Monday, September 30, 2013

Julie's Review: Mockingjay

Summary:Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins's groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.  

Review: While I wouldn't say that I'm a huge fan of the ending Mockingjay , that's not really the true focus of the novel. For me it was more of Katniss' fight within herself and the fight with the Capital. Not only that but she was trying to figure out her role with the Rebels. It is in the beginning of the book where I wanted to smack Katniss because she just couldn't see things for what they were. She couldn't see that she did have a role to play but that she was also being used. This is when I remind myself that she's still 16/17 because it is easy to forget at times. I loved the young woman that Katniss turned into. If it wasn't for her, I probably wouldn't have made it through the series. She is a wonderful heroine for young women to read about, she's complex, caring and sometimes naive.

 I loved that Peeta changed. That isn't to say that I grew to like him, but it does mean that I respected his struggle more than previously. I always appreciate when a character grows and has some kind of change. I loved the build up to the final confrontation between Katniss and President Snow. It is what Katniss has been waiting for, it is her time to exact revenge for all her pain and suffering. I loved seeing Gale and Katniss grow closer and just in their trust of each other. For me, I feel that Gale knows her best. I loved seeing Prim blossom into a bright, young woman. I enjoyed seeing Finnick become part of the inner circle. Haymitch is who he is and even though he changes for a brief period of time, he's seen too much in life to be able to take it sober.

Ms. Collins does an excellent job of creating Panem but she also does an excellent job destroying and repairing it. She shows the good side and bad side of humanity. She portrays both Coin and Snow as the power hungry people they are. It is not easy to look at the dark side of humanity but Katniss and her crew remind us that even in the dark there is light. 

Overall Mockingjay was the perfect end to a series that I definitely enjoyed. I wouldn't necessarily classify this as YA either. I think it starts off that way but the themes and subject matter that wind through it are not light or for the younger age groups.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Alice's Review


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Children's Corner: The Princess Knight

 When my daughter brought home a Cornelia Funke book from the school library, both my husband and I were a little surprised.  My husband knows her from the Inkheart movie, and I from the book as well.  I wasn't a huge fan of Inkheart; I found it cumbersome.  I enjoy the story, but I think some of the magic was lost in translation.  Needless to say, I was very interested to see how her Children's books translate.

I was pleasantly surprised.  Although still rather wordy for a picture book, it worked well.  It is definitely a picture book for the more mature crowd, and that's okay too.

Violetta reminds me of a cross between Merida and The Princess Who Saved Herself (although Violetta came first). Kidlet especially enjoyed it because it reminded her of Merlin, with all the jousting and sword fighting.   My husband and I both appreciated the message.  Next time Kidlet brings home Cornelia Funke, eyebrows won't raise quite so high.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jenn's Review: Trouble in Spades

Blurb:  Landscaping is Nina Quinn's business, but trouble seems to be her middle name. Saddled with a recently expelled, faithless local–cop husband, a teenaged terror of a stepson, and the yappiest, most unhousebreakable Chihuahua in captivity, Nina needs a respite –– and the backyard makeover she's undertaking for her sister Maria and Nate, Maria's fiance, may do the trick.

But, of course, Nate vanishes mysteriously, and Nina's gardening magic inadvertently turns up a corpse. And with a thief on the prowl who's preying on the neighborhood elderly, a suspicious Pandora's Box of a package arriving on her doorstep, and yet another body inconveniently turning up, Nina's going to have to dig into her community's dirtiest little secrets to regain her peace and sanity –– if she can manage to stay alive long enough to enjoy it

Review:  I have been waiting for the next Lucy Valentine or Wishcraft mystery from Heather Webber/ Heather Blake and missing her writing... until I remembered I still have most of the Nina Quinn books to read!  Hooray!

The Nina Quinn series is a read in a sitting book for me, (as long as I have a sitting in which to read it!).  As usual I love all of Heather Webber's characters.  She has a way of populating her novels without making caricatures of the supporting cast; for example I adore her crazy neighbors.

Nina gets drawn into all of her family's drama and she does it with as much grace as she can muster.  Although I pegged the main culprit  midway through the book, it did not go down the way I thought it would.  There were certain story lines that I was sure I had solved, but in the end, the twists surprised me.

The Nina Quinn series is a light, quick read, but it's always a fun one.  When I need a book I know I will enjoy, Heather Blake/Heather Webber is my go to!

