Friday, May 30, 2014

Jenn's Review: The Goodbye Witch

The Goodbye Witch (A Wishcraft Mystery, #4)
Author: Heather Blake
Series: Wishcraft Mystery #4
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Signet
Pages: 299
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  cozy mystery, paranormal
Rating: 4.5
Bottom Line: ...
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab it!
Blurb:  As Enchanted Village’s resident Wishcrafter, Darcy Merriweather has the power to make other people’s wishes come true, but what she really wishes is that she had the power to uncloak the invisible man who’s stalking her best friend....
Darcy’s closest friend and fellow witch, Starla Sullivan, hoped she’d never see her ex-husband, Kyle, again. Two years ago he tried to kill her, and he has been a fugitive ever since. Now Starla claims to have seen him back in Enchanted Village, but it seems she’s the only one who can see him. To everyone else, her ex is invisible.
Darcy only wishes his motives were as transparent as the rest of him. Since the police can’t arrest someone they can’t see, it’s up to Darcy to find the secret behind Kyle’s latest disappearing act—before he does something they can’t see coming….

Review:  Heather Blake is my go to author when I need a book that I know I'm going to love.  The Goodbye Witch definitely fits the bill.  Her characters are so fabulous that it's like spending time with friends you haven't seen in a while.

I don't recall Starla's ex-husband ever being mentioned before, but that made him no less terrifying. Darcy gets pulled into the middle of the investigation again, this time at the request of the Elder which helps keep Glinda from further complicating Darcy's and Nick's relationship by insisting Darcy stay out of investigations.  I don't understand Glinda and her jealousy and rigidity, though I think I came to understand her a little better in this book.  She looks at the world as black and white absolutes and it seems to prevent her from moving forward. 

As for moving forward, Darcy and Nick finally seem to be on the same footing, thanks mostly to being able to work together on the investigation. I loved the progression of Darcy's relationship with Mimi, as well. It was also nice to see Darcy soften a little and step back and reflect a little more. 

As for the mystery, Heather Blake stumped me again, and although the solution wasn't all that complicated, it was excellent. I started to unravel things with Darcy, but I had no idea what really happened until she did.  I also loved all the little surprises at the end; yet another reason why I love Heather Blake's books. 

If you haven't checked out her Wishcraft series, I highly recommend it... If you haven't checked out any of her series, what are you waiting for???


ArmchairBEA: Favorites

Today's an open topic day and it's my day for reflection.  We don't do that very often around here; we mainly review, but I did this last year and I found it rather cathartic.  I like to look back over the years at some of my favorite reads.  As you can see, I do have favorite genres.  Obviously YA is featured pretty heavily, as are crime novels, food-lit, and magical realism.  But there are some things that really don't fit any of my usual genres... and I love looking back and seeing that.

JennJustReading's Favorites

The Goodbye Witch
The Mark of Athena
The Son of Neptune
The Lost Hero
Perfect Scoundrels
Lost Lake
United We Spy
The Sea of Tranquility
The Last Dragonslayer
The Cuckoo's Calling
The Shadow Tracer
Chosen at Nightfall
The Good the Bad and the Witchy
Double Crossed: A Spies and Thieves Story
The Magician
Clockwork Princess
The Alchemyst
The Lost Art of Mixing

Jennifer's favorite books »

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Armchair BEA: Giveaway - Say What You Will

Say What You WillThere is a lot of buzz going around about Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern.  While I must say that its subject matter is a little too serious for my tastes, I know this is a book that will make a difference for a lot of people with it's diverse characters and realistic subject matter.

From Harper Teen:

 SAY WHAT YOU WILL by Cammie McGovern follows Amy – a girl born with cerebral palsy who cannot talk, can walk only with a walker, and has difficulty controlling her facial expressions – who has decided her senior year is the time to make friends. So she hires students to be her helpers at school, including Matthew, a boy struggling with OCD. As they both help each other through their individual difficulties, a friendship begins to blossom into a romance story unlike any other.

