Saturday, May 28, 2011

Winter Heart, by Margaret Frazer

Winter Heart (Sister Frevisse Medieval Mysteries)As the prioress of the priory, Domina Frevisse is required to make many important decisions, decisions which affect the sisters but also the people of the town.  When she is called upon to help rule on a man's guilt or innocence regarding the murder of a townsman, she must look carefully at the entire situation to determine the truth.  Why was with man killed, who would benefit from it, and were things perhaps not as they appeared to be?

This was my first exposure to medieval mystery, and I have to say, I was highly intrigued.  It took a little while to get into the story, as the type of language and pacing is a little different than a contemporary mystery novel, but once I adjusted my mindset, I flew through this book.  I was excited to see Domina Frevisse at work, to learn her line of reasoning and type of logic.  I really enjoyed her as a character.  We do not learn much about her personally in this book, but it is not necessary for us to feel a deep connection with her in order to appreciate her character.

I really loved the setting of this book, as it was so unique.  Medieval mysteries are a highly specified genre, and the only other author in the genre I am at all familiar with is Michael Jecks, so chances are readers who like his work will also like works by Frazer.  This story is one from a series starring Frevisse, but it also works well as a stand alone book for readers like me just getting acquainted with Frazer's work.

It took me a bit to get used to the authors style of writing.  I saw a lot of long complex sentences with several clauses.  Contemporary readers may find this type of sentence a bit more clear had it been broken down into two or three less complex sentences.  It halts the readers pace a bit, having to follow the sentence through multiple clauses and phrases, while continuing the line of thought.  However, once the reader gets further into the book, this becomes less noticeable.  Instead the reader focuses on the rich and entertaining plot.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and it had helped me open myself up to new genre of books to read.  I am curious about Frazer's other books, and plan to add more of them to my to be read list.

I received a review copy of the book courtesy of the author.

Monday, May 23, 2011

No Light/ Might Escape, by Joe Hakim

No Light / Might EscapeThe male narrator of the book alternates between verse and short story to paint an overall picture of his life.  Bouncing from place to place, staying with friends, in and out of various relationships with girls, our narrator seems to live the life of a drifter.  But what does it all mean?

The best word I can use to describe this book is gritty.  It does not sugar coat anything, nor does it go out of it's way to paint a pretty picture.  Yet I just could not put it down.  The book slips from short story to verse form, and back again, but I hardly noticed the changes.  I liken it to a song that brilliantly moves from verse to chorus to bridge and to verse again.  One does not focus on the different sections, but instead the powerful impact of the whole.  So is this book.

Of the two forms, I must say I did prefer the verse more than the short story.  To me, a tale told in verse is just a little more interesting.  But again, each form adds to the overall impact of the story.

The book may not be for everyone, as I said, this is not a book of poetry about pretty little flowers.  But if you want something different, something bold and honest to the point of painful, then I think you should give this a try.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Seven Exes are Eight Too Many

Seven Exes Are Eight Too ManyMC was having rotten luck in the wonderful world of dating, so on a whim she applied to be on a dating show.  Never in a million years did she imagine it would turn out the way it did, with MC stranded on an island with 7 exes, competing against yet another ex and his team of 7 exes.  It was like survivor, with sex partners.  Sure that all these men hate her, MC wonders how she will manage to make it through the required 21 days, not to mention try to win the game.  But will she end up winning more than just a game?

For any reader who also loves reality television, this book is sure to be a hit.  I will admit, there was a time when I was a reality t.v. junkie, so I found this book really funny, and at the same time insightful to how life must be for those who compete on the reality shows.  I loved the characters in the book.  You might think that this sounds like too many exes to keep track of, but Wardell does a fantastic job of really developing the characters, and making sure you are able to keep them all straight.

I thought the storyline was a fresh take on a romance/love triangle situation.  More like a love octagon!  The idea that the whole situation is framed around a reality show was innovative, in my opinion; I have not read any other romance book set in such a unique manner.

