Thursday, April 30, 2015

Audio Book Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz book cover and review
The House of Silk is a "new" Sherlock Holmes novel, billed as the first pastiche ever officially approved by the Conan Doyle estate.

It's been a while since I've read one of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, but from what I can remember, Horowitz does a good job getting the voice correct.

Watson is supposedly writing this book 25 years after these events, so in that way the story is a bit different, as he refers to current events occasionally.

The story is filled with Holmes' sleuthing and brilliant deductions. It is really two separate cases that end up overlapping. My only complaint is that the story drags in some parts.

One of the cases is to figure out what The House of Silk is, find it, and get rid of it. I must admit I was surprised at what The House of Silk actually was. I expected something more political, I think. Not really a disappointment, but a surprise.

I won't say too much about the plot, after all, that's what makes the reading experience. Just suffice it to say, if you enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories, you won't be disappointed.

Sir Derek Jacobi is the narrator of the audiobook and does a good job. I sometimes got Watson and Holmes confused, especially at first. I also thought his American woman accent was awful, but she doesn't have a big part, so it was not a big deal.

Published by Mulholland, 2011, Hachette Audio
Audiobook obtained from the library
304 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Book Review: The Replaced by Kimberly Derting

I was kind of mixed about The Taking, but I liked it enough to give The Replaced a chance. Turns out my feelings about this series are still pretty much the same.

We pick up right where we left off, with Kyra hiding out at the refugee camp for the Returned. Once again, all Kyra can think of is finding her beloved Tyler, no matter what the risks. When the leader of the camp decides they should go to a secret NSA building where he thinks they are holding Tyler, Kyra is ready.

Things don't go as planned, and the group ends up on the run unable to return. They head for a very different camp for the Returned. They are mostly treated as prisoners and no one trusts anyone. Turns out maybe that's a good idea. There are a few revelations and a huge cliffhanger that made the ending exciting, but I found myself skimming through the middle.

I just can't get a hold of any of these characters. I'm sorry, but Kyra is a snot. I just wish she'd do some growing up. Her attitude just doesn't mesh with the gravity of their situation. Pretty much the same complaints that I had about The Taking. 

The premise is interesting, the prose is easy, and there is a nice build up of tension at the end. But I don't like the characters and the changing attitudes towards each other. I can't understand the relationships, especially when you add in the leaders of this new camp. Even with the cliffhanger, I think this may be the end of this series for me.

However, if you enjoyed The Taking, you will most likely enjoy The Replaced.

Published by HarperTeen, April 28, 2015
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
368 pages

Rating: 2.5/5

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book Review: The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak, by Brian Katcher

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak by Katcher book cover and review
The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak is cute. I know that's a cliche, but this book is the epitome of cute.

Ana and Zak get thrown together at a Sci-Fi convention frantically searching for Ana's brother, and getting into some trouble themselves. I won't go into all of the details, except to say this convention is Zak's life, and Ana is the captain of the debate team who only cares about things she can put on her college application.

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak is also silly. The situations Ana and Zak get into are not very likely. I'm not saying this isn't an entertaining book, because it totally is. But I'm just giving you a heads up about what you are getting into.

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak has been compared to Nick and Norah and Statistical Probability and I think that's fair -- except I found both of those books more romantic and less silly. There are not many swooney moments, and the romance doesn't really happen until the very end.

The side characters are all pretty superficial. Ana's family is definitely strict -- both parents so controlling that it is unhealthy, which is an interesting side story that isn't fully explored. Zak's issue is his stepfather, and that one has more of a satisfying resolution.

The book is engaging and quick. It made me laugh (and roll my eyes.) This isn't a book that will stick with me for long, but I would definitely recommend The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak to teens who enjoy these cute stories about unlikely romances.

Published by Katherine Tegen, May 19, 2015
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
336 pages

Rating: 3/5

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir book cover and review
An Ember in the Ashes was entertaining and kept my attention but didn't wow me like I had hoped.

The story is told from two points of view. Laia, a lowly Scholar,  has allowed herself to be sold as a slave to work for the resistance, who have promised to free her brother who has been imprisoned.

