Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Cave by Michela Montgomery

genre: new adult

Kate's plan was perfect: spend four days hiking through Wind Cave with her best friend Ano and her mentor, Percy.  Having just finished her degree at Standford, this trip through one of the world's longest caves would be the perfect time to tell Percy how she feels about him him, as well as do some in-the-field scientific research.

Of course, nothing ever really goes as planned.  Instead of a party of three, they end up heading into the cave with a party of six. Naive and with no family of her own anymore, negotiating large groups is not Kate's greatest strength and when something like an earthquake rocks the cave, she is just ready to be done and get out.  But, there is no getting out.  Because what seemed like an earthquake was actually a devastating attack on the United States and the only way to get back out is through the cave - hoping there is something to come back to on the other end.

I am a sucker for apocalyptic stories so when I got a review request for this one, I decided to give it a try.  The writing itself isn't stunning - not poetic or lyrical, but I found myself drawn into the plot anyway.  It's a unique type of survival story with twists that kept it moving right along.  I like the best friend character and the love triangle was predictable but not lame.  Kate drove me crazy sometimes - she was super wishy washy with the boys and indecisive enough I sort of wanted to shake her.  And yet, I got it.  When boys liking you is new, even if you're in your 20s, it's still hard to figure out what you want.

Point is, I liked it enough that I do really want to know what happens next - even if I didn't love it.

Note for sensitive readers: two vaguely explicit scenes that you might want to skip over.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Guest Review: Son of Shadow, Hero of Light by C. Louis S.

genre: middle grade

I was given a review copy for my 12 year old son to read.  His thoughts:

This is a story about how bad things in the world can make themselves look like they're good.  

Leon has the worst power you can have - he's a "glow."  He can create light - everyone else has powers that are awesome, like becoming a hulk or flying or mindbending. Leon eventually learns how to get all the powers and when a plot for revenge goes bad,  Leon has to make hard decisions about power and how to treat people.

This book was okay.  I liked how Leon went from being the most picked on kid to being one of the most popular. I didn't like how Leon became the most powerful.   I liked the writing style and probably would read something else by this author. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Murder of Crows (A Novel of the Others) by Anne Bishop

genre: adult paranormal fiction

A Murder of Crows is the sequel to Written in Red, so there will definitely be spoilers for that in this review.

Meg finally feels safe in the compound.  She's found a place for herself and the Others treat her as one of their own.  When violence in the Midwest increases and her prophesies begin to warn of imminent danger, humans and earth natives have to find a way to work together if a certain collector of blood prophets is going to be stopped.

I cannot deny that I totally am loving these books.  They are fast paced and the world building is pretty dang awesome.  The idea of blood prophets who can foretell the future with a cut of their skin is a fascinating plot device.  Having the elements of the earth be actual beings also creates a new kind of havoc.  Sometimes, again, Meg's naivete grated on my nerves a little bit, but she is definitely coming into her own.  The way everyone rallies around her sometimes rings a little too "Pollyanna" but for some reason, I just like it.   Sometimes the internal dialogue is romantically cheesy, and yet I like it.  Sometimes I want to not read the word "pup" one more time, and yet I keep reading because I've found that I care about these paranormal characters.   I like the slow way that Meg and Simon Wolfguard's relationship is developing, even if I cannot believe I am typing those words!  Ack!  I never would have thought about relationships between humans and shapeshifting wolves, but there you go. I'm doing it and I like it.  The end.  And I've requested the third one :)

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Friday, April 10, 2015

Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang

genre: middle grade/young adult memoir

Ji-Li, at twelve, feels like her life is on a path that would make Mao Tse-tung proud.  She excels at her schoolwork.  She works hard at everything she tries.  She understands the plight of the people and is willing to fight for the glorious revolution.

But then she finds out something about her past that makes her and her family at risk in this new China.  Despite all her efforts to be a model citizen, she may never get what she desires most: a place of honor in the service of Chairman Mao.

My son read this for his 6th grade English class and so I thought I would give it a try so we could talk about it.  It was so engaging! I'm not surprised that he actually has already read it twice :)  Ji-Li's story is so painful and frightening - we watch her go from a place of glowing pride and a sense of happy expectancy to a life where she is dealing with not only ridicule from her peers but actual fear for the lives of her parents and pressure from unkind adults in authority.  Even young readers can see how unfair the situation in her country is but at the same time, you can see how brainwashed Ji-Li is.  You can contrast the way people are treating each other with what they claim to believe.  You can see power go to people's heads and how truly ridiculous the entire Cultural Revolution was.  More than ridiculous, a tragedy of massive proportions.  Whenever I read about what was lost it makes me feel so sad and angry - the art, the culture, the beauty of China burned and mocked in the street.

