Monday, January 31, 2011

Jenn's Review: Switched

Switched (Trylle Trilogy, Book 1)Summary: When Wendy Everly was six years old, her mother was convinced she was a monster and tried to kill her. It isn't until eleven years later that Wendy discovers her mother might have been right.

With the help of Finn Holmes, Wendy finds herself in a world she never knew existed - a world both beautiful and frightening, and Wendy's not sure she wants to be a part of it.

Review: A million thanks to Julie at A Tale of Many Reviews for introducing me to Amanda Hocking's books. I may have stumbled on to her works on my own but more likely later, rather than sooner, and sooner is so much the better! This is an amazing book.

Wendy has never fit in, and after her traumatic childhood experience, she really doesn't put a lot of effort into fitting in. When mysterious Finn turns up he tells her it is time to return to her troll family. (That's right, troll. Many authors have cleaned up Vampires and Werewolves and portrayed them as misunderstood beings, but Amanda Hocking has chosen to tackle trolls, and does so brilliantly.) Trylle is the proper name for trolls, who look no different than humans, but wield incredible magical abilities. When Wendy realizes that she doesn't quite fit in with her new family either, she learns that seeking outward solutions may not be the answer and that 'fitting in' isn't as important as knowing who you are.

Amanda Hocking's characters are fascinating. Wendy may be a troubled teen, but she's not unlikeable. She has strong ideals which she will not compromise to please and compassion that she will not sacrifice to comply with the Trylle caste system. Finn, who may be her salvation or her ruination, is an enigmatic knight and one of those characters for which you just want to devour the story so that you might learn more about him.

Thank You Julie at A Tale of Many Reviews
Hocking's plot is compelling to the point of "unputdownable" and while the story left off with acceptable closure, the tale is far from complete. It left me hungry for more and I can hardly wait until I'll be able to return to it and find out where Wendy will go from here.

So impressed was I by Hocking's writing that I not only purchased the other two books in the Trylle Trilogy, but I also rushed to purchase her first series, a vampiric tale called My Blood Approves. (And I love that she has soundtracks for her books on her site!)  If you love YA fantasy, I strongly suggest you add Amanda Hocking to your collection; you won't be sorry.

Final Take: 5/5


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Movie Review: The Reader

Photobucket Summary: The Reader, which won the Boston Book Review's Fisk Fiction Prize, wrestles with many more demons in its few, remarkably lucid pages. What does it mean to love those people--parents, grandparents, even lovers--who committed the worst atrocities the world has ever known? And is any atonement possible through literature? Schlink's prose is clean and pared down, stripped of unnecessary imagery, dialogue, and excess in any form. What remains is an austerely beautiful narrative of the attempt to breach the gap between Germany's pre- and postwar generations, between the guilty and the innocent, and between words and silence.

Review: I will admit it, I haven't read the book. However, I can still review the movie. I will pretty much watching anything that Kate Winslet is in and since she won the Oscar for this movie, I knew I would get around to seeing it.

I first of all can not believe this is a YA book! The first 1/2 of the movie is about the searing love affair between a 15 year old Michael and Hanna Schmitz. For Michael it might have been one summer, but it affected him for a lifetime. I think we all can think back to being 15 and how those experiences shaped how we see the world and our relationships, even into adulthood. How well do we know the people we think we are the closest too?

I loved how the story shifted from the past to the present throughout the movie. We get to see Michael grow throughout the movie but we really don't know much about Hanna. Maybe that's the point? Maybe we are supposed to only know Hanna through Michael's eyes.

Was Hanna guilty of her crimes? Yes, she could have prevented them. Was some of this caused by her illiteracy? I think so but it most certainly doesn't excuse it.

If you are willing to sit through a lot of dialogue with an intriguing premise, then you will definitely want to watch The Reader. Oh and did I mention Ralph Fiennes and Lena Olin are in it? They are.

Final Take: 4/5


Friday, January 28, 2011

Jenn's Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon TattooSummary: Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomqvist is hired by Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance of Vanger’s great-niece Harriet. Henrik suspects that someone in his family, the powerful Vanger clan, murdered Harriet over forty years ago.

 Starting his investigation, Mikael realizes that Harriet’s disappearance is not a single event, but rather linked to series of gruesome murders in the past. He now crosses paths with Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker, an asocial punk and most importantly, a young woman driven by her vindictiveness.

