Monday, October 8, 2012

Season of Love (#5 Kauffman Amish Bakery), by Amy Clipston

I have to say that I have truly enjoyed this Kauffman Amish Bakery series by Clipston.  I am sure I’ve said this before, but she really rivals Beverly Lewis’s Amish fiction.  If you look at the library you will see dozens of writers of Amish fiction, so I have to hand it to Clipston for managing to come up with something unique.  So many times I’ve seen the same basic story over and over again with very little delineation.  In this five book series, I’ve read five very creative and very different story-lines. 

In Season of Love, Clipston is not only capturing the Amish lifestyle, but it’s also another coming of age story in the series.  While some of the other girls in the earlier books struggled with whether or not to be a part of the Amish community, Katie has no issue there.  Her obstacles only begin after her baptism into the Amish faith.  I think you’ll really enjoy this entire series by Clipston.  The only sad part is that the series is coming to an end.  I will definitely be reading more of Clipston in the future, even if it can’t be more of this series.

The Warrior Heir (#1 Heir Chronicles)

I liked this book.  The only reason I gave it 3 instead of 4 stars was because it was good, just not great.  It had all the elements I enjoy in a story, but nothing was truly amazing.  There was a pretty cool premise, one that I hadn’t seen before in the modern supernatural genre that is so popular now.  It utilized a lot of the fairy tale characters you would expect and a healthy dose of valor and honor thrown in for good measure.  Chima’s characters were likable enough and pretty believable.  There was one or two scenes that I thought could have been done a little better, and might have been more realistic if we’d had a bit more insight into the characters involved beforehand.  I do applaud Chima on not being afraid to think outside the box and for throwing a fair amount of surprises and obstacles into the mix. 

I did really like how realistic Jack was, and how he reacted so predictably to his sudden change in circumstances.  I thought that some of the supporting characters could have used a bit more attention and it might have made the story that much better.  I think that is the only reason it took me longer than usual to read The Warrior Heir.  With its short length I usually would have knocked it out in a day or two maximum, but it ended up taking me about half the week to get through it.  It just seemed that there was something else more interesting to do each day, than to finish it. 

I will read the next book, The Wizard Heir, and I’ll let that one cinch it for me.  If it’s better than good I’ll probably continue with the series, and if it’s only marginal, it will probably be the end of the line for Chima and me.  I should also mention though that I got this as an impulse read while browsing at the library without my list, so for that, it wasn’t half bad.  I have certainly picked worse books in similar situations.

Clockwork Angel (#1 Infernal Devices), by Cassandra Clare

I’d decided to begin reading The Infernal Devices series after I finished reading all of the available Mortal Instruments series by Clare.  I have thoroughly enjoyed all five of the Mortal Instruments series and honestly have no idea how I will manage to survive until March of 2014 to read City of Heavenly Fire!  After reading the Clockwork Angel, I can already tell that I’m going to have a hard time waiting on the releases of future books in this series as well.  The Infernal Devices is a prequel to the Mortal Instrument series and it chronicles the earlier years of the Clave when the Accords were still new and Magnus Bane was still in love with Camille Belcourt. Ha!

Clockwork Angel was impressive.  It was nothing like what I expected it to be.  I've already fallen in love with this generation of Shadow Hunters and with the elusive Tessa Gray.  I fell in love with Clare’s signature style when I read City of Bones, but I had a hard time pinpointing what it was about her writing that made it superior to others in the young adult genre.  I think I’m finally able to explain it, after reading 6 of her books.   

Clare manages to weave a thrilling story full of surprising plot twists in language that all readers can enjoy and understand.  Reading Clare is always a pleasure, because she allows the creativity of the plot lead the story, rather than complicated back story or contrived words.  I’m not saying that Clare has a limited vocabulary, quite the contrary; Clare uses the language like it’s meant to be used, choosing the words that best compliment her story-line.  What Clare doesn't do is complicate things.  She keeps things simple and straightforward, allowing the story-line to grow in complexity naturally over the course of the series, instead of trying to explain everything all at once, in one book.  And she uses terms already widely known, rather than making up a bunch of words that the reader has to learn in order to understand the story-line.  And Clare’s stories are always magic.  I can’t wait to see what happens next in Clockwork Prince. 

Crossed (Matched #2), by Ally Condie

I adored Matched, the first book of the series, and when it finally arrived I was stoked.  I started reading it as soon as I could, and I was pretty riveted by the suspense.   I loved how Condie kept me on the edge of my seat and the agony that I experienced in those pages reminded me of the second book of the Earth's Children series, Valley of the Horses.  Just like Valley of the Horses, although you can see it coming from the beginning, it still seems like Jondalar and Ayala are never going to find one another.  Crossed has that same feeling, you can see it coming from a mile away, but it feels like it's never going to happen.  

I was excited that we got to see into Ky's mind a little more in Crossed.  We were fed bits and pieces of his story throughout Crossed, and by the end of the book I felt like I knew him better, although I still wasn't sure if I truly understood him or Cassia.  Condie's characters seem to have this strange lack of commitment to any particular way of thinking.  I feel like I can't quite trust any of them, because I don't really know what is in or out of character for any of the main characters, despite being 2/3 of the way through the trilogy.  We also were introduced to several new characters in Crossed, but I don't feel like I'm really any closer to knowing them either.  We did learn some unexpected and very interesting things about Xander, that I hope are explained in the final book.

Condie did manage to surprise me a few times throughout the story, but I have to admit that I felt letdown once the suspense was over.  It was sort of anti-climactic, after the stellar lead in.  Despite the lack of excitement near the end of the story, I still hold out a lot of hope for the final book in the Matched Trilogy.  I'll definitely be tuning in to read Reached, when it comes out next month.  I'm hoping that Crossed just fell into that difficult "middle child" slot that often plagues trilogies, and that the "baby" will be as amazing as I thought Matched was.  