I love how hard she is trying to be a good daughter and a good friend.  The writing is sparse and straightforward and gives you a great sense of what life was like for an average Chinese person living in the city during the 1960's.  I really hope it makes the kids in my son's class think about the freedoms that we take for granted here, I know it certainly did that for me.  My only qualm is that I would've liked a little bit more about how she figured out how she and her fellow counrymen had been completely deceived - by the end of the book you can tell by her choices that she's figuring it but it ended a little soon for me.  Despite that, I would recommend this book for kids and adults interested in the topic.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Books I've Given Up On part 2

Adaptation by Malinda Lo - the beginning was so gripping!  And then it just dragged and dragged.   There was crazy bird happenings and but then there were huge gaps in the narrative where I had to say, "WHAT?"  I made it 1/3 of the way through until she was having her sexual awakening with a girl she met the day before and I just had to be done. Too bad because the premise is so interesting.

Perdita by Hilary Scharper - this was touted to be for lovers of Susanna Kearsly (whom I adore) but I just could not get into it.  I got about 50 pages or so in before the plot (the idea of a woman being 134 years old) just didn't engage me, although the writing itself was good.    I did try.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews - while the teen male protagonist was quite funny and I liked the idea of the story a lot, actually, it was just too dang crass for me and the mood I was in while I tried to read it.    I've heard other people like it though so it might have been that I stopped before it got better.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown - this was recommended to me as the next Enders Game and Hunger Games.  I read five chapters and was vaguely annoyed by the narrator's style and somehow just didn't care about his plight.  I don't know why - maybe it just all feels too familiar and I've read enough of these stories lately.  It's got fabulous reviews so clearly people like it.  It's on lists of the best 100 books of the year.  Maybe I'll try again when all the books are out - this is first in a trilogy, I think.  But maybe not.  I sort of don't care about it.

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - this is a young adult gothic story by the same author of The Shadow of the Wind (which I LOVED).  While the writing is as good as I'd expect, it just moved too slow for me.  There were some deliciously scary scenes and the plot is thick and interesting but I just found that I was never wanting to pick it up, so even though I'd made it 60% through, I gave up.

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook - a great reader friend of mine recommended this to me as a great steampunk story.  She also gave me warning that I might find it steamy - she totally warned me and I tried anyway because I love steampunk.  I actually made it more than halfway through before there were scenes where I had to say WOAH, okay.  That is probably enough of that.  And too bad because the plot is actually super creative and fast-moving.  I liked it, but it turned out that I hit my limit of steaminess in this one.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Written in Red (A Novel of the Others) by Anne Bishop

genre: paranormal fiction

Meg is running from a life so traumatic that she'll do anything to escape it.  She'll even take shelter in a compound run by the Others - those shape shifting, otherworldly characters who have the power to own the world if they want.   Within the small business district where humans and Others interact, Meg will try to build a life for herself - knowing full well that she's on her own if They ever find her.

Let the record show that despite the fact that I have never actually tried a paranormal book that's written for adults, I tried this on a friend's recommendation and I actually really liked it.  Yes, it took some time to get used to the wolves talking etc., and I still had to work a little harder than usual to suspend my disbelief, but once I was a fourth of the way in or so, I was hooked.  The story is full of interesting characters, little plot pieces that seem cheesy in some ways actually end up mattering in other ways, the storytelling is just good.  The interactions between the Others and their "prey" (us humans) were interesting, if a little forced.  I liked Meg - innocent and yet powerful in her own right, I appreciate stories with the powerful-underdog-that-captures-the-heart-of-a-town vibe.   The climax was intense and believable and I have actually already requested the next in the series.  Not life changing but a great distraction from cleaning my house and the fussing of my children :)

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour

genre: ya realistic fiction

Set against the backdrop of movie sets and screenplays, Emi's life is full of creativity and meaning. But when she breaks up with her girlfriend (again), it's hard to feel like she's really good at anything - until a forgotten letter takes her on a journey to more than just answers to new questions.  With a new opportunity and a specific challenge from her brother, Emi's chance for love and real success will hinge on her ability to help a new friend find her own past while working like crazy to design the best possible future.

