03.17.14

Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

Posted in Review at 3:12 am by Amber

Title: Don’t Even Think About It
Author: Sarah Mylnowski
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Don't Even Think About It

Contemporary teen fiction with romance, secrets, scandals, and ESP from the author of Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have).

We weren’t always like this. We used to be average New York City high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe a headache. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn’t expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. Now we all know that Tess is in love with her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That, um, Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper.

Since we’ve kept our freakish skill a secret, we can sit next to the class brainiac and ace our tests. We can dump our boyfriends right before they dump us. We know what our friends really think of our jeans, our breath, our new bangs. We always know what’s coming. Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same. So stop obsessing about your ex. We’re always listening.

The ARC I received suggested this book for ages 12 and up. I think my 12-year-old self would’ve loved it. My 42-year-old self found the writing and the story interesting. Overall it was a nice light read. Mylnowski empowers the telepathic teens to take control of situations when they would’ve floundered otherwise.

With over a dozen characters in the homeroom class getting the telepathic flu shot, Mylnowski was smart to focus on a handful of characters and situations. Pi, the smart girl, who has to decide if she’s going to use these new powers to augment her studying; Brian Joseph, aka BJ, the class pervert who can overhear his classmates romantic worries and  offers himself as a boy toy; Tess, the slightly overweight best friend of Mackenzie who is constantly criticized by her mom about her size.

I don’t know if Mylnowski has any small children in her life but one of the teens, Cooper, has a 3-year-old sister. I’d just heard an NPR interview with Jennifer Senior who points out young children can’t be reasoned with because they live in the present. The prefrontal cortex is not developed enough for logic. Ashley’s thoughts, when Cooper is able to hear them, is a perfect example. I found the relationship between Ashley and Cooper adorable. It was nice to read about a male teen character who was caring, not cruel, towards a young child.

The book released last week so Mylnowski is doing several readings and signings specifically related to the book. Check out her website for her schedule.

03.11.14

The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating by Carole Radziwill

Posted in Review at 11:25 am by Amber

Title: The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating
Author: Carole Radziwill
Publisher: Henry Holt And Co.
Source: Emily K. from Henry Holt in exchange for a review

Book cover of The Widow's Guide to Sex & Dating

Claire Byrne is a quirky and glamorous 34-year-old Manhattanite and the wife of a famous, slightly older man. Her husband, Charlie, is a renowned sexologist and writer. Equal parts Alfred Kinsey and Warren Beatty, Charlie is pompous yet charming, supportive yet unfaithful; he’s a firm believer that sex and love can’t coexist for long, and he does little to hide his affairs. Claire’s life with Charlie is an always interesting if not deeply devoted one, until Charlie is struck dead one day on the sidewalk by a falling sculpture … a Giacometti, no less!

Once a promising young writer, Claire had buried her ambitions to make room for Charlie’s. After his death, she must reinvent herself. Over the course of a year, she sees a shrink (or two), visits an oracle, hires a “botanomanist,” enjoys an erotic interlude (or ten), eats too little, drinks too much, dates a hockey player, dates a billionaire, dates an actor (not any actor either, but the handsome movie star every woman in the world fantasizes about dating). As she grieves for Charlie and searches for herself, she comes to realize that she has an opportunity to find something bigger than she had before—maybe even, possibly, love.

The first time I was approached about reading and reviewing this book, it was noted it was written by a Real Housewives of New York City cast member based on some of her own experiences as a young widow. I had other stuff going on so I passed. Then I saw it on a display table at Barnes and Noble and thought, “Oh, yeah. I remember that book.” And a few days later I was going through my emails and found a second request to read and review the book. So I went to Radziwill’s site, read the first chapter and said I’d like to read and review it.

Radziwill’s book is an amusing tale about a woman who arrives in Texas to conduct an interview as a married woman and flies back to New York a widow. Obviously, Claire’s new status is a lot to process. Ethan (Charlie’s assistant and Claire’s college friend) and Sasha (Claire’s best friend) offer Claire guidance and shoulders to cry on. Some of their advice is spot on such as: This is your time to be alone and figure out who you are. And some is not so spot on such as: You need to start dating again – I have a rolodex of men for you.

While Claire’s lifestyle is different from my own, I could identify with the knowledge that in your 30s you still have an entire lifetime ahead of you. This is one of those books that lets you escape the winter doldrums. The situations Claire finds herself in are often of her own making (or her friends well-meaning advice) but that’s just like life. Sometimes you have to stumble around a little bit before you find the right path.

