Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Alice's Review: Fast Track

Author: Julie Garwood
Series: Buchanan-Renard #12
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Publisher: Dutton Books
Pages: 352
Obtained: Publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Contemporary Romance, Mystery
Rating: 3
Bottom Line: Good read but forgettable.
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Summary: Cordelia Kane has always been a daddy's girl—her father raised her alone after her mother died in a car crash when Cordelia was just two years old. So when he has a serious heart attack, Cordelia is devastated, and the emotion is only intensified by the confusion she feels when he reveals the shocking truth about her mother.  Cordelia cant suppress her curiosity about the woman who gave birth to her, and when she discovers the answers to her questions lie in Sydney, Australia, she travels there to get them.  Hotel magnate Aiden Madison is Cordelias best friends older brother. Hes oblivious to the fact that shes had a crush on him for years. When he gets railroaded into taking her along to Sydney on his company jet, hes unwittingly drawn into a volatile family drama. Aiden wants to help Cordelia get answers about her mother, but threats from her wealthy, high-powered family are quickly becoming dangerous. Sparks are flying between Cordelia and Aiden, but after multiple attempts are made on Cordelias life, Aiden realizes he must put a stop to the madness before he loses the thing he values most. ~ powells.com

Review:   Julie Garwood is back with another visit to my favorite Buchanan clan with Fast Track. This time she’s giving Cordie and Aiden their long awaited go at romance. First of all, the beginning of this novel drove me mad crazy. As a reader and (almost stalker like) follower of the Buchanan series, I knew that eventually Cordie and Aiden were going to get together. This does not need a spoiler alert. What I disliked so profusely is how utterly forced their initial joining was. It didn’t make sense to me at all. There was nothing organic about it. I really hate that. Love should be what the characters want, not what the author forces them to have. My other complaint is the name of this novel. It makes no sense. There wasn’t anything particularly fast about how it happened. Fast Track would be a title better suited for the Aiden’s youngest brother Walker, who is a race car driver.

Besides those two fails, I enjoyed the novel. One of the things I truly relish about Julie Garwood is she gives us Knights in Shining Armor and Damsels in Distress. Although let’s be honest, these women really don’t need help anyway. She shows how the rich and elite live and how it’s perfectly reasonable for a women to fall in love with the man who rescues her even if they have nothing in common but the horizontal tango. She provides her readers with a means to escape the boringness of life. This novel is no different.

As you all know, one of my biggest gripes with Ms. Garwood’s female characters is how annoyingly perfect they are. I appreciated that Cordie wasn’t as perfect as the women before her. She was unorganized, yet brilliant. Qualities that were actually charming and endearing. While I liked Crodie, I didn’t feel the same way about Aiden. He was mostly a macho jerk. Of all of Ms. Garwood’s heros, he was my least favorite. I was about a third of the way through Fast Track before Aiden even acknowledged Cordie in a manner that was not of the “my little sister’s best friend” way. That’s a long while in romance novel time.

On a positive note, we got a good dose of Alec Buchanan from Murder List and Jack MacAlister from Fire and Ice in Fast Track. These two strong male characters more than made up for Aiden. I enjoyed the novel, but I can’t shake the feeling that Cordie would have been just fine without Aiden. It’s a good thing she had that crush on him since she was five because I can’t imagine any other women putting up with his pigheadedness ways. Okay, I’ll lay off Aiden already.

All in all, I liked this one. It’s well written, a lot steamier than I expected, and a quick and fun summer read. It started off a bit rough for me but Fast Track gained momentum towards the end. I think the Julie Garwood diehards out there will really enjoy this one. As for the rest of you, well, you might want to skip it altogether.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Julie's Review: Big Little Lies

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Author: Liane Moriarty
Series: None
Publication Date: July 29th, 2014
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books
Pages: 480
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Pretty much perfection
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what? Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads... Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?). Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay. New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all. Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive. ~amazon.com

Review: Drop what you are reading and pick up Big Little Lies immediately. Seriously, you won't regret it. This was an amazing read in every single way. The characters are rich, the plot is thick with mystery and multi-layered, the style is a new twist on a traditional way of storytelling. Ms. Moriarty had me hooked from page one and it just kept going deeper and deeper into my skin. I couldn't wait to pick this book up when I had to set it down because life called.