Follow me on my Facebook page.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fallen (#1 Fallen), by Lauren Kate

Well, I must admit that this book started off a little rocky for me.  If it hadn't been for so many of my friends giving it good ratings I might not have soldiered on.  Just when I was about to give up, around page 100, I read a  review that indicated that I wasn't the only one who was rather confused as to what on earth was going on.  The reviewer warned that the book was a slow starter and that the first 1/3 was pretty confusing, but after that the book got really good.  So I stuck with it, and I'm so glad I did.

Kate's baffling beginnings all began to make sense as I got further into the book.  She began to reveal the complex and intricate back story that was so very necessary to the plot.  In fact, it was quite brilliant how she revealed secrets piecemeal to Luce, the main character.  The reader was only given a few little snippets that Luce wasn't aware of herself.  Most of the details we had to wait for and figure them out as the story progressed.  I thought it was a wonderful way of putting the reader into the shoes of the character so you feel like you're actually experiencing it all with her for the first time as well.

I also enjoyed Kate's writing.  She told the story with just the right combination of dialogue and narration so I never felt bored with it.  This is something that I don't see enough of in young adult writing. It seems there is a definite trend towards over explaining things that really gets on my nerves.  It's ok to paint me a picture of the room, or what a person looks like, but I don't want you to do it for every location and every person.  I realize that the "gossip girl" trend is something that many young adult readers do appreciate; I'm just not one of them.  Too many details or name-drops about a particular dress or designer just irritates me and, in my opinion, takes away from the story.  I am here because I'm in love with the characters, because I want to see them overcome whatever awful obstacle they are forced to deal with, not because I want to know who designed their shoes they are wearing!  It's just not my thing.

All that being said I really enjoyed Fallen, and I can't wait to get my hands on Torment, the next book in the series.  I loved how Kate totally left me hanging after the last chapter and then gave me something else to worry about in the epilogue.  It's fantastic when you literally cannot wait to read the next book in a series, and Kate pulled that off flawlessly.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Grave Peril (#3 The Dresden Files), by Jim Butcher

Ah, Harry Dresden, what's not to love about him?  He's charming, witty, and constantly in over his head.  He reminds me so much of the main character of Weeds, the TV show.  Like Nancy Botwin, he always manages to wriggle his way out of situations that should have left him dead and instead left him only permanently scarred.  He has more bravado than good sense, but somehow, just like Nancy, it works for him.  

Grave Peril continued the saga of Harry's life.  Once again you'll find Harry doing what's right regardless of the consequences and you'll wonder just how he'll manage to escape death this time around.  Each time I think that he's not going to be able to do it this time, I remember that there are about a dozen more books after this one, so I breathe a sigh of relief and hunker down to figure out just how he does it this time.  

The characters are funny; the writing is great, if you haven't tried one of these books yet, you should give it a whirl.  It's a great rainy day read, especially with Halloween coming up just around the corner.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Matched (#1 Matched), Ally Condie

I have to say that I loved this book!  Matched had some semi-familiar themes, but I thought that Condie delivered them flawlessly.  To me it had the same sort of essence as the Giver did, but for an older audience. I've read several negative reviews about Matched, comparing it to other dystopian romances and saying how boring and uninspired it was.  I have to disagree.  Sure if you read a lot of dystopian romances you are going to see some recurrent themes, but that doesn't mean it's not worth reading.  

I thought that Condie was a great writer--her timing was spot-on and her writing style was fluid.  It was definitely a page turner, including love, tension, and just the right amount of fear to keep you interested.  It was also a coming of age tale, as the heroine Cassia, begins to grow and mature as a young woman and begins to realize that the perfect society she was born into may not be as perfect as she'd always thought.  I also loved how she showed the different aspects of the governments control  in such detail.  I found that aspect of the book fascinating.

To the naysayers, I may have to assume that dystopian romances just aren't their thing.  But as for myself, I enjoy dystopian writing immensely, and despite reading many other dystopian novels I still greatly enjoyed this one.  I am still waiting for the next book to be available at the library, but I'm anxiously looking forward to finding out what happens next.  

The Next Best Thing,by Jennifer Weiner

I hate to say it, but as far as Jennifer Weiner’s books are concerned, The Next Best Thing was a colossal disappointment.  I fell in love with Weiner’s wit and refreshingly honest sense of humor.  She was brash and ballsy, and she called it like she saw it.  Her characters were charming, devilish, and likeable.  I anxiously anticipated the release of The Next Best Thing, and I had my name on the request list at the library before the book was even available.  When I finally got my copy I went ahead and started reading it, even though it meant I’d have to return some other books that I hadn’t gotten around to reading because the due date was fast approaching. 

Maybe my standards have been set to high, but this book just felt all wrong.  It seemed rushed, thrown together, and not at all like what I’d come to expect from Weiner.  Sure there were some good scenes but there were some other kind of raunchy (and in my opinion unnecessary) scenes as well.  I’m no prude, but the sex we did see in the book seemed either dirty or smutty or just plain weird. 

Usually I fall in love with Weiner’s heroines, but this time I found myself liking other supporting characters like Grandma and Big Dave better than I liked Ruthie.  And while I didn’t find the jumping back and forth in time to be hugely difficult to follow, as some other reviewers have pointed out, I found that I liked the back more than the forth.  I couldn’t seem to help but wish that the entire book would have been about Ruthie’s childhood instead of her adult life because it was more interesting and compelling. 

There were a few moments of greatness where I sensed that the Weiner I know and love was still present, but overall the book was a flop.  In hindsight I found that she had dealt with some personal letdowns within the realm of Hollywood that may have helped to taint this latest project.  I hope that if The Next Best Thing was her way of purging her own painful Hollywood experience that she has managed to expel it completely, so she can come back in her next book, stronger than ever.

I’m not ready to write Weiner off yet, no one is perfect, and I can’t expect anyone, even famous authors, to always bat 100.  I’m still going to read her next book and give her another shot at wowing me like she did in all of her previous novels then we’ll just pretend this book never happened.  J

Keeping the Moon, by Sara Dessen

Keeping the Moon was an impulse grab that I actually did quite enjoy.  I hadn’t read anything else of Dessen’s, but I had heard of her.  A few of her other books were on my “to read” list, but none of them were available that day at the library, so I grabbed Keeping the Moon instead. 

