Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour, by Morgan Matson @morgan_m

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour is a heartwarming road-trip book that I'm glad I spent some time with.

Amy's father died three months ago, her brother is in rehab after going over the edge, her mother has decided to move them from California to Connecticut, and Amy is feeling very guilty.

Amy has been living alone in her California home for a month while she finishes school. Pretty sad situation for someone who has recently lost her father. (I can't believe her mother did that!) Amy had something to do with the accident that killed her father, that much is obvious, but we don't find out the details until towards the end of the book. But, you kind of figure it out before that. Amy definitely needs counseling, but there's never any mention of this. :(

Since the accident, Amy doesn't drive. Her mother needs her car to be driven to Connecticut, so she gets her friend's son (Roger) to drive him and Amy across the country. Amy's mom has everything planned out and reservations made. It's going to take them four days to make the trip.

No....it's not. Amy & Roger decide to take a detour -- well, maybe quite a few detours. In the process, Amy heals a bit. Also, Roger has an ulterior motive for the trip, which he also accomplishes. And there's the expected romance.

But I hate to even call this book a romance. That doesn't really happen until the last 30 pages. I mean, talk about SLOOOOOW building...this is the antithesis of "instalove."

There's so much more to Amy & Roger's Epic Detour than the relationship between Amy & Roger. There's music, a scrapbook, 20 questions, experiencing landmarks and local foods, friendships, and a lot of healing.

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour is a tingly feel-good book that teen girls will really enjoy. (And they have.  My library copy is very well read.)

Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2010
Copy obtained from the library
344 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: Belle Epoque, by Elizabeth Ross

Belle Epoque is the story of a girl, Maude, in the late 1800s who escapes her father and moves to Paris. She gets one of the most unusual jobs you will ever hear of. Belle Epoque is historical fiction at its finest.

First of all, the title. Here's the explanation of Belle Epoque from Wikipedia:

The Belle Époque or La Belle Époque (French for "Beautiful Era") was a period in French and Belgian history that is conventionally dated as starting in 1871 and ending when World War I began in 1914. Occurring during the era of the Third French Republic (beginning 1870), it was a period characterized by optimism, peace at home and in Europe, new technology and scientific discoveries. The peace and prosperity in Paris allowed the arts to flourish, and many masterpieces of literature, music, theater, and visual art gained recognition. The Belle Époque was named, in retrospect, when it began to be considered a "golden age" in contrast to the horrors of World War I.

I found that pretty interesting.  Anyway, Maude's father was going to make her marry the 40-something-year-old butcher from their village, so she ran away to Pairs. She answers the add for a job, but doesn't understand what she's getting into. It turns out, she's applying (or auditioning) for a job as a repoussoir. They are looking for ugly women who will be hired by Paris' finest and richest people to accompany them to events to make them look more beautiful. The idea being that if you put someone who is only average looking next to someone who is plain or ugly, the average looking person looks beautiful next to the ugly person.

While the idea of this job is abhorrent, the pay is good and meals, clothing, lodging, and training are provided, so Maude really has no choice. She makes some friends and maybe even a romantic interest. She is hired by one of the agency's most important clients, Countess Dubern, to be a friend to her daughter, Isabel. Isabel is going through her first "season" and her mother is determined Isabel will bag a very rich man, preferably with a title.

Isabel has no idea that Maude has been hired by her mother. She also has no interest in getting married. Maude has her work cut out for her, and eventually things blow up.

Belle Epoque has a subtle message about the meaning of beauty. Whether beauty really is only skin deep. Whether money is worth more than happiness. Lots of things to think about...and issues that are still very relevant today.

Belle Epoque is written very well, the characters are engaging, and the pacing is tight. It's a relatively quick read that captured my attention easily. Anyone who is a fan of historical fiction will find a lot here. The Eiffel Tower is being built, and photography is becoming available to the common man. Because of the relative prosperity of the time period, art, culture, and technology were all center stage. Ross uses all these events to enhance Belle Epoque.

Something for everyone here.

Published by Delacorte BFYR, 2013
eBook obtained from the library
250 pages (Amazon and Barnes & Noble say 336 pages, but I'm using the page numbers from my eBook)

Rating: 5/5

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Stacking the Shelves -- A Trip to the Book Store

This week's main event was a trip to the book store. But first, a couple books received for review.

