.

Sherry Jones weaves the lovers’ own words into an evocative account of desire and sacrifice. As intimate as it is erotic, as devastating as it is beautiful, The Sharp Hook of Love is a poignant, tender tribute to one of history’s greatest romances, and to love’s power to transform and endure.

Famous, often tragic, love stories are a hard narrative to resist, and even harder when they're based in fact and not fiction. Unlike your Tristan and Iseults or Juliet and Romeos, the star-crossed lovers Heloise and Abelard, the two main characters in Sherry Jones's The Sharp Hook of Love, were real people. They lived nearly a thousand years ago, but their tumultuous story of forbidden love, revenge, secrets, and decades-long separation is still widely known today. Both incredibly intelligent and stubborn, these two determined people fight for one another and with another as the wheels of fate turn inexorably toward a difficult conclusion. 

The allure of the novel's premise can also be somewhat of a hamper to fully immersing in this version of their story. The Sharp Hook of Love is engaging and solidly written, but I found that previously knowing the outcome for these two makes me a tad cynical for the early stages of the romance. It's hard not to know this particular ending before starting, but Jones makes the read enjoyable regardless. The author's version of events sticks closely to what we factually know about Heloise and Abelard's relationship but also benefits from some new information and letters to really make their chemistry and passion pop from the page. 

Sherry Jones ably and convincingly portrays both of her main characters. It's easier to identify and care for Heloise because we not only see the story from her view but she also acts much less selfishly than her lover. Abelard is harder to sympathize for -- even at his lowest, because he remains so difficult and seemingly selfish towards the always-giving Heloise. They may have been equals in mind and respectful of one another's intelligence, but his clear societal preference makes their relationship ever more strained and unfair.

Heloise and Abelard's love story is one for the ages and Sherry Jones has re-imagined it faithfully and carefully with The Sharp Hook of Love. It's a passionate read, thanks to love letters and fraught scenarios, and Heloise more than lives up to her fame as one of Europe's most educated women. This is a story that has a little in it for every historical fan. They lived in the 12th century, but with Jones's help, Heloise and Abelard's epic love affair will still be remembered in the 21st.

The Sharp Hook of Love Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, November 24
Review at Bibliophilia, Please

Tuesday, November 25
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Wednesday, November 26
Review at Book Babe
Guest Post at Historical Fiction Connection

Friday, November 28
Guest Post at Historical Tapestry

Sunday, November 29
Spotlight & Excerpt at The Lusty Literate

Monday, December 1
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Interview at Mina’s Bookshelf

Wednesday, December 3
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Thursday, December 4
Review at The Lit Bitch

Friday, December 5
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Monday, November 24, 2014

Review: Captive by Aimee Carter

Title: Captive
Author: Aimee Carter
Genre: science fiction
Series: Blackcoat Rebellion #2
Pages: 304
Published: Expected November 25, 2014
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

For the past two months, Kitty Doe's life has been a lie. Forced to impersonate the Prime Minister's niece, her frustration grows as her trust in her fake fiancé cracks, her real boyfriend is forbidden and the Blackcoats keep her in the dark more than ever.

But in the midst of discovering that her role in the Hart family may not be as coincidental as she thought, she's accused of treason and is forced to face her greatest fear: Elsewhere. A prison where no one can escape.

As one shocking revelation leads to the next, Kitty learns the hard way that she can trust no one, not even the people she thought were on her side. With her back against the wall, Kitty wants to believe she'll do whatever it takes to support the rebellion she believes in—but is she prepared to pay the ultimate price?

A summary of Captive:

Everyone: "Kitty, no"

Kitty: "KITTY YES!"

is one of my more frustrating reading experiences. I loved the first book because it felt like a real dystopian, with deadly stakes, and yet in this book, I felt the death toll was meaningless and an excuse for cheap drama.

Part of that is because, <spoiler> Knox, in an effort to endear himself the PM, shoots Benjy, Kitty’s boyfriend from her old life, in front of her and Daxton. It’s brutal and not something that can be faked. Benji shows up alive about 3 chapters later. Knowing this, I’m forced to suppose that a) Knox had Benjy Masked, because why the fuck not at this point? b) Benjy’s a master actor who can suppress involuntary actions like blinking AND Daxton is so dumb he doesn’t know bullet wounds bleed, or c) Knox’s gun released a toxin that caused everyone to mass hallucinate that Benjy was dead. This option is my favorite, being the only possible explanation for why I kept reading after the reveal.</spoiler> And that’s not the only time something similar happens. Deaths fall into two categories: fakeout and fridge.

The book feels directionless. The Blackcoats don’t seem to have a clear mission or plan for the future government. They also don’t seem to have any communication with other members, outside the capital, causing the end of the book to be a shitshow of mammoth proportions. I’m not invested in the “love triangle”, because Kitty has made it perfectly clear that she’s not in love with one of the men. There’s no more tension or drama to wring out of the situation. And then there’s Kitty’s actions.

