Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hedgie's Must Reads: June 2013

It's summertime! And with summer comes more and more reading. Summer always seems to be an excuse to read "B-books," as as summer also seems to be an excuse to watch B-movies. The classic "summer read" will have sharks, teens stranded on an island being chased by a crazy scientist, spy novels, zombies, and weird biological experiments gone wrong. Or you can go for the more relaxed summer reads - inspirational stories, novels about teens with mental and health issues, teen summer romances, or vacations gone wrong, either emotionally or literally. Hedgie and I haven't read any shark books or zombie books - or even vacations gone wrong. But I thought June had some good ones regardless:

Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed (4/5)
Looking for the book version of Downton Abbey? Stray no further! Cinders & Sapphires has all the drama of 1912 aristocratic estates, both upstairs and downstairs, and there's a wealth of characters to love and to hate. Ada Averley must marry well and restore the good name of Averley, but when she falls in love with an Oxford student from India, she must choose between her own heart and her duty to her family. Meanwhile, Rose Cliffe is appointed Ada's ladies' maid, when all she wants is to leave service and become a musician. The two girls form a fast friendship, and together they must somehow realize their dreams while combating the conniving attempts of stepfamily and jealous ladies' maids to ruin them both. Girl-read, fifteen-and-up (including adults!), perfect for Downton Abbey fans!

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin (3/5)
The first in a series, Readers has transported to a steampunk-like futuristic universe, where a deadly plague ravages the world. Only some people are rich enough to afford the special porcelain masks that can protect one from the plague, and unrest is growing against the cruel Prince Prospero - and Araby is caught right in the middle of it all. This was yet another book I didn't have high hopes for, but Araby is a practical and unemotional protagonist, the love triangle takes back seat to the political intrigue and espionage, and the present tense actually brings the dark and exciting world of Masque of the Red Death. Girl-read, fifteen-and-up, great for steampunk and classic retelling fans!

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (3/5)
The first in a series, Readers travel to a modern day England with a big twist: magic. And what we know as the United Kingdom is now the Ununited Kingdoms. In a world of modern convenience, magic is disappearing and with it the demand for wizards. This is bad news for Jenny, who helps manage a wizarding employment agency, and if magic is no longer in demand, Kazam might be shut down. But when seers across the kingdom begin to predict the death of the last dragon at the hands of the Last Dragonslayer, Jenny finds herself swept up in more problems than just how to compete with electricians and plumbers. The Last Dragonslayer is a relaxing read, with great characters and a prevailing sense of fun humor. Girl-and-guy read, any age, great for fans looking for a good laugh.

Will Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman (4/5)
When the innkeeper Will Sparrow works for threatens to sell him as a chimney sweep, Will hits the road - shoeless, penniless, hungry, and with nothing but his own wit to depend on. Along the way, he meets up with many a person who promises him food and coin, but turn out to be even more dastardly a charlatan than himself. When Will meets up with a curiosities side show, he thinks he's finally found a good master, even if his working companions - a disgruntled dwarf and a shy cat girl - aren't the pleasantest people. But appearances can be very deceiving, as Will soon finds out. Alchemy and Maggy Swann was my favorite Karen Cushman book for a long time - until Read about Will Sparrow's adventures. A witty boy living in harsh Elizabethan England, he's a protagonist who has his flaws but is likable nonetheless. The cast of characters is small in this novel, but I loved every one of 'em. Girl-and-boy read, twelve-and-up, great for Karen Cushman and historical fiction fans!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Summer Plans!

So it's been a while since I have done a basic day-to-day post! And that's actually a good sign, because it means I have been working hard on reading books and then writing reviews. Sadly, I have been so busy the last two or three weeks that I haven't had a whole lot of time to read, so I am posting this now because I simply have nothing else to write about. Monday I should be back on our regular schedule, with more book reviews!