Final Take:  4/5

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Julie's Review: Sweet Salt Air

Summary:From New York Times bestselling author Barbara Delinsky; a woman has a secret that may save the life of her best friend's husband;or destroy him. Charlotte and Nicole were once the best of friends, spending summers together in Nicole's family's island house, but they have since grown apart. A successful travel writer, Charlotte lives on the road, while Nicole, a food blogger, lives in Philadelphia with her surgeon-husband, Julian. When Nicole returns to the island house in order to write a book about island food, she invites her old friend Charlotte for both sentimental and practical reasons. Outgoing and passionate, Charlotte has a gift for talking to people and making friends, and Nicole would like her help interviewing locals for her book. Missing a genuine connection, Charlotte agrees. But what both women don't know is that they are each holding a secret that may change their relationship forever. Are the bonds of friendship strong enough to weather past indiscretions and betrayals? Can love survive an honest mistake? Filled with real, gut-wrenching emotion as well as a strong romantic storyline, Sweet Salt Air is a new offering from a beloved storyteller guaranteed to make you laugh and cry.

Review: What I truly liked about Sweet Salt Air was the research that Ms. Delinsky conducted about MS. It was obvious that either she had a vested interest in the research or she was interested in the disease. I also enjoyed the relationship between Nicole and Charlotte. I will be honest, even though I felt like the author wanted you to like and sympathize with Nicole more, I found myself leaning towards Charlotte. Nicole suffers from the "Kelly Taylor Syndrome" (she's a nice girl, you are supposed to like her but you don't and all the bad stuff happens to her)*. Charlotte led the more interesting life, she made herself and her career. Charlotte always had help and lived a privileged life. She went from her parents' cushy life to the life of a surgeon. She was indulged and never knew hard times until her husband was diagnosed with MS four years prior.

Food is prominent in the story but there are no real recipes in the end. So true foodies will be a bit let down. Charlotte comes back to Quinnie to help Nicole with her cookbook about the recipes and herbs that are essential to life on the island. This is the first time in 10 years that the two life long friends have been together. There are devastating secrets and the hope for forgiveness. There is also a life changing love affair that happens with the least likely candidate.

There were many a time when I rolled my eyes during this book. Charlotte and Leo were probably the most complex characters. There was depth and history to them. Nicole was the conduit the had them meet. Now, don't get me wrong I feel horrible for Nicole and her husband Julian. I can only imagine what a diagnosis like that has on someone. Julian is prideful and a bit of an asshole. He puts his feelings and determination ahead of his wife's. He makes her feel like she doesn't matter. He's so focused on how this diagnosis affects him that he doesn't realize how it affects the people around him.

I will say that I have a hankering for Lobster rolls, Clam Chowder and all other kinds of fresh seafood. I will also one day make it to Maine to have Lobster that fresh.

If you are looking for a solid read with some depth, then pick up Sweet Salt Air.

Final Take: 3.75/5

*Thank you, Alice for this term!!

 Thank you to Staci Burt at Wunderkind PR for my copy of the novel.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Children's Corner: The Foot Book

Review: We've had this book since my daughter was younger and it's one my kids always pick out when they want whimsy.

For my son, we really honed in on it about a year ago when he was having issues with rhyming. This was one of many great, simple Dr. Seuss books to use. Now, he pulls it off the shelf and reads it to me. He thinks the words are funny and the illustrations are even more funny. If he asks me to pick a book for him to read, I'll typically pick this. Not only can he read it but he's starting to get quicker at reading it as well.

Now that he's mastered this one, we'll move on to some of the other more complex Dr. Seuss books.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Alice's Review: Wishes & Stitches

Summary:  It has always been Naomi Fontaine's dream to practice small-town medicine an ambition that brought her to Cypress Hollow, the charming, tight-knit community her late friend, knitting guru Eliza Carpenter, loved so well. But no matter how hard she tries, Naomi cant seem to fit in here. Then rugged Rig Keller moves in to take over half of Naomi's medical practice, and instantly charms everyone in town . . . including Naomi.  Rig saw what a broken relationship did to his brother, and has no interest whatsoever in getting serious. But the temptation to play doctor with his new partner is just too strong to resist. Any chance they might have of being truly knit together by love, however, depends entirely on what secrets they are willing to reveal . . . and on Rig's willingness to risk his heart and Naomi's desire to open hers completely.

Review:  I received this novel from William Morrow nearly two years ago and I am kicking myself for not picking it up sooner. There was something very sweet about Wishes & Stitches.  It transported me to a wonderful place by the seaside where everyone knows everyone else, where there is a great sense of community and family.  I really enjoyed it and wished more than once a place like that really exists and that one day I hope to live there.