Together they form an unlikely couple as they dive deeper into the violent past of the secretive Vanger family.

Review: Many of reviewers will tell you, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a slow start. To be honest, it's downright sluggish. The translation is cumbersome in the beginning, full of names, places, and plot exposition for three seemingly unrelated stories -- in the beginning. Then, just when it seems impossible to continue, the three stories begin to weave together into an intricate and engrossing tale.

Blomkvist is a bit of a paradox to me. He has high journalism ethics, which he touts to anyone and everyone, but low morals. He's not an unlikeable character, but he's certainly flawed. Lisbeth, on the other hand is fascinating, though we only get a peek into her life because this is, after all, Blomkvist's story.

There is a decent amount of violence and abuse, something I often have trouble reading about, but Larsson approaches it in a clinical, detached manner that doesn't minimize it, but makes it bearable to read.  I'll have to see how it translates to screen (I may have to cover my eyes for some of it).

All three story lines had intriguing resolutions although, one was slightly more spectacular than the others.  However, Larsson doesn't try to resolve all the story lines at once, letting them unfold as they might naturally. As a matter of fact, I had to remind myself on several occasions that this is a work of fiction not a factual account of real happenings. Although I was pretty sure I solved the mystery of Harriet early on, Larsson made me doubt myself, and in the end I was only partially right.

The ending was a bit open as far as the personal stories go, but it segues nicely into The Girl Who Played with Fire, which is Lisabeth's story.  I can't wait to know more about her. (As you can imagine, that just floated it's way to the top of my To Be Read pile.)  If you've tried this and put it down, I urge you to give it another chance.  I thought it was superb.

Final Take:  4.5/5

Julie's Review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Lisa's Review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Part of Jenn's 2011 TBR Challenge


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Julie's Review: Deeply, Desperately

Summary: When we last left Lucy Valentine in Truly, Madly (2010), she was struggling to fit in with her family of psychic matchmakers and to run the family’s matchmaking business. An accident has rid her of her Cupid skills but left her with the ability to find lost objects. In Deeply, Desperately, author Webber gives Lucy the chance to put her unique skills to work in the family company by helping people locate their lost loves. Despite a series of successful reunions, Lucy once again finds herself in over her head and involved in a murder mystery concerning one of her clients. The return of her upstairs neighbor Sean, a handsome private eye, means that Lucy is once again able to solve the mystery while possibly falling in love herself. This is another fun and quirky tale of lovable Lucy Valentine, whose humor and determination make for a whimsical mystery with a romantic twist.

Review: Honestly, if I ever wanted a fiction character to be my friend, it would be Lucy Valentine. I adore her! I purchased this book right before Christmas and it just kept staring at me, so I decided to bump it up on my TBR pile. I mean who can't resist that cover? Deeply, Desperately continues where we left off with Lucy, Oscar, Raphael, Sean, etc. and includes two new "cases" for Lucy. I have to say, Ms. Webber completely caught me off guard with both of these. I didn't see either situation coming to the resolution it did. Woot! I love it when not everything in a romance book is predictable.

Deeply, Desperately is the type of book where you don't want to put it down but that thing called real life gets in the way and you do. In Deeply, Desperately there are several different plots going on but none of them get in the way of the others and they all are wrapped up well but not necessarily with big bows. There is one storyline (I won't spoil it) where I'm anxious to read the fall out of the situation in Absolutely, Positively.

Lucy is lucky enough to have 2 best friends that always have each other's back, a family that loves her and a man that is obviously just as head over heels about her as she is about him. I'm sure the road won't be paved in gold for their romance and relationship but I want to go on that bumpy ride with them. They've already overcome one obstacle, I'm sure they will overcome any others that come their way.

Ms. Webber has a gem of a series here. The third book in the series, Absolutely, Positively, comes out on 2/1/2011 and that can't be soon enough for me.

If you are looking for a quick, fun, delightful read look no further than the Lucy Valentine novels.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Truly, Madly Review


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And The Winner Is...

The Cherry Valley Chronicles
Congratulations to Karen for winning a copy of Acire's The Cherry Valley Chronicles

Please email Alice your mailing address so we can send the book off to you as soon as possible. Thanks to all of you for participating.