About Carole Radziwill

Carole Radziwill grew up in upstate New York and earned a BA at Hunter College and an MBA at New York University. She spent more than a decade at ABC News, reporting from around the world, and earned three Emmys. Her first book, What Remains, a memoir, spent over twenty weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. She has written for many magazines, including Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Town & Country and Porter. She currently is a star of and “the voice of reason” on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City. – See more at: http://thewidowsguidetosexanddating.com/

03.07.14

Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert

Posted in Review at 1:02 pm by Amber

Title: Season of the Witch
Author: Natasha Mostert
Publisher: Portable Magic Ltd.
Source: NetGalley

In her award-winning novel*, Natasha Mostert blends alchemy, the art of memory, high magic and murder to create a highly original psychological thriller.

Gabriel Blackstone is a cool, hip, thoroughly twenty-first century Londoner with an unusual talent.  A computer hacker by trade, he is also a remote viewer: able to ‘slam a ride’ through the minds of others.  But he uses his gift only reluctantly — until he is asked to find a young man last seen months earlier at Monk House, in the company of two mysterious women. Gabriel becomes increasingly bewitched by the house, and by its owners, the beautiful Monk sisters.  But even as he falls in love, he suspects that one of them is a killer.

*Winner of the World Book Day: Book to Talk About Award 2009.

Book Cover for Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert

Mostert manages to give a thoroughly modern tale a gothic feel without pinning it into a single genre. The London setting where modern and ancient buildings coexist is perfect.

When we meet Gabriel he is working on an information retrieval assignment. Gabriel’s doing scout work and seems to be the people person in the operation. His partner and friend, Isidore, is the hacker who spends most of his time in a filthy flat attached to a computer.

Gabriel is contacted by a new potential client. William doesn’t have the usual request – he wants Gabriel’s help in find his son. For personal reasons Gabriel finds himself drawn to the assignment.

One of the sisters, Morrighan or Minnaloushe Monk, knows what happened to the missing son. Gabriel’s intelligence, looks, and psychic remote viewing ability gets the sisters’ attention. He puts himself and Isidore in danger by acting with his heart and not his head.

I found myself caught up in trying to figure out which of the sisters was involved with the son’s disappearance but never connected with the main characters. I wanted to know more about the secondary characters. It was difficult at times to keep track of the Monks due to the similarity of their names and some of their interests. These easily provided red herrings for the reader.

02.20.14

The Candidates by Inara Scott

Posted in Review at 12:41 am by Amber

Title: The Candidates (The Delcroix Academy, Book 1)

Author: Inara Scott

Publisher: Hyperion Teens

Source: Book Swag from Fantasy Convention 2010

Synopsis from the publisher site and the book cover:

Dancia Lewis is far from popular. And that’s not just because of her average grades or her less-than-glamorous wardrobe. In fact, Dancia’s mediocrity is a welcome cover for her secret: whenever she sees a person threatening someone she cares about, things just… happen. Cars skid. Structures collapse. Usually someone gets hurt. So Dancia does everything possible to avoid getting close to anyone, believing this way she can suppress her powers and keep them hidden. But when recruiters from the prestigious Delcroix Academy show up in her living room to offer her a full scholarship, Dancia’s days of living under the radar may be over.

Only, Delcroix is a school for diplomats’ kids and child geniuses–not B students with uncontrollable telekinetic tendencies. So why are they treating Dancia like she’s special? Even the hottest guy on campus seems to be going out of his way to make Dancia feel welcome. And then there’s her mysterious new friend Jack, who can’t stay out of trouble. He suspects something dangerous is going on at the Academy and wants Dancia to help him figure out what. But Dancia isn’t convinced. She hopes that maybe the recruiters know more about her “gift” than they’re letting on.

Maybe they can help her understand how to use it…But not even Dancia could have imagined what awaits her behind the gates of Delcroix Academy.

This YA read captures teen angst and builds into a bigger storyline. It was wonderful. Scott’s description of Dancia’s home life was spot on. Her grandmother has diabetes, arthritis and cataracts. Dancia is always doing chores around the house, tries not to spend money, loves her grandmother and tries her best to blend in. She tries to not draw attention (thus she’s a straight B student with a drab wardrobe and a slouch) and keeps her peers at arm’s length. This changes with her admission to the school.

When she’s given a full scholarship to the ritzy Delcroix Academy she becomes a campus resident. For the first time she can remember, she has two good friends and a possible love interest (or two).

It’s a fairly quick read and one that I found enjoyable. Just so you know, the series has been rebranded. The Candidates is now retitled as The Marked. You can read a chapter on Inara Scott’s site.

01.09.14

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Posted in Review at 5:27 pm by Amber

Title: Vampire Academy
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Razorbill
Source: Columbus Metropolitan Library

St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger. . . .

Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.

I hadn’t seen the movie trailer yet but saw on Richelle Mead’s blog the series was being made into a movie. I thought I would read it before it came out.

I’m glad I did! I found myself telling my book club about it and it sounded quite silly talking about it out loud. You see, there are “good” vampires who are mortal and use their magic to improve life around them and there are “bad” vampires who are immortal. The bad ones, or Strigoi, are former humans who were turned by a vampire bite or a former good vampire (a Moiri) who killed someone while feeding. They are harmed by sunlight, have red-tinged eyes, and are evil. That’s the very basic thing you need to know about the vampires.

Why wouldn’t they need to go to their own school? The vampire academy is in Montana and is where the Moiri learn how to use their magic. Other students include Dhampirs who are trained to be Guardians to the Moiri.

As Moiri are mortal, their numbers are dwindling and the Strigoi numbers are increasing.

Add teenage hormones, royal families, and the pressure is piled on for Lissa and Rose to figure out who keeps leaving dead animals and threatening notes for Lissa. I’m hooked and can’t stop reading the remainder of the book series. (I’m now on the last one.)

The trailer for the movie seems to play up the snark. Hopefully I’ll enjoy the movie as much as the book series.

10.21.13

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Posted in Review at 9:02 am by Amber

Title: Sunshine
Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Jove Books
Source: Columbus Metropolitan Library

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion-within easy reach of a figure stirring in the moonlight.

She knows that it is a vampire.

She knows that she’s to be his dinner, and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet, when light breaks, she finds that he has not attempted to harm her. And now it is he who needs her to help him survive the day…

This came up as a book recommendation in a conversation about funny fantasy books.

It wasn’t a laugh a minute like I was expecting but it did  have humor. It breaks from many urban fantasy formulas shortly after the beginning. It makes a declarative statement but it’s not until page 12 that you find out what happened to bring on the next chain of events. And even then it goes into more backstory.

Nothing ever reads like an info-dump. Told in the first person point of view, the main character has a strong voice and the book reads like a tale. A very long tale of what happened to her after she went to a lake by herself one Monday evening.

You’re in the main character’s head a lot. And McKinley never breaks from that.

It’s refreshing to have a novel with loose ends and to know there isn’t a sequel in the works. This is a world where magic is in the open and I can see lots of possible short stories about other characters (and the professions they have in this world).

10.15.13

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Posted in Review at 8:49 am by Amber

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Publisher: The Dial Press
Source: Columbus Metropolitan Library

“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

While the synopsis is accurate it didn’t pull me in as a reader. Mostly glowing reviews from book bloggers didn’t get my attention either. It wasn’t until my fellow Month of Letter participants decided to start an epistolary book club that I finally picked it up.

The title is horribly long and I can never remember it. But it’s an accurate title too. :)

The story takes place after World War II. It reminds us books can be a comfort in difficult times or serve as a means of escape. It’s a sweet story about people finding their way back from a horrible thing.

03.28.13

Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill

Posted in Review at 10:15 am by Amber

Title: Friday Night Bites
Author: Chloe Neill
Publisher: New American Library
Source: Columbus Metropolitan Library

Friday Night Bites

Vamps in Chicago!

You’d think headlines like that would have provoked the fine citizens of the Windy City to take up arms against us bloodsucking fiends. Instead, ten months later, we’re enjoying a celebrity status reserved for the Hollywood elite—fending off paparazzi only slightly less dangerous than cross and stake-wielding slayers. Don’t get me wrong, Joe Public isn’t exactly thrilled to be living side-by-side with the undead, but at least they haven’t stormed the castle yet.

But all that will change once they learn about the Raves—mass feeding parties where vampires round up humans like cattle and drink themselves silly. Most civilized vampires frown on this behavior, putting mere mortals at ease with their policy of asking a person’s consent before taking a big gulp of the red stuff. However, that doesn’t make good copy for a first time reporter looking to impress his high society family.

So now my “master,” the centuries old, yet gorgeously well-preserved Ethan Sullivan, wants me to reconnect with my own upper class family and act as liaison between humans and vampires—and keep the more unsavory aspects of our existence out of the media. But someone doesn’t want people and vamps to play nicey-nice—someone with an ancient grudge.

This book had a bit of a mystery feel to it. Merit’s Scooby Gang (Mallory – fledgling sorcerer; Catcher – excommunicated sorcerer; Jeff – computer genius and supernatural being; and Ethan – Vampire Master and supreme strategist) gets to investigate the raves. Merit’s former high school sweetheart blackmails Merit and Ethan into it. Meanwhile, the shifters are getting ready to meet in Chicago to discuss if they are going to keep their presence from humans hidden or not.