One of the best things about Wishes & Stitches is how perfectly flawed Ms. Herron made the characters.  I just adored Naomi.  In her painfully shy way, she was so refreshing to read.  Finally, a romance lead grounded in realism and awkwardness.  And Rig, our fearless hero.  Once I got past his name (come on, Rig?  Insert eye roll.) I fell for him as hard as Naomi did.  No character should be perfect.  All characters require a bit of tarnish to make them believable.  Both Rig and Naomi had that and because of it, they gave us a romance that was authentic.

Another great thing about this novel is the care Ms. Herron took in creating a wonderful mix of supporting characters and back stories for them as well.  While Naomi and Rig were always on the forefront, I loved getting to know the other Keller men and Naomi’s sister Anna. 

I think this novel will appeal to both knitters and non-knitters alike.  It’s the perfect balance of humor, romance and hot steamy sex.   I am looking forward to reading the first two novels in the Cypress Hollow Yarn series, How to Knit a Love Song and How to Knit a Heart Back Home.

The only minor flaw I can find in Wishes & Stitches is at the very end of the novel.  Naomi was thrown for a loop that I didn’t quite understand.  Hopefully reading the other novels in the series will shed some light on this.  Overall, this was a wonderful novel and a perfect Saturday reading book.  It’s the kind of novel you will want to share with your friends because you know they will enjoy Naomi and Rig (Rig!) as much as you did.

Final Take: 4/5

Friday, September 20, 2013

Julie's Review: Burial Rites

Summary: Kent's debut delves deep into Scandinavian history, not to mention matters of storytelling, guilt, and silence. Based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the novel is set in rural Iceland in 1829. Agnes is awaiting execution for the murder of her former employer and his friend, not in a prison — there are none in the area — but at a local family's farm. Jón Jónsson, the father, grudgingly accepts this thankless task as part of his responsibility as a regional official, but his wife and daughters' reactions range from silent resentment to outright fear. After settling in to the household, Agnes requests the company of a young priest, to whom she confesses parts of her story, while narrating the full tale only to the reader, who, like the priest, 'provide her with a final audience to her life's lonely narrative.' The multilayered story paints sympathetic and complex portraits of Agnes, the Jónssons, and the young priest, whose motives for helping the convict are complicated. Kent smoothly incorporates her impressive research — for example, she opens many of the chapters with documents that come directly from archival sources — while giving life to these historical figures and suspense to their tales.

Review: Burial Rites is highly recommend by a great many people. I can't say that it was my favorite book of the year, but it definitely a great historical fiction novel where the mystery outshines the history. Agnes Magnusdottir is an interesting and complex person. It is because of the crimes she is accused of committing and eventually put to death for, that you aren't sure if you can trust her. Who is there to verify her story? The other criminals? They aren't going to absolve her, it makes them more guilty. Throughout the book you go back and forth with wondering if her story is the real account. Slowly but surely you begin to believe her and want to believe in her.

Ms. Kent unfolds Agnes' story slowly and methodically. She builds the story up to the only ending there could be for her. It is not only her story that makes you believe her but it's the way she goes about doing her job while staying in Korsna. It is how she develops a trust and frienship with both the Reverend Toti and Margret that also speaks to her character. She is telling her story with emotion which is what made me believe her even more. She's no longer in shock but has resigned herself to the fact that she will die.

Natan Ketilsson was not a nice man. He wasn't evil but he sure did like to use people. He used Fredrik when it was convinient for him. He used Agnes, Sigga and Poet-Rosa as well. He didn't have much use for people other than to heal them. Other than how other people viewed him we never get to know much more about Natan then cursory descriptors. Perhaps that is all that is needed.

I will also say that my opinion of Steina and Lauga changed as well. It goes to show you that people aren't always who you think they are at first glance. They both surprised me. I have to say that perhaps those months that Agnes stayed in Kornsa might be the first time she had a true family.

I have to say that while Iceland might be gorgeous, I have no desire to go there. It seems so desolute and isolated. Granted this story was in the early 1800s and in the country but you don't shake the cold while reading this novel.

While reading the novel, The Scarlet Letter kept popping into my head. Woman wronged, convincted, sentenced to die. It's not an exact parallel but it was close enough to keep nagging at me.

Check out this cool photo essay by the author. I get cold just looking at it.

Final Take: 4/5

This is also the Hashtag Book Clubs book for September. You can find our chats with #BurialRites.