I’m not kidding, Kitty must promise not to [do the thing], only to immediately turn around and do it, a half dozen times. “Don’t look for this incriminating document.” “I found and hid the incriminating document!” “Don’t look for this second incriminating document.” “I found and hid the incriminating document!” “Don’t run into battle with a broken arm.” “I’m running into battle…!” I have never been more bored with a storytelling device.

There are still kernels of good ideas in Captive. Caste systems are not easy to pull off and I do feel they’re deployed very well here. I actually have a lot of respect for Knox; he’s one of the better leaders in the genre. Daxton without his “mother’s” reigns is appropriately villainous. But, Elsewhere was better in book one. I don’t think the expansion was necessary or half as frightening.

Everyone knows the second book in a trilogy is generally the weakest, so I’ll still pick up Queen, but I’m nowhere near as excited about the series as I was before I read Captive.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Two Minute Review:The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Title: The Walled City
Author: Ryan Graudin
Genre: young adult, historical, fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Published: November 4 2014
Source: Book Expo America
Rating: 4/5

730. That's how many days I've been trapped.
18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible....

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister....

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She's about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window.....

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

(note, I am using the incorrect cover, because I LOVE IT)

Wow. I am so impressed by this! After having had a bad experience with the author's debut in another genre and, in particular, its overabundance of unwieldy purple metaphors, I was leery of trying The Walled City. But Kara from Great Imaginations knew about Kowloon, the factual place that inspired the setting for this novel and her knowledge fed my curiosity. I am glad I listened because outside of a few side-eye worthy descriptions, The Walled City was really, really good and it was really, really fun to read.

It was a story that had action, it had heart, and it also had some interesting and well-rendered characters. But what The Walled City really had going for it was a real sense of history and the enveloping atmosphere that the story and characters evoke for the reader. It was a rich, engaging reading experience. I also loved that this book promoted connections and bonds besides those that are purely romantic in nature -- familial love plays a key role for the two female narrator, though there is a romance between one female narrator and a male character to be had as well.

The Walled City is a good action novel. It's one of those rare standalones that are worthy and deserving of a sequel to either expand on the story here or start a new one in the same place. Hak Nam is a terrifying, dangerous place, but Ryan Graudin makes it so damn fun to read about that I would willingly sign on for any further extension of time/story in this world. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

DNF Round Up

I haven't posted one of these in forever, but here are some books I tried that just weren't quite right for me:

On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers

Young heroes decide that they are not too young or too powerless to change their world in this gripping, futuristic young adult novel by the New York Times bestselling author of the Printz Award–winning Monster.

It is 2035. Teens, armed only with their ideals, must wage war on the power elite.

Dahlia is a Low Gater: a sheep in a storm, struggling to survive completely on her own. The Gaters live in closed safe communities, protected from the Sturmers, mercenary thugs. And the C-8, a consortium of giant companies, control global access to finance, media, food, water, and energy resources—and they are only getting bigger and even more cutthroat. Dahlia, a computer whiz, joins forces with an ex-rocker, an ex-con, a chess prodigy, an ex-athlete, and a soldier wannabe. Their goal: to sabotage the C-8. But how will Sayeed, warlord and terrorist, fit into the equation?

DNF'd: I was bored, bored, bored. I read 155 out of 256 pages and that was 155 too many.

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

Someone Else's Love Story is beloved and highly acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson's funny, charming, and poignant novel about science and miracles, secrets and truths, faith and forgiveness; about falling in love, and learning that things aren't always what they seem—or what we hope they will be.

Shandi Pierce is juggling finishing college, raising her delightful three-year-old genius son Nathan, aka Natty Bumppo, and keeping the peace between her eternally warring, long-divorced parents. She's got enough complications without getting caught in the middle of a stick-up and falling in love with William Ashe, who willingly steps between the robber and her son.

Shandi doesn't know that her blond god Thor has his own complications. When he looked down the barrel of that gun he believed it was destiny: It's been one year to the day since a tragic act of physics shattered his world. But William doesn't define destiny the way others do. A brilliant geneticist who believes in facts and numbers, destiny to him is about choice. Now, he and Shandi are about to meet their so-called destinies head on, making choices that will reveal unexpected truths about love, life, and the world they think they know.

DNF'd: This book is weird and off-putting and the characters just make NO SENSE, both in how they act and how they think.  Read: 200/320 pages.

Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying experiences that others in her hometown of Salem take for granted, which is why she is determined to enjoy her first high school party with her best friend and longtime crush, Tristan. But after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class, Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly, Lily is in a different Salem—one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruelest of them all is Lillian . . . Lily's other self in this alternate universe.

What makes Lily weak at home is what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. In this confusing world, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone and a love she never expected.

