Thursday, October 31, 2013

Alice's Review: Seeing Me Naked

Summary:  Elisabeth Page is the daughter of Ben Page, yes, that's right, THE world famous novelist. And yes, she's also the sister of Rascal Page, world famous novelist in his own right. So what does Elisabeth do? Much to her family's disappointment, Elisabeth is a pastry chef. And a pretty damn good one, at Beverly, the hottest restaurant in LA.  The last relationship Elisabeth had was with Will, a man she grew up with and whose family ran in the same social circles as her family. But Will's constant jaunts around the world have left her lonely and brokenhearted in L.A.  That is until Daniel Sullivan bids on one of Elisabeth's pastry tutorials at a charity auction. Daniel is everything her family is not: a basketball coach, a non-intellectual, his family doesn't summer on Martha's Vineyard, and the only metaphors he uses are about passing the ball and being a team player. But somehow they fit.  Between her family, Will, and the new cooking show that Elisabeth is recruited to star in, Elisabeth's life is suddenly incredibly new and different--the question is, can she embrace being happy or has her family conditioned her to think she's just not good enough?

Review:  The more novels I read by Liza Palmer, the more I fall in love with her work.  She gives her readers well-rounded characters.  They could be your friends or neighbors or even members of your own family.  Seeing Me Naked is no different.  In this novel, the story focuses on Elisabeth Page, an up and coming pastry chef at one of Los Angeles’ hottest restaurants.  She’s lived a fairly anonymous life even though her father is a world famous novelist.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in this novel.  The characters are all unique and interesting.  There is a surprise on every page.  Seeing Me Naked feels a lot like a coming of age story.  It’s a journey of self discovery, risk, and acceptance.  I loved Elisabeth. I loved her humor, her family, her tenacity.   Overall, I really enjoyed this story.  There was one moment in particular I did not see coming at all.  Best part was neither did the characters.  There was a collective gasp heard by all.   

Seeing Me Naked is an unexpected foodie’s dream, complete with a few recipes at the end that I am anxious to try, especially the Yogi Tea.  Ms. Palmer wrote Elisabeth so well that I really felt her love for cooking.  There were so many times I wanted to dive into the pages and sample one of her pastries or that pumpkin flan. 

 I am saving the best for last in this review.  As much as I enjoyed the story, the romance, Elisabeth and her quirky family, my absolute favorite part was getting to see California through Elisabeth’s eyes.  From the farmer’s markets to her drives up the coast, she left me itching to take a trip to the west coast.  My only wish is that Elisabeth be my tour guide.

Final Take: 4/5

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Julie's Review: The Tao of Martha

Summary: One would think that with her impressive list of bestselling self-improvement memoirs Jen Lancaster would have it all together by now. One would be wrong. After all, shes no Martha Stewart. And thats why Jen is going to Martha up and live her life according to the advice of Americas overachieving older sister—the woman who turns lemons into lavender-infused lemonade. By immersing herself in Marthas media empire, Jen embarks on a yearlong quest to take herself, her house, her husband (and maybe even her pets) to the next level—from closet organization to party planning. Maybe Jen can avoid food poisoning if she follows Marthas dictates on proper storage. Maybe she can rid her workout clothes of meatball stains by using Marthas laundry tips. Maybe she can create a more meaningful anniversary celebration than getting drunk in the pool with her husband. Again. And maybe shell discover that the key to happiness does, in fact, lie in Marthas perfectly arranged cupboards and charcuterie platters.

Review: Thinking I might give audio another go, I went with Michelle's recommendation of The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster. As you know, I adore her. I've seen her in person a few different times and she is super funny and friendly. So when Michelle told me JL narrated this one, I knew it was perfect for me.

Jen needs a little organization in her life and so she turns to the goddess of it, Martha Stewart. Determined to live by Martha's edicts for a year, she begins her journey. 2011 was a crap year from Jen and Fletch, so she's determined to have a better 2012. She truly thinks her life would be that much easier if she just was more strict and more organized.