Elias has spent most of his life training to be a Mask, one of the elite soldiers of the Martial Empire who keep the Scholars subservient and docile. He has graduated, but has been having second thoughts about the cruelty he will be required to dispense.  He's been planning for a long time to escape (even though escape will surely cost him his life), but at the last minute he's visited by an Augur (the immortals who are in charge) and convinced that he must fulfill his destiny, and this is the only way he will be happy.

Laia and Elias meet up, and even though neither one trusts each other, they eventually work together (and apart) and their actions have far-reaching consequences for the entire Empire.

I'm torn about An Ember in the Ashes. I really had a hard time getting through it. But I wonder if I didn't get through it because my life was so busy, or was my life so busy because I was avoiding reading this book. It kind of felt like the latter. I pushed through at the end, and I did find that part to be filled with tension and excitement.

Another reason might be because this book seemed so similar to some other recent reads. I recognized elements of The Queen of the Tearling  and Red Queen, both books that I enjoyed, but maybe I'm tired of these types of stories.

The writing was done well. There's a bit of romance, sort of a love "square" but it didn't take over the story. The evil bad people are loathsome. And, although we did end up at an ending, there's sure to be more to this story.

I can definitely recommend An Ember in the Ashes, even if I had some problems. I think the story has great appeal to teens who enjoyed the other books I've mentioned.

Published by Razorbill, April 28, 2015
eARC obtained from NetGalley
464 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: Sekret by Lindsay Smith

Sekret by Lindsay Smith book cover and review
The historical aspect of Sekret was compelling and that's probably why I had problems meshing the paranormal aspect into that setting.

Yulia is trying to survive in the USSR in 1963. This is a world of long lines for rations, hiding from the KGB, and using the black market just to survive. Yulia has a special ability that helps her make good deals -- if she touches someone she can read their thoughts and emotions.

Yulia gets captured and taken to a house where several children with these types of abilities have been training to spy for the government. Yulia knows they have taken her mother and brother somewhere, and her only goal is to escape and rescue them. It is difficult to trust any of the students, since they have varying types of mind reading and pushing abilities. Also, their captors have the same abilities, sometimes even stronger.

So Yulia is trying to survive and keep her captors happy, all the while trying to figure out how she's ever going to escape. They are being hunted by the CIA and Yulia decides maybe they would be better so she's trying to get to them to escape to the west.

I'm not sure what set wrong with me about Sekret. I enjoyed the atmosphere. This was also the time of the space race, and you get the Russian perspective on that. I think the alternate history bothered me a bit. Usually I love this type of story, but some of the powers that the characters had were a bit vague, or maybe too convenient? I had trouble believing the tension as it built. I didn't feel my heart pounding like I think I should have. Like I said, I'm not sure.

I did enjoy reading Sekret. It is written well; it's quick and easy.  I think teens who enjoy alternate history fueled by a paranormal element will enjoy Sekret. The second book in the series, Skandal, was just released.

Published by Roaring Book Press, 2014
Copy obtained from the library
345 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Stacking the Shelves - I Love New Books!

Hi everyone! Hope you are having a great weekend. Here's my new books for this week:

For Review:
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson book cover
Walk on Earth a Stranger, by Rae Carson from Edelweiss

From the Library:
Sekret, by Lindsay Smith Book Cover
Sekret, by Lindsay Smith
Already finished this one. My review will post on Monday.

So that's it for me this week. How about you? Leave me a link. Make sure to visit Team Tynga's Reviews, our hosts. Thanks for visiting.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Feature & Follow -- Spend $100,000!

Alison Can Read Feature & Follow
Happy Friday. It's a fun question today!

Here is €/£/$100,000. Buy something. Anything at all! What would be the first thing you choose, and why? - Suggested by Journey Through Fiction.

Dream swimming pool
'Nuff said? I think the "why" is obvious. I don't have palm trees here in Illinois, but the rest -- I could handle! I can just see myself laying on that lounge chair reading a book.

How about you? How are you going to spend your windfall? Leave me a link in the comments. Be sure to see all the participating blogs over at our hosts, Parajunkee and Alison. Thanks for visiting.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Book Review: Things We Know By Heart, by Jessi Kirby @JessiKirby

Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby book cover and review
Things We Know by Heart is a heartwarming, well-written novel even though it follows a somewhat predictable path.