The attraction Ethan and Merit feel for each other yet deny at every turn creates an underlying tension to their encounters. When they relax and engage in witty banter it’s very entertaining. I admit I’m rooting for them to have a relationship at some point in the series.

The ending of this one made me say “Argh!” because it ended on a cliffhanger. I had to get my hands on the third book in the series immediately!

03.18.13

Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill

Posted in Review at 10:03 pm by Amber

Title: Some Girls Bite
Author: Chloe Neill
Publisher: New American Library
Source: Columbus Metropolitan Library

Some Girls Bite

Sure, the life of a graduate student wasn’t exactly glamorous, but it was Merit’s. She was doing fine until a rogue vampire attacked her. But he only got a sip before he was scared away by another bloodsucker—and this one decided the best way to save her life was to make her the walking undead. Turns out her savior was the master vampire of Cadogan House. Now she’s traded sweating over her thesis for learning to fit in at a Hyde Park mansion full of vamps loyal to Ethan “Lord o’ the Manor” Sullivan. Of course, as a tall, green-eyed, four-hundred- year-old vampire, he has centuries’ worth of charm, but unfortunately he expects her gratitude— and servitude. But an inconvenient sunlight allergy and Ethan’s attitude are the least of her concerns. Someone’s still out to get her. Her initiation into Chicago’s nightlife may be the first skirmish in a war—and there will be blood.

The novel takes place over a two week span of time. Merit is attacked while on campus one evening and wakes up different. At first she thinks her grubby, comfortable grad school clothes have been swapped for a mani-pedi and designer clothes. It doesn’t take long for her new situation to be explained to her.

Most of the novel has Merit coming to terms with a feudal style vampire system of honor versus her independent, modern woman lifestyle. She’s headstrong and makes some blunders because she doesn’t read the all important vampire canon given to all newly turned vampires. Vampires have been out in the open for a short time but none of the other supernatural beings are which gives Merit a lot to catch up on.

In addition to Ethan Sullivan, the vampire who makes her blood boil and leaves her googly-eyed, the cast of characters includes Merit’s family (parents and grandfather), her roommate (Mallory), a handsome vampire (Morgan) from another house and some other supernatural characters I can’t say anything more about because I don’t want to give any spoilers.

I rather liked Merit. She’s one of the few characters I’ve come across who has a sense of who she is. Sure, she’s been thrust into a situation not of her choosing, but it’s a lot better than being dead.

Neill creates characters who come to life. Merit and Mallory have the banter of longtime friends. The attitude of Merit’s father fits a man who wants to hoard money and power. It’s a marked contrast to her grandfather. It’s all convincing. Because of that, I’m able to overlook the Corgi misspelling I found. :)

This took me a day to read and I’m already looking forward to the next in the series. There are lots of plots hinted at in the first novel which will take several books to play out. The sixth novel in the Chicagoland Vampires series was released last month and the seventh is scheduled to come out in August 2013.

03.12.13

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Posted in Review at 3:24 pm by Amber

Title: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Publisher: Macmillan
Source: My Personal Library

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII’s court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king’s favor and ascend to the heights of political power

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.

Mantel creates a sympathetic portrayal of Thomas Cromwell. He’s a self-made man who left his abusive father’s home as soon as he could. I’ve commented in the Wolf Hall Read-Along discussions (held by The Bluestocking Society  and It’s All About Books) how his story can appeal to Americans since he’s a self-made made. Out of nothing but his willingness to work (or fight in battle) and use his brains, he rises to power in King Henry’s court.

One aspect of Cromwell nearly everyone commented on in the Read-Along was his love for his wife. Because of his background he was able to choose his own wife. Mantel certainly makes you believe he loved her. After her death he longs for her and often finds himself mistaking his sister-in-law’s presence for his wife. Years later, he still thinks of her.

The political intrigue is quite interesting but nothing I’d want to live through or with. A lot of the book is spent trying to figure out how Henry can leave his wife and still be a religious example. Cromwell thinks like a lawyer and a common man so it’s interesting when he thinks ahead to the counter-arguments.

There are so many different characters with the same first names – Thomas, Henry, Edward and William – it can be difficult to keep track of them. Fortunately, Mantel has a reference guide in the front of the book. I didn’t want to wait too long before reading Bring Up the Bodies. For some readers it will be confusing because some of the story is told through Cromwell’s recollections and some parts are third-person point of view. But if you can read it for long stretches at a time, it will become second nature to know what is happening in the action.

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