It is when Jen shows her heart that she is at her best. It is through Maizy's illness that we see just how much she adores her furry children. How she will do anything to help them. Listening to this at work and trying not to cry was difficult. Thank god for the invention of Kleenex.

Jen always makes me laugh and this experiment is no different. I admire her gusto and her "be awesome" credo. Not every thing she aspires to do under Martha's tutelage goes well but that's why I love her.

I loved the part where she made fun of Fletch for his prepping but then went all gung-ho with it herself. She justified it by saying she was planning and that canning was essential to the Tao of Martha. I also love how Fletch is still her voice of reason. He knows how to talk her down from the ledge and reminds her what the the true meaning of her year long project is.

Final Take: 4/5


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Children's Corner: Pinkalicious: Pink or Treat!

Review: My daughter, at 8, still gravitates towards Pinkalicious books. At the latest Scholastic book fair she brought home this gem for Halloween because she knew that it wouldn't be "scary." Scary it isn't. It's a great story about how Pinkalicious goes about solving a problem so that she can have her Halloween party.

Pinkalcious has matured over the years, especially since reading Silverlicious. Like all kids her good deed has a selfish bent to it but it does have a good message about trying to solve problems. Sometimes those with a vested interest are the best ones to figure things out.

I have a feeling that at least for another year or so my daughter will still gravitate toward Pinkalicious. I'm  hoping chapter books come out soon for them like they did with Fancy Nancy.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Jenn's Review: The Lost Prince

 Blurb:  Don’t look at Them. Never let Them know you can see Them.

That is Ethan Chase’s unbreakable rule. Until the fey he avoids at all costs—including his reputation—begin to disappear, and Ethan is attacked. Now he must change the rules to protect his family. To save a girl he never thought he’d dare to fall for.

Ethan thought he had protected himself from his older sister’s world—the land of Faery. His previous time in the Iron Realm left him with nothing but fear and disgust for the world Meghan Chase has made her home, a land of myth and talking cats, of magic and seductive enemies. But when destiny comes for Ethan, there is no escape from a danger long, long forgotten.

Review:  I love this and should have read it ages ago.  The reason it took me so long to get to is that although I knew it was a new series, I must confess I was slightly turned off by the prequel, Iron's Prophecy. It was meant as a transition novella between the two series, but I was really happy with how The Iron Fey series ended and it felt like someone was messing with a favorite friend.  I am ashamed.  I should have had a little faith.  I should know by know to trust Julie Kagawa (I felt that way after book 3, The Iron Queen, but I adored The Iron Knight).

For me, The Lost Prince was much easier to get into than book one of the original series, The Iron King.  Perhaps it was because I already knew the players and the realm to which we were headed, but also because Ethan's an easier character to identify with then Meghan.  I immediately understood where Ethan was coming from, because I knew what he'd been through.  Though Ethan understandably wants nothing to do with the fey, he also knows he can't ignore what's going on around him.  It's time to face them.  Did I know where things were headed  for him?  Yes, but the journey was still an enjoyable one.

In a sudden turn of events, I found myself craving more than the little interaction we had with The Iron Queen and Ash... and oh was I happy to see Puck! I missed the Iron realm.  Keirran was not what I expected, but everything I should have known he would be.  Although his naivete is somewhat surprising, I can see so much of both parents in him.

This new series has definitely captured my attention and I'm happy to say that though I waited so long, the benefit is that The Iron Traitor will be out next week and I can continue my journey.

Final Take:  4.75/5


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Children's Corner: Crankenstein

Crankenstein was from this month's Scholastic order.  Although it appears to be Halloween themed, it's really an all-year-round book about children with "cranky pants" as we call them in our house.  It's a cute interpretation of all the times we see the monster in our little sweethearts.  Dan Santat's artwork is phenomenal and it helps to find the humor in each situation.

I think this works for a wide range of ages.  It's a great way to look at behavior without dwelling on it... and talk about how everyone is cranky sometimes.