So what's life been like for dear Mara A? Busy. With the arrival of summer (though judging by our weather, you wouldn't think summer was here), my days have been taken up with a lot of work at the library. Our annual Summer Reading Program has started up, and with it comes lots of fun and exciting programs for kids and teens! It's always a blast helping out at such programs, and though I'm dog tired afterward, I can't say that I didn't have fun! :)

Perhaps the most exciting summer news of all, though (other than the fact that I now have a new baby nephew), is news concerning my story, The Birthright. Some of my lifelong Readers will recognize this as what was once called Lady Mulcher's Diamond, or - an even older title - The Case of the Missing Diamond. After several agonizing months of trying to figure out what to actually call the story, I finally settled on The Birthright, and it fits. But that isn't my news. My news is the very astounding fact that I have actually finished writing the fourth - and final - draft of the story. Longtime Readers will also know that I have said many times in the past that I have completed the final draft, only to rewrite it all over again. This is partially why I have waited so long to announce the news on my blog (because I, in fact, actually typed THE END back in April). I wanted to allow The Birthright to sit for some time, to see if this was indeed the final draft, or just another step closer to the final draft. I can now say with absolute 100% certainty that this is, indeed, the final draft. I can tell you that it's been one rollercoaster trying to write this story, and I'm excited to be done with it! And also a little sad. I'll miss these particular characters a lot, but I am ready to move on.

So what happens with The Birthright now? Well, I have my bestest best friends reading it over in its entirety, now that I have done fine-tuning editing (i.e. grammatical checks, spelling checks, and smoothing out some rough spots), and I am actively seeking a publisher, so The Birthright can then go through its final stages of editing. I have not yet sent it to anyone; I am still looking into the actual process of submissions. So unfortunately, Readers, I can't announce that The Birthright will hit shelves any time soon, but believe me: when that happens, you'll be the first to know!

Aside from library work and writing, I have, of course, been reading. A lot. As eager as I am to start work on my new story (working title Elnora's Story), I have a MASSIVE pile of library - and new - books in my room that are begging for my attention first. I haven't put a dent in it; not like I was hoping to over the last few days. But I will! Eventually! And you can all look forward to my upcoming reviews for said books.

But now that summer is "officially" here, I can look forward to some summer plans:

  • The Renaissance Faire is coming up, and I always look forward to that. Especially now that I have a mask to wear for the royal masquerade. I'm really excited for the jousting and the cavallo acrobatics show - and this year, there will be a Punch and Judy show!
  • Later in July, I am going to meet Marissa Meyer - author of Cinder and Scarlet! She's coming to my local library, and my Readers can be assured that not only will I get photos and my books signed, I will also be asking her some questions and (hopefully) remembering to write down her answers, so I can give a detailed post on her visit. So if there are any questions you guys want me to ask her, please feel free to e-mail me (see Contact page for e-mail address).
  • Finish my library? I put a question mark because this particular summer plan depends on more than just myself. My dad has to finish building the last two shelves, and if he doesn't find the time to the do that, then I can't do much about it. So maybe instead, I will finish sewing my tapestry so I can hang it up, and then I will get that promised photo of my library.
  • Movies! Most of the movies I want to see aren't out until the fall (sadly), but I have every intention of seeing The Sea of Monsters in August, just for my Readers! I will be reviewing The Lightning Thief - both the book and the movie - a few weeks before I go see The Sea of Monsters, so keep an eye out for those.
  • Writing. I will at least get the basic storyline of Elnora's Story planned this summer, if not written. Hopefully.
  • And of course: reading! There's a ton of books I want to read this summer and I need to get back on top of my game and do it!
What are some of your summer plans?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday #4

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.
It's a weekly meme about upcoming books we're excited about!

Love Disguised
by Lisa Klein
Publication Date: July 30, 2013

From Goodreads:

Will Shakespeare is about to meet the girl who will change his life forever. After a mixed-up courtship with the Hathaway sisters ends badly, Will jumps at the change to go to London, where he can pursue his dream of becoming an actor. There, Will meets the unusually tall (and strong) Meg who has earned the nickname "Long Meg" for her height. She's also fleeing her own past as an orphan turned thief. Disguised as "Mack," Meg was once a member of a band of boy thieves who betrayed her. When Will is robbed by those same villains, Meg disguises herself as "Mack" again - telling Will that Mack is her twin brother - in order to help Will recover his money. As Mack, she finds true friendship with Will. But is there more? And who is Meg really fooling with her disguise? 

What ensues is a tale involving love triangles, mistaken identities, and the pursuit of hapless villains, as Shakespeare becomes a key player in a lively drama that could have sprung from his own pen.