Writing that paragraph was like pulling teeth - I don't know WHY it is so hard for me to articulate what this book is about!  The flap makes it seem like the book is mostly film and mystery - which I feel is only partly true.  I liked those parts - it kept things engaging and it was, for the most part, believable and intriguing.  I especially loved how it made me think more about what I SEE in a movie, not just what happens - how painstaking the process of furnishing a set is and how much care is gone into it.  Mostly, though, I think this is a coming of age story and a love story.   Yes, Emi is gay, and that obviously plays a big part in her romantic story.  As much as she loves to decorate sets and make objects and spaces look beautiful and FIT the role they are supposed to play, Emi wants to love and feel loved.  She wants to love for the right reasons and do right by her friends. While sometimes the dialogue felt choppy to me,  I did like Emi's character arc and I think she comes away a stronger and better girl than she was to begin with.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

genre: young adult fiction

When Maggie arrives in Ireland it is 1993.  She is with her mother, her mother's new Irish husband, and her younger sister and for someone as lonely as Maggie, the misty coastal town of Bray seems to fit her mood.  Introverted and insecure, Maggie's foray into her new Catholic School is about as successful as mother's ability to be stable and sober.  When her favorite uncle comes to visit and everything changes, a few specific people Maggie has found in her new Irish town will help her to realize not only the girl she can be, but the kind of life she deserves to have.

At first, I was not thrilled.  Maggie's life is depressing, she makes some stupid choices and the whole feel of the book was so grungy and depressing.  But, strangely enough, after something particularly sad happens, I found myself being more emotionally involved in the story - even though I had guessed this particular thing was going to happen.  Part of it is that Maggie wakes up to her life, part of it is a lovely romantic piece, part of it is just the really stark and poetic prose.  I appreciated the thread of music love it in (even if Nirvana wasn't my actual favorite), that really made me nostalgic for my own piece of 1993 and how much the music scene was a part of my life.  The Ireland of this book felt real - it's people and places were believable to me without shoving LOOK!  WE'RE IN IRELAND in my face.   I can't say I loved it but by the final third, I cared about the people in it and I enjoyed the rest of the journey.

Note for sensitive readers, there is language and some graphic content

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Monday, March 9, 2015

Atlantia by Ally Condie

genre: young adult

Rio lives beneath the sea in a contained city called Atlantia.  Divided from the polluted world Above, Atlantia is a place of Gods and miracles, a place where everyone knows where they belong - except Rio. Rio is a siren, a person who can control others with her voice - and in Atlantia, this is a dangerous thing to be.  Always forced to hide her true self, Rio has always longed to live Above and when the time comes when she finally gets to choose, her hopes are crushed and soon she finds a darker side of Atlantia and there is no way to know who to trust.

I just really did not like this one.  It stuttered and dragged.  Rio asks SO MANY QUESTIONS, she drove me crazy with the questions! And while some things never fit together in a way that makes sense, other things were too crazy coincidental. I love the concept of this book and I kept reading because I was engaged by the first initial mystery - but 3/4 of the way through I realized I should have just stopped. It's not for me.

I did enjoy Matched, so if you want to try something by this author, I'd suggest that instead.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

genre: young adult

In Tana's life, vampires are both ancient and new.  The resulting bloodbath has caused world governments to set up Coldtowns - walled cities where vampires and those who dare to walk the razor's edge can live separate from the humans who want them and their teeth as far away as possible.  When a party goes horribly, horribly wrong, Tana finds herself on the run with two boys, BOTH of whom are a horrible choice for her and death seems to be inevitable, Coldtown the only refuge that makes any sense.  But she's spunky - and Tana, with the help of those dangerous boys, manages to continuously get herself out of situations she should never be in.  In a fight against an evil she doesn't even understand, Tana is going to have to cling to her humanity if she really wants to keep it.

I think I just don't really love vampire books.  Or books with a lot of gore and blood. That's my problem.  Because this book is actually quite well written, there are some very, very lovely sentences in here - they are glossy and beautiful and like poetry. But usually those sentences are about blood.  Or drinking blood. Or wanting some blood.  And I'm just not into blood.   That's the problem.  So my three stars is completely subjective because I am not into it, which maybe isn't fair but there you go.  The vampire "infection" was also incredibly confusing for me.  I don't feel like I'm slow to get things but even after having it explained to me in various ways throughout the book, I still felt like I didn't really GET it all.   I also had a hard time suspending my disbelief sometimes because it is hard for me to believe that a girl can use a crossbow to shoot a human because she's good at darts?  Really?  I've seen a person shoot a crossbow.  It is quite challenging.  I can't even pull back the string on one and I'm adult.  Anyway, I digress.  Point is, I liked the plot and the writing enough read it to the finish, but I didn't love.
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