As usual, Girls Just Reading used to produce the winner.

Author Interview: Cecelia Ahern

Yesterday Jenn and I reviewed Cecelia Ahern's newest novel The Book of Tomorrow.  Today we are thrilled she took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.

GJR: In The Book of Tomorrow, I really enjoyed watching Tamara grow from a spoiled teenager to a mature young woman right before my eyes. What inspired you to tell her story? Is there anyone she is modeled after?

Cecelia Ahern: Thank you. Tamara isn't based on any one individual but rather on a breed of young women that seemed to grow in Ireland during the time when the economy was booming. Of course she is her own unique character but the sense of self-importance, and on a more positive note, the confidence which she has is very much how teenage girls are today. They are so much more aware of their appearance, of each other, of designer clothes and labels. I think they are more sophisticated in many ways. Some have a sense of entitlement and do very little to receive so very much. Obviously not all girls are like this but the celtic tiger bred a lot of young women who didn't know what it was like to not get what they wanted. I wanted to take this kind of personality and strip them of all the material possessions that they feel identify them to the world and really look at who is beneath - that is a vulnerable young woman trying to find herself.

GJR: If you had your very own Book of Tomorrow, would you use it?

CA: I would find it very difficult not to open the page the night before, I have very little patience so I think I couldn't wait to see what tomorrow held. In saying that, I'm not interested in going to fortune tellers or tarot card readers to hear my future, I would rather just let it happen, but if there was a book sitting right beside me that could tell me what was going to happen, I would find it very hard not to have a peek. For Tamara it becomes a huge responsibility because as soon as she has seen what tomorrow will bring she feels an enormous responsibility to have to change it and help people. And once she changes one thing, it has an effect on the next day and she is almost trapped in having to see it through to the end.

GJR: Once a novel is complete, are you ever tempted to revisit past characters and shake up their lives a bit?

CA: I always feel that I have brought the character to the correct place at the end of the novel, so I don't feel the need to revisit them. However, The Book of Tomorrow is the first time I felt I could revisit the character and the story because a book that reveals tomorrow can take her down so many paths in her life.

GRJ: One reason why I love your novels is your ability to describe places with such detail that I can picture each place perfectly. Do you get your inspiration for settings from places you have been or do you image them yourself?

CA: Finding a setting for the story is a mixture of both imagining it and seeing an actual place that exists. For most of my books I use my imagination and create a world within our world that doesn't actually exist but is a place that the reader can identify with. For The Gift and The Book of Tomorrow I actually decided to use real places - for The Gift I used Dublin city at its height of the boom where there was so much happening and a crazy rhythm and pace that was in tune with the main character. In The Book of Tomorrow I had the idea for a few years but couldn't find where to place it or who to put in the story, then I visited a place called Killeen which is beside Dunsaney Castle and I immediately had a sense of its history, and got a kind of eery feeling there. I knew it was the right place for spoiled city girl Tamara because it was the opposite environment from what she'd grown up in. I took the feeling that I got while there and created the fictional Kilsaney.

GJR: If you were not a writer, what would you be doing?

CA: Before I wrote PS I Love You I had begun a Masters Degree in Film Production however I left after two days to write my first novel. I have a huge love for Television and film and so I would imagine I'd be on a film set somewhere making tea or coffee for the director!

GJR: What motivates you to write? How do you overcome the dreaded writers’ block?

CA: I have many different answers for this. I feel compelled to write, I feel that being a writer is just who I am. I don't choose to write a story, it comes to me and it spins around and around in my head and won't go away until I put pen to paper. It's like therapy, writing helps my busy head and transports me to a place with other characters in another world and I get lost in it. Then, when I have begun a book, what motivates me is the character. I fall in love with them, I can't get them out of my head and I can't relax until their story is told or else I've left them in limbo, stuck on a page somewhere pondering something for all eternity. I want to help move them on and bring them to a good place. Once I've started something I must finish and am very focused in that way.

Writer's block comes and goes and when it comes I must remember that it will soon go. Last week I went to bed for an hour, this week I went for a massage, if it happens again next week, I'm going to get drunk. But seriously, a block usually comes when you're trying to push the story in the wrong way. You need to think about making changes about what you've already done instead of just trying to figure out where to go next. It's very frustrating but I always have to remind myself that it doesn't last forever. (touch wood)

GJR: Are you working on a new novel? If so, can you tell us the premise?