False Sight
(A False Memory Novel #2)
by Dan Krokos
Publication Date: August 13, 2013

From Goodreads:

All Miranda wants is a normal life. She's determined to move past the horrible truth of her origin as a clone so she can enjoy time with her boyfriend, Peter, and the rest of her friends at school. But Miranda quickly learns that there's no such thing as normal - not for a girl who was raised to be a weapon. When one of her teammates turns rogue, it begins a war that puts the world in jeopardy. Now Miranda must follow her instincts - not her heart - in order to save everything she's fought so hard to keep. With the image of a terrible future seared into her mind, what will she have to sacrifice to protect the people she loves?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: A Case of Poisons - Hazel West

A copy was provided by the Author
in exchange for
an honest review.
A Case of Poisons by Hazel West
Series: Anthony Maxwell #1
Genre: YA, steampunk, mystery
Published on June 3, 2013
Published by CreateSpace
Pages: 323
Read From: 6.20.13 - 6.23.13

Anthony Maxwell is a private investigator, a consultant for the mostly incompetent inspectors at Scotland Yard, on occasion a writer, and always a lover of coffee. He has been working small cases for several years to pay the bills when he's introduced to the first multiple murder case of her career early one morning, when a witness catches a man trying to unload a body to bury in a nearby graveyard. Soon the first body is joined by three more in the course of a single morning and Anthony realizes this is no ordinary serial murder case. And why is the murderer only targeting beggars and urchin children? If that wasn't cause enough to worry, all the victims are covered with horrible wounds and show signs of exotic poisoning. Anthony, along with his partners, Tobias - an ex-broadsman and well-known charmer - and Scamp - a street-smart and talented young woman - work to find out who is murdering the helpless beggars and children in such horrifying ways.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? True, there is a character impersonator, but you can't see his face clearly, so I'm perfectly okay with it. I love the gray background and Big Ben; it creates a very effective ambiance and coupled with the obscured figure, it's also very indicative of the story's era.

Characters: Anthony Maxwell is a detective that not only loves his work, but also has a very strong moral sense. As a consequence, he sometimes struggles with distancing his emotions from his cases - especially this one in particular, which takes a personal turn that he can't ignore. I liked Anthony; he was kind, had a quick sense of humor, and I connected easily with his emotional struggles. But the things I liked about him - namely, his overwhelming conscience - also grew to frustrate me just a tiny bit. While I totally sympathized with Anthony's frustration over the case, there came a point in time when I wanted to plead with Anthony to completely lock away his emotions and just concentrate on the puzzle, that way he would solve things quicker. Anthony's constant emoting on the ill treatment of children also got a little tiring after the third or fifth time; in some ways, I think the Author was trying too hard to make it clear to the Reader that Anthony was a compassionate person, when his actions alone made that quite evident. That said, I also believe that the Author made the right decision in giving Anthony such strong and obvious emotions. I'll admit it: when authors nowadays write a story about a private detective who happens to be far more brilliant than anyone at Scotland Yard, I tend to groan and mark it as a poor attempt at creating another Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock, while certainly a man of great emotion, always distanced himself from his cases; he never let his emotions get the better of him. By doing the opposite with Anthony Maxwell, the Author of A Case of Poisons has effectively set Anthony apart from literature's greatest detective, and that's a good thing. As soon as you begin to compare other mystery stories to Sherlock Holmes, there is absolutely no way they can live up to that, and you'll feel nothing but disappointment. So, to recap, I did like Anthony a lot, but the things I liked in him also bothered me, and as contradictory as that sounds, it is the truth, and I would not ask the Author to change him. Where Anthony was very emotional, his friends helped balance him out a bit. Scamp was a practical and spunky young woman, quite capable of taking care of herself without having an Attitude, and Tobias was the charming, loyal friend who also offered some surprising comic relief. He's the sort of character who seems to always get the short end of things, and the Reader always ends up laughing over his misfortune while simultaneously wishing they could get him a cup of cocoa. Archie, the leader of a gang of street boys, was probably my favorite, though, with his quick intelligence, fierce protection of the boys under his care, and his pride in refusing charity. And then there's the villain: Richard (revealing his surname would be a spoiler). When I first met the villain, I quite honestly wasn't sure what to think. At first, he didn't really come across as especially alarming, as he began to monologue about how much he enjoyed his evil work. Okay, villains are well within their rights to enjoy torturing and killing people; I'm not complaining about that. It's when he they start boasting about it that they go from frightening to cliche. However, Richard quickly improved as time went on. He began to display that calmness which betrays the fact that he will never make a mistake, and I began to really like him as a villain at that point.

The Romance: There isn't any! Which is a plus.