As always, Wardell delivers a book that is romantic and charming, sexy but not smutty.  For anyone looking for a great romantic read for your summer vacation, I say, look no further!

A review copy was provided by the author.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Impulse, by Ellen Hopkins

ImpulseTony, Conner, and Vanessa are all troubled children.  Though all three come from very different lives, each has a deep seated pain that they cannot ignore.  The pain drives them to act on certain impulses.  When all three end up in the same treatment center at the same time, it seems as though it was destiny.  Can the three of them help each other heal, or will they only bring each other more pain?

Once again, a powerful book by Hopkins.  Some serious issues are examined in a way unlike any of her previous books I have read.  Issues like self mutilation, suicide, intense sexual relationships, mental illness, and various types of abuse.  I thought the book did a good job of weaving together the three different stories into one plot.  I felt like I really could connect with the characters, particularly that of Vanessa.

Having said all that, I think this was my least favorite book of Hopkins' so far.  I cannot exactly pinpoint why.  Perhaps it was the 3 highly different narrative voices, though she has done that in the past and I loved it.  I think that perhaps the novelty of a book in verse form has worn off a bit for me.  With the three narrative voices in the book cake three different verse styles, and I found myself focusing more on the verse styles and rhythms than the actual words and story itself.

Do not get me wrong, this is a good book, and I did like, just not as much as other books I have read by Hopkins.

This book is from my personal library.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vigilante, by Claude Bouchard

Vigilante (Barry/McCall Series)A serial killer is stalking Montreal during the summer of 1996.  But most people show little concern for stopping him.  The reason is, this killer only kills the bad guys.  Criminals, deadbeat, pimps, punks, rapists, drug dealers, that is who this vigilante killer is after.  And while at times the police force feel these lowlifes get justice, they must find the person responsible for these killings.  When the cops team up with a high tech computer security firm, several interesting suspects are brought to light.

I have to say, this is probably the best mystery/thriller book I have ever read, and I am now hungry for more books in this series!  First off, I will say the character development was superb.  There are several main characters involved in the storyline, and each one is developed in their own time and pacing, as is relevant to the story.  I felt like I really knew the characters well, and was certain I had the mystery solved.

The mystery aspect of the plot is so incredibly well written.  There are, like any good mystery, some red herrings thrown in, and done so skillfully that I was completely duped, thinking I was so smart for figuring out so early into the story who the killer actually was.  The ending, and the reveal of the killer's identity hit me like a ton of bricks, as I never expected it.  The last sentence of the book made me shiver with delight.

If more mysteries were this well written, I could become a full time mystery reader.  Absolutely fabulous story, one that had me up in the middle of the night reading, just to find out if my hunch was true.

I received a review copy of this book from the author.

Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHis whole childhood, Jacob heard his grandfather tell tales of the incredibly peculiar children with whom he grew up.  The older Jacob gets, though, the more he thinks his grandfather's tales are nothing more than make believe.  But, when his grandfather speaks a few cryptic words before he dies, Jacob is determined to learn the mysteries of his grandfather's youth.  He ends up on a creepy island, learning the startling truth of his grandfather's life/

What an incredibly imaginative book this is; I absolutely loved it.  First off, the story is so completely imaginative.  The plot is so different from most of the books out there.  The book is dark, and rich, and I just could not put it down.  One of my favorite parts of the book was the accompanying pictures.  It felt as though Riggs had taken a collection of odd photos, and wove them into an incredible story.

I though the characters were really well developed and thought out.  The characters were complex, from Jacob to the peculiar children.  I loved seeing all the different relationships unfold, and more than once found myself surprised about the revelations about some of the characters.

While the story is aimed at young adult readers, the story is complex enough to entertain and thrill adult readers.  For me, it felt much like the Lemony Snicket books, for an older audience.  The story ends in such a way that makes me hope there will be a sequel.

 I received a review copy of this book as part of the Amazon Vine program.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bumped, by Megan Mccafferty

BumpedThe world has changed ever since a virus struck, rendering adults infertile, meaning teenagers are the only ones able to reproduce.  Suddenly, girls start getting pregnant for money, and signing fertility contracts.  For twin sisters Melody and Harmony, this means life will be forever changed for one of them.  But it might not be the one everyone is expecting.  Is it a mere case of mistaken identity, or divine intervention?