SAY WHAT YOU WILL already has people buzzing – in the May 16 issue ofEntertainment Weekly, they named the book one of the “5 YA Novels to Watch Out For.” In a starred review, Publishers Weekly raved: “readers will be surprised, moved, amused, worried, hopeful, and grateful to have spent time with them [Amy and Matthew],” and Kirkus called it “a deeply engaging and rewarding story.” Booklist also gave a starred review saying: “Exhilarating and heartrending, McGovern’s YA debut has a similar odd-couple camaraderie as Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (2013) and the raw exploration of disability in R. J. Palacio’s Wonder (2012). With a smart, proud, and capable protagonist eager to take her life by the reins, this novel is stunning.”
 To learn more about Cammie’s Whole Children organization, the girl with cerebral palsy that served as the inspiration for the book, as well as an excerpt, be sure to head over to USA Today’s “Happy Ever After.”  

For a chance to win it, enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Armchair BEA: More than Just Words

When I saw the topic for today what immediately came to mind is The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  I'm sure I won't be the only one to bring it up in this context but it is such an amazing piece I couldn't let the opportunity to share it pass.

If you've seen the movie Hugo, which is wonderful, it can't even begin to do justice to this magnificent work of art. This is a concept book, part picture book, part graphic novel, with almost 300 pages of original art work, photographs, and film stills. It's fantastical and enchanting, and you never know what turning the page may bring.  Parts of the story are told through pictures and some through prose; some pages are filled with drawings; some pages are almost blank save for a paragraph on them.  The pictures progress the story at times better than the words.  The plot is mysterious while not being overly complicated, and it is full of scope for the imagination with automata and gears and magic... Not only is the story amazing, and incredibly well researched, but Brian Selznick's artwork is fabulous. 

Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick's follow up piece, is sitting on my shelf begging to be read, but I've been saving it to read with my daughter so that we may discover its the magic together.  I highly recommend this to anyone, not just readers of YA or MG. It is truly an experience not to be missed. 


Monday, May 26, 2014

Armchair BEA Introductions

Design by Amber of Shelf Notes
Girls Just Reading is a shared blog by four book lovers, Lisa (our founder), Julie, Alice, and me, Jenn.  Oddly enough we're all internet friends. We met on a fan site for one of our favorite TV shows of all times, ALIAS. We kept in touch when the show closed and ended up here.  

Sharing a blog helps keep things flowing around here. None of us has time to run a blog on her own, but together we maintain an active blog.  Each of us read different genres and we also split the responsibilities of blog maintenance.   I think it's a formula that works well as we've been on the blogging scene for seven years now. 

If you've participated in Armchair BEA before, you've probably visited our blog before, so I thought I'd select a few of the more unusual questions to answer this time around.

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what 3 books would you bring? Why? What 3 non-book items would you bring? Why? 

I would totally cheat and bring my Nook. To this day it floors me that I can carry over 600 books around with me in my purse. 

But if I had to pick three, it would be novels by Sarah Addison Allen, Heather Blake, Cassandra Clare, Meg Gardiner, and Ally Carter. They are all authors whose work I cannot do without. Ok, that's five authors and I can't even narrow it down to which of their books I pick, so can I please just bring my Nook?

As for non-literary items, it'd have to be my daughter, hubby...and coffee.  Girls gotta have her priorities. 

What book would you love to see as a movie?

I think Ally Carter's Heist Society would be fabulous on the big screen, as long as they could do it justice.  I love a good con, and Ally Carter writes amazing ones. Plus, it'd be refreshing change to the current dystopian trend in teen movies. 


We won't be able to post every day this week, but we love Armchair BEA and we're glad you stopped by and we hope you visit us again soon. 



Don't forget to visit the other blogs participating in Armchair BEA this week

Friday, May 23, 2014

Julie's Review: Love Life

Author: Rob Lowe
Series: None
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Hours: 7 Hours, 33 Minutes
Obtained: Audible
Genre:  Memoir
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: An intimate look at some significant milestones in his life
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: ROB LOWE IS BACK WITH STORIES HE ONLY TELLS HIS BEST FRIENDS. When Rob Lowe’s first book was published in 2011, he received the kind of rapturous reviews that writers dream of and rocketed to the top of the bestseller list. Now, in Love Life, he expands his scope, using stories and observations from his life in a poignant and humorous series of true tales about men and women, art and commerce, fathers and sons, addiction and recovery, and sex and love.

 Review: Love Life is another peek into Rob's life but this is more about his personal journeys and stories than his life as an actor like Stories I Only Tell My Friends was. In Love Life, we get a better sense of Rob as a father, son, and husband.