CA: I'm working on my eighth novel at the moment and I can't tell you the premise because I never give anything away until I'm finished! However I have a book of two short stories called The Memory Maker and Girl in the Mirror; The Memory Maker is about an old man who invents a machine which can help input new memories into your mind; things you wish you could have done or said. Girl in the Mirror is a kind of a gothic thriller about a mirror which can steal your identity.

GJR: Who are your favorite authors to read? Why?

CA: Lee Child because he has created a character called Jack Reacher who I am secretly in love with.

Karin Slaughter because she is a wonderful writer and I love returning to read about the same characters in each book; I care about them a lot.

Mitch Albom because I love his ideas and his writing is beautiful.

GJR: What are your top 3 favorite books?

CA: The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Golfing with God by Roland Merullo, For One More Day by Mitch Albom

GJR: What are you currently reading?

CA: Neil Jordan's "Mistaken"

GJR: Something different: Do you prefer “tree” books or ebooks? If it’s “tree” books, do you dog-ear pages or use a bookmark? Do you still use your library card?

CA: I prefer Tree books by far. I don't dog-ear any pages, I use a bookmark, I won't lend anybody my books, they are too precious!

GJR: When you write, do you have total quiet or background noise? Has this changed over the years?

CA: I light a candle and I have no back ground noise and I have always worked like this.

GJR: Will you continue to write YA novels in addition to your contemporary fiction?

CA: I never choose which genre or which age group I'm going to write for. I just write the story as it comes to my mind, how it feels the most natural and I wait for the right audience to find my stories.

GJR: Do you keep a diary or journal?

CA: Yes! I love the feel of pen going on paper - it's like therapy for me so I could never stop.

Thanks again to Ms. Ahern for visiting with us.  Don't forget to enter our drawing to win a copy of The Book of Tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Giveaway: The Book of Tomorrow

The Book of Tomorrow: A NovelWe are thrilled to giveaway a copy of Cecelia Ahren's The Book of Tomorrow.

In order to qualify for this book you will need to:

Be a resident of the US or Canada.

Enter the contest by midnight EST on 2/1/11.

Fill out the form below:

A special thanks to Mark Ferguson for providing us with this giveaway novel.
Girls Just Reading uses to produce the winner

Group Review: The Book of Tomorrow

The Book of Tomorrow: A NovelSummary:  Tamara Goodwin has always got everything she’s ever wanted. Born into a family of wealth, she grew up in a mansion with its own private beach, a wardrobe full of designer clothes, and a large four poster bed complete with a luxurious bathroom en-suite. She’s always lived in the here and now, never giving a second thought to tomorrow.

But then suddenly her dad is gone and life for Tamara and her mother changes forever. Left with a mountain of debt, they have no choice but to sell everything they own and move to the country to live with Tamara’s Uncle and Aunt. Nestled next to Kilsaney Castle, their gate house is a world away from Tamara’s childhood. With her Mother shut away with grief, and her Aunt busy tending to her, Tamara is lonely and bored and longs to return to Dublin.

When a travelling library passes through Kilsaney Demesne, Tamara is intrigued. She needs a distraction. Her eyes rest on a mysterious large leather bound tome locked with a gold clasp and padlock. With some help, Tamara finally manages to open the book. What she discovers within the pages takes her breath away and shakes her world to its core.

Alice's Review: I was thrilled to receive an advance copy of The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern.  Saying she is one of my favorite authors is an understatement.  She has the awesome ability to write for the heart and she definitely delivered in this novel.  Ms. Ahern captivated my attention from the very beginning.   She also completely surprised me. 

For starters, I wasn’t expecting to like Tamara as much as I did.  She starts off as a self-proclaimed spoiled brat and yes, she totally acted like one.  But after a tragedy she could never imagined takes place, she is forced to look at her selfish ways and change.  Everything.  With the help of a fascinating cast of characters and a magic diary, Tamara goes on the adventure of her life without leaving the tiny village with its very own decrepit castle.  Right away Tamara finds a kindred soul in this castle, it’s as beat up and broken as she is.   