Sigh.  It is always difficult to write an unfavorable review of a wildly popular book.  Such is the case for me with this book.  This is a book written for young adults, and even with that audience in mind, I found this book to be incredibly sophomoric.  The use of ridiculous futuristic slang and shallow, stereotypical characters were just a couple of my complaints with this book.

While I thought the concept of the story was good, I thought the execution was a little lackluster.  There could have been so much more done with a storyline involving global adult infertility.  Instead, it reinforced the idea that teenagers were silly, and petty, and if they really are our future then we are all doomed.  I also hate books the force preposterous visions of the future on the readers.  However, I do fully recognize that had someone written about Twitter, Facebook, or blogging in a book published in the 40s it would also have seemed ridiculous, yet here we are.

In short, if you are looking for a light easy read, whether an adult or young adult, this is an ok book, but really, I think there are much betters out there.  I know this review may make me highly unpopular among young adult fiction lovers, and I fully recognize that this book has been getting rave reviews.  Mine just is not one of them.

I received a review copy of this book as part of the Amazon Vine program.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Goodnight Tweetheart, by Teresa Medeiros

Goodnight TweetheartAbigail is a writer, trying hard to keep from becoming a one hit wonder.  Her publicist signs her up for Twitter, in the hopes that Abigail will be able to read more readers.  Instead, Abigail meets Mark, a man with whom she begins an online relationship.  But, as with so many online meetings, things are not exactly as Mark described.  What secrets is he hiding, and how will Abigail respond?

I am so glad that this book came out now, as opposed to a couple of years ago.  I used to think Twitter was the stupidest thing ever invented, so had I encountered this book back in those days, I would not have been interested.  But as a reformed Twitterphile, this book came to me at the perfect time, and actually stoked the fires of my Twitter love.

I adored the characters of Abigail and Mark, and it was so fun to watch their romance blossom.  As someone who found true love online, I was reminded of so many fun moments, hard moments, and butterfly in the tummy moments that happened much like they did in the book.

I actually think  the premise of the book is quite clever, and I love that much of what we read is the tweet conversations between the two characters.  It gives a nice voyeuristic feel that so many fans of social media find comforting, and really draws you in to the story.

Fans of romance will love this book, it is such a sweet romantic story.  And those who, like me, love social media will probably like the unique premise of the book.  It is pretty tame, so it would even be suitable for high school aged readers, who are much more likely to be tech savvy.

I received a touring copy of this book from Crazy Book Tours.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lilly's Wedding Quilt, by Kelly Long

Lilly's Wedding Quilt (A Patch of Heaven Novel)Lilly has always been in love with Jacob, but never did she think she would end up married to him, yet that is exactly what happened.  She wonders if she is merely settling, or is it actually the will of God.  She works hard to keep her heart protected, but finds herself falling  in love with a husband she never expected to have, but fears what will happen if he never feels the same.

While not all books of Amish fiction work, this one really does.  I absolutely loved this story, and while the setting and characters are clearly Amish, the heart of the story is romance, and it is so universal that all readers can relate.

I really liked the characters of Lilly and Jacob, and thought it was wonderful watching their story unfold.  It felt like a privilege to be a part of their world and their story.  I can clearly see that there is a large cast of characters within this world, and I love getting glimpses of their stories, and wondering about where these stories might lead.

This is the second novel in the Patch of Heaven series, yet this book is a wonderful stand alone book.  While it helps to have read the first book in the series, it is not necessary for the full enjoyment of this story.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the Amazon Vine program.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Learn Something Every Day, by Young

Learn Something Every DayWho does not love learning little bits of trivia?  What if you could learn a new fact for every day of the year?  What color was Elvis' hair naturally, and was he an only child?  What did a bigwig at Crayola confess upon retirement?  All kinds of amusing, and at times outrageous, facts are contained in this illustrated book.