In Keeping the Moon, Dessen tells the story of Colie, a teenage misfit who is sent to live with her bizarre aunt while her mother is busy touring Europe to promote her fitness program.  Although Colie’s always thought her aunt was a little strange, over the summer they spend together she finally begins to understand where her aunt is coming from.  Along the way she begins to understand herself a little better as well, and even her own mother.  Her summer is filled with days of working in the local bar and grill where she gets a summer job.  Her nights spent with her wacky aunt and friends she makes in the small town. 

This is a classic coming of age story with twists and turns that keep it interesting.  It may not have been the best book I read this year, but I appreciated Dessen’s writing style, and the story kept me entertained.  Dessen reminded me just what it felt like to be a confused teenager who always seemed just a little confused, a little out of place, and always just a few steps behind everyone else.  This was a quick read, so it’d be great for a day at the beach or even a rainy day indoors.  And like I always say, “I love a book that can make me laugh and cry.” 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bullyville, by Francine Prose

This book was ok, not great.  In its defense I had no idea what I was picking up when I saw it.  The bold title BULLYVILLE stood out on the cover and I grabbed it impulsively and threw it in the stack of the books I’d check out of the library that day.  This happens to me on occasion, although I have nearly 700 books on my ‘to read’ list already; I’m still prone to impulse grabs.  I’m rarely disappointed by these last minute additional selections.  In fact, I’ve discovered some of my favorite authors that way, like Cecilia Ahern and Jennifer Weiner.  If I hadn’t stumbled upon their books accidentally I’d never have found them.  Unfortunately, my instincts were off on this one.  I had just read an amazing book about bullying called Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers and so the idea of a book about bullying was appealing.  Perhaps I should have known that it would be hard to live up to the predecessor. 

Bullyville is actually about a kid whose family survives the tragedy of 9/11, but not in fully in tact.  He ends up at a private school well-known for its bully problem.  The story revolves around his issues at school and home and has a rather boring ending.  That being said, I wouldn’t fault Prose’s writing style for any of Bullyville’s faults.  It was more a lack of creativity than poor sentence structure.  The plotline had such potential that it was sad to see it fall so far short of great. In the end I wouldn’t really recommend this book.  It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great.  

Fear (#5 Gone), by Michael Grant

As PLAGUE drew to an end with Little Pete vanishing, Astrid taking off, the semi-truce between Sam’s Lake commune and Caine’s town dictatorship, and Drake/Brittney still on the loose there is plenty of stuff going on in FEAR.  Grant continues to provide us with more of the non-stop action that we’ve seen pretty much since the FAYZ’s inception, but Grant does still manage to deliver some surprise twists that shocked me. 

I have to say that Grant has done a superb job of making sure to give me just enough hints to keep me from getting angry and giving up, while being just vague enough that I’m never sure if I’ve guessed right.  But I suppose with only one more book to go, Grant is going to dangle a few bones to make sure that we tune back in when LIGHT releases in 2013.  By far, the most thrilling part of FEAR is that Grant is finally answering the questions that have been plaguing my mind since GONE.  He’s beginning to fill in the holes of what we know, with actual facts, rather than just innuendo and suspicion. 

FEAR has been my favorite book in this series.  Finally finding out how the FAYZ began and why, what the gaiaphage is, and just what these kids are capable of has been amazing.  I am on pins and needles waiting for LIGHT to release; I may have to read something else of Grant’s in order to keep me from going crazy waiting.

Plague (#4 Gone), by Michael Grant

After the massive fallout at the end of LIES where Astrid demotes herself back to civilian by resigning her seat on the council, I wasn’t sure what to expect from PLAGUE, other than the obvious.  After Caine had successfully removed himself from Perdido Beach and set himself up on the island where electricity still exists and food is plenty I wondered if his conflict with Sam would be forgotten for the time being.  I wondered if the new characters would change any of the dynamics of Perdido Beach.  I still wasn’t prepared for what actually happened in PLAGUE. 

Grant never ceases to amaze me with his unpredictable storylines.  As the plague spreads through the town, all civility seems to break down, and an unfortunate series of events will bring some really unforeseen changes to Perdido Beach.  The lines between black and white grow even blurrier as more and more kids fall victim to the plague.  By the end of this chapter in the FAYZ there will be irrevocable changes and shifts in power that I couldn’t have begun to guess before reading it.

Garden of Angels, by Lurlene McDaniel

I have this deep (and I’ll admit…morbid) fascination for stories with tragic characters or plots, and I’m not entirely sure why.  I never really had to deal with friends dying for any reason during my childhood, so it wasn’t personal experience that intrigued me.  Nevertheless, when my fourth grade teacher read us one of McDaniel’s books, I was hooked.  There was something deeply captivating for me in the lives of these kids who weren’t sure they would live to see another birthday.  This idea of never knowing what tomorrow may bring both terrified and enthralled me.  The idea that kids could die struck some cord within me that I’d never really examined before.    

For the most part McDaniel’s writing style hasn’t changed in all these years that I’ve been reading her books, but I have to admit that there was something different about Garden of Angels.  While all of McDaniel’s books are heartrending and deeply emotional, Garden of Angels took it a step further.  Not only was it based in the past, rather than the usual more modern settings, but this was the first book by McDaniel that felt personal.  I noticed right from the beginning that this one was going to be different, but it wasn’t until the end of the book, in the author’s note to the reader, that I understood why it seemed so much more private than any of her previous books had been.  That being said, it touched me more deeply than her other books have as well.  

A Life of Joy (#4 Kauffman Amish Bakery), by Amy Clipston

Finally we get back to Jessica and Lindsey, the two teens who were transported directly from the English world into the old world Amish community when their parents were killed in the first book of this series.  I’ve really admired Clipston’s unique storylines throughout this series, but I have to admit I’ve really been wondering when we’d find out more about Lindsey and Jessica.  Aside from a few cameo appearances in the last two books, the storylines have really focused on other members of the Kauffman family. But ever since Rebecca agreed to allow Jessica to live with some English friends of her parents and Lindsey decided to stay in the Amish community, I’ve wondered if Clipston would revisit these two. 