Each one of the main characters were fantastic and different from each other. I loved Madeleine. She was feisty, loyal and someone I would want to be befriend immediately. Jane is quiet and a bit shy, unsure of herself. It was fun to see her come into her own and break out of her shell. Then there is Celeste, beautiful but befuddled Celeste. Celeste always seems out of sorts. She's always in her own little world; some would call her a bit spacey. There is so much more to Celeste than meets the eye and it is the aspect of this novel that will stick with me the longest. I love how the three of them bond and help each other out because let's face it at Pirree there is a Mommy Mafia. Women are just such bitches and always gossiping about one another. Does Ms. Moriarty take it to another level to prove a point, why yes she does and the point is taken. It isn't about working moms vs. stay at home moms, it should be about being moms. It should also be about the children but instead it is the adults acting like children. Petty arguments, vicious rumors/gossip that gets out of control.

I loved how each chapter started off with other people's viewpoints about what happened on that night and also their thoughts about what led up to it. It almost leads you astray as you start the chapter because you go in thinking one thing and then the truth is revealed. It makes you think about how you judge people based on the little pieces you might know about them. We don't always know the full picture.

The suspense about what happened on Trivia Night was the hook but I also fell in love with the characters. So much of the experience of this novel is that you can see aspect of it happening in your own daily life, which is what makes it relatable.

Big Little Lies is one of those books that I will continue to think about long after I've finished it. Ms. Moriarty's writing just keeps getting better and for me, this one is her best so far.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jenn's Review: The Red Pyramid

Author: Rick Riordan
Series: Kane Chronicles #1
Publication Date: May 4, 2010
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Pages: 516
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  MG/YA Fantasy
Rating: 4
Bottom Line: The return of the Egyptian gods and the Pharaohs
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Blurb:  Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane. 

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives. 

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them —Set— has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe - a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.

Review:  In my thirst for more Rick Riordan, I decided to try the Kane series.  I've always adored Egyptology, so I was excicted to start it and this being a Riordan novel,  I went into it with extraordinary expectations.  While I enjoyed The Red Pyramid, I found myself wanting more from it.

The story of the Kanes is told entirely from a first person persepective with the narration switching back and forth between Sadie and Carter.  This is hard to pull off and though Riordan does it well, I think that is where some of luster.  At first Carter and Sadie had very distinct voices but as the novel progressed I lost which one was narrating a few times.  Perhaps its because the siblings started out so far apart emotionally and became closer through their adventure, or maybe that's just me giving Riordan the benefit of the doubt.  I also had a hard time connecting with either character with the first person narrative preventing the reader from gaining a more indepth perspective of the character.

Whereas Riordan's Greek and Roman gods jump up the page with their personalities, the Egyptian gods come off more subtle.   With the exception of Bast, the gods borrow human hosts which muffle their larger than life charaters.  If I didn't have anything to compare it to, it probably wouldn't have bothered me, but I found I missed Riordan's quirky gods.  

Sadie and Carter's journey, though fairly straightforward, is an interesting one full of self discovery and history.   There are serveral potential villains which helped keep things interesting.  The battles are monumental, but not overwhelming and certainly not without some of the wry Riordan humor thrown in. I love watching Sadie and Carter grow together as siblings after so many years envying the others life from a distance.  

The book ends solidly, leaving enough loose ends to pull the reader onward in the series.  I will certainly be reading further to see where the Kane's journey takes them next, however I'm hoping that as the children mature, the story will too.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Julie's Review: One Plus One

Author: JoJo Moyes
Series: None
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Pages: 381
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Sweet but predictable story
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Summary: Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you cant afford to pay for. Thats Jesss life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jesss knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever. ~powells.com

Review: One Plus One is a sweet story about always looking on the bright side, figuring out what you want and learning to be fine with who you are. This is a misfit group of people we have in this book and somehow Ms. Moyes makes it work. Jess is eternally optimistic and given her situation it's probably best that she has that attitude. Ed made a stupid decision that will end up forever altering his life. Tanzie is a bit of a geek but sweet. Nicky is struggling to fit in and figure out who he is. Mix them all together and you get a story of love and acceptance.

The book isn't without it's tears and laughs but for me it wasn't as strong of a connection to the characters as Me Before You. They are all endearing in their own way but I felt that in this book she was trying to cover too many social issues. Not that they aren't all important but focusing on one or two would have been preferred for this reader.

My favorite character was Nicky. You couldn't help but root for him and want him to come out of his shell. You wanted the people who bullied him to get their karma. You knew they would but you just didn't know how. He's the character who grew and changed. He became more comfortable with who he was and perhaps where he might go to. He opened himself up and when he did that he found that he liked who he was and he liked who he belonged to.