I thought this book was just so cool.  I am a sucker for trivia and unusual facts, so this book was right up my alley.  The pages are brightly colored, and each page is accompanied by a really cute illustration, so it was really fun to read.

Even though this book is not all that long and does not contain all that much text, I still was not able to sit down and read it all at once.  I think I started to suffer from fact overload.  I read it over the course of a few days.  For those apt to read in the bathroom, whether in the tub or otherwise indisposed, this makes great reading, because, well, like I said, it is fun.

One thing I will say, some of the facts in the book made me want to go do research, because they were so unusual or hard to believe.  Which is not necessarily a bad thing, it will get people reading more about those topics.

So all in all, a cute little novelty book that anyone would enjoy.

I received a review copy of the book courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Kiss Me, Stranger, by Rob Tanner

Kiss Me, Stranger: An Illustrated NovelNo name is ever given for the country in which she resides, nor is her name ever revealed,  but the narrator of this story talks about her life as a mother and wife in a time when it seems the world is going to end.  Turmoil is the state in which they live.  Her husband and son have gone off to fight, but who knows which side they are fighting for, or which side is the right side.  Will this family ever feel normal again?

I have never been one to read much, ok, any, dystopian fiction, so I am not sure if this book is representative of the genre.  What I am sure of is that this book is totally bizarre, and in my opinion defies most rules of writing.  The setting is never really set, the characters are never really developed, and the plot only sort of exists.

The book is described as an illustrated novel, and I find this to be a grave misnomer.  The illustrations look like childish scribbles, and do not really add anything to the experience of the book.  It reads more like a stream of consciousness exercise than an actual novel, though there is at least some resolution at the end of the book.

I think maybe I just did not "get" this book, because it has a lot of great reviews out there.  But to me, it seemed as if this book was just trying too hard to be bold and artistic, to make a statement.  The only statement I got from this book was "you get what you pay for", since I got it as a free download.

This book is from my personal library.

Black Shadows, by Simon Swift

Black ShadowsPeople all around Errol Black are dying, and it is clear that his latest PI case is going to get him into a whole heap of trouble.  Before long, it becomes clear that no one is who they seem to be, everyone has dirty connections, and someone is holding on to a very expensive diamond.

First off, let me say I do not read a lot of noir style pulp fiction, so I am sure a lot of the beauty of this book is completely lost on me.  However, I do enjoy books set in the 30s and 40s, so in many ways, this book did appeal to me.  The setting was very thorough, I really felt as though I were watching an old Bogart movie as the story unfolded.

Character development was also done quite skillfully.  No one is who you think they are; however, the characters shed light on their true natures throughout the book.  I love that there are twists and turns all over the plot, it keeps things interesting.  If I more often read this type of novel, I would have been able to keep up with the plot a little better I think.  Lots of complexity that suspense and thriller readers will love.

If I have one critique, it is that the voice of the narrator, Errol Black, seemed to change in tiny ways.  Most of the time, he is a hard hitting American man in New York, but every now and then he uses some British slang that seemed to not mesh with his personality (words like flat instead of apartment, and knickers instead of panties).  And a couple of times, the future was referenced in a way that made me temporarily leave the 1940s setting.  But, again, these are tiny details.  All in all, a book that suspense, thriller, and noir readers will enjoy.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Canary List, by Sigmund Brouwer

The Canary List: A NovelJamie has the ability to sense evil, and she knows it is coming for her.  So, she turns to the only person available, her teacher Mr. Grey.  Suddenly, he is suspected of molesting her, though she swears he did not, and Jamie is whisked away by her psychiatrist.  Crockett Grey tries to untangle the web around him, and finds it only gets more and more tangled, with the strands leading to the Vatican.  Will he ever learn what is going on, and will he ever get his life back.