Thanks to Michelle at That's What She Read for my copy. You can also check out her review of Burial Rites.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Julie's Review: Help For The Haunted

Summary: It begins with a call one snowy February night. Lying in her bed, young Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation: helping "haunted souls" find peace. And yet something in Sylvie senses that this call is different from the others, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church's red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep, only to wake to the sound of gunfire.As the story weaves back and forth through the years leading up to that night and the months following, the ever-inquisitive Sylvie searches for answers and uncovers secrets that have haunted her family for years. Capturing the vivid eeriness of Stephen King's works and the quirky tenderness of John Irving's novels, Help for the Haunted is told in the captivating voice of a young heroine who is determined to discover the truth about what happened on that winter night.
Review: Help for the Haunted is a creepy mystery that is just scary enough but not too scary especially for someone like me. I will say this, if you have a basement you won't want to read this at night or alone in your house. There is also a young girl, Sylvie who is trying to come to terms with the tragedy and history of her family.

To understand Sylvie, you have to understand her sister, Rose. Rose is the "troubled" daughter and Sylvie is the "good" daughter for the Mason parents. Pigeon-holing their girls like this only ends up forcing the girls to act in ways that they might not have and it also colors the parents' view of certain situations. Their parents believe in living a clean, good life and helping others achieve the same thing. They believe they are helping people who have nowhere else to turn. By helping those unfortunate souls, they are also putting their daughters' lives at risk. Maybe not physically but definitely emotionally and mentally.

Mr. Searles has a way of making the book very atmospheric and eerie but it's because he doesn't describe every little thing but lets your imagination run with it. He gives you enough to set the scene and even then it's subtle. Each character in his book play a part but in the end it's not what you think. Just like Sylvie you think you know what's going to happen and yet you have no clue. You are led down a path and you can't turn back until it's too late.

Help for the Haunted is a creepy story and yet it is about one girls journey to find out the truth about her family. It is about growing up and learning who you are. It is also a book that ends with openness and while it might not work for some books, it definitely worked for this one.

As Mr. Searles is a new to me author, at some point I will have to check out his other novels. If you are in the mood for a great fall novel, then look no further than Help for the Haunted. While you are trying to decide to read it or not, check out this awesome book trailer!!

Final Take: 4.75/5
 photo tlctourhost_zps53348708.png

Thanks to TLC Tours for a copy of the book!

Here is the tour schedule:

Tuesday, September 17th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, September 18th: Girls Just Reading
Thursday, September 19th: Book Snob
Friday, September 20th: A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, September 23rd: Book-alicious Mama
Tuesday, September 24th: Alison’s Book Marks
Wednesday, September 25th: The Well-Read Redhead
Thursday, September 26th: BoundbyWords
Friday, September 27th: Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, September 30th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, October 1st: A Bookworm’s World
Wednesday, October 2nd: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Thursday, October 3rd: Lectus
Monday, October 7th: From the TBR Pile



Sunday, September 15, 2013

Children's Corner: No, David!

 This was my kindergarten aged daughter's first book home from the school library.  It's probably not something we would have picked together at the public library, but that's a good thing.  She's exerting her independence everywhere else, I'm glad to see it in the library too.

David is "not a good listener", as my daughter tells it, and he gets into mischief galore. In it's brevity, there is still a lesson to be learned, even when Mommy is mad, or "frustrated" as Kidlet would say, Mommy still loves you.  The text is minimal and my daughter can breeze through reading it, which makes her feel like a successful reader -and that's what it's all about, isn't it?

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Alice's Review: In Search of the Rose Notes

Summary:  Eleven-year-olds Nora and Charlotte were best friends. When their teenage babysitter, Rose, disappeared under mysterious circumstances, the girls decided to “investigate.” But their search aided by paranormal theories and techniques gleaned from old Time-Life book went nowhere.  Years later, Nora, now in her late twenties, is drawn back to her old neighborhood and to her estranged friend when Roses remains are finally discovered. Upset over their earlier failure to solve the possible murder, Charlotte is adamant that they join forces and try again. But Nora was the last known person to see Rose alive, and shes not ready to revisit her troubled adolescence and the events surrounding the disappearance or face the disturbing secrets that are already beginning to reemerge.

Review:  In Search of the Rose Notes has been in my TBR pile for a while now.  The story intrigued me, two quirky pre-teen girls searching for answers to the disappearance of their teenage babysitter Rose.

There are a few things I want to tell you right off the bat.  This novel is good.  It’s a decent read with plot twists and a mystery I couldn’t figure out until the very end.  It has interesting characters.  I especially enjoyed Nora, Rose, Charlotte and the mysterious Toby.  What makes this novel wonderful is Ms. Arsenault peppers In Search of the Rose Notes with little bits of wonderfulness.  The kind of wonderfulness that makes me dog ear pages and highlight complete passages.  It was unexpected and completely breathtaking.