Plot: Anthony Maxwell is a private investigator who also sometimes helps out Scotland Yard when they need a pair of extra hands - especially when those hands are so much more adept than they. Up until now, Anthony hasn't had all that many big cases. But when Inspector Garrott summons Anthony to examine a mysterious body, Anthony's career is about to launch into an investigation that he isn't prepared for. The strange bruises and abrasions covering the body leave Anthony completely stumped - what's caused it? And what do the bizarre letters and numbers tattooed to the man's wrist mean? As he investigates further, the bodies begin to pile up, all with the same strange markings, and Anthony soon realizes that he's dealing with more than just a mere murderer. The mystery is a clever one, very engaging, and fast-paced. It's true that there's a lot of back and forthing between Anthony's lodgings, the Yard, and the crew's favorite coffeehouse, as well as a lot of looking things up in books, falling into bed completely exhausted, and LOTS of coffee drinking. And with so much of that sort of thing, A Case of Poisons could have been very boring indeed. But practically every chapter reveals something new to the case - a few steps closer to exposing the man behind the curtain, as it were - and this keeps the plot from lagging. Every new murder gives Anthony a new clue, however minute it may seem, and every studying session eventually turns something up, so we're not left wondering, "Okay, why do we have to read about Anthony poring over yet more dusty tomes?" The need to know how everything connects will keep Readers engaged and hardly noticing that yes, we're going back to the Yard again. As soon as the story begins to feel like it's dragging its feet, something unexpected happens, like another murder, the protagonist is attacked by some thugs, someone goes missing, et cetera - thus completely obliterating any slowness. It even has a secret society, which is just beyond awesome.

Believability: In a steampunk world, there are of course machines that didn't exist in 1887. Like electric automobiles, latte machines, or suicide pistols (although the Author has some very fascinating facts about true inventions that inspired her steampunk machines in the Historical Note). But the reason Readers read steampunk is for the gadgets, however impossible they may be, and the Author actually has quite a few plausible inventions! While the fabricated poisons may not be entirely possible (my microbiology class didn't really go that far into this sort of thing, unfortunately), they made the story interesting and added to the steampunk/Victorian science-fiction feel. We'll accept that in this alternate, steampunk 1887, microbiology was much more advanced.

Writing Style: First person, past tense. The first person narration probably also contributed a great deal to Anthony's overwhelming emotions, as well as his tendency to ramble on about his moralistic views. Anthony has opinions, after all, and he is the narrator. His tangents did get a little old after a while, but they weren't too bad, and I enjoyed his flair for the dramatic. What I would have liked to have seen more of was a fleshing out of Anthony's world. Part of creating a novel that feels Victorian is description. We get plenty of detail when it comes to the mystery itself, but hardly any when it comes to the setting. Where's the heart of London? The bustle, the noise, the millions of personal stories in just one glance? The narration becomes so wrapped up in the plot itself that it forgets to tell the Reader about the world it's set in, and I missed it. Part of my love for Victorian mysteries is the ambiance; the details; the window into Victorian English life - especially in London, which is so iconic for that era. The plot is so wonderfully engaging that I actually didn't really notice what was missing from the story until the end. There was a constant nagging feeling in the back of my head, but I was so caught up in discovering the clues with Anthony that I didn't pay any heed until I reached the final page. Then I was like, "There was something missing . . ." Hopefully in future installments, there will be a further exploration in the heart and soul of Anthony Maxwell's 1887 London. One thing, however, that the Author totally nailed was the street boys' slang, and that did go a long way in adding to the Victorian ambiance.

Content: None.