This book certainly has potential to be very very good.  It has all kinds of incredible elements, the supernatural, cloak and dagger intrigue, drama.  The heart of the story is actually quite good.  My problem with it is that it seems to be anti Catholic.  Sure, with all the scandal the Catholic Church has had, and the long history and Church hierarchical architecture, I suppose it made sense for the Catholic Church to once again play a partial role of bad guy, but really, it gets tiresome.  If these kinds of stories were written about Judaism, they would be labeled as anti-semitic, and people would be outraged, but because it is instead the Catholic Church, that seems acceptable.

I did like the storyline, otherwise, and thought the character development was pretty decent.  And I liked how the action really picks up at the end.  However, in a last final twist of the book, I am not sure what to think was real or not real, and was left kind of confused.  I am sure that was the point, but it just left me frustrated.  Also, I felt it was never resolved what would happen to Crockett Grey afterwards.  No one just snaps back completely after being accused of molesting children, particularly a teacher.

I think this book probably has pretty wide appeal, fans of Dan Brown style books will certainly enjoy it.  Not an awful book, just perhaps could use some tighter editing, and a slightly different world view.

I received a review copy of the book courtesy of the publisher.

Circle of Friends Cookbook- 25 Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes

Circle of Friends Cookbook - 25 Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes: Exclusive on-line cookbookChocolate chip cookies are a favorite among many.  But why settle for just plain old chocolate chip cookies?  Why not spice things up with some pumpkin, peanut butter, or oatmeal?  Here are 25 recipes for different kinds of chocolate chip cookies that will have your mouth watering.

I love chocolate chip cookies, so when I saw this book was available for free as a kindle download, it only made sense for me to get it.  I am not entirely sure how I feel about using an ebook reader for a cookbook.  I often want my recipes in the kitchen with me, and there is no way I would use my kindle in the kitchen, and run the risk of getting food or liquid on it.  So that means either copying the recipe down, or running to and from another room to read it from my kindle.  Neither method seems efficient, and I think I personally would rather have a cookbook in my hands.  Who cares if it gets some stains on it?

As far as the recipes go, many of them sound good, and are variations of old favorite recipes.  I have yet to try any of them out, so I cannot speak to whether the ingredient measurement proportions or baking times are accurate or in need of fine tuning.  The pumpkin ones sound amazing, and I may try that one out sometime soon.

All in all, not a bad little cookbook, but certainly not my delivery method of choice.

This book is from my personal library.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Empty Chairs, by Stacey Danson

Empty ChairsNo one realizes that she exists, let alone that she is being abused and prostituted by her own mother.  Who would believe her if she somehow tried to tell.  But children grow up, and one day, she realizes she is big enough to stand up to her mother, and to get out for good.  Will she make it on her own?  Has a lifetime of abuse taught her how to survive on the streets?

This book is the epitome of intensity, and not for the faint of heart.  Which is exactly why every single person who has even come in contact with a child in any capacity should read it. Children suffer this type of abuse every day, though many of us do not want to think about it.

Stacey Danson is incredibly brave, not only for enduring and surviving this abuse, but for choosing to share her story with the world.  We cannot let her story go unheard; we cannot let more children be abused as she has been.

It is always difficult reading about children being harmed, and this book is no exception.  This is an incredibly difficult book to read.  You want to rebel against the wrongness of what Danson endured.  But putting the book down will not make it any less real or true, nor will it make it any less likely to happen to other children.  That is why it is so important for the reader to push through the discomfort, and seek the message at the end, seek the empowerment to spread the story and help other children.

Obviously, the themes we are working with here are tough.  Abuse, child prostitution and rape, children living on the streets, and various other crimes.  A book need not be pleasant to be a great book.  And important books, such as this one, rarely are pleasant.  But I beg of you, do not be deterred by your own comfort zone.  Because this book, well, this book really needs to be read.

This book is from my personal library.

Curse of Kali (Jason Dark Volume X), by Guido Henkel

Curse of Kali, a Jason Dark supernatural mysteryA man us dead, and the scene is set to make it look like a statue of an ancient Goddess has killed him.  With both Jason Dark and Sherlock Holmes on the scene, it is not long before the mystery appears to be solved.  Or is it?  Holmes concludes it is an open and shut case of murder, but as Jason Dark digs a little more, it is clear this crime has a supernatural element.  So, the question is, who is behind it, and why?