Before I get to that wonderfulness, I want to talk a little about how complex and developed these characters where.  Ms. Arsenault captures the essence of teenage angst perfectly.  I loved Nora, I thought she was so brilliantly complex and damaged.  I loved how she moved on from her past yet never fully let it go.  I especially enjoyed the relationship she had with Charlotte, a frenemy if there ever was one.  Those two characters worked so well together, as different as they were they complimented each other perfectly. Toby was the the odd kid in school no one ever took the time to know.  I really liked him, how steadfast he was.  Rose was an enigma.  Layered, confused, cool, fun, interesting…I fully understood why the girls idolized her and why her disappearance caused such a void in their lives. 

The real star of this novel is Ms. Arsenault’s prose.

I love when Nora thinks:  Light tricked you into thinking you weren’t afraid.

After an especially sad and enlightening conversation with her mother, Nora thinks:  I looked into my cocoa.  I couldn’t enjoy it anymore.  It was too sweet for this conversation.

And I loved Rose’s view on magic when debating with Charlotte about whether or not magic exists.  Rose says, “Did it ever occur to you that it was easier to believe in it because they had it?”

I think the last quote sums up In Search of the Rose Notes to a T.  I believed in this story, in these troubled characters because Ms. Arsenault captured that magic wonderfully.

Final Take: 4/5

Friday, September 13, 2013

Julie's Review: Virals

Summary: Tory Brennan, niece of acclaimed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (of the Bones novels and hit TV show), is the leader of a ragtag band of teenage "sci-philes" who live on a secluded island off the coast of South Carolina. When the group rescues a dog caged for medical testing on a nearby island, they are exposed to an experimental strain of canine parvovirus that changes their lives forever. As the friends discover their heightened senses and animal-quick reflexes, they must combine their scientific curiosity with their newfound physical gifts to solve a cold-case murder that has suddenly become very hot-if they can stay alive long enough to catch the killer's scent. Fortunately, they are now more than friends: They are a pack. They are Virals.

Review:  I don't read Sci-Fi or YA, so why would Virals? Kathy Reichs wrote it. Also, Jenn suggested it for my YA challenge this year. Being a fan of her Temperance Brennan series I knew that she would tone down the science in this but not dumb it down. Immediately I liked Tory. She's a bright 14 year old girl, who has some sass but isn't obnoxious. And while being smart and a bit nerdy, she's not awkward. What came to mind for me after finishing the novel, is that she's a modern day Nancy Drew. She gets herself in situations where I know I couldn't get out of and yet she does so with using her smarts.

Tory recently transplanted to South Carolina after her mother's death to live with a father who didn't know she even existed. This is how Tory is related to Tempe, she's her great-aunt, which is fantastic for Tory who already idolized her. Tory is a huge dog lover and when she discovers that one of the wolf dog pups is caged up on Loggerhead Island, she decides to free him and take him with her. This is where the one rash decision leads to many outcomes.

Tory and her band of brothers seem to stumble into trouble at every turn. Now it's not your typical teen trouble but maybe that kind of trouble might be easier to deal with.

While I might not think it's realistic, I let it go and just enjoyed the story. Ms. Reichs does a fantastic job of creating teen characters that aren't cartoonish. She does an excellent job of having two plots that end up melding together perfectly in the end. There were a couple twists that I didn't see coming and thoroughly enjoyed that I didn't.

For me, while I found the mysteries interesting, I really liked the dynamic between Tory, Hi, Ben and Shelton. I like that Tory is comfortable enough with herself to hang out with a bunch of guys and be at ease with them. They are her pack.

I will definitely continue with the series (SeizureCode) since there is only a total of 3 right now. I also recommend them to my 12 year old sister and will be passing it on to a 13 year old boy as well.

Final Take: 4/5

Jenn's Review


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Julie's Review: Recipe for a Happy Life

Summary: Hannah Goodman isn't like everyone else. Her mother, Gray, is an award-winning photojournalist with little time for the banalities of caring for a child, so she's mostly raised by her grandmother—a glamorous widow known for her charm, as well as the fact that shes been married nearly as many times as Elizabeth Taylor. Despite her mother's great wealth, Gray is determined that Hannah resist the siren song of the trust fund set, and make her own way in the world.  And Hannah did just that becoming a lawyer in New York City. Hannah has it all, or so it seems, until one hot June day when the carefully constructed pieces of her life break apart. That's when she seeks solace at her grandmother's Hamptons estate. And that's when she learns that there's more than one recipe for perfection.Fast-paced, charming, and full of heart, Recipe for a Happy Life sweeps you into a world in which fabulous beach-front cocktail parties are a regular occurrence, and the cure for social awkwardness is a perfectly-placed quip, but the boy in the mansion next door might just turn out to be the one thing that keeps you grounded when reality sets in. A memorable story about one memorable summer.A grand dame rules over three generations of women from her Hamptons estate, and her granddaughter realizes that the recipe for a happy life may be very different from her family's expectations.