I really enjoyed all the characters, especially Arthur, Tamara’s uncle.  You can tell how much he loved Tamara, how his silence was there to protect her more than anything else.  I loved her creepy Aunt Rosaleen and the way she was like a ghost, always watching.   And that’s what started my wheels turning.  I can’t remember the last time I was genuinely surprised at an ending in a novel.  I didn’t see it coming at all.  Ms. Ahern didn’t give anything away, all things were discovered to us along with Tamara. 

The other character that I wholly loved (pun intended) was Sister Ignatius.  I have this odd fascination with nuns.  My favorite calendar is my Nuns Having Fun calendar.  On my desk at work I have Nun-chucks and Nun Bowling.  I have a newspaper clipping of a sneaker wearing nun playing softball hanging in my closet.  Yes, I’m odd and I’ll admit, maybe it’s more of an addiction than a fascination.  Sister Ignatius is exactly the kind of nun I would be if I ever was a nun.  She’s an artistic, funny, smut novel reading awesome creation.  She was the perfect friend for Tamara in her new life.

I loved this novel so much because it made me think of my own book of tomorrow.  I made me wonder what I would do.  Actually I wouldn’t have to wonder at all, I know I would open that thing in a heartbeat.  I would want to know what was going to happen to me.  I’d rather have regrets for things I did than things I didn’t do.  Plus, it’s a great way to stay out of trouble. 

I loved the idea of Tamara knowing what her future held.  It’s like receiving a cheat sheet on life.  I loved that she had the ability to either keep it that way or change it.  I loved that what I thought was going to happen, didn’t, that it was better than I could ever imagine.  Most of all, I loved watching Tamara change, watching her mature.  Ms. Ahern did a wonderful job of maturing Tamara without changing the core of who she is. 

Now go.  Go on and get your very own copy of The Book of Tomorrow.  You can’t borrow mine.

Part of Alice's & Julie's List Swap Challenge

Final Take:  5/5

Jenn's Review:  I didn't have any expectations for this book having not read Cecelia Ahern before. I saw the film P.S. I Love You and thought it was good, not brilliant. Not necessarily a reflection on the book, of course (I would never judge a book by its movie!), but it made me want to read one of her books.

This is much in the same vein as
P.S. I Love You. A death causes, this time, a teen to reexamine her life and her priorities along with what she knows to be true. There's a little bit of magic in it too, ala Sarah Addison Allen, with a diary that predicts the future a day in advance.

This was a bit of a slow start for me because, once again, the protagonist was not very likable. Tamara did not sit around and whine about her situation (much), however, she is a shallow girl who is forced to find depth. I wasn't crazy about the nonchalant "typical" teenage girl antics, but I did appreciate her desire to save her mother from herself and her quest for the truth ~almost-redeeming qualities.

While the plot has plenty of twists and turns to propel the reader forward, I did see all of them coming, save one. However, that didn't lessen my love of the storyline one bit. I do wish the existence of the diary had an explanation of some sort that made it seem less like a plot device, albeit a clever plot device, and firmly tied it to the characters and their story.

It is a charming read, despite its minor drawbacks, and I will happily read more of Cecelia Ahern's works in the future.

Final Take: 4.0/5

Thank you to Harper Collins for making this available for us to review.

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Don't forget to come back tomorrow to read our special interview with the
Cecelia Ahern.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lisa's Review: What I Read on my Winter Vacation

I don't remember ever being as busy as I was in 2010. I literally for the first time in my life read about three books all year. So you can imagine my excitement for a planned weeklong vacation to Mexico at the beginning of this year. Was I excited to go lay out in the sun on the beach, not doing anything all day? Sure I was but honestly I was even more excited to catch up on my non work-related reading material. Seriously! I had a ton of books to choose from, so it was difficult to decide which ones to bring with me. I didn't want to spend my little free time reading crap, so I focused on recommendations from friends. I brought along The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, borrowed from a friend who all but assured me that it was a great book and I already had Game Change CD: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime loaded on my iPad. In addition to my planned magazine reading, I felt I was ready to go.