It is his stories about his sons that made me tear up and have a glimpse into my future when my kids leave the nest. It is obvious that he has sheltered his sons from the spotlight but choosing to raise them outside Hollywood with people who weren't necessarily in the "business". He wanted his sons to have more experiences than just a Hollywood one. It is also evident that he loves both Matthew and John Owen fiercely and played a big part in their lives.

I loved hearing about how he worked on Schwarzenegger's Governor campaign. I loved hearing that he has a passion and fascination about politics and history. It is his passion for those two subjects that made him so convincing as Sam Seaborn on The West Wing and Robert McAllister on Brothers and Sisters.

It is the last couple chapters that moved me to tears though. It is crystal clear that ever since he met his wife, Sheryl, he's never looked any further. It is also clear that she was instrumental in getting him to realize he would get more out of life sober than drunk. Staying sober has been all Rob but she's been the rock to keep him strong.

It is his confession in the final chapter of the book that had me in shock and then awe because it wasn't what it seemed. I loved how he wrote it and revealed the truth. I admire him for that and how he's constantly trying to better himself.

People interested in entertainment memoirs will find this one interesting but it's more of his personal journey than his professional one. Although, they do often go hand in hand.

I loved listening to Rob perform the audio. It was like sitting at a table with him and hearing him tell me what he's learned in life. Rob isn't afraid to try something new, to put himself out there. In Hollywood and in life, this is rare. It is rare for people to gamble what they are comfortable with or in, to take a risk.

 If Rob was to write another book, I'd be right there listening to it or reading it.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Alice's Review: Up at Butternut Lake

Author: Mary McNear
Series: Yes, The Butternut Lake Trilogy
Publication Date: November 1, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Pages: 384
Obtained: Publisher 
Genre:  Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4
Bottom Line:  Heartwarming and wonderful
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab
Summary:  It's summer, and after ten years away, Allie Beckett has returned to her family's cabin beside tranquil Butternut Lake, where as a teenager she spent so many carefree days. She's promised her five-year-old son, Wyatt, they will be happy there. She's promised herself this is the place to begin again after her husband's death in Afghanistan. The cabin holds so many wonderful memories, but from the moment she crosses its threshold Allie is seized with doubts. Has she done the right thing uprooting her little boy from the only home he's ever known?  Allie and her son are embraced by the townsfolk, and her reunions with old acquaintances:  her friend Jax, now a young mother of three with one more on the way, and Caroline, the owner of the local coffee shop are joyous ones. And then there are newcomers like Walker Ford, who mostly keeps to himself until he takes a shine to Wyatt . . . and to Allie.  Everyone knows that moving forward is never easy, and as the long, lazy days of summer take hold, Allie must learn to unlock the hidden longings of her heart, and to accept that in order to face the future she must also confront and understand what has come before.

Review:  Up at Butternut Lake is a wonderful novel about a three women who need to make some difficult choices to search out happiness in their lives. Allie is a recently widowed mother of a precocious little boy. She is ready to start over in a place that once brought her much happiness. Jax is Allie’s childhood friend. She has a terrible secret that could tear her family apart. Caroline is the owner of the local coffee shop. She’s the mother hen of the group trying her best to heal her lonely heart. The tales of these women combine to make a wonderful, heartfelt novel that will move you to tears, make you laugh and wish for your very own cabin at Butternut Lake.

I really enjoyed this novel. I respected Allie and the difficult decisions she made regarding her life after the death of her husband. I truly believe this is one of the most realist fiction accounts of coping with a spouse’s death. Ms. McNear was spot on. Granted, not everyone has an incredible sexy neighbor for a much needed distraction. The realism doesn’t come from that. The realism is from Allie’s desire to put the needs of her son before her own. Sadly many women feel the need to be rescued, especially after something as traumatic as the death of a husband. Not Allie though, she did the absolute best she could to not only save herself but her son Wyatt as well. Kudos to Ms. McNear for writing such a strong, determined woman.

As much as I liked Allie, I was disappointed in Jax. Jax is the example of how a lie can take on a life of it’s own and grow so big it kills everything in it’s path. There were moments when I felt compassion for Jax but overall, I found her to be sad and a little pathetic. Don’t get me wrong, I was not happy with what happened to her. But her grief could have been avoided simply by telling the truth.

Caroline was in a league of her own. She was such a kind woman. She reminded me so much of my mom’s cousin Lena. She’s the kind of woman you can go to for advice, she will always keep your secrets, and is always there when you need her. I spent the novel hoping for her happy ending.