Conclusion: When the case turns too personal for Anthony, he knows he has to finish this case immediately, and he sets out to infiltrate the heart of the viper's lair. This, of course, leads to a showdown between Anthony and Richard, and while there is some monologuing, it somehow manages to not be cliche or turn Richard into a ridiculous villain who makes the one mistake no villain ought to. In other words, it just somehow worked. I don't know how or why, but it did. A Case of Poisons was a very hard book to review - probably the hardest one, actually. Because I acted as editor for this book, I already knew where the story was going, so it was difficult to once again put my mind back in the state of as if this were my first time reading the book. It was also difficult because I caught many things that bothered me the second time through than I did the first time - like Anthony's excessive emotions and the lack of world description. When I edited it, I read the beginning and then went months before seeing the rest of it, so I had a long break from Anthony's emotions, therefore they didn't affect me the first time like they did this time. And with the plot, the same thing happened to me last time as it did this time: I got so caught up in the mystery that I forgot about the ambiance. I desperately wish I could give half ratings, because A Case of Poisons is a solid 3.5, rather than just 3 little daisies. As a mystery, it was terrific - a real rollercoaster with every little clue connected in clever ways, kidnappings, and secret societies. The characters were great and there was a good balance of humor and drama. But Anthony's world wasn't fleshed out enough and I did get rather frustrated with him after a while. The Author tried too hard to convince the Reader that he was a good man by having him emote on the abuse of children, when in fact she could have just let his actions proclaim what sort of man he was. She did it with the villain, after all. But I don't want to end this on a negative note, because A Case of Poisons truly is a great mystery, and I look forward to future adventures with Anthony and his crew.

Recommended Audience: Girl and guy read, any age, great for Victorian mystery and steampunk fans!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Rise - Anna Carey

Rise by Anna Carey
Series: Eve Trilogy #3
Genre: YA, dystopian, romance
Published on April 2, 2013
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 310
Read From: 6.17.13 - 6.20.13

How far would you go when you have nothing left to lose? When she lost her soul mate, Caleb, Eve felt like her world had ended. Trapped in the palace, forced to play the part of the happy, patriotic princess of The New America - and the blushing bride of her father's top adviser - Eve's whole life is a life. The only thing that keeps her going is Caleb's memory and the revolution he started. 
Now, Eve is taking over where Caleb left off. With the help of Moss, an undercover subversive in the King's court, she plots to take down The New America, beginning with the capital, the City of Sand. Will Eve be able to bring about a new, free world when she's called upon to perform the ultimate act of rebellion - killing her father?


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? While I like that it is continuing the general theme of this trilogy, and I can't see the character impersonator's face, I'm at a loss as to why she's sitting on a train track. It doesn't forewarn any character's dismal end via being hit by a train, nor does Eve follow train tracks at any point. In short, there are no trains! The title, at least, makes a bit more sense than the last one.

Characters: Where I had concerns in Once that Eve would become a very reluctant member of the resistance (much like Katniss in Mockingjay), I was surprised to find quite the opposite. Eve uses her position as princess to help the rebellion as much as she can, though I honestly thought she could have tried harder to convince her father the King that she was slowly coming to see things his way. Maybe then he wouldn't have been so suspicious of her? The one thing that I wanted to smack Eve for was her reluctance to kill the King. For some reason, she has an attachment to this man whom she's never known and who is a tyrant and murdered her true love. I don't think I would have any difficulty in assassinating him. But one quality about Eve that I do like is she gets over her reluctance fairly quickly and does what needs to be done. That said, I must confess that I had a really hard time becoming emotionally attached to any of the characters in Rise. I went through the entire thing just wanting it to be over already, and so I failed to connect to anyone on any level. Eve, Moss, Pip, Charles - I could not have cared less about them. Charles, in fact, completely disappeared into the background, which I thought rather rotten, considering he showed potential in Once.

The Romance: Since Charles becomes part of the wallpaper and Caleb is absent indefinitely, the romance is nil, and I am not complaining about that.

Plot: With the death of Caleb, Eve's true and only love, Eve has sworn her loyalty to the rebels and their cause: to rid The New America of the tyrannical king, Eve's own father. Working with Moss, a rebel leader within the palace itself, Eve does everything she can to assist them. And when she's called to assassinate her own father, she's not sure she's prepared to live with the consequences of such an action. Okay, so a princess playing at a role in order to get close to the king and assassinate him so the rebels can take over - sounds exciting? Well, unfortunately the majority of Rise is spent much in the same way as Eve: a road trip to Califia, a secret haven for women. We get to see some rebel action, thank goodness, but most of it is through third-person narration when Eve meets other people who were actually there at the fighting. When Eve is forced to hit the road for a while, dragging with her a handful of girls from the Schools, we leave behind what potential exciting moments this book had and are subjected to a rather dull journey. Few events help alleviate the boredom, and what accidents occur seem to simply be thrown in to complicate the situation for Eve and the girls more than it already is. It really felt like I was reading Eve again, only without Caleb.