A Life of Joy has rewarded my patience!  This book revisits Lindsey as she is nearing adulthood.  Lindsey begins feeling pressure from both sides as her older sister pushes one agenda, and her Amish friends and family push another.  When an unexpected accident occurs she feels even more strain.  She feels compelled to make a decision to either be baptized into the Amish community or to rejoin the English world that she left behind so long ago.  In this coming of age story, Lindsey learns how let go of the expectations of those around her and finally begins to realize just who she is and what path is right for her.  I am holding out hope that the next book in this installment may tell Jessica’s story, now that she’s a young woman with important decisions of her own to make.

Lies (Gone #3), by Michael Grant

Things are definitely starting to get a bit sketchy in the FAYZ as Grant’s third book in the GONE series kicks off.  The first two books focused primarily on the initial days that followed the apocalyptic event that separated all the kids of the small town of Perdido Beach from the rest of civilization.  GONE was all about who should be in charge, and how to organize the masses into some form of civilization.  HUNGER on the other hand focused less on who was in charge and more on making sure that everyone who was left survived as food and other necessities became increasingly scarce. 

In both of these books, the twin brothers Sam and Caine, spent a lot of time fighting in the typical good vs. evil scenarios so popular in these types of books.  In fact the GONE novels remind me a lot of the superhero comic books with the evil villain always trying to gain power over the poor masses while a superman like character swoops in to save the day.  The only real difference in this series is that in the end of both the first two books Sam and Caine were forced to work together in order to ensure their own survival as well as the survival of the town.

At the end of Hunger, it’s revealed that Little Pete may have been responsible for the FAYZ in some form or fashion and not only that, but he also may be more powerful than anyone else around (including Caine and Sam). 

Beginning with the secrets and lies surrounding Little Pete, and continuing as all of the players in the game begin to form alliances LIES is also the first of the series, in my opinion, that really breaks down that typical black and white mentality and starts to paint every character and situation in shades of grey.  The natural leaders and those who have been put in charge officially must attempt to decide just how much honesty is healthy in the FAYZ.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy #1)

I had this one for awhile before I picked it up.  It’s another one of those stories that I thought might not be too great since it was my impression that it was telling another fairy tale that has been retold so many times, in so many ways.  I also had been reading Game of Thrones and I was afraid it would be too similar to it and bore me.  I had heard reviews that it was great from some family members and friends, but nothing too specific.  Well, I couldn’t have agreed more after reading it that it was great.  I so wish that the rest of the series was available, it’s going to be a long wait for this one to come out in 2013 (I’m beginning to think this is the story of my life, LOL).

I picked this up thinking it would be a new twist on the classic Prince and the Pauper story which I know and love.  Well I do now know that I love The False Prince, but it really didn’t turn out to be the story I thought it would be going in.  Instead there are more twists and turns in this short page turner than I could have imagined.  Many times I thought I may have it all figured out just to read another page and feel completely uncertain again.  Nielson is great at intrigue; if she ever quits her job as a writer she may be able to get one as an international spy.  Her story was simply told, but the plot and the characters were anything but one dimensional. 

I also appreciated the way that she left some things hanging out there in the balance, things that could go either way in the next book, while making sure that you still had that feeling of a “happy ending”.  So many writers seem almost afraid to give you a “happy ending” because you might not come back for the next book. Nielson, on the other hand, lets her writing speak for itself by being unafraid of giving the reader the “happy ending” they deserve. 

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1), by George R. Martin

I will admit that I had mixed feelings about reading this one to begin with, but at the encouragement of several other book lovers like me who had read it, I decided to give it a whirl.  I wasn’t unsure about reading it because of the genre, or any negative reviews I’d heard, I was simply unsure if the book would - A) live up to the high expectations I had after watching the first season of this show, and/or B) would be diverse enough from the show to hold me captivated for 694 pages.  In previous other instances where I watched the film or television show prior to reading the book I’d always felt bogged down by the book and slightly bored even if subsequent books in the series were amazing.  It’s not that the book was going to be poorly written (for if so why would anyone have even considered turning it into a movie/show), but now exciting can it get if you already know most of the major conflicts as well as their resolution.

I wasn’t entirely wrong in my assumptions, but I’m still glad I read the book.  It took me a bit longer to read it than normal and I did take a few breaks from it to read other books that were less predictable during that time.  The reason that I’m glad I did go ahead and read it was that there were enough plot points that the televised version skimmed over or omitted altogether that had I just started with the second book in the series I would have been likely to have had some moments of definite confusion. 

So my advice is this, if you haven’t yet seen the show, read the first book in the series first.  Once you’ve read the first book, watch the entire first season.  If you’ve already watched the first season but loved it enough to not want to have to wait to find out what happens next, you’re going to want to read the book.  And lastly if you really can’t handle reading the first book after having seen the show, just skip it and hope that Martin recaps enough of the changes to keep you from becoming too lost in the books that follow.  I’m sure it won’t be too bad.

All that being said, lets get down to brass tacks.  Martin is a stupendous writer.  He uses that style where you jump from one character to another each chapter which keeps it interesting.  He tends to make you wait just long enough for new information on any particular character to keep you in suspense for much of the book, or at least I would have been had I not already known what was going to happen next to all of the characters.  Nevertheless, Martin manages to write a 700 page book that can actually keep you interested and keep you reading to the end, leaving you with just enough questions left unanswered that you are anxious to get your hands on the next book.  And lucky for you, the entire series has been written already, so you shouldn’t have too hard a time getting hold of the next book.  I’m looking forward to reading the next one myself.

Miss Peregine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Well, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children left something to be desired, I’m afraid to say.  From the outside, it seemed like the perfect little horror story to curl up with on the cold and rainy day that I chose to read it.  The macabre pictures were thoroughly old and creepy; a few actually made me even feel a bit squeamish.  It started out interesting enough, and continued on, if not quite as horrific as the illustrations would have suggested to this unsuspecting reader.  I could deal with that. 