I was so excited to learn that Sherlock Holmes would be making an appearance in this Jason Dark book.  His arrival has long been hinted at, throughout the series, and I am happy to not only see it happen, but to see the interesting twist Henkel put on the interaction of the two investigators.  I personally liked seeing Holmes being trumped by Dark.

The story in this novella, like all of the Jason Dark novellas, is a fresh, unique look at what can be scary.  Henkel skillfully combines the Victorian gothic setting with universal horrors to make for stories that still are frightening to modern readers, but also appeal to those who like classic horror.  I personally found this to be one of the spookier stories, since the idea of a murderous statue would never have occurred to me, thereby making it a new terror.

Now that we are quite a few books into the series, Henkel is able to weave bits of the histories of past tales into the book, while also hinting at what may come in the future.  I find this to be incredibly engaging as a reader (and it makes me want to go re-read all the past novellas), yet it is done in a way that should someone choose this book as their first foray into Jason Dark, they would not be confused.  That is the sign of a skillful writer in my opinion.

So, my question for you is, why are you still reading my review, when you could be reading this fantastic book?

I received a review copy of the book courtesy of the author.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Taming of the Bastard, by L.A. Dale

The Taming of The BastardMillie is a woman with a plan.  She works two jobs to save her money, so that she can buy and run a bed and breakfast resort in Indonesia.  There is no room in the plan for romance, particularly if that romance involves a boorish rugby playing womanizer.  Yet, one cannot choose who one loves, not even in Millie's case.  So, the question is, what happens to all her plans?

This was such a cute little romance.  I absolutely adored Millie's character, though she had a lot more patience than I would have.  I love the description of the women in the book, and could easily see them featured in their own "Sex in the City" type of movie.  These woman made me chuckle numerous times, and I really felt like another girl in their group.  Brilliant character development all the way around.  As far as Sam goes, he is the man I want to hate, and just cannot, which I suspect is how Millie felt as well.

I liked the little secrets that are woven into the storyline.  Some of them I suspected, while others I had no clue.  But all in all the story flowed nicely, and I loved the resolution at the end.

I have preached on numerous occasions on why I disliked romance novels in the past.  It is books like this one that converted me into a romance reader.  I love when a romance novel hints at sexiness, flirts with naughtiness, but steers away from out and out erotica.  I think that is way more romantic and sexy, and this book fits into that category nicely.  A contemporary romance that simply smolders without the smut.

I received a review copy of the book courtesy of the author.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Burned, by Ellen Hopkins

BurnedPattyn was raised in a highly religious family, full of hidden abuse and dysfunction.  When she begins to act out at school, and rendevouz with a boy, her father puts his foot down.  Unable to control her, he sends Pattyn to spend time with her aunt.  Little did he realize he was handing her the keys to freedom, and her future.  She falls in love, and when it is time to return to her family's home, she carries her secret love home with her.  However, her secret may come out in the open.

Once again, Hopkins delivers a powerful young adult novel in verse form.  This time, themes include religious intolerance, female repression, abuse, and sexuality.  I really loved the character of Pattyn, and my heart ached for her, knowing what her family life was like.  I think many kids grow up in abusing households, thinking they cannot trust or relate to anyone else.  This book helps them see that they are not alone.

While I am not terribly informed about the Mormon church, the book does not exactly paint the church in a positive light.  I can imagine some readers will dislike this aspect of the book, particularly those who are members of the Mormon church.  However, some may see a lot of realism in the way the church reacts to the abuse the family is obviously enduring.  It is no secret that many churches in many denominations react this way.

Moreso than with any of the previous Hopkins books I have read, the verse form did not stand out to me as much.  That is not to say that the verse form was bad, merely that the story overtook the writing style.  I forgot that what I was reading was poetry, simply because it was so powerful.

All in all, another fantastic young adult book, most appropriate for older high school readers.

This book is from my personal library.