Up at Butternut Lake transports you to a place you hope exists. It’s a place where neighbors help each other out and everyone knows everyone else. I just love places like that. Then again, I am a small town girl at heart. I’m very happy this is the first in a series because I am not ready to let these women go.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Julie's Review: The Secret Life of Violet Grant

 photo VioletGrant_zps9517b6b1.jpg
Author: Beatriz Williams
Series: None
Publication Date:May 27, 2014
Publisher: Putnam
Pages: 448
Obtained: Author
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Loved it. Had so many layers and something for everyone!
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Passion, redemption, and a battered suitcase full of secrets: the New York Times-bestselling author of A Hundred Summers returns with another engrossing tale. Manhattan, 1964. Vivian Schuyler, newly graduated from Bryn Mawr College, has recently defied the privilege of her storied old Fifth Avenue family to do the unthinkable for a budding Kennedy-era socialite: break into the Madison Avenue world of razor-stylish Metropolitan magazine. But when she receives a bulky overseas parcel in the mail, the unexpected contents draw her inexorably back into her family's past, and the hushed-over crime passioned of an aunt she never knew, whose existence has been wiped from the record of history. Berlin, 1914. Violet Schuyler Grant endures her marriage to the philandering and decades-older scientist Dr. Walter Grant for one reason: for all his faults, he provides the necessary support to her liminal position as a young American female physicist in prewar Germany. The arrival of Dr. Grants magnetic former student at the beginning of Europes fateful summer interrupts this delicate d├ętente. Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army, challenges Violet to escape her husbands perverse hold, and as the world edges into war and Lionels shocking true motives become evident, Violet is tempted to take the ultimate step to set herself free and seek a life of her own conviction with a man whose cause is as audacious as her own. As the iridescent and fractured Vivian digs deeper into her aunts past and the mystery of her ultimate fate, Violets story of determination and desire unfolds, shedding light on the darkness of her years abroad . . . and teaching Vivian to reach forward with grace for the ambitious future––and the love––she wants most.

Review: The Secret Life of Violet Grant is hands down one of my favorites for 2014. I loved this book. I loved the romance, setting, mystery and feelings this evoked. You can tell that Ms. Williams really has a love for both of these eras.

I loved these characters from Violet, Vivian, Vivian Sr., Pepper, Dr. Paul and Lionel. They were all so well written and interesting. Vivian was electric. She was brash, brave and intelligent. She knew what she wanted and she wasn't afraid to go for it. She is also highly loyal, which breaks your heart on several occasions. I loved her approach to life and she definitely had a great attitude. She was willing to take risks and to kick the standards to the curb.

Violet, on the other hand, was rebelling but was less brash about it. She wanted to be a scientist and that was rebellious enough. She was extremely naive and remained so for most of the novel. She was so trusting and wanted to be liked by her fellow students. She was also extremely lonely, which of course left her wide open to have someone swoop in "rescue" her. Enter Dr. Grant who Violet already admired and swooped in and made her feel safe. Was it forbidden to date her Professor? Absolutely, which is why they keep it quiet. Was Violet in love with him? I'm not sure but she was grateful not to be by herself and to have someone care for her that is for sure. No one wants to be lonely.

What Ms. Williams does a phenomenal job of peeling back the layers of the novel, slowly and methodically. She surprises me multiple times with her deft plot reveals and brilliant character reveals.

You can tell that I have nothing but love for The Secret Life of Violet Grant. It is one where I can't talk in too much detail or I will completely ruin the novel for you. This is the perfect beach, pool, sitting on a park bench novel for summer. It would easily be devoured in a weekend.

Ms. Williams is fast becoming one of my favorite authors and one I recommend to everyone. If you haven't read Overseas or A Hundred Summers, then you are missing out. Run out and get her books, you won't be disappointed.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Julie's Review: The Memory Garden

Author: Mary Rickert
Series: None
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 304
Obtained: Publisher
Genre:  Contemporary, Women's Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Bottom Line: A languid book where the reveal was anti-climatic
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Just get it at the library
Summary: Nan keeps her secrets deep, not knowing how the truth would reveal a magic all its own. Bay Singer has bigger secrets than most. She doesn't know about them, though. Her mother, Nan, has made sure of that. But one phone call from the sheriff makes Nan realize that the past is catching up. Nan decides that she has to make things right, and invites over the two estranged friends who know the truth. Ruthie and Mavis arrive in a whirlwind of painful memories, offering Nan little hope of protecting Bay. But even the most ruined garden is resilient, and their curious reunion has powerful effects that none of them could imagine, least of all Bay.