What I didn’t appreciate at all was the way it ended.  Things were going along quite reasonably until I neared maybe the last 50-75 pages.  It was around that marker that I realized there was no way this story was going to have a cohesive ending with so few pages left.  I just couldn’t imagine it all being tied up neatly within such a short period of time. And I wasn’t wrong.

Now, I understand the theory of leaving the reader hanging a bit at the end.  It is usually a rather effective way to get them to go out and buy the next book when it is published.  It’s a strategy that can be frustrating for a really enthusiastic reader like me who falls in love with my favorite characters and can hardly stand the suspense of waiting months or even years to find out what has become of them.  But I get it.  I don’t blame the writer.  Not everyone is as loyal as I am to a good series.  Not everyone would tune in for the next installment if the current book ended neatly and left them with no questions or concerns about the future of the characters they’d been reading about.

What I don’t appreciate is when an ending feels forced—when the writing, that had so far been pretty great, suddenly seems to become stilted and boring.  I do not appreciate it when the ending doesn’t seem to match the rest of the story, and when the final choice the main character makes goes against everything you thought you’d learned about them in the first two thirds of the story.  It makes me sit back and wonder what on earth happened.  Why did this character suddenly start behaving in such an uncharacteristic fashion?  Furthermore, it leaves me wondering if I’m even going to like the next book and whether or not I even want to know what happens next, because the character has changed so abruptly that I don’t recognize them anymore and I’m not entirely sure if I like this new character much.

So that is why I’m just not entirely sure that I should recommend this book to you.  If you don’t mind a book that starts of great but has a crappy ending, then go for it.  I’m not sure I’ll read the next one myself.  When I initially finished the first book I figured I would read the next one just to be sure the previous ending was a fluke, but after further thinking I am just not sure that I want to possibly subject myself to being so disappointed again, if it turns out that Riggs just writes horrible endings.  I want to believe that this was just a horrible decision on the part of the editor who thought that series and trilogies are just more popular nowadays and so they convinced Riggs to divide one book into multiple books, but I’m not sure that I believe it the more I think on it.  I guess only time will tell if my irritation will be overcome by my curiosity.

The Selection (Book One of Selection), by Kiera Cass

I greatly enjoyed The Selection and I am slightly heartbroken that I’ll have to wait until sometime in 2013 to read the sequel The Elite!  This was just a fantastic dystopian romance.  Now I had my qualms when I read the description of this book.  I wondered if it would be the same old common girl turns princess story that has been done time and time again.  But while The Selection lacked a unique storyline, Cass certainly managed to make up for it’s humble plot by executing it flawlessly. 

Cass’s characters were so perfect.  Some of them were a bit cliché, but not in a bad way at all.  These more familiar roles were always necessary to the plot, and I never got the sense that any of them were thrown in for any reason other than that.  Cass had a lot of characters, but with each of them being so well constructed, no one was hard to remember.  Every character from the panic stricken ladies maid to the overbearing social climbing mother played a part in making this Cinderella tale come to life.  Without any of them, it might not have come out the same. 

It’s not every day that you find a writer capable of the magic that Cass has shown in this novel.  If her other novels fail to impress I’ll be astounded.  My only real fear is that she’ll sell so many copies of this novel that she’ll retire young and we won’t get to see anymore of her mastery.  

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor, by Lucy Christopher

Christopher makes Stolen feel like a memoir rather than a fictional novel because Gemma tells the story of her kidnapping through a letter written to Ty, her captor. I loved that Christopher managed to make me feel like I was inside Gemma’s mind, as she chronicled her experience from the very beginning, sometimes day by day, sometimes moment by moment.  Her unique point of view allowed me to better understand just what a kidnap victim could experience. 

Throughout her letter to Ty, Gemma is brutally honest.  She reveals that there were confusing and complicated layers of emotion going on at different points in her story.  Because I've never been kidnapped, I cannot truly know if Gemma's experience is as authentic as it seemed to be, but regardless of it’s authenticity, I was very impressed with Christopher and I look forward to reading more from her in the future. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Widow for A Year, by John Irving

If I'm being honest I was not super impressed with Irving this time around.  When comparing A Widow for a Year to his other more controversial and edgy works like Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany, it just fell short.  I realize that every book cannot be a masterpiece, and that certainly a single writer is going to have some books that just aren't as wildly popular as others, but after experiencing the best of Irving, I was really surprised by how little this book moved me.

The writing was solid, exactly what I've come to expect from Irving.  The content just wasn't as fascinating as the other books of his that I've read previously.  He managed to make his topic about as entertaining as it could possibly be, but unfortunately I didn't find the topic that interesting to begin with.  

Irving is a master at bringing several diverse "mini-stories" with a central unifying and underlying theme into one cohesive plot.  He also manages to weave the varying perspectives of multiple characters and multiple time lines seamlessly into that plot.  This is no small feat, and when you read any of his novels, you can't help but be impressed by how flawlessly he manages this.  

Irving's characters are well developed and generally unique while still be relatable enough that you can easily picture them and understand why they react the way they do within the story.  They become so realistic by the end of the story that you do feel as if you know them, as if they are real people you have encountered in your life.

I didn't care for the story much, and probably wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't been listening to it on my daily commute to and from work.  Because it was an audio book and because I didn't have anything better to listen to on my way to work each day, I finished it.  It probably wouldn't have made the cut now that my commute has been shortened to a mere 10 minutes round trip.  I can't stress enough that it wasn't the writing style or writer's ability that kept me from enjoying A Widow for a Year.  I simply wasn't interested in the storyline.  Irving writes a wide variety of novels, about many different, often controversial, themes.  If the synopsis of Widow for a Year doesn't sound like your cup of tea, I recommend that you check out all of Irving's books and pick one that does appeal to your tastes.  If you are interested in the basic premise of one of Irving's books then I can almost grantee you will not be disappointed.