It has been over a year since Quinn's long time boyfriend (and neighbor) died in a horrible accident, and Quinn is still dealing with the loss. One of the things she has done is write to all of the people who received his organs which were donated when he died. All of them have responded -- except the one who received his heart.

So Quinn becomes obsessed checking dates and news stories on the internet and eventually figures out who has the heart. He, Colton, lives nearby and she decides to meet him. So they form a friendship, and it becomes even more. She never tells him why they happened to meet, and he never tells her he's had a heart transplant.

Every reader knows this is going to blow up in their faces eventually. Quinn has many perfect moments that she could have confessed, but she doesn't. And let's face it, if she did, there wouldn't be this book. I did say this is predictable, but it's teen drama. We're not talking about magical, paranormal surprises. It's a contemporary, and how can they not all be a bit predictable if they are realistic. So that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Especially when you take into consideration the writing and the characters, both of which Kirby does an excellent job creating. I love how Quinn's family is present and supportive. And how Colton's sister is so protective. The ocean setting and kayaking scenes added a lot to the story too. And you won't be disappointed by the ending.

Kirby is a great storyteller, and teens are going to really enjoy Things We Know by Heart.  I look forward to recommending it.

Published by HarperTeen, April 21, 2015
Copy obtained from Edelweiss
304 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Book Review: Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein

Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein cover and review
I enjoyed Becoming Jinn very much, but at times the lore got to be a bit too much.

Azra has just had her 16th birthday, which means she is now a Jinn (Genie). Along with physical changes which enhance her beauty, she also must wear a silver cuff on her wrist which cannot be removed. And she will begin granting wishes as ordered by the Jinn governing council.

Azra is a typical teen, rebelling against her heritage. There are a group of six "new" Jinns that make up her Zar (sisters.) They will help and support each other as Jinns. They are not supposed to get close to humans, but being in the human world and being teens, you know that's not going to happen.

So along with practicing her magic and wish-granting, Azra is negotiating a relationship with her best friend and neighbor (who may be more than a friend?) And she's also getting closer to a hunky lifeguard who works with her at the beach.

She makes mistakes, and as her mother reveals to her some additional "rules" about being a Jinn, she realizes those mistakes may have consequences bigger than Azra ever imagined.

Becoming Jinn is a cute story. I thought the teens were realistic, given they were magical. I never was able to keep straight which Zar was which -- they had distinct characteristics, but just not enough face time to get it all straight. The story took a long time to get going. Once we figure out about the Jinn thing, it seems nothing really happens that is significant until over halfway through the book.

Sometimes in books the criticism is that there isn't enough world building, or I didn't understand the lore behind the magic. Becoming Jinn is pretty much the opposite of that. I got tired of the rules being shoved down my throat over and over. And the threats of going to Jinn hell. Azra and the others refer to this and other rules too much.

The revelations at the end of Becoming Jinn added to my interest in reading the next book. Genies are the "new" paranormal beings, and Becoming Jinn will appeal to teens looking for another type of paranormal romance.

Published by Feiwel & Friends, April 21, 2015
eARC obtained from NetGalley
384 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Audio Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an ending by Julian Barnes book cover and review
While The Sense of an Ending really isn't my type of book, I enjoyed it for the most part.

The Sense of an Ending is narrated by Tony, and it's basically his life story you're going to hear. The novel is a character study -- not much of a plot, although there is an entertaining twist at the end.

Tony tells us about his friendship with three other boys, but in particular a boy named Adrian. They each go their own separate ways during college, and Tony starts up a romantic relationship, which eventually ends. And then Adrian and the ex begin a relationship and Tony loses touch with them. And then Adrian commits suicide.

So, Tony has "come of age" and we've heard a lot of details that seem a bit irrelevant. Once we hurry through Tony's progression to middle age, he begins to look back on his youth and try to make sense of some things. It's a short book, which is good, because I don't think I could have listened to much more.

I can see why this book is award winning. The writing is beautiful. If I hadn't been listening to the audio version, I'm sure I would have had to include some philosophical quotes -- of which there are many.

The narrator, Richard Morant, does a great job and lends authenticity to Tony's voice.

Definitely an adult book, but if you enjoy a meandering, philosophical, introspective look at one man's life (and don't' forget about that twist), then you should try The Sense of an Ending.

Published by Borzoi, 2011
Audiobook obtained from the library
176 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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