Review: Immediately upon starting the book I liked Hannah. I thought she was witty, sincere and emotionally handicapped. What a better heroine for a novel. Then you meet her grandmother, Vivienne, who is elegant, classy and worldly but also the complete opposite of Hannah. They are extremely close since Hannah's mom, Gray, was always off chasing a story as a world renowned photojournalist.

Hannah is escaping her life in NYC for life in the Hamptons since hers imploded. She's looking for some carefree time at the beach while trying to figure out her life. This means that she has to deal with her grandmother setting her up on horrible dates and dressing the part. Before she knows it she's enjoying the life the Hamptons has to offer and is amazed by her Grandmother's social calendar.

I read Recipe for a Happy Life in one sitting. I laughed and I cried. I was amazed by each of these women who was strong in their own way. Each of them have had their own trials and triumphs. Each of them has to learn how to appreciate the others. Sometimes it takes a tragedy in life to bring this out in people.

Are there things that are predictable in the novel? Yes but there are definitely a few twists as well. Also, who can't help but falling a little in love with Hunter Kensington IV. He's an absolute trip. I loved the setting of the Hamptons and one day would like to visit to see these grand estates.

Ms. Janowitz has written a gem of a novel here. If you are looking for a quick, touching and funny read; look no further than Recipe for a Happy Life.

Final Take: 4.25/5

 Thank you to Ms. Janowitz for a copy of the novel.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Jenn's Review: The Last Dragonslayer

Blurb:  In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic.

Review:  It's been over 5 years since I read my last Jasper Fforde book, and it's been too long.   I saw this on the shelf of my local indie and knew this was the book to bring me back.  I adore the cover; it leaves so much scope for the imagination.

Once again, Fforde uses his brilliant wit to create a magical world.  In a parallel universe where magic and dragons are starting to die out lives Jennifer Strange the most extraordinary un-ordinary foundling the unUnited Kingdom will ever know.  Jennifer was abandoned at the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster orphanage in her orange Volkswagen, an apparent orphan of the Troll Wars.  Now in servitude of The Great Zambini, Jennifer finds herself in charge of the Kazam Mystical Arts Management due to Mr. Zambini's recent disappearance.  Herding sorcerers seems to be harder than herding cats.  They're moody and temperamental and can stick you on the ceiling for hours.  With the prediction of the death of the last dragon, Jennifer gets shoved into the spotlight.  Everyone is working an angle so the question is who do you trust?

Jasper Fforde always walks the fine line of making his characters hard to connect with due to the fact that his  quick witted dialogue can sometimes come off as flippant and snide.  This is not the case here.  Jennifer is intelligent but guarded.  I adore her Quarkbeast (who reminds me a little of Gru's 'dog' Kyle, from Despicable Me).  The wizards of Kazam are a hoot and Fforde does an excellent job of keeping them from becoming too cartoonish with depth of character.

Although I may have had one plot point worked out, I was mostly too busy enjoying the story, so it was purely happenstance and it didn't lesson my experience at all.  I loved the twists and turns the story-line took.  Jasper Fforde does a lovely job of wrapping things up neatly, while leaving enough loose ends with which to continue the series.  Reading this takes me back to some of my first Dianna Wynne Jones novels.

Jasper Fforde isn't for everyone.  His writing is dense and full of references, but his work is smart and funny, and really worth a try.  The Song of the Quarkbeast, book two of the Kazam Chronicles, just released this past week, and you can bet it's on the top of my reading list!

Final Take:  4.5/5


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Julie's Review: Songs of Willow Frost

Summary: From Jamie Ford, the New York Times bestselling author of the beloved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, comes a much-anticipated second novel. Set against the backdrop of Depression-era Seattle, Songs of Willow Frost is a powerful tale of two souls—a boy with dreams for his future and a woman escaping her haunted past—both seeking love, hope, and forgiveness. Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song. Determined to find Willow and prove that his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigate the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen. Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping novel will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.  

Review:  I've been waiting and waiting for Jamie Ford to come out with another novel. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is one of my favorite books ever. I had high hopes for Songs of Willow Frost and I wasn't disappointed. Mr. Ford has a way of simply and beautifully telling a story.

Songs of Willow Frost is a story of loss, love and hope. It is heart-wrenching to have William find his way back to his ah-ma only to be taken back to the orphanage. We learn about Liu Song through her telling William his family's story. Liu didn't have an easy life and experienced heartbreak may times in her life. It is when she meets Colin Kwan that her life changes. He introduces her to performing on stage and on the screen. She doesn't know a way out of the life of poverty that her and William are living. Liu is an interesting character because in the beginning I felt like she was selfish and self-absorbed but after hearing her story I realized that she had no other option than the one she chose.