I liked Jess but sometimes I wanted to tell her to shut it. I know there are people in the world who have a cheery disposition but sometimes it's ok to be pissed with how life as sucked. It's ok to be mad at times, just as long as you don't let it get you down.

Ms. Moyes is still an author I will gravitate towards but this wasn't her strongest for me.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Julie's Review: Grand Central

Author: Various
Series: None
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Publisher: Berkley Books
Pages: 368
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Anthology
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: Must read for those who like stories about WWII era
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Summary: A war bride awaits the arrival of her GI husband at the platform… A Holocaust survivor works at the Oyster Bar, where a customer reminds him of his late mother… A Hollywood hopeful anticipates her first screen test and a chance at stardom in the Kissing Room… On any particular day, thousands upon thousands of people pass through New York Citys Grand Central Terminal, through the whispering gallery, beneath the ceiling of stars, and past the information booth and its beckoning four-faced clock, to whatever destination is calling them. It is a place where people come to say hello and good-bye. And each person has a story to tell. Now, ten bestselling authors inspired by this iconic landmark have created their own stories, set on the same day, just after the end of World War II, in a time of hope, uncertainty, change, and renewal…. ~powells.com

Review: Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion is a beautiful collection of short stories set after World War II. Each story has its own flow, its own stamp on the book but are intricately woven together to bind them together. The parts of this anthology are gorgeous but it's the sum that make it stand out.

As if you couldn't tell from the previous paragraph, I loved this anthology of stories. I don't read a lot of short stories but they were written by some of my favorite authors, I couldn't pass it up. I am so happy I read this. This book will make the rounds in my book lending circle. It is well worth the read. You could read them all in one sitting or you could savor them, which is what I did.

There are always stories that resonate with a reader and for me these were Sarah Jio's "I'll Be Seeing You", Erika Robuck's "I Walk Alone" and Melanie Benjamin's "The Kissing Room". Each one brought out a different emotion in me. It's not to say that the rest weren't wonderful because they were, it's just these are the ones that stick with me.

I also loved how Sarah McCoy brought us back to her novel with her story, "The Branch of Hazel". It touches a subject matter that she writes in about in her wonderful novel The Baker's Daughter.

You can feel the love the author's have for this time period through their stories. It is obvious they did research for particular aspects of them. For most of them I have a feeling that their stories came from something personal, perhaps family history and that is also what makes these stories hit home. 

I realize that you can't cover all aspects of the time period but I feel that to give it a well-rounded view a story about either the Tuskegee Airmen or about the black soldiers fight when they got back from the war.

If you have a love for this time period, then you shouldn't pass up reading this wonderful anthology, you might just learn something new or discover new authors like I did. 


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Jenn's Review: Confessions of a Murder Suspect

Author: James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Series: Confessions #1
Publication Date: September 24, 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 372
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  YA psychological thriller,crime
Rating: 5.0
Bottom Line: A too-delicious-to-put-down tale of society sociopaths...
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Blurb:  James Patterson returns to the genre that made him famous with a thrilling teen detective series about the mysterious and magnificently wealthy Angel family... and the dark secrets they're keeping from one another.

On the night Malcolm and Maud Angel are murdered, Tandy Angel knows just three things: She was the last person to see her parents alive. The police have no suspects besides Tandy and her three siblings. She can't trust anyone -— maybe not even herself. 

Having grown up under Malcolm and Maud's intense perfectionist demands, no child comes away undamaged. Tandy decides that she will have to clear the family name, but digging deeper into her powerful parents' affairs is a dangerous -- and revealing -- game. Who knows what the Angels are truly capable of?

Review:  I have a love-hate relationship with James Patterson's novels.  When I love him most, however, is when he is collaborating with Maxine Paetro which is what made me so willing to try this YA mystery series. Apparently, readers either love or hate this book.  I was blown away.  Never have I imagined such an incredible psychological thriller... or a family of such captivating sociopaths.

Perhaps thriller is the wrong word.  The entire novel is a study in psychology.  Brilliant children from brilliant parents are pushed to the extreme and disciplined to the extreme ~are they sociopaths by nature or nurture, or something else entirely?  The Angel's methods are extreme and their discipline harsh, but here's the thing:  I understand it.  I'm not saying I agree with it, but I understand it's origin.  Before my daughter was born, my husband and I always joked, 'your child, your science experiment,' but the Angel family takes that theory to a terrifying level in practice.