The Reviews

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
I finally fell for the hype. I resisted for as long as I could, but sometimes the hype is real,  for example Harry Potter. I resisted there as well and by the end I was one of the people in line at midnight.  Anyway, this book started slowly and the translation was clunky and I felt like I really had to slug through it, but I am glad I did.  Even though the book is titled The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I think Lisbeth was simply introduced and this book is more about Mikael Blomkvist. He gets invited to investigate a family tragedy after being found guilty for libel and being "fired" from his magazine. Lisbeth shows up in the beginning and we visit her throughout and you can't help but be fascinated by her. She's a bad-ass.  She joins Blomkvist in his investigation about halfway through and they finish it up together. It's a fascinating mystery too. Julie has a great in-depth review and I agree with her assessment. I felt like I didn't really know who Lisbeth was at the end, I really wanted that. Just a great read. Final Take: 4/5



The Girl Who Played with Fire (Vintage)Technically, I didn't read this on my winter vacation, but I had a short trip planned just after I got back from vacation, that I immediately borrowed The Girl Who Played with Fire as soon I got back. I read this on the very long flights to and from and was able to finish it. I gotta say, I love this one even better than I did the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  For one the translation got much better in this version. Thank goodness for that. This time the mystery was all about Lisbeth Salander. As I mentioned, I left Dragon Tattoo feeling like Lisbeth was still a bit of a mystery. This book told her story  and fleshed her character out more. You understand how and why she became this fascinating person. This one took a while to get going as well and once it did, we were off to the races once again. All in all, just another fantastic read. It's clear based on the ending Steig Larsson clearly had a plan in mind about how he wanted to tell these stories. I can't wait to find a spare moment to get into the final novel, it's going to be a while before that happens.  Final Take: 4.5/5


Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a LifetimeEven though, I followed the 2008 presidential election with much interest, I'm not a big fan of non-fiction reads nor do I care much for political reads. However, more than one friend encouraged me to read this book, so I downloaded and figured I'd get to it when I get to it. I started this the day before I left and finished on the flight back and I immediatly wished I'd read this sooner. Talk about an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at all the drama. It was great. The things that were reported aren't nearly the half of it. I was was concerned that the writing would be tedious and technical, but it was such an easy read, that I needn't have been concerned. Besides, the details are so juicy, it was almost like reading a gossip magazine. Wait it was exactly like reading a gossip magazine.  I laughed out loud in places and was even more appalled in some. And Sarah Palin.... There are just no words.  If you were the least bit fascinated by that election, then you must read this book. Doesn't matter who you voted for - it's just too fascinating. Final Take: 4/5


Friday, January 21, 2011

Julie's Review: The Oracle of Stamboul

Summary: A girl changes the course of the Ottoman empire in Lukas's middling debut. Eleonora Cohen--born in 1877 Romania, prophesied to alter history, and gifted with great intelligence--stows away at age eight to follow her father to Stamboul. Her first weeks there are a whirlwind of beautiful new dresses and cultural experiences, but the idyllic adventure takes a terrible twist after her father is killed in an accident and Eleonora is taken in by her father's wealthy and politically slippery friend. She proves to be a quick study, and once her tutor alerts the palace of Eleonora's immense intelligence, she finds herself in attendance at the sultan's court, commenting on a political standoff between the Ottoman empire, Russia, and Germany. As the sultan's interest in her grows, so, too, does her reputation and importance, though Eleonora is unsure if her new role is what she wants from life. The backdrop is nicely done, but Lukas can't quite get his characters to pop or the plot to click; indeed, the buildup of Eleonora's oracle-like powers culminates in a disappointing fizzle. It's well intentioned, but flatly executed.

Review: For Eleonora Cohen, her life has been a whirlwind since the day she was born. She's had a lot of tragedy for such a young life. Yet, it seems that Eleonora, Ellie, is destined to be something great. You see Ellie starts to read and comprehend her lessons from a very young age and her dad knows she's special. Her step-mother fears that people will look at her differently plus they are Jews in a Muslim city.

When Ellie turns 8 her dad goes on a business trip to Stamboul. Ellie decides to stow away in one of her father's trunks to go with him. One never knows how a split decision can change your life and this decision of Ellie's changes the course of her life.

Upon arriving in Stamboul, Ellie is enamored with the city loves being with her father and learning his business. She also learns a great deal from his friend Moncref Bey while traveling about the city. Tragedy strikes and Ellie's life is forever changed.

Is Ellie the girl in the prophecies? Or is she just a young girl with an extraordinary gift?