For Review:
The Summoning Book 1: Mary, by Hillary Monahan from NetGalley

Killer Instinct, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes from NetGalley

The Geography of You and Me, by Jennifer E. Smith

Conjured, by Sarah Beth Durst

Truly, Madly, Deadly by Hannah Jayne

That's all for me this week. How about you? Leave me a link! Thanks for visiting and make sure you hop over to Team Tynga's Reviews.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Audio Book Review: Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge

While Cruel Beauty contains beautiful storytelling, the complexities of the mythology overwhelmed me a bit.

Nyx has always known she must marry the Dark Lord (the demon who has captured her world), leave her home and family, and fulfill her destiny to save her kingdom, Arcadia. She is determined to use the Hermetic Arts to kill the Dark Lord and release Arcadia from its spell.

What she finds in the castle with the Dark Lord is very different than what she anticipated.

The reader goes in knowing that this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, so the general story arc is understood. There are a lot of details that add a lot of interest. But....

I had a hard time following the story at times. Part of the problem is that I was listening to the audio version. I'm sure if I were reading Cruel Beauty I would have had to re-read certain sections to make things a bit clearer. It is well written, but there's just so much to keep track of.

I don't want to go into to many details, but there are details of how Arcadia got in the condition it is. There are a lot of rituals, folklore, and customs that are explained. The "hermetic arts" are an entire story on their own. Several myths are mentioned, including Pandora.  There are shadow children and Kindly Ones. I couldn't keep track of how it all fit together, and I'm still not sure how Nyx managed to end up where she did at the end of the book.

Because of my confusion, I missed a lot of details. I think that someday I need to read Cruel Beauty again, but honestly I'm not sure that will ever happen.

Even though the narrator (Elizabeth Knowledon) did a great job reading the book, I wouldn't recommend the audio version of  Cruel Beauty. Fans of fairy tale retellings will enjoy Cruel Beauty,but I would only recommend it to more sophisticated teen readers. It's not quick or easy, although it is very lyrical.

Published by Balzer + Bray, January 28, 2014 (Audio by HarperCollins and Blackstone)
Audio Book obtained from SYNC
352 pages

Rating: 3/5

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Review: Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Brilliance is a well-crafted thriller that seamlessly incorporates a paranormal element and sucks you right into its unique premise.

About 30 years ago a phenomenon began. A much larger percent of the population started to be born with savant-like abilities. The abilities are very specialized and the people are normal in all other ways. No one has been able to figure out why this is happening, but it has changed the complexion of society. Children are tested at age 8 to see if they are an "abnorm." Some of them are sent to special academies.

The main character, Nick Cooper, is a special agent working for a new government department called Equitable Services that was created to deal with abnorms. Nick IS an abnorm. He goes after those abnorms who have used their powers to endanger the public or break the law.

There is a huge national incident that kills many people. Nick decides the only way to stop the terrorists is to go undercover and pretend that he's left Equitable Services and joined the other abnorms.

The tension builds nicely, as Nick faces dangers and makes alliances but really can't trust many people at all. There are twists and turns to keep you guessing. The farther along I got in the story, the faster I needed to read.

Nick makes some stupid decisions a few times that get him into trouble, but this added to the drama and tension.  The actual "bad guy" may not be a surprise for some, as the story follows a familiar design. But the unique premise and the part that these special abilities play in the outcome make Brilliance special.

Fans of espionage, detective, thrillers, government conspiracies, or futuristic stories should give Brilliance a shot. The second book in the series, A Better World, was released recently, and I can't wait to get to it.

Published by Thomas & Mercer, 2013
eBook purchased
452 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: Torn Away, by Jennifer Brown

Torn Away was not what I expected, but it is entertaining and a little heartbreaking.

I don't read book blurbs. And this one tells too much. So, I'm not going to give you specifics in this review, but you can find out more if you read the blurb. All I knew about Torn Away is that it is about a devastating tornado, and it was written by Jennifer Brown whose books I've enjoyed before.

I'm afraid of tornadoes. I live in Illinois, and this book takes place in Missouri, so that's very close. I've never been in a tornado, but I've had several close calls. I thought Torn Away was going to be about the aftermath of a tornado. The clean up. The rebuilding. The volunteer helpers. The finding people places to live.

Torn Away is actually about Jersey recovering from grief, and in that way, it's like a lot of other books out there. I think Brown missed an opportunity here to not only tell Jersey's story, but keep the story within the aftermath of the tornado.

What actually happens is that a few days after the tornado, Jersey, who has lost everything (and I won't be specific here, but we're talking property and loved ones) is taken away from everything she knows. So this is about her adjusting to a new (and horrific) life, about finding out that her loved ones may have misrepresented their past, coming to terms with her loss, and suffering from PTSD.