...I'm pretty sure I qualify as a Crankenstein before my morning coffee too.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Julie's Review: Hush Little Baby

Summary: DON'T SAY A WORD. Not if you want to live or you want your children to live. In a game of ultimate stakes, Jillian Kane struggles to save herself and her two children from her extremely cunning abusive husband. Gordon Kane, Jillian's husband, is a good guy – at least that's what everyone thinks. Handsome, a recognized hero, an involved father, a respected coach. No one would suspect that beneath the flawless veneer lurks a man capable of unspeakable cruelty. Jillian, on the other hand, has her faults. She works too much, lacks maternal instinct, misses teacher conferences, and doesn't bring cupcakes to the school fair. Perception is everything in the high stakes game of child custody and Gordon has the upper hand. And when all hope is lost of keeping her kids, Jillian is left with the question of how far she'll go to save them. A chilling story of abuse and marital warfare, Hush Little Baby is a cautionary tale about how easily a reputation can be destroyed, a mother's children can be taken from her, and the terrifying choices she's left with to get them back.

Review: Hush Little Baby is an intense, heart-breaking novel. As a reader you tend to hold your breath at points in the book. Jillian isn't the easiest of characters to read. As a woman, you want to know why she hasn't run. As a mother, your heart breaks for her and her children because of how they have to live.

Jillian has closed herself off to everyone, even her kids. She's a brilliant architect and business woman but can't get the day-to-day parenting down. Even though you might not understand Jillian, you root for her at every turn. You want her to collect herself and run, taking the kids with her. You want Gordon to get his comeuppance and the sooner it happens the better. You want justice to be served but perhaps not the one that happens in a courtroom. I can't imagine being in Jillian's shoes. Years of torture and abuse finally coming to light. Having a whole community not believe you because of what Gordon's job was there.

I loved the fact that Michelle never gave up on trying to befriend Jillian. I loved that Connor had her back no matter how crazy it got. Most of all I loved her relationship with her father. I understood her guilt in his circumstances and how she needed to take care of him. I especially loved her trip to Washington and finding herself content living there. Do I think she could have lived there long term? No, but I think it helped to center her.

For a debut, Ms. Redfearn easily found her voice. She has a heroine who is not at all times likable but is real and honest. She could be your neighbor, sister or friend. Writing about abuse has to be hard and emotionally taxing on an author. I know it was emotional taxing on me as a reader. All of the characters jump off the pages and Gordon makes your skin crawl every time he is mentioned. He is a true villain.

October is Domestic Abuse month and Hush Little Baby highlights the struggles that these women go through to try to survive and to possibly leave. Abuse affects all socioeconomic classes and is something we should all be aware of.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Thank you to the author for a copy of the novel. Share/BookmarkGoogle+

Monday, October 14, 2013

Julie's Review: The Elementals

Summary: From a star YA writer Francesca Lia Block, author of the Weetzie Bat books, comes an adult novel about a student, haunted by the disappearance of a friend, who must face the truth.  The Elementals is on one level an intriguing coming-of-age novel about a young woman, Ariel Silverman, facing the challenges of her first years away at college in Berkeley, California, while her mother battles cancer at home in Los Angeles. But the book takes on deeper, stranger meanings when we realize that Ariel is haunted by the disappearance of her best friend, Jeni, who vanished without a trace a few years before, closing Ariel's heart and changing her forever. Ariel wonders if she will ever be fully alive, until she meets three mysterious, beautiful and seductive young people living in a strange old house in the Berkeley hills. Through them Ariel will unravel the mystery of her best friend's disappearance and face a chilling choice.

Review: First off I have to say that the cover of this book totally fits in with the novel. It is dark and mysterious. Who's the girl? Is it our heroine, Ariel? Is it her missing friend, Jeni? Is it the uber-mysterious, Tania? Even after finishing the book, I'm not sure.