Believability: While the book keeps insisting that the King is an evil tyrant, I still fail to see it. Not that he comes across as a nice guy, 'cause he doesn't, but I would never presume to put him on the same level as real tyrants and dictators. I also have a difficult time believing that Eve would feel any affection whatsoever for him. She's never known this man, and what little time she's spent in his company he has done nothing but ruin her life and kill people. I wouldn't be likely to feel anything for him, even if he was the only living parent I had. There's also a point in the book where several rebels are executed, and everyone is positively shocked by this. Wait a minute - people are shocked that their evil tyrant king is executing people? Really?

Writing Style: First person, past tense. At the beginning of this trilogy, the Author loved giving nasty microscopic descriptions of things like dried spit, dried vomit, sweat, and the like. By Once, these descriptions lessened, and Rise had practically none. So in that sense, the Author's writing has improved. There is still nothing terribly special - or terribly bad - about the style itself. It does nothing for me, but it doesn't irritate me, either.

Content: None!

Conclusion: With the King still needing to be assassinated, the soldiers chasing after Eve, and Eve's sudden realization that she either has to kill him or risk losing everything she cares for, there's quite a bit that needs to happen in the climax. Somehow, though, with all of this needing to happen, the climax still managed to be about as exciting as the rest of the book: not at all. Eve's mission goes amazingly smoothly [Spoiler] the assassination of the King [End spoiler], and when it looks as if all is over for her [Spoiler] she's about the be executed [End spoiler], something else happens to interrupt it [Spoiler] the colonies invade [End spoiler]. And then, shocker of all shockers, a twist is revealed at the literal end of the story, but it's a twist I saw coming all the way back in Book Two, so it rather ruined the moment. What also ruined the moment was how bloody abruptly the book ended. While this trilogy is not the worst dystopian romance I have read, I don't really care to ever read it again. It's worst crime was that of being slow and boring, and with the pace of Rise, I knew that this would never make it to my favorites list - or even moderately close. Eve is an all right protagonist, but that's not enough to make up for the sheer boredom I experienced reading this.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fourteen-and-up, great for fans of dystopian romance that focus more on character emotions and the romance, than on the actual dystopian.

Others in This Trilogy:

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Stacking the Shelves #4

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Review

From the Library:

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd wave, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it's the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The being who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie's only hope for rescuing her brother - or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

Doll Bones by Holly Black
Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends for ever. They love paying with their action figure toys, imaging a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach's father throws out all his toys, declaring he's too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friend with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll - who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school . . . again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus's master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus's stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.


Star Cursed by Jessica Spotswood
With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate's friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers - if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.

Cate doesn't want to be a weapon, and she doesn't want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood's schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she'll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.


A Case of Poisons by Hazel West
Anthony Maxwell is a private investigator, a consultant for the mostly incompetent inspectors at Scotland Yard, on occasion a writer, and always a lover of coffee. He has been working small cases for several years to pay the bills when he's introduced to the first multiple murder case of his career early one morning, when a witness catches a man trying to unload a body to bury in a nearby graveyard. Soon the first body is joined by three more in the course of a single morning and Anthony knows this is no ordinary serial murder case. And why is the murderer targeting beggars and urchin children? If that wasn't cause enough to worry, all the victims are covered with horrible wounds and show signs of exotic poisoning. Anthony, along with his partners Tobias - an ex-broadsman and well-known charmer - and Scamp - a street mart and talented young woman - work to find out who is murdering the helpless beggars and children in such horrifying ways.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: Will Sparrow's Road - Karen Cushman

Will Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fiction
Published on November 6, 2012
Published by Clarion Books
Pages: 224
Read From: 6.16.13 - 6.17.13

"I care for no one but myself and nothing but my belly!" 
Will Sparrow, liar and thief, is running away - from the father who sold him for beer, from the innkeeper who threatened to sell him as a chimney sweep, from his whole sorry life. Barefoot and penniless, without family, friends, or boots, Will is determined to avoid capture and, of course, to find something to eat. 
Some of the travelers he meets on the road have a kind word for him and a promise of better things to come, such as coins and juicy beef ribs. Eager to go along, Will repeatedly finds himself tricked by older and wiser tricksters. Each time, he resolves afresh to trust no one and care for no one. But luckily for Will, he can't keep his guard up forever.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? It's very indicative of the book's era and what sort of novel it will be, but I'm not a huge fan of the cover art. There's something about it that just doesn't quite appeal to me.