What I thoroughly enjoyed about The Oracle of Stamboul was the description of Constana, Stamboul,and the Sultan's palace. I loved that this book was set in a part of the world that I don't read about and a fascinating part of history. The Ottoman Empire is one with a deeply rich and complex history and Mr. Lukas did a wonderful job of capturing a snapshot of history. He made the city of Stamboul jump off the pages and I could picture the architecture vividly as I was reading.

On the other hand, I didn't connect with any of the characters. While I found Ellie to be interesting, there wasn't anything profound about her. I found the Sultan to be less than charismatic. While the story was interesting, I found that it dragged on and got caught up in the details at times.

As I finished the novel, I wasn't quite sure what had happened and what I was to take away from it. For me, the novel ended without saying anything or resolving anything. The novel had so much potential in the pages but for me it was never realized.

I think that with his considerably interesting background, Michael David Lukas has a bright future ahead of him as a writer. While I might not have had my socks blown off by his debut novel, he is someone I will keep my eye on in the future.

On a side note, this ARC is one of the most beautiful and intricately designed covers and packaging I have ever seen.

Final Take: 3.5/5

This book will be released on 2/8/2011. Thanks to the Harper for sending me an ARC of the book.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guest Blog: Acire

It is our pleasure to share with you something different here at Girls Just Reading.  Acire, author of The Cherry Valley Chronicles is not only a guest blogger, but a guest reviewer as well.  Here is her review of P.C. and Kristin Cast's Marked, the first novel in House of Night Series.

Summary: In 16-year-old Zoey Redbird's world, vampires not only exist but are also tolerated by humans. Those whom the creatures "mark" as special enter the House of Night school where they will either become vampires themselves, or, if their body rejects the change, die. To Zoey, being marked is truly a blessing, though she's scared at first. She has never fit into the human world and has always felt she is destined for something else. Her grandmother, a descendant of the Cherokee, has always supported her emotionally, and it is she who takes the girl to her new school. But even there the teen stands apart from the others. Her mark from the Goddess Nyx is a special one, showing that her powers are very strong for one so young. At the House of Night, Zoey finds true friendship, loyalty, and romance as well as mistrust and deception. She realizes that all is not right in the vampire world and that the problems she thought she left behind exist there as well.

Marked: A House of Night NovelReview:  If The Twilight Saga’s didn’t have enough UMP for you, I have the series with that special kind of edge you are looking for. I am now a HUGE fan of P.C. and Kristin Cast, and I admire that this mother and daughter duo could agree on this excellent piece of work that they've created. “Marked” is the first book in this brilliant “House of Night” series. 

Zoey Redbird is a teenager who is struggling with the basic teen drama, geometry exams, ex-boyfriend troubles, and trying to deal with a family that doesn’t understand her at all. In the House of Night world, Vampires are no secret and very special humans are marked (a sapphire crescent moon tattooed on your forehead by a tracker vampire) and are chosen to become Vampires. Once you are marked you must go live at The House of Night.

Pretty much all of Zoey’s Human family and friends turn their back on her and her new life once they found out that she was marked. Her best friend is scared of her, and her mother and stepfather are members of the local Sanctimonious Crusade group. This group all believe that being marked is a sign of the devil and that prayer and oils can heal you. Zoey runs away to her grandmother’s so she can join the House of Night and start attending the Vampire finishing school. Zoey’s Grandma Redbird understands Zoey and her decision to attend the finishing school.

Not wanting to give too much of the story away. Zoey attends the House of Night and finds out that she still has the basic teen issues plus a few more not so teen issues. Zoey turns out to be a very powerful Fledgling (a ½ human ½ vampire in training). Zoey finds that she has many desires and many changes with herself on the inside and on the outside as well.

This book had me at the first chapter. I love the realness of this series. P.C. and Kristin didn’t sugarcoat anything. There is real talk and real life relationships in this series. The series has a lot profanity and a lot of exotic encounters. I mean we all know that Vampires are extra sexy and in this series they get to go loose. The characters are very and are very relatable.

I highly recommend this series to those die hard sci-fi fans out there. As I said before this series makes Twilight look like a walk in the park. Enjoy!!!

Thanks to Acire for this great review.  Please check out her website and follow her on Twitter.