DNF'd: I didn't care about anything. The characters were blah and the romance only annoyed me. Read: 250/374 pages.

Messenger of Fear by Michael Grant

I remembered my name – Mara. But, standing in that ghostly place, faced with the solemn young man in the black coat with silver skulls for buttons, I could recall nothing else about myself.

And then the games began.

The Messenger sees the darkness in young hearts, and the damage it inflicts upon the world. If they go unpunished, he offers the wicked a game. Win, and they can go free. Lose, and they will live out their greatest fear.

But what does any of this have to do with Mara? She is about to find out . . .

DNF'd: because this is a mess. It didn't work for me in so many ways. The writing style, the imagery... no. Nothing happens.... etc. Read: 150/272 pages.

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick

Sometimes danger is hard to see... until it’s too late.

Britt Pfeiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn't prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

In exchange for her life, Britt agrees to guide the men off the mountain. As they set off, Britt knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there... and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target.

But nothing is as it seems in the mountains, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

BLACK ICE is New York Times bestselling author Becca Fitzpatrick’s riveting romantic thriller set against the treacherous backdrop of the mountains of Wyoming. Falling in love should never be this dangerous…

DNF'd: I knew this one was a longshot going in and I gave up before halfway. Read: 185/392 pages.

Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes

Plum Sykes beguiling debut welcomes readers to the glamorous world of Park Avenue Princesses, the girls who careen through Manhattan in search of the perfect Fake Bake (tan acquired from Portofino Tanning Salon), a ride on a PJ (private jet) with the ATM (rich boyfriend), and the ever-elusive fiance.

With invitations to high-profile baby showers and benefits, more Marc Jacobs clothes than is decent, and a department store heiress for a best friend, our heroine known only as Moi is living at the peak of New York society. But what is Moi to do when her engagement falls apart? Can she ever find happiness in a city filled with the distractions of Front Row Girls, dermatologists, premieres, and eyebrow waxes? Is it possible to find love in a town where her friends think that the secret to happiness is getting invited to the Van Cleef and Arpels private sample sale? And how is she going to deal with the endless phone calls from her mother in England demanding that she get married to the Earl next door?

With enormous wit and an insider's eye, Sykes captures the nuances of the rich and spoiled in a heartwarming social satire, featuring a loveable "champagne bubble of a girl" who's just looking for love (and maybe the perfect pair of Chloe jeans).

DNF'd: this was trying to be witty and satirical and all it succeeded at was being extremely grating. Read: 75/320 pages 

Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews 

 Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

DNF'd: wasn't engaged, romance didn't click for me. Read: 250/382 pages.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Two Minute Review: Zodiac by Romina Russell

Title: Zodiac
Author: Romina Russell
Genre: science fiction, young adult
Series: Zodiac #1
Pages: 336
Published: expected December 9 2014
Source: Book Expo America
Rating: 3/5

At the dawn of time, there were 13 Houses in the Zodiac Galaxy. Now only 12 remain….

Rhoma Grace is a 16-year-old student from House Cancer with an unusual way of reading the stars. While her classmates use measurements to make accurate astrological predictions, Rho can’t solve for ‘x’ to save her life—so instead, she looks up at the night sky and makes up stories.

When a violent blast strikes the moons of Cancer, sending its ocean planet off-kilter and killing thousands of citizens—including its beloved Guardian—Rho is more surprised than anyone when she is named the House’s new leader. But, a true Cancrian who loves her home fiercely and will protect her people no matter what, Rho accepts.

Then, when more Houses fall victim to freak weather catastrophes, Rho starts seeing a pattern in the stars. She suspects Ophiuchus—the exiled 13th Guardian of Zodiac legend—has returned to exact his revenge across the Galaxy. Now Rho—along with Hysan Dax, a young envoy from House Libra, and Mathias, her guide and a member of her Royal Guard—must travel through the Zodiac to warn the other Guardians.

But who will believe anything this young novice says? Whom can Rho trust in a universe defined by differences? And how can she convince twelve worlds to unite as one Zodiac?

There are admittedly some strong elements at play here that almost make the story work, but others (the eyeroll-worthy love triangle, the unnecessary division of society into a Divergent/faction-like set up for astrological signs) just detract from the good that Zodiac has to offer.

I mean, it's okay. It's entertaining for a day's read. It's definitely not bad, but it could be better, more original. The writing is serviceable, Rho is an interesting MC who learns and changes over the course of the novel...but so much of Zodiac rests on its premise.. which is threadbare. The world-building is minimal for each House and the Zodiac galaxy as a whole. Zodiac and its characters spend more time focused on identifying traits of each House and making up vocabularies/technologies with little explanation than in taking time to flesh out the world/galaxies/planets.

Also, if anything, this is scifi lite. Scifi-ish, maybe. And it's even less fantasy than scifi. 

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