I've never read Ms. Block before so this was an intriguing foray into a new author. Her prose is stunning. She has a way of writing that is lush, hypnotic, eerie and sensual. Like Ariel, you kind of float through the words while reading them. I liked Ariel but moreso, I felt sorry for her. She was stuck. She was lost. She didn't know how to move on from her pain of losing Jeni. Her parents didn't know how to move her past the pain either. Not only that but her mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. To get her out of the house during her mother's battle, they allowed her to go to Berkley, the place where Jeni disappeared to attend school. I don't know if I agreed with that decision but then there would be no novel.

Ariel doesn't fit in at school. She's a bookish young lady and is harassed for this by the other students in her dorm. I get the idea that Ariel would be pretty if she attempted it. She just doesn't care. She randomly goes to a house in the hills for a Halloween party and this is where she meets the mysterious trio; John, Tania and Perry. It is John that she is immediately drawn to. It is John that sends a jolt through her body to her very soul. Unfortunately, she can't have John without the other two. They are a packaged deal.

Much of the novel is Ariel living in a daze/haze trying to find Jeni. When she's not looking for Jeni, she feels guilty. When she's with John she feels alive and when she's without him she goes through withdrawals. It's like he's a drug for her. Now, all of us have had those intense relationships at some point but reading this I felt there was something different.

While The Elementals is a short novel, I wanted the story of what happened to Jeni to be resolved earlier. At times it felt like Ariel was repeating herself. Also, I think I could have done with out the epilogue. I was fine with it ending where it did without it.

While reading the book I did get hypnotized with the writing. I could picture the house and the lush gardens described. Ms. Block has a divine way of writing atmosphere.

If you are looking for a novel with a gothic bent, then The Elementals is for you. I'm not sure I would let a teen read this but would recommend it to someone in their early 20s.

Final Take: 4/5

Thanks to St. Martin's Press for my copy of the novel. This is the October pick for the Hashtag Book Group. You can find our conversation by searching #TheElementals on Twitter.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Alice's Review: Gone Girl

Summary: On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife's head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media — as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents — the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter — but is he really a killer?  As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn't do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet? ~

Review:  My sister is an avid reader but she has this habit I never fully understood.  Before she dives into a novel, she reads the last chapter.  She likes to know the end result to see if the journey to get there is worth it.  I always believed this was ludicrous until now.

I started Gone Girl with high expectations.  It came highly recommended by not only Julie but several friends as well.  I tackled this novel until about a quarter of the way through when I started to get lost and lose interest.  So, what did I do?  I perused the last chapters, of course.  Totally unorthodox I know, but it sparked that curiosity again that carried me through the rest of the novel.  I saw the destination and knew the journey would be worth it.  And boy was it ever.

There are many wonderful things about Gone Girl.  I absolutely loved the characters, especially Nick, Amy and Margo.  My favorite thing about this novel is how my opinion of the characters changed as I got to know them.  Nothing was concrete, everything was shifting like a house built on sand.  I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotions I felt through this journey:  hope, horror, repulsion, fear just to name a few.  I was so certain I knew the outcome when suddenly I was through for such a loop I had to put the book down and look around to make sure I was firmly on ground. 

I know I am always looking for magic in novels.  And the magic of Gone Girl is in Ms. Flynn storytelling.  It’s in the way she feeds us just enough information to make us do a double take on nearly every page.  It’s in her ability write characters with depth and layers.  She is masterful indeed.  What I was not expecting at all was the poetry in this novel, the words formed in such a way they gave me pause.  I love how Amy describes herself as a thorn bush and Nick as having stab wounds, her thorns fit perfectly into them.  It was poetic, beautiful. 

If you have not read this novel yet, I highly recommend it.  Be prepared for a journey into a dark place, it will knock it out.