Review: The summary intrigued me; the first half of the book intrigued me and then I lost interest. I didn't lose so much interest that I didn't want to finish but I'm not sure if I really cared about the ending either. I don't like not caring about the characters I'm reading. I almost always want to know that they are ok. The Memory Garden is part coming of age and part dealing with the past. It is a coming of age story for Bay as Nana deals with not only her past but how to reveal Bay's past and her future to her.

Ms. Rickert has a gift for creating the scene. She creates a gorgeous and unique garden that adds to the mystery of the novel. You can visulize the wildness of the garden and how things grown together. You can also smell the herb/spice at the beginning of each chapter. These tie in nicely with the novel and what is going on within each chapter. As the reader, you know early on what Bay's reveal will be to her; therefore making that discussion anti-climatic. Also, Bay's reaction is also a-typical, which was refreshing but also a bit alarming. She seemed to accept her talent a bit too easily for a girl of 15. Also, I didn't go back and forth about if Nan was a witch because for me it was evident. Although, I think healer is a better term for her.

It also doesn't take much to figure out what happened with Eve. It was a different era for women and the consequences of such were demonstrated in the consequences of their actions. I think all of the elder ladies, Nan, Mavis and Ruthie, suffered for their part in the tragedy. They all lived their lives punishing themselves for something they truly had no control over.

I think the magic in this book should have been in the characters but I just didn't connect with them. I understood why they did what they did but in the end, I didn't care about the outcome. It could have been because I put the puzzle together pretty early with the mystery. The Memory Garden could have been magical but it left something to be desired for me. I wanted a little more for this one.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Jenn's Review: Big Red Tequila

Author: Rick Riordan
Series: Tres Navarre #1
Publication Date: June 2, 1997
Publisher: Turtleback Books
Pages: 372
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Crime
Rating: 3.5
Bottom Line: Riordan's debut novel has all the snark but lacks the charm.
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Just get it at the library
Blurb:  Everything in Texas is bigger...even murder. Meet Tres Navarre...tequila drinker, Tai Chi master, unlicensed P.I., with a penchant for Texas-size trouble.

Jackson "Tres" Navarre and his enchilada-eating cat, Robert Johnson, pull into San Antonio and find nothing waiting but trouble. Ten years ago Navarre left town and the memory of his father's murder behind him. Now he's back, looking for answers. Yet the more Tres digs, trying to put his suspicions to rest, the fresher the decade-old crime looks: Mafia connections, construction site payoffs, and slick politicians' games all conspire to ruin his homecoming.  It's obvious Tres has stirred up a hornet's nest of trouble. He gets attacked, shot at, run over by a big blue Thunderbird--and his old girlfriend, the one he wants back, turns up missing. Tres has to rescue the woman, nail his father's murderer, and get the hell out of Dodge before mob-style Texas justice catches up to him. The chances of staying alive looked better for the defenders of the Alamo....

Review:  I am missing Percy Jackson something fierce.  I have one book left while I wait for the last book of The Heroes of Olympus series to come out in October and I'm just not ready to go there yet.  So my choices were to try Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles or his adult private investigator series.  Obviously, I went with the latter.

This is Riordan's debut novel and while his writing style is there brimming with wit and sarcasm, his character development is not.  I wanted to like Tres; I spent the whole novel thinking, I almost like him and it kept me turning pages.  The novel is Psych meets Grosse Point Blank with none of the charm.  Tres drops a life and a relationship in California at the beck and call of his old flame.  Though Tres is immediately pulled into something bigger than just investigating the death of his father, he refuses to see things for what they are, not even when his California girlfriend bails him out.  I respected Tres, all womanizing aside, but I just can't seem to like him.

There were also a ton of secondary characters to keep track of and I had to keep going back and looking up who was who.  It works fine when the secondary characters are established mythological gods, but when they aren't an identity needs to be developed. Without the connection, the story was slowed.

If you're a fan of San Antonio apparently the references are wonderful.  Never having been to Texas, they were lost on me as I suppose LL Bartlet's Buffalo, NY references in her Jeff Resnick series are lost to everyone outside of Western New York. So that didn't hook me either.