And, just let me add, Ronnie is a total jerk. I live in a "blended family" and -- just -- that would NEVER happen. I don't care how grief stricken you are -- isn't there any love or compassion for your non-biological child? He really pissed me off.

I'm not a crier, and this book made me tear up several times, so it is well written and I felt for the characters. I just didn't get the unique premise that I had hoped for.

Published by Little Brown BFYR, May 6, 2014
eBook obtained from NetGalley
288 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review: The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

Oh, gosh. You guys. The Kiss of Deception is a good one. Just finished it. Couldn't wait to write my review.

Lia is one of the most fun and awesome heroines I've been introduced to in a long time. (no offense Calaena, Karou, and Ismae). Lia, short for Jezelia, is a princess. When we begin it's her wedding day. She's being married to some prince who she's never met -- because she's "first daughter" she must succumb to an arranged marriage.

Lia has other ideas. She and her maid, Pauline, run away on horses right before the ceremony. Lia is wearing a jewel-studded cape that will help finance their adventure, and they are pretty tricky about setting false trails.

They arrive at Pauline's hometown of Terravin, where they are helped by Pauline's aunt and get work in her inn and tavern. Lia must stay hidden because there is surely a bounty on her head.

What she doesn't know is that the prince she left at the altar is looking for her. And the "bad guys" have sent an assassin to get rid of her. These two men arrive at the tavern on the same day. What makes the story much more fun is that the reader doesn't know which man is which. And Lia is falling for them -- well, especially ONE of them. Is it the right one?

Lia is in for a horrific adventure at the hands of some really scary men. She's resourceful and strong and never gives up. She also may be developing the "powers" that she is supposed to inherit from her mother. But she doesn't really understand what is happening.

The romance is dreamy and the adventure is heart pounding. There are sad parts too, and of course, deception all around.

The Kiss of Deception stands up to its reputation as a page turner. The ending gives us a little hope, but also a lot of questions still needing answers which will make you count the days until the next book (Heart of Betrayal) is released.

Another great fantasy adventure with a strong female heroine that I know will be immensely popular at my library.

Published by Henry Holt (BYR), July 8, 2014
eARC obtained from NetGalley
496 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Stacking the Shelves - This Week's Books

Not a lot this week, but a couple good ones (I hope!)

For Review:
Compulsion, by Martina Boone from Edelweiss

From the Library:
Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick

That's is for me! How about you? Leave me a link so I can visit you and add to my list. Thanks for stopping by. Make sure you stop by Team Tynga's Reviews and visit all the participating blogs. Have a great week!

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Book Review: Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, by Julie Halpern

The summary of Into the Wild Nerd Yonder makes one think that this will be a touching, meaningful contemporary novel. And it should be. But the pacing is slow, and I didn't get the feels that I should have.

It's the summer before Jessie's sophomore year, and her best friends, Bizza and Char, have reinvented themselves into punk rockers. Jessie's brother is in a punk band, and although he doesn't want them to, the girls start hanging around with the band. Jessie has always had a crush on the drummer, Van.

So when Bizza goes after Van, and ends up in an intimate situation with him, Jessie is hurt, and angry, and gives up on their friendship. And, finally realizes that Van is a real jerk.

So, the second half of the book is about Jessie finding a new set of friends. She has been talking to a nerdy girl who is into Dungeons & Dragons. Since Jessie sews, she's been asked to create costumes for the D&D group. So Jessie very reluctantly goes to these D&D sessions with these nerds and finds a new set of friends and maybe even a romantic interest.

It really takes a long time for things to happen. I found the plot to be very plodding, and after reading about 50% of the book, I started skimming. It was one of those books that you could read a couple paragraphs of each chapter and know what's going on. I did read the last 10% of the book too. I think the second half was better, so I probably should have skimmed the first half.

I really didn't feel very sorry for Jessie. I don't know why. The characterizations are good, the writing is fine, but I didn't see her problems as being that dramatic.

I loved that Jessie has supportive parents and gets along with her brother.  I loved that Jessie listens to audiobooks and the references to the books she was listening to. I loved that Jessie sews, since that is one of my hobbies. So, why didn't I love this book?

The age group for which Into the Wild Nerd Yonder is intended may enjoy this one more than I did. I try to put myself inside my "teenager mind" when I'm reading, but sometimes it's difficult.

Published by Feiwel & Friends, 2009
Purchased eBook
256 pages

Rating: 3/5

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