Characters: Will Sparrow is not the kindest nor most honest boy around. He can be rude, a bit mean, and will steal the first opportunity he gets. Despite this, I found Will to be an altogether likable protagonist. He is rarely intentionally mean to other people, and he has the capability of becoming a very kind and good boy if he only had someone to show him how. Will hasn't been treated well by anyone, and every time he trusts someone, he ends up being hurt. And for all of his dishonesty, he doesn't like the idea of working for charlatans who cheat people of their money. Many of the other characters in Will Sparrow's Road don't hang around for very long, this being a mere 208-paged novel. But in the short time they make an appearance, they leave quite the impression, and I found myself really enjoying their vibrant personalities. I especially liked Fitz, a rather surly dwarf who ended up being a far more caring and kinder person than Will first took him to be, and Grace - the "wild girl" who refused to humiliate herself any longer for the sake of her master Tidball.

The Romance: There isn't any!

Plot: Will Sparrow hasn't known kindness ever since his mother disappeared. His father sold him to a bad-tempered innkeeper for a pint of beer, and now the innkeeper intends to sell Will as a chimney sweep. Well, Will Sparrow will have none of it, and he runs away before the innkeeper can make good on his threat. Relying totally on his own wits and quick hands, Will travels about Elizabethan England with nothing to his name - not even a pair of shoes. Along the way, he meets up with several people who promise him food and coin, but turn out to be even greater charlatans than himself. Will is prepared to give up on trusting other people entirely, until he meets Master Tidball - the owner of a curiosities side show. Crippled in a carting accident, Tidball takes Will on as an assistant and they travel from fair to fair, displaying Tidball's amazing discoveries. For only a penny, people may pay to see a baby mermaid in a jar, a three-legged chicken, the skeleton of a sea monster, and - horror of all horrors - a monstrous creature, half cat and half girl. Will believes he's found his niche. Except the others in the little band of curiosities - the wild girl Graymalkin (who calls herself Grace) and Fitz the dwarf - aren't very pleasant company and don't seem to appreciate anything Tidball does for them. But of course, people are not always what they seem - not even Tidball - and it's not long before Will realizes that maybe his perception of the odd little band was entirely wrong. In some ways, Will Sparrow's Road could be called a meandering plot. There's a definite beginning, but no definite destination or goal or end. The majority of the book is spent with Will meeting charlatan after charlatan, and then - when he meets up with Tidball - traveling from one fair to another, and getting to know the character relationships between Fitz, Grace, Tidball, and Will. Even so, Will Sparrow's Road is a very quick read, and I enjoyed learning more about the characters and exploring Elizabethan England with this troop of colorful people. Had it been any longer, Will Sparrow's Road might have dragged, but as it is, I found it to be a relaxing and enjoyable weekend read.

Believability: I have never found fault with this Author's historic details. I have always loved how she brings the eras she writes about to life in a totally fascinating way.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. However, there is something in the narration that almost makes it feel like first person; like an outside observer is relating Will's story to the Reader. The dialogue is very much in keeping with the era, and still easy to understand. It lends an air of authenticity to the whole thing.

Content: None.

Conclusion: This was one area that I had a bit of an issue with. There is a buildup for a climax. Now that Will has realized what Tidball is really like, what are he and the others going to do about their situation? Will Grace remain in Tidball's service? Can Fitz continue to protect her? Is Will going to move on and leave Grace and Fitz behind? [Spoiler] And then Will thinks he's murdered Tidball, which of course puts them all in a real sticky situation [End spoiler]. With all of this going on, the climax should have been grand. But it actually all gets resolved relatively quickly and easily, leaving the end feeling a tad bit rushed. Still, even this slightly disappointing climax doesn't ruin the general splendor of Will Sparrow's Road. With a cheeky, likable boy protagonist, great historical detail, and a bunch of fun side characters, this has to be my new Karen Cushman favorite.