Final Take:  4/5

Julie's Review


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Julie's Review: Grounded

Summary: New York City flight attendant Annie Taylor is grounded, putting a halt to weekends in Rome and her jet-setting lifestyle. Soon her noncommittal boyfriends true nature is revealed, and to top it all off, she loses her apartment. With nowhere else to go, Annie leaves the city for the family farm in Kentucky, a place shes avoided for years. She finds a shotgun-wielding grandmother, a farm in disrepair, and a suspicious stranger renting the old stone house. The country quiet haunts Annie with reminders of a past that cant be changed. She tries persuading her grandmother to sell the farm, but is met with stubborn refusal? Yet in the midst of her crashing life, Annie sees a glimmer of hope for a second chance. Jake Wilder is contemplating jumping off the corporate ladder to follow his passion for sustainable farming. Hes almost ready to propose to Camille, a girl who wants more, not less. Annie believes Jake is about to make a terrible mistake, but does she have the right to tell him? As the summer heats up, so do Annie's unexpected feelings for Jake and her interest in the land. When a sudden phone call comes from New York, Annie is forced to choose between coming to terms with her past or leaving it all behind.

Review: What I really enjoyed about Grounded is that it showed me that while you might think you want something different than what you grew up with, you end up finding out that most of the time, you don't. This is what happens to Annie on her journey of discovery. Annie is easy to like. She's level-headed, has great friends and makes bad choices in men. This is what makes her identifiable to the reader. We've all been there and done that at some point.

As Annie joins her Grandmother back in Kentucky at the family farm, she realizes that she doesn't mind the hard work and that she's actually pretty good at it.  While helping her Grandmother recover from knee surgery, Annie finds that she and her Grandmother have a lot in common and don't need the buffer of her grandfather to get along.

I wish that Ms. Correll had spent more time on how sustainable living works. I like the concept and wanted to hear more about how Jake was going to make it work. I think all of us could contribute a little even if it's just by visiting and buying from your local farmers market. My mom is great at doing this, but I need to get better.

I think it's fair to also say that if you don't like any kind of religion in your reading, then Grounded may not be the novel for you. Personally, I think it fit well into the novel and wasn't preachy. It went along with what Ms. Correll was trying to convey in the novel, which is sometimes faith, family and a simple life are all you truly need in life.

I enjoyed Grounded and thought it might have been more "chick-lit" than it ended up being.

Final Take:  3.75/5

Thanks to Amy Bromberg for sending me a copy of this novel.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Julie's Review: The Girl You Left Behind

Summary:  From the New York Times–bestselling author of Me Before You, a spellbinding love story of two women separated by a century but united in their determination to fight for what they love most. Jojo Moyes's bestseller, Me Before You, catapulted her to wide critical acclaim and has struck a chord with readers everywhere. “Hopelessly and hopefully romantic” (Chicago Tribune), Moyes returns with another irresistible heartbreaker that asks, “Whatever happened to the girl you left behind?” France, 1916:  Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Edouard's portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officer's dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything — her family, her reputation, and her life — to see her husband again. Almost a century later, Sophie's portrait is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the painting's true worth, and a battle begins for who its legitimate owner is — putting Liv's belief in what is right to the ultimate test. Like Sarah Blake's The Postmistress and Tatiana de Rosnay's Sarah's Key, The Girl You Left Behind is a breathtaking story of love, loss, and sacrifice told with Moyes's signature ability to capture our hearts with every turn of the page. 

Review: The German occupation of France in World War I is often overlooked for the occupation with the Nazi regime. The first occupation is where Ms. Moyes sets the historical part of her novel The Girl You Left Behind. I can't imagine being in the position Sophie and her sister Helene were in during the war. To have both of your husbands fighting to win back France from the Germans and then to be told that you will be the place that will serve food to the troops? How do you not do what you should to survive? How do you live with yourself when you know what people are saying? Not only are they saying it behind your back but they are brazen enough to say it to your face, in front of children. When all you can think about is being back with your husband and are so desperate for him, do you do desperate things?