Fifty Shades Freed (Book Three of Fifty Shades), by E.L. James

After the disappointment of Darker, I was so relieved to find that I thoroughly enjoyed the final book of the Fifty Shades trilogy.  I was relieved to find that the marriage had been carried out as I began book three, and that Ana and Christian finally seemed to be able to enjoy the bliss of their new relationship as a married couple.

James really surprised me with this last book.  He found the pace that had won me over in the first book, which was so painfully missing in Darker.  If Ana had begun to come into her own in Darker, she truly blossomed in Freed.  Just as the title implies, she and Christian discover so much more about one another and about themselves in Freed that they are finally able to just be.  

James also threw several curve balls in Freed that were sorely lacking in Darker.  Without giving away what unexpected things happened, suffice it to say that both Christian and Ana are pushed to their breaking points that will at times leave you wondering whether or not they will manage to keep their marriage in tact despite everything they must overcome in order to be together and to be happy.

As the final book in a trilogy, Freed was everything I could have hoped for and more.  By the end of the book each and every character had been tied up with a neat little bow and I wasn't left wondering what became of any of the characters I'd grown to love.  I also must confess that I was pleased with the outcomes for each and every one of the characters by the time I finished the book.  Some of these outcomes took me by complete surprise, but they were each perfectly thought out and well written.

As much as I was disappointed in Darker, I was conversely thrilled with Freed. If you struggled to get through Darker and weren't sure you should even bother with Freed despite how much you loved Grey, I urge you to give Freed a chance.  I don't think you'll be disappointed that you did.

Fifty Shades Darker, by E. L. James

After the emotional roller coaster ride I experienced while reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I was rather surprised with the lack of intensity I felt during Fifty Shades Darker.  I will admit that I was quite disappointed on the whole with this second book in the trilogy.  The pace that James set was much slower than the previous book, and it really seemed as if nothing really happened in the plot.   The first book spanned a shorter time period than this one, but it felt so much more fulfilling and just so much "more".  It's hard to put my finger on it.  

While Grey was full of Ana's awakening and her discoveries of her "inner goddess" and contained many sexual scenes which bordered right on the edge of what I felt comfortable reading, Darker was tame in comparison and rather dull.  The whirlwind courtship of Grey was super exciting and took me, emotionally, from one end of the spectrum of emotions, clear to the opposite end.  I experienced everything from pure elation to deepest despair, along with every emotion in between.  

The one thing I truly did enjoy from Darker was the way James began to show how Christian became who he was.  Throughout this second book, James takes us deeper and deeper into the mind of Christian and you really begin to see how damaged he was by his past, and just who was to blame for his worst domineering characteristics.  We also begin to understand why he is the way he is, as he begins to understand who Ana is and why she cannot "fall in line".  

Ana really grew in her independence and in her confidence in Darker.  She "came into her own", so to speak.  The only real problem I had with her blossoming is that it seemed rushed.  She went from this inexperienced virgin to virtual sex goddess seemingly overnight.  I thought that was rather unrealistic.  Generally it takes women some time to grow confident in their sexuality, even with a partner they've had for a long time before sexual relations, they need time to become truly comfortable in their new role.  

The other bright spot in this dragging middle book was the growth Christian showed.  He began to make changes in how he dealt with the world, changes for the better, because of Ana's influence.  This was a delight to see.  I am still hoping the final book in the trilogy will save the series.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Masquerade (Blue Bloods #2) by Melissa de la Cruz

A brain with no heart and no reasoning ... well, nothing is more meaningless.” Masquerade (Blue Bloods #2) by Melissa de la Cruz

I'm still not completely won over on this series yet. I'm somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, I think the story is a little rushed and doesn't go into detail enough about the basic plot. A lot of stuff is just skimmed over without ever getting very deep. I think that Cruz could have replaced a lot of the "gossip girl" fashion and society tid bits with a deeper plot and the book would have been a lot more appealing to my tastes. It's not that these details make the story bad, they just don't make it any better, in my opinion. Besides, gossip girl has its own books, if I want to read about Manhattan socialite society. I can see why this particular type of book is in demand though, and there may be a large audience who prefers the books light and overflowing with descriptions of the latest trends and how the elite interact with the world.

Cruz did manage to slip in a few twists and turns to the plot, but nothing super exciting yet. Perhaps the future books will show Cruz grow as a writer, like the Cast's did in the House of Night novels, each book getting a little bit better than the one before.

I am curious enough to keep reading the series to see what happens next, and hoping that future books are more intriguing.

City of Lost Souls (Mortal Instruments #5) by Cassandra Clare

“I don't care," Clary said. "He'd do it for me. Tell me he wouldn't. If I were missing-"
"He'd burn the whole world down till he could dig you out of the ashes. I know," Alec said.”
-- City of Lost Souls, Mortal Instruments #5, by Cassandra Clare

In the latest saga of the Mortal Instruments series, Clary and Jace must face a whole new slew of obstacles even more dangerous than their previous adventures have been. Clary always seems to inspire loyalty among her counterparts, and to bring those together working towards a common goal, who would otherwise be opposed to one another if not outright enemies. Clary manages to transcend those lines that her predecessors have so carefully drawn to separate Downworlders from The Clave, angels and demons, the young and the old, etc.

The Mortal Instruments is also first and foremost a love story that just doesn't get old. I keep coming back, time and again, hoping that this will be the book where Jace and Clary finally manage to be together, to make it through to the other side in one piece. It's that typical star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet theme, that always leaves you hoping that maybe, this time, they will get their chance.

Clare is a great writer, and her latest book is no exception. Her characters become more real to you with each book she writes, and while I wouldn't call them predictable, I would say that they respond to the situations they are faced with in a way that is true to their character. Clare has outdone herself again!

The unpredictability of the series is something that is still astonishing to me. That, even after five books, Clare still manages to surprise me time and again. She is a creative genius when it comes to plot twists and keeping the audience captive. I always read her books so incredibly quickly because, so much like Suzanne Collins, the writer of the Hunger Games, her timing and pacing is incredibly astute.