While Sister Briganti might have seemed harsh at times, she was really trying to protect William from getting his heartbroken all over again. She was looking out for his best interest even if he didn't think she knew what was best for him. William's friend Charlotte was his emotions when he was her eyes. There's was a friendship that perhaps was destined for more.

Mr. Ford also gives us background on the flourishing motion picture business in Seattle before everything was centralized in Hollywood. It is also through this subplot that we are smacked in the face with the bigotry/racism towards Chinese-Americans. How even when filming a Chinese movie or performing a play they had white actors play those parts. I am again reminded how racism isn't just towards black but of anyone who looks different than the majority. Our history, at times, isn't pleasant.

Mr. Ford excels at storytelling and how he reveals the back story. I loved the dual time periods because they weren't decades apart and were the beginning and middle of the same story. They didn't need intersecting because they were continuous.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Songs of Willow Frost will be released on 9/10/2013 by Ballantine Books.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book to Movie: Mortal Instruments City of Bones

Having seen the movie twice now, I finally feel ready to write my feelings down. I don't mind saying that I expected quite a lot from this movie, perhaps too much. This is my favorite series right now, so perhaps I'm a harsh critic.

The casting wasn't what I expected aside from Clary and Simon. When I pictured the breathtakingly handsome Jace, I don't picture Jamie Campbell Bower.  Considering, I think he pulls it off pretty well. Luke is not what I pictured either.  The Luke that Cassandra Clare wrote was burly and warm and funny and that just wasn't the vibe I got from Aidan Turner.   Hodge was not as I pictured either... a little more put together and not nearly as reclusive as he is in the book, but here we're starting to get into the way the script is written. 

Alec's love for Jace wasn't evident for me at all and had it not been brought up in the dialogue, I think it would have been missed completely.  Jonathon Rhys Meyers makes an awesome villain, but he was written more like a psychopath than an evil genius on a power trip. He is supposed to be intimidating and suave and instead he came off as manic. My biggest disappointment, though, was Magnus Bane. At first I thought it was just because there was too little of him, but after my second viewing I realized it was more than that.  Godfrey Gao definitely looks the part, but he isn't remotely charismatic and he talks way too fast for someone who is an 800 year old warlock. Again it may be the writing as his character has been reduced to plot exposition.  

I know it sounds like I hated it, but I didn't.  I can appreciate the cuts and changes made to the storyline to fit the time constraints.  I think some of them even make things more visually dramatic (Simon's trip to Hotel Dumort, for example).  I liked that they chose to let the audience in on the fact that Clary and Jace are not related, though I wasn't fond of the way it came about (Hodge?!?).  The witty repartee from Jace is severely cut down, especially the barbs between he and Simon, but there is enough to make him Jace.  I loved the Institute - it was a perfect recreation... with some additions.  The runes were as I imagined them, as were the steles and seraphs.  However, what makes Cassandra Clare's novels so magical are the worlds she creates and the personal interactions and I felt like much of that was lost due to time constraints.  The only relationship that remains intact in the film is the Simon-Clary-Jace love triangle.   And that is the film's saving grace. Robert Sheehan is a wonderful unrequited Simon.  And Lilly Collin and Jamie Campbell Bower are lovely together --the scene in the greenhouse,  the scene in front of Clary's bedroom door, rescuing Simon, the motorcycle ride-- I will watch it again and again for those moments. I adore them. 

In the end, no movie could ever live up to the sensational worlds Cassandra Clare created.  I think they did a good job though of making it stand on it's own.  (I took my husband with me for my second viewing and he seemed to enjoy it enough without having read the books... with a few questions.)  I hope they complete the second film.  I will be interested to see where the story goes, since they changed a significant plot point. The books get better and better and I'm hoping the movies will too.

Final Take:  3.75/5

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Julie's Review: The Book of Someday

Summary: Three women. One stranger in a shimmering silver dress. Whatever binds them together has already destroyed one life. It just might consume them all. Someday, Livvi Gray will break free from her past. Someday, she will escape her recurring nightmare about that stranger in a shimmering silver dress. Someday, she will have a family of her own. Now she's found Andrew, and someday seems to be right around the corner. But there's so much Livvi doesn't know. Shortly before her thirtieth birthday, she will come face-to-face with the stranger from her dream-an encounter that will alter Livvi's future and crack open everything she knew about her past. Livvi is swiftly moving toward the ultimate turning point in her life-and she's not the only one. Linked by an unforgettable mystery, photographer Micah and young mother AnnaLee are also being rapidly drawn into a web of devastating secrets about the unexpected ways in which we choose to protect-and betray-the people we love.  