Then we are back in the mid-2000s with Liv who, after 4 years of dealing with her husband's death, still isn't fully back in the land of the living, has to make a crucial decision about a painting that she truly loves. Does it of course have something to do with the fact that it was a gift from her husband? Of course but it's more of a personal connection to the women in the painting. Liv is a mess. There I've said it. The fight for the painting is one thing that is keeping her feet on the planet. She has been in a fog and it is now starting to lift. It is through her fight for the painting that she begins to realize that she needs to let go of the past and start to move on with her life. I love how she fought for something she loved but when it was brought to her attention that it was having negative effects elsewhere, she began to see a bit more clearly.

I loved how Ms. Moyes showed that the past always illuminates the present. That we can always learn something from the past; good, bad or even ugly. Sure, the ending was tied up with a nice big bow, but in this instance I didn't mind. Sometimes you just want the happily ever after. Especially for characters who had been through so much tragedy. I also can't write the review without saying how the title is woven through the novel on so many different levels. I love it when that happens.

I still have Me Before You in my TBR pile but it's been pushed up to the pile of books to be read in December. I'm looking forward to reading her debut novel.

Final Take:  4.5/5

Thank you to Pamela Dorman Books and for my copy of the novel.



Sunday, October 6, 2013

Children's Corner: Dan Gutman Books

Review: I can't really remember how my 8 year old daughter got turned onto these novels but she loves them. We have a good start to the My Weird School Daze books but we need to start growing our My Weirder School set.

While my daughter loves these and they crack her up, I find myself wondering about them at times. The main character, AJ, hates school and it's pretty much reiterated in each book. I'm not sure how comfortable I am about that aspect. The teachers are always a little silly, a little airheaded or a little strange. We do talk about the questionable parts at times. I know she isn't going to not like school because of a character but I always have to check in. I haven't read one with her in a while because we are at the point of encourging her to read on her own.

I do know that he has a series of books about baseball and once my son is a bit older, I will be investing in those for him. Although, I will say these books will be good books for him to read as well. Anything to get them to read.

While they might not be my choice, there isn't anything harmful in them and they do seem to be wildly popular with the kids.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Alice's Review: All You Desire

Summary:  Haven Moore and Iain Morrow have been living a blissful life in Rome, an ocean way from the Ouroboros Society and its diabolical leader. But paradise is not to last. The mysterious disappearance of Haven's best friend, Beau, sends the pair running back to New York, where they encounter the Horae, an underground group of women who have spent centuries scheming to destroy Adam Rosier. Only they can help Haven uncover the secret to Beau's whereabouts in one of her past lives. But their help comes at a price: Haven must infiltrate the Ouroboros Society, charm Adam Rosier, and lure him into a trap. It's a plan the Horae believe will save the world-but Haven and Iain fear that it may destroy the happiness they've been chasing for two thousand years

Review:  All You Desire picks up where The Eternal Ones left off.  I must confess, other than remembering how much I loved The Eternal Ones, I didn’t remember much about it.  After a quick read of my The Eternal Ones review, I felt like I had background to forge ahead.

All You Desire is a good novel.  However, the one thing it lacked was the originality and soul of The Eternal Ones.  Haven was more mature this time.  She faced real dilemmas of a young adult committed to one man.  I liked how she revisited past lives looking for answers and admitting to herself that things with Iain aren’t all that they seem.  Iain on the other hand drove me a little batty.  He was selfish all in the name of protecting Haven.  He took too many unnecessary risks.  If I was Haven, I would have kicked his butt to the curb.

There were so many plot twists, I had a hard time keeping track of whom to trust.   Usually action like that keeps me on the edge of my seat but this time the lack of a solid information was frustrating.  I got to the point where I didn’t care so much about what happened, I kept reading because I wanted it to be over.  That’s never good.  Ms. Miller left the ending wide open for a possible third book in the series.  After All You Desire, I’m not sure if I would pick it up.  One thing for certain is if I did, it’s definitely a library book.

I wonder how I would have felt about this novel had I read it immediately after The Eternal Ones.  Maybe that high would have carried through and I would have enjoyed it more than I did.  Time and distance tarnished the magic for me.  I appreciate the romance of the story.  A love that transcends time is always a big seller for me.  What was frustrating was the convoluted mystery in All You Desire overshadowed that love.