I cannot believe I will have to wait until March 2014 before I can get a copy of the next book. It's going to be a long year! I think I may end up tackling her other newer series that begins with Clockwork Angel, I believe. Perhaps it will help while the time away until the next of the Mortal Instruments is complete.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hunger (Book Two of Gone Series), by Michael Grant

Book Two of Gone Series
Written by Michael Grant

"Super powers don't always make you a super hero." -- Hunger, Book Two of Gone Series, by Michael Grant

This is the second book of the Gone series, written by Michael Grant. I came across this series after searching for books similar to the Hunger Games Trilogy, which I loved. Grant's series of books revolve around a town which suddenly becomes cut off from the rest of the world after all the people over the age of 15 disappear. If you haven't read Gone, start here.

As I've found common in many long series, there are going to be books that are more exciting than others. For me, Hunger was one of those more tedious reads. Grant's ability to keep me in just enough suspense by using the countdown concept at the beginning of each chapter again and my own natural curiosity about what would happen in this phase of the FAYZ helped me through the drier sections of the book.

Hunger begins, just a few weeks after Gone ended after Caine and Sam had managed to keep from jumping. Since word spread that it was possible to stay, many more kids were able to remain after their 15th birthday. Unfortunately, for those who stayed, life was beginning to get a little more unpredictable as their food stores began to dwindle and all of the inhabitants of the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone) start to get really really hungry.

Grant does a good job of exploring this inevitable phase in a post apocalyptic environment. I felt like he took a realistic view of how a village filled with children and teens would react to their sudden isolation--both the mistakes they would make and the ways in which they would overcome obstacles. Like any good dystopia, the Gone series is more about delving into the human psyche and exploring how people react to such unexpected and life altering circumstances.

Grant also manages to give the reader unique and complex characters that are deep and real--characters you either love, and even those you love to hate. His characters can be utterly predictable at times, and then at other times they will behave in ways that have you gasping with surprise. Grant kept me guessing about who will fall victim to the "mob mentality", who will rise above, who will encourage others to rise above, who will lead, who will rebel, etc. I love these characters.

The final pages of Hunger leave you wanting more, just like Gone did. I have to know what happened to these kids. I need to know what obstacles they will be forced to face next, what horrific decisions they'll be forced to make, and if they will ever manage to truly band together. You are left with that knowledge that it is imperative that they learn to work together if they have a hope of survival.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Queen of Swords (Book Five of Wilderness Saga), by Sara Donati

Queen of Swords
Book 5 of Wilderness
Written by Sara Donati
I must begin by saying that I am terribly fond of Donati's writing, and the Wilderness Series of books she has written. Due to a series of simple mistakes I have actually read all but one of the books in this series, book four, but I read them out of order. I began with Endless Forests (book 6); not realizing it was the conclusion of a six book series, followed by books one, two, three, and five (which I had mistaken for book 4). Presently the only book of the series I haven't read is book 4, Fire in the Sky, which I hope to rectify shortly.

Despite the willy nilly methods I employed while reading the series, thus far I've enjoyed each of the books. I'll admit to a bit of confusion about how certain characters came to be in their present circumstances, and why some characters were better explained than others (to avoid repetition because Donati had introduced them thoroughly in other books). Although the books could each function as stand alone novels, I think that you would enjoy them more, if you read them in the order they were intended to be read. It would definitely help you avoid the confusion I suffered.

Queen of Swords was set during the early stages of the American War of 1812, and much of it takes place in New Orleans (Video of Battle of New Orleans above) shortly before, during, and right after the Battle of New Orleans. Donati does an amazing job of painting a picture of a time when the cultural lines between redbone slaves (Native American), black slaves, free people of color, free red bones (Native Americans), Americans, and Creoles were extremely controversial and politically charged. New Orleans included an incredibly diverse population even then, and the racial divisions, both real and imagined, played a huge part in the way the people of New Orleans interacted with one another.

Donati also manages to clearly portray the dangers to women, especially women of color, during that tumultuous time. Her writing transports you to a place and time in history reminiscent of Diane Gabaldon's Outlander series. In fact, in a few of Donati's books her characters meet Gabaldon's characters, for any Outlander fans who cannot get enough of Clare and Jaime.

If you enjoy historic fiction, I recommend that you try out Into the Wilderness, the first book of Donati's Wilderness Series. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Predators, Prey and Other Kinfolk: Growing Up in Polygamy by Dorothy Allred Solomon

Predators, Prey and Other Kinfolk:
Growing Up In Polygamy
Written by Dorothy Allred Solomon
I've only read one other memoir book written about the polygamist lifestyle. It was also written from the perspective of a woman who grew up in one branch/sect of fundamentalist Mormonism. I must admit that I find the subject utterly fascinating. I also have to admit that Solomon's book stood out to me, when it was compared to other books and documentaries on the same subject. Unlike other sources I've seen or read, Solomon did not experience first-hand many of the more commonly heard of abusive acts while growing up in a polygamist community. I am not saying that she didn't suffer from the circumstances of her childhood, and that her suffering was unique unto her, but she avoided some of the more commonly publicized abuses that you hear so much about.

Reading Solomon's account of her life, from childhood to adulthood, opened my eyes to some of the more appealing aspects of the polygamist lifestyle. Her rendition, at times, allowed me to see what about this life could attract so many devout followers. Solomon also pointed out many of the difficulties and hardships that go along with the practice of plural marriage, some known to me already, and others I'd not heard of before her book. But what really drew me into her story was what made her experience different from the one I read about in Elissa Wall's, Stolen Innocence. It was like looking at two sides of the same coin, many of the underlying issues were the same, but seen from dramatically different points of view.

I don't mean to romanticize this way of life. Celestial marriage, plural marriage, or polygamy is filled with many ugly truths, no matter what name it is called for. Many of its followers are drawn into it for all the wrong reasons and commit terrible acts in the name of their faith. Solomon's account reminded me of HBO's blockbuster drama series, Big Love. Both Solomon, and the writers of Big Love, made a point of showcasing the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of polygamy, whereas Wall mainly just wrote about the evils found hiding within the polygamist compounds.