Review:  The Book of Someday is an exquisite novel that looks at how our past haunts us and then releases us. We are introduced to three women in the novel: Livvi, Micah and AnnaLee. Livvi opens the book as a young girl in fear of her father and yearning to be somewhere, anywhere else. Micah is a famous photographer who is going to have a bomb thrown in her lap that causes her to revisit her unpleasant past. AnnaLee is a young mother living in the house that she grew up in with the possessions that her parents collected and the fact that she's ashamed of husband.

Their stories will break your heart. They will make you want to release your past and embrace the present. They will make you wonder what happened and what will happen. Will Livvie face her dark past? Will Micah make peace with hers? Will AnnaLee accept her husband for who he is and isn't?

Ms. Dixon doesn't an excellent job of being ambiguous throughout the novel. She gives you enough of a path of crumbs to follow them to the connection but leaves out enough that you question your own theories. You wonder if the lady in the shimmering silver dress and pearl button shoes is mystical. What is her connection to all three of them? I loved the way that it was discovered.

My only complaint is the ending! I closed the book wanting more! What happened to them?! Did they find peace and happiness? I'm all about not having a neatly tied bow but wow! This book will have me thinking for weeks, maybe months.

If you are a fan of mysteries with a mystical bent, then The Book of Someday is for you. It is a book that makes you think, get a little misty-eyed and go WTH?!

Final Take:  4.75/5

Thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark for my copy of the novel for review.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Julie's Review: The Lavender Garden

Summary: The internationally bestselling author of The Orchid House takes readers from Nazi-occupied Paris to the contemporary glamour of the Cote D’Azur in an emotionally gripping novel of love, duty, and desire.
With her dazzling novels The Orchid House and The Girl on the Cliff, Lucinda Riley effortlessly transported readers between distant times and locations and earned accolades from reviewers and readers around the world. In The Lavender Garden, her most powerful novel so far, she tells the mesmerizing tale of heroism and betrayal inside an aristocratic French family across half a century.
Le Cote d’Azur, 1998: In the south of France, Emilie de la Martinieres finds herself the sole inheritor of her childhood home, a magnificent chateau and vineyard. With the house comes a mountain of debt — and almost as many questions: What was the purpose of the secret room she finds hidden beneath the wine cellars? Why did her beloved father never speak of his decorated service in Word War II? Why has Emilie always felt at odds with her own family background? Paris, 1944: A British office clerk, Constance Carruthers, is sent to Paris to be part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during the climax of the Nazi occupation. Separated from the Resistance, she stumbles into a socially prominent family who entertains members of the German elite even as they plot to liberate France. In a city rife with collaborators and Resistance members, Constance’s most difficult decision may be determining whom to trust with her heart. As Emilie discovers what really happened to her family during the war and finds a connection to Constance much closer than she suspects, the chateau itself may provide clues that can unlock the mysteries of her past, present, and future.

Review: If you read a lot you know that sometimes books get pushed off and pushed off into the TBR pile. That's what happened with The Lavender Garden for me. I'm only happy to say that I'm so glad that I finally read it. It is an engrossing novel about the secrets families keep that end up coming to the surface eventually.

Emilie de la Martinieres is the last in the line of her family since her mother died. She is alone and lonely when she meets Sebastian Carrauthers who sweeps her off her f eet. Instead of selling the family chateau, she decides to restore it. After all it has been in her family for over 200 years and she finds herself being pulled back into the lure of it. As she begins to find out more about her family, specifically her father, she is beginning to see how extraordinary her family truly.

It is through the eyes of Constance that we truly learn what a hero Eduard was during the Resistance. It is also Constance who is the hero as well. She risked her life and her soul to help the de la Martinieres towards the end of the war.

I really don't think I'm doing this book justice because Ms. Riley does such a superb job of a nuanced story that is strung together very well. She even lets you believe your thoughts are true until the end when she twists is all around. The characters are intriguing and some of them mysterious. I knew Sebastian wasn't on the up and up. While I thought Emilie was weak, I understood why she might be the way she was based on her childhood. I was also thrilled when she grew a backbone.

I loved reading about how active the British were in the French Resistance because I don't think I knew that or if I did I had forgotten.

It is easy to get swept up in this novel about sorrow, love, hope, betrayal and happiness. If you are looking for a WWII novel, then look no further than The Lavender Garden.

Final Take:  4.5/5

Thanks to Diana Franco at Atria for my copy of the novel.