However there is something about Riordan's storytelling that just pulls you in.  The plot was twisted, but not overly complicated. It was the mystery and the writing that kept me turning pages, which is incredible when I don't like the characters.  I actually purchased the next book in the series immediately after finishing Big Red Tequila because I wanted more.  Even though I wasn't fond of Tres, I want to know more about him and hope he'll grow into a character I can love.  That's Rick Riordan's talent.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Julie's Review: Walking Disaster

Author: Jamie McGuire
Series: Beautiful #2
Publication Date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Atria Books
Hours:11 hours
Obtained: Audible
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Rating: 3/5
Bottom Line: Interesting to get another point of view, but doesn't change my mind about the story.
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Can you love someone too much? Travis Maddox learned two things from his mother before she died: Love hard. Fight harder. In Walking Disaster, the life of Travis is full of fast women, underground gambling, and violence. But just when he thinks he is invincible, Abby Abernathy brings him to his knees. Every story has two sides. In Beautiful Disaster, Abby had her say. Now its time to see the story through Travis' eyes.

Review: I wouldn't say this is a sequel to Beautiful Disaster as much as it is Travis' point of view of the events in the former book. Walking Disaster doesn't give us readers any new material except now we know how much he was in love with Abby. We kind of understand what makes him tick, but I still think he's a little off kilter. Abby isn't much better though his eyes either. It is more clear in this version that she isn't sure what she wants for most of the time and does indeed lead him on for a bit. Although I'm not sure he would want it any other way. I think he liked the chase.

I'm not sure these books are something I would recommend to an impresionable young woman. Travis has too much of a violent streak for my taste. Sure, do you want your boyfriend to fight for you, yes; but do you want him to be psycho about it? No.

Shep and America drove me even more nuts this time than in the first book. I'm not sure what it is about them but I find them annoying. I did enjoy finding out more about Travis' family and how deeply his mother's death did affect him even though he was a young boy. He's been angry about her death for so long and Abby is the first person he's let get anywhere near his emotions.

While I appreciated Travis' viewpoint, it doesn't really change my mind about him or their relationship. I don't think I need to go any further in the series.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Julie's Review: Above

Author: Isla Morley
Series: None
Publication Date: 
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pages: 372
Obtained: Publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction,Dystopian
Rating: 4.25/5
Bottom Line: An intriguing look at what captivity is and what freedom really is
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab
Summary: I am a secret no one is able to tell. Blythe Hallowell is sixteen when she is abducted by a survivalist and locked away in an aban­doned missile silo in Eudora, Kansas. At first, she focuses frantically on finding a way out, until the harrowing truth of her new existence settles in—the crushing loneliness, the terrifying madness of a captor who believes he is saving her from the end of the world, and the persistent temptation to give up. But nothing prepares Blythe for the burden of raising a child in confinement. Deter­mined to give the boy everything she has lost, she pushes aside the truth about a world he may never see for a myth that just might give mean­ing to their lives below ground. Years later, their lives are ambushed by an event at once promis­ing and devastating. As Blythe’s dream of going home hangs in the balance, she faces the ultimate choice—between survival and freedom. Above is a riveting tale of resilience in which “stunning” (Daily Beast) new literary voice Isla Morley compels us to imagine what we would do if everything we had ever known was taken away. Like the bestselling authors of Room and The Lovely Bones before her, Morley explores the unthinkable with haunting detail and tenderly depicts our boundless capacity for hope.

Review: Above is a harrowing story of survival and what it means to be a survivor. Blythe is kidnapped when she was 16 and is held captive for the better part of her young adult life. She is taken for the purposes of recreating the world after it ends.

Above is the kind of book that you don't want to put down because you want to find out what happens to Blythe. You want to know that she gets her Freedom. Like Blythe you imagine what her freedom will look like; tears of joy, people lined up to see her, hugs and kisses from her parents. What she gets isn't what her fantasies have been during her captivity.

Ms. Morley does a fantastic job of pulling you in and never letting you go. She makes Blythe's plight harrowing, heartbreaking and painful to read about. Just when you think this is about a kidnapping, survival and freedom, she turns the whole story on a dime. I honestly had no idea that the story was going to go that route and if I had known, I might not have picked it up.

Having said that, I would have missed out on a truly wonderful book. The setting of the novel in rural Kansas only adds to the desperation her escape and freedom. I wish that some of the plot lines had been more flushed out. There are things that I wished I would have learned more about towards the end of the book but I understand why she only included so much. Some of the them could have their own book.