I think that Solomon's book is important. I think she has very eloquently shown how even good people, with the best of intentions, cannot help but cause harm while living the polygamist lifestyle. She has beautifully shown how no amount of love can completely eradicate the abuse and neglect that so easily thrives in this type of environment, and how strongly attractive this way of life can be for predators.

Dear To Me (Brides of Webster County), by Wanda Brunstetter

Dear to Me
Book Three of Brides of Webster County
Written by Wanda Brunstetter
After finishing the Brides of Webster County trilogy I can honestly say I'm not a fan of Brunstetter's work. I have read quite a few Amish fiction books over the years, most of which I've thoroughly enjoyed. Brunstetter fell short, in my opinion. To be fair to her, the competition is overwhelming. I would assume it would be difficult to come up with a unique perspective or plot in a genre that is filled with hundreds of Amish stories that have already been told. I would compare it to a writer trying to make a name for themselves in the supernatural young adult fiction genre.

Now, to be fair to that competition, many of the other popular Amish fiction writers have managed to write far more unique and entertaining novels. Aside from Beverly Lewis, probably the most well known Amish fiction writer, Amy Clipston's A Gift of Grace was, by far, my favorite Amish fiction to date. Clipston managed to create a storyline that was, at least to me, completely unique, and characters that I could both relate to and sympathize with. She proved that although there is no shortage of Amish fiction novels available, a creative writer can manage to come up with a good plot and interesting characters. Not every good story has already been written, or written well.

I should also point out that it wasn't merely the lack of a unique storyline that disappointed me about Brunstetter's novels. I felt that the story itself, however redundant it was, was poorly written and a bit remedial. I felt like the characters were not only stereotypical and extremely predictable but much more self absorbed than I felt was believable. If she was going to rehash the same plot as countless other Amish fiction novels with success, she should have at least come up with new and exciting characters.

If you're looking for an entertaining novel in this genre, I'd recommend anything by Beverly Lewis (Shunning was recently made into a movie which I also loved), and A Gift of Grace by Amy Clipston.

Boy's Life by Robert McCammon

Boy's Life
Written by Robert McCammon
“Maybe crazy is what they call anybody who's got magic in them after they're no longer a child.”-- Boy's Life, by Robert McCammon

Wow, I was enchanted by this book. It took me back to my childhood like no other book has. It was amazing to rediscover that belief that your parents are invincible and the fear when you find out that no one is. The joy of believing in the unbelievable, the magical, and the supernatural--all came flooding back.

When I opened Boy's Life, I'm not sure what I expected, but before I finished the first page I was transported to another time and place. And isn't that why we started reading to begin with? This book was just a pleasure to read, because McCammon has a magical way with words that is simply enjoyable. Reading it was like eating a big piece of melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake that was so good you can't even feel a tiny bit guilty about eating it.

I was particularly drawn into the small town of Zephyr, Alabama, its customs, its people. Zephyr is the epitome of the small town, with all its good and it's bad characteristics and characters. McCammon drew a perfect picture of the social and political unrest that would have been prevalent during that delicate time after the civil rights movement.

The Lady, a proud voodoo queen, was one of my favorite characters, although I loved each and every one of the characters if I'm being honest. What particularly attracted me to The Lady was how McCammon allowed her to make such poignant statements about the true nature of racism, not only by her words, but more often by her deeds and her very nature. He somehow managed to make her seem both regal and still entirely humble in nature. She reminded me of another character in one of my favorite series, Alma from The Castor Chronicles series by Kami Garcia. The Lady is what I imagine Alma to be like when she's 100 years old.

Really, many of my favorite parts of Boy's Life reminded me of Garcia's Castor Chronicles (Most Recent Castor Chronicle Book Review). The southern setting, which both Garcia and McCammon have so expertly captured, is no easy feat. The vibrant characters, so real, they seem to walk right off the page and into your Living Room. That perfect blending of superstition, religion, and magic that makes it difficult to tell where the line between real and imaginary is drawn. The classic coming-of-age tale so vivid that it reminds you of your own wild adventures of growing up that until now were completely forgotten.

Boy's Life is one of those rare books that transcends generations and genres. Whether you need to know you aren't alone as you struggle to grow up yourself, you just want the chance to rekindle fond memories of your youth, or you're looking for a book to loose yourself in, Boy's Life is just what the doctor ordered.

Monday, July 16, 2012

One Second After, by William R. Forstchen

One Second After
by William R. Forstchen

I really enjoyed this book, although it scared the hell out of me. One Second After is unlike the typical post apocalyptic/dystopian novels that I've read because it portrayed an extremely realistic outcome of an equally realistic scenario. I had no idea about the possibility of that kind of terroristic attack. If you, like me, don't even know what an EMP is, you'll probably be just as fascinated and nervous as I was after reading this book.

You should know that the actual threat level we can expect from an EMP device is heavily debated. If you Google it right now, you'll find articles from fairly reputable sources arguing both that the EMP threat is a real and present danger, and conversely, that it's merely a conspiracy theory and/or just an extremely unlikely threat. It is important to note that while EMPs do have the power to do what the book suggests, it appears that the technology may have existed for many years, and hasn't been utilized by anyone at the level of destruction explained in this book.

Regardless of whether or not you believe that the threats contained within are valid, it's a good read. It will make you think of a million scenarios for which you are most definitely not prepared to deal with. I, myself, love a good conspiracy theory, and enjoy watching and reading about them. Let's face it, a good conspiracy theory plot is definitely scarier than any mystery or horror fantasy can be. The very nature of the conspiracy, the fact that there is some grain of truth to it, even if it is sometimes buried beneath mounds of bull shit, is both frightening and intriguing.

Forstchen does a great job of weaving the story in such a way that makes it seem almost too realistic. By the end, you are truly concerned that tomorrow you may find yourself in this situation, knowing how completely unprepared you would be. If you like a book that makes you want to run out and buy a few thousand military rations to hoard in your basement, this is the book for you.