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-boy read, ten-and-up, good for historical fiction and Karen Cushman fans (even adults!)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review: The Elite - Kiera Cass

The Elite by Kiera Cass
Series: The Selection #2
Genre: YA, futuristic, romance
Published on April 23, 2013
Published by HarperTeen
Pages: 336
Read From: 6.14.13 - 6.16.13

The Selection began with 35 girls. Now, with the group narrowed down to the Elite, the competition to win Prince Maxon's love is fiercer than ever. The closer America gets to the crown, the more she struggles to figure out where her heart truly lies. Each moment she spends with Maxon is like a fairy tale, filled with breathless glittering romance. But whenever she sees her first love, Aspen, standing guard, she's swept up in longing for the life they'd planned to share. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: Winter Fire - Laurie Dubay

A copy was provided by the Author
in exchange for
an honest review.
Winter Fire by Laurie Dubay
Series: Winter Fire #1
Genre: YA, paranormal, romance
Published on May 19, 2013
Published by CreateSpace
Read From: 6.12.13 - 6.14.13

"I should have seen Bren for what he was right away." 
A brooding, powerful god, hiding out with his rebel friends in the snowy mountains of Pennsylvania. 
"Loki stood before the flames in a black leather jacket and tattered jeans. . . .the son of the grim reaper." 
A captivating master of danger who threatens their secret. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Series: Ender's Saga #1
Genre: YA, science fiction
Published on January 1, 1985
Published by Tor Books
Pages: 256
Read From: 6.8.13 - 6.9.13

Andrew "Ender" Wiggin isn't just playing games at Battle School; he and the other children are being tested and trained for war. Ender may be the military genius Earth desperately needs in its struggle against an alien enemy that seeks to destroy all human life. The only way to find out is to throw Ender into ever-harsher training, to chip away and find the diamond inside, or destroy him utterly. Ender Wiggin is six years old when it begins. He will grow up fast. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Review: Distant Waves - Suzanne Weyn

Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn
Genre: YA, historical fiction, supernatural
Published on April 15, 2009
Published by Scholastic Press
Pages: 330
Read From: 6.6.13 - 6.8.13

Daughters of a famed clairvoyant, the five Taylor sisters begin the twentieth century desperately searching for a home. Their mother takes them to the small town of Spirit Vale, where she makes a living by talking to the dead. The future, however, is something even she cannot clearly see. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review: In the Hand of the Goddess - Tamora Pierce

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce
Series: Song of the Lioness Quartet #2
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published on Jaunary 1, 2005
Published by Simon Pulse
Pages: 264
Read From: 6.6.13 - 6.6.13

"I don't want to fall in love. I just want to be a warrior maiden." 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: The Last Dragonslayer - Jasper Fforde

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
Series: The Chronicles of Kazam #1
Genre: YA, alternate reality, comedy, fantasy
Published on October 2, 2012
Published by HMH Books
Pages: 287
Read From: 6.4.13 - 6.5.13

In the good old days, magic was indispensable; it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: Masque of the Red Death - Bethany Griffin

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
Series: Red Death #1
Genre: YA, classic retelling, steampunk
Published on April 24, 2012
Published by Greenwillow Books
Pages: 319
Read From: 6.1.13 - 6.3.13

Everything is in ruins. A devastating plague has decimated the population, and those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles around them. 
So what does Araby Worth have to live for? 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Review: Midwinterblood - Marcus Sedgwick

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
Genre: YA, paranormal
Published on February 5, 2013
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Pages: 272
Read From: 5.31.13 - 6.1.13

In 2073 on the remote and secretive island of Blessed, where rumor has it that no one ages and no children are born, a visitor arrives. He is greeted warmly, but something is wrong. Something is hidden on the far side of the island. Something that, as if in a dream, he cannot reach. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review: Cinders & Sapphires - Leila Rasheed

Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed
Series: At Somerton #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction, romance
Published on January 22, 2013
Published by Hyperion
Pages: 400
Read From: 5.30.13 - 5.31.13

Rose Cliffe has never met a young lady like her new mistress. Clever, rich, and beautiful, Ada Averley treats Rose as an equal. And Rose could use a friend. Especially now that she, at barely sixteen, has risen to the position of ladies' maid. Rose knows she should be grateful to have a place at a house like Somerton. Still, she can't help but wonder what her life might have been had she been born a lady, like Ada. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: Nobody's Secret - Michaela MacColl

Nobody's Secret by Michaela MacColl
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery
Published on April 30, 2013
Published by Chronicle Books
Pages: 241
Read From: 5.26.13 - 5.30.13

It's 1846, and for fifteen-year-old Emily Dickinson, every day follows the same pattern: chores, chores, and more chores. So when she meets a mysterious, handsome young man, she's intrigued. Surprisingly, he doesn't seem to know who she or her family is. And even more surprisingly, he playfully refuses to divulge his name. Emily enjoys her secret flirtation with "Mr. Nobody" until he turns up dead in her family's pond.