This book will draw comparisons to Room but Above is so much more than that one. Other than being a book about being in captivity and having young protagonists,  Above moves a step past that and examines a world that I hope we never come to know.

For fans of a good, edge of your seat book with wonderful characterization, then go grab Above.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Jenn's Review: The Song of the Quarkbeast

Author: Jasper Fforde
Series: Chronicles of Kazam #2/The Last Dragonslayer #2
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
Publisher: HMH Books
Pages: 289
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  YA, Fantasy
Rating: 3.75
Bottom Line: Plot exposition for bigger and better stories in the series.
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Blurb:  Long ago, magic began to fade, and the underemployed magicians of Kazam Mystical Arts Management have been forced to take any work their sixteen-year-old acting manager, Jennifer Strange, can scare up. But things are about to change. Magical power is finally on the rise, and King Snodd IV, of the Ununited Kingdoms knows that he who controls magic controls everything. Only one person stands between Snodd and his plans for a magic-grab--and that's Jennifer. 

Yet even smart and sensible Jennifer would have trouble against these powers-that-be. The king and his cronies will do anything to succeed--including ordering a just-might-be-rigged contest between Kazam and iMagic, Kazam's only competitor in the magic business. With underhanded shenanigans afoot, how can Kazam possibly win? 

Whatever happens, one this is certain: Jennifer Strange will not relinquish the noble powers of magic without a fight...

Review:  The Last Dragonslayer was on of my favorite reads last year so I've been looking forward to picking this up.  It's only taken me so long because, I love Jasper Fforde, but I definitely have to be in the right mood to read him.  His writing is thick with references and witticism so if you're in the mood to just rip through a story Mr. Fforde's work is not what you want to pick up.

While The Song of the Quarkbeast is just as fun and snarky as the first book in the series, I was left wanting. There were lots of places to pick up and story lines to pursue after The Last Dragonslayer, but Mr. Fforde didn't pick up the threads that felt I wanted to know more about.  However, it hardly seems fair to judge the novel on the basis that it wasn't the story I wanted.  The one told is interesting and expands the world that Japer Fforde has created. Jennifer is tested yet again, rising to the occasion and growing with it, all the while laying the groundwork for the story that is yet to come.

There weren't a lot of twists and turns in this one.  You knew from the outset who was behind everything, so there were few surprises.  I also felt like things were resolved hastily and rather summarily.  I was so taken aback that I actually had to investigate whether or not there were more books planned for the series.  (There are, if you're curious. The Eye of Zoltar is already published in the UK but won't be out stateside until October 17, 2014.)

All in all, it was enjoyable but seemed to be mostly plot exposition.  Will I continue this series?  You bet.  That was some darn good ground work and I am still waiting to see where we are headed.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Julie's Review: The Vacationers

Author: Emma Straub
Series: None
Publication Date: May 29, 2014
Publisher: Riverhead
Pages: 304
Obtained: Publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A powerful novel about what it means to be married and in a family.>
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Summary: An irresistible, deftly observed novel about the secrets, joys, and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family's two-week stay in Mallorca. For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated. This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.

Review: No family is easy to live in. We all have our quirks, we all have those things we wished weren't true about those we are closest too. So imagine going on vacation with all of that plus some life long friends. This is what occurs in Emma Straub's beautiful and realistic The Vacationers. What Ms. Straub does extremely well is write a realistic family. One with faults, secrets and a lifetime of hurt and misunderstandings. Then she puts them in close quarters for 14 days and lets it all simmer and then boil over. Each one of the Post's bring something to the table: Franny is keeping something to herself, Jim is wracked with guilt, Bobby isn't all that he seems and Sylvia just wants to be a grown up. Whatever that means. She's ready to shed her skin and begin anew.

The Post's aren't the only one on this vacation, Franny has invited along her dearest friend Charlie and his husband, Lawrence. Charlie is keeping a secret from Lawrence but it's not as detrimental as he thinks. The other secret Charlie is keeping is the bigger one and it never comes to be revealed but to us readers. I found that most disappointing. I feel that Ms. Straub really could have had an excellent secondary storyline within that secret.

I loved how each of them came to terms with their situation, big or small. I loved the little and big life lessons in the novel. The novel could have taken so many different turns and had a different ending, but the ending was pretty much perfect. You knew that no matter what the Post Family was going to be ok.