Final Take:  3/5

Eternal Ones Review here.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Jenn's Review: United We Spy

 Blurb:  Cammie Morgan has lost her father and her memory, but in the heart-pounding conclusion to the best-selling Gallagher Girls series, she finds her greatest mission yet. Cammie and her friends finally know why the terrorist organization called the Circle of Cavan has been hunting her. Now the spy girls and Zach must track down the Circle’s elite members to stop them before they implement a master plan that will change Cammie—and her country—forever.

Review: I should have written my United We Spy review a week ago, but I just wasn't ready to say good-bye to the Gallagher Girls.  I'm still not.  I'm going to miss them all something terrible.

Ally Carter writes strong women who still have vulnerabilities.  Cammie and company have grown so much through this series from freshmen girls who play at spying to have secret boyfriends, to experienced spies who can save the world as seniors.  And I love them for it.  Liz's graduation speech made me cry with pride.

Are the plot lines a little familiar?  Yes, but there have always been strains of ALIAS (and now Castle); that didn't mean I enjoyed it any less.    There was some mock-peril involved, but I thought it worked.  I felt that all the loose ends were tied up neatly with a few surprises along the way.

I am grateful that I stumbled across Ally Carter at the Teen Book Festival a few years back.  I am glad that there is more to come from her Heist Society series and I can't wait for her new Embassy Row series.  That said, the Gallagher Girls hold a special place in my heart and I can't wait until I can share these with my daughter when she is old enough.

Final Take:  5/5


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Julie's Review: Mortal Bonds

Summary: From the author of the extraordinary Edgar-nominated debut novel Black Fridays, a sensational story of murder and financial corruption—and one mans continued search for redemption. William von Becker ran one of the largest privately held investment banks in North America, until the bottom fell out, and the whole edifice was demonstrated to be a fraud. After von Becker dies in prison, financial investigator Jason Stafford is hired by his family. There is still a lot of missing money out there, hes told, and they want Stafford to find it before the Feds do—and certain other parties, some of whom are nowhere near as scrupulous in their methods. Bad things start happening to the people Stafford talks to. Soon bad things are happening to him as well. Making it worse, his treacherous ex-wife has come to town, ostensibly to visit their young son. Stafford suspects theres more to it than that, but even he has no idea how much that visit is about to change all their lives—and send him off to the next chapter of his life.

Review:  No matter how much I like Jason Stafford, I can't deny the fact that he's a convicted felon. This makes him an interesting character and while you are positive he's a good guy now, you know about his past. You see Jason was a white collar criminal, a financial guru who got caught stealing money. So who better to have working on your side than someone who can find lost/stolen money.  Jason is hired by the Von Becker family to find $3B in money that has been hidden. The trouble is that not only is the SEC wondering what you are going to be doing with the money if you find it but then you've got some people that aren't on the right side of the law following you around.

So Jason is knee deep in this case and his ex-wife comes to town. After reading Black Fridays, I have no love lost for Angie but I wonder if she is trying to be a better person. Although she still has no clue on how to handle The Kid and doesn't seem to understand the severity of his issues. The Kid for his part in the relationship with her pretty much has no acknowledgement that she's around.

What I like is that it's obvious that the case Jason is working on is complex but Mr. Sears makes it at least understandable. He acknowledges that this situation is complex by referring to how everyone on Wall Street has a speciality and you might know a little about something but you aren't an expert.

The novel is heart-pounding but it's definitely not all "run and gun". The line between good and bad guys is grey. If you think all government officials are on the up and up, then you will be disappointed to learn that they are not.  Luckily, Jason does have some "friends" in interesting places and they help him out as well.

If you are looking for an intriguing financial thriller than Mortal Bonds is for you. If you haven't read Black Fridays, I do suggest you start there.

Final Take: 4/5

Thanks to Putnam for the ARC of the novel!