Tandy is genuine, honest, and direct, of course she's also not sure if she murdered her parents, but that's another matter.  Her unemotional directness makes many people uncomfortable, some readers too I imagine.  She is upset by her parent's deaths but she's dealing with it the only way she knows how; showing no emotion, because emotions are a weakness.  However, Tandy's telling you what she knows, and confessing little secrets along the way.  (I love the way the confessions are interjected every few chapters.)  In an effort to make her devoid of emotion, some of Tandy's memories have been ...suppressed, so she may not be telling the reader everything, but she's telling what she remembers.

Tandy's main suspects, next to herself, are her remaining family members, and she is honest and analytical about them too.  Actually she has the makings of becoming a Sherlock Holmes-style detective, except for her lack of understanding of human emotions.  Because of that she runs around accusing each suspect with each new secret she uncovers, which is obviously not the best methodology.   However her perseverance does win her some answers and eventually solves the case.

I was pleased to discover this is a series.  There is so much more to discover about this family!  I am interested to see who Tandy becomes once some of her emotions are returned to her -will she still choose to contain them?  What other family mysteries will she unravel?  What will become of her siblings?  I know I will be moving on to Confessions: The Private School Murders quite soon...


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Alice's Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Author: John Green
Series: None
Publication Date: January 10, 2012
Publisher: Speak
Pages: 352
Obtained: Purchases
Genre:  Young Adult
Rating: 5
Bottom Line: A tear-jerking powerhouse.
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab
Summary:  Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars brilliantly explores the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.  ~powells.com

Review:  Some reviews are easy to write, some a bit more difficult. This is one of the more difficult ones. This is hands down the best book I read this year. From the wonderful characters to the compelling story line to the great adventures the character’s experience, The Fault in Our Stars is perfect in everyway. The reason this is difficult is because I don’t know what to say to fully express how much I loved this novel and how this is a must read for everyone. It really doesn’t matter who you are or what your favorite genre is, this novel is wonderful. I believe the only readers who may struggle with this are those personally affected by the loss of a child to a cancer. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to experience that kind of loss again. That feeling of loss is what John Green masters. The Fault in Our Stars is so well written, I felt I knew Hazel and Augustus personally. They were not two literary characters, but two teenagers falling in love in the most tragic circumstances. Their story was deeply moving and so personal.

I just loved Hazel. Her courage was inspiring. She was everything a person should be when facing such tragedy. I am always amazed how well a man can capture such a strong, fascinating female character and Mr. Green does just that. Here is someone who has owned who she is without letting her illness define her. She’s brilliant. And Augustus...talk about a guy with many layers. On the surface, he is a happy go lucky guy without a care in the world. As Hazel gets to know him, we see he is much more than that. I loved how he reveals his true character to Hazel.

I loved how Mr. Green used humor throughout the novel. I loved how there were many funny moments, injected at the perfect time to diffuse grief. I loved how he give us a peek at what Hazel and Augustus’ parents were feeling. We understood what they were going through however, Mr. Green never fully shifted the focus to them. I think we truly saw them as Hazel and Augustus saw them. I especially believe that to be true with Hazel’s parents.

Overall, I know I’m just adding to the list of glowing reviews for this wonderful novel. This is one you can’t pass up.

Total Love Count: 6


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Jenn's Review: Under the Egg

Author: Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Series: none
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
Publisher: Dial
Pages: 247
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Middle Grade Mystery, Art History
Rating: 3.75
Bottom Line: Monument Men for Middle Grade
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Blurb:  When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo's search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she'll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

Review:  Laura Marx Fitzgerald has written an excellent debut Middle Grade novel.  I was intrigued by the concept of Under the Egg when it was presented to me.  I enjoy reading WWII history so it couldn't have been a better fit, actually.

I was a little concerned at the outset about the subject matter fitting into Middle Grade, but I needn't have been.  Ms. Fitzgerald does an excellent job giving enough information to make it accessible, without things getting too heavy.  I think Under the Egg might be more interesting to children who have at least a cursory knowledge of WWII, but the novel brings enough to the table that it is not required.  Although the plot was wrapped up overly neat, I think it was a fitting end.

Theo is an appealing heroine.  While I understand the reasoning behind making her stiuation dire, I'm not sure that it had to be quite as severe as it is written.  It seemed overly harsh.  I enjoyed her unlikely friendship with  Bodhi and how the two work well together; it's obvious that they need each other.  Ms. Fitzgerald wrote characters I would love to see again (It would be fascinating to revisit Theo all grown up!) and I think that, above all, is what makes this such a wonderful novel.