For fans of family dramas, The Vacationers is for you to open and enjoy.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Jenn's Review: Beautiful Redemption

Author: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Series: Caster Chronicles #4
Publication Date: October 22, 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 456
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  YA, Paranormal
Rating: 4
Bottom Line: A fitting end to an enjoyable series
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab
Blurb:  Is death the end . . . or only the beginning?

Ethan Wate has spent most of his life longing to escape the stiflingly small Southern town of Gatlin. He never thought he would meet the girl of his dreams, Lena Duchannes, who unveiled a secretive, powerful, and cursed side of Gatlin, hidden in plain sight. And he never could have expected that he would be forced to leave behind everyone and everything he cares about. So when Ethan awakes after the chilling events of the Eighteenth Moon, he has only one goal: to find a way to return to Lena and the ones he loves.

Back in Gatlin, Lena is making her own bargains for Ethan's return, vowing to do whatever it takes -- even if that means trusting old enemies or risking the lives of the family and friends Ethan left to protect.

Worlds apart, Ethan and Lena must once again work together to rewrite their fate, in this stunning finale to the Beautiful Creatures series.

Review:  It is nearly impossible to finish Beautiful Chaos without jumping straight into Beautiful Redemption... which is exactly what I did.  As a reader, you know where this is headed, but you can't help but enjoy the journey.

Once again Ethan and Lena are separated but they both have faith that they can rectify the situation.  I enjoyed the alternate space that Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl created, even if it was a little Beetlejuice.  Honestly I wouldn't have minded spending more time there, perhaps with other characters, throughout the series.

Out of necessity, this is the first time the story is broken up into two viewpoints, but I think it works nicely. I was a little surprised how fluidly things went on both sides, but if it hadn't I suppose it would have taken up another book.  At the critical point in the novel there was a pretty significant plot hole for me, maybe it was explained in passing and I missed it, but either way it is easily forgiven.  The ending is bitter sweet as I knew it would be but it was the perfect ending to the series.

This writing team creates enchanting stories you can't help but want to slip into.  I'm glad that there is a new Dangerous Creatures series featuring Ridley as I think there are many more stories to come from the world Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl created.  I look forward to the release of the first book in a few weeks.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Julie's Review: The Shadow Year

Author: Hannah Richell
Series: None
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Pages: 400
Obtained: Publisher via She Reads
Genre:  Mystery
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: An intriguing mystery surrounding the past and the present
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Summary: Still grieving the death of her prematurely delivered infant, Lila finds a welcome distraction in renovating a country house she's recently inherited. Surrounded by blueprints and plaster dust, though, she finds herself drawn into the story of a group of idealistic university grads from thirty years before, who'd thrown off the shackles of bourgeois city life to claim the cottage and rely only on each other on the land. But utopia-building can be fraught with unexpected peril, and when the fate of the group is left eerily unclear, Lila turns her attention to untangling a web of secrets to uncover the shocking truth of what happened that fateful year, in order to come to terms with her own loss and build a new future for herself. Suspenseful and moving, with a deep secret at its heart, THE SHADOW YEAR is Hannah Richell's breakout book.

Review: What I loved about The Shadow Year was the setting in the Peak District. It sounded peaceful, remote and gorgeous. Now, could I take a year break and live off the land? Probably not. Sure things weren't as technology driven back in the good ole 80s but you were still removing yourself from society. Five college friends decide to delay their jobs for a year to live in a broken down cabin near the lake and of course when you are in that close of quarters with limited funds, drama will ensue. They are just getting into a routine when Kat's sister Freya shows up. You pretty much know that when she shows up that she will be the catalyst for the situation that changes the dynamic.

 I wouldn't say that any of the characters particularly jumped out at me as being a favorite. Each one of them played their part. Kat and Freya had a strained relationship before she showed up at the cabin. What happens there will change their relationship forever. Kat drove me nuts in her blind faith in Simon. Even when Simon was wrong and she thought so, she still stood by him. It made me hopping mad. Simon was a righteous jerk, who never really got what was coming to him.

Even though I had the ties quickly bowed up, I will say that Ms. Richell did keep me guessing that I was right until the end. She also had a few twists and turns thrown in that weren't plot devices. Any one who enjoys a good mystery and some family secrets, then The Shadow Year is for you.