Friday, June 29, 2012

Puzzlebook: 103 Puzzle Quizzes, by the Grabarchuk Family

The 4th book in the Puzzlebook series is full of all new puzzles for all skill levels.  103 full color puzzles that are designed to be interactive on your Kindle or Kindle application make for hours of family fun.  As with other books in this series, the puzzles are grouped by skill set, getting progressively harder as you continue through the book.  By clicking on the correct answer to each puzzle, you see the solution page and can continue to the next puzzle.

Having become familiar with the Puzzlebook series produced by the Grabarchuk family, I have to say I think this is my favorite Puzzlebook so far.  I really thought that the puzzles included in this book were some of the best designed ones they have created.  I felt like there was a really good variety in terms of types of puzzles.  It never felt like it was repetitiousness, and there were new types of puzzles I had not seen in any of their previous books.

The more I become familiar with these interactive books, they better I become at navigating them.  At the beginning of the book on the table of contents page, there is an indication on the settings suggested for optimal viewing.  It is important that readers pay attention to this, and change their settings accordingly, so that the puzzle and answer selections are correctly displayed.  Once I made sure my settings were correct, I had no trouble navigating through the book.

I believe that many puzzle enthusiasts will enjoy this book.  Once you get used to the nature of these interactive puzzlebooks, they can become quite addictive!

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dark Companion, by Marta Acosta

Jane has had a difficult youth; she was quite young when her mother died, an incident that also left Jane in a coma for a few months.  She has spent years bouncing around foster placements, knowing she will likely end up on the streets eventually.  But then her life changes, as she is selected for a full scholarship at a prestigious boarding school.  When Jane gets to the school, she quickly becomes close with the family of the headmistress, as well as a group of girls that are long time students.  Slowly, Jane comes to realize that there are secrets hidden in the trees around Birch Grove Academy, both literally and figuratively.  And she cannot help but wonder how she factors in, with secrets of her own.

I am quite confused with the ho hum reviews of this book; I absolutely loved it.  I found the gothic nature of the book quite reminiscent of Jane Eyre, but with a fairy tale spin.  I loved the mythological aspect of the trees in the book, and how much this subtly played into various plot points.  I also liked that, while there was a sort of vampiric theme at work, there were somewhat plausible explanations for why blood drinkers would exist, from a scientific standpoint.  The mythology of the vampire, while fascinating, often fails to explain why vampires exist.  I felt this book gave a fresh, creative explanation.

I found Jane quite interesting as a character.  She certainly starts of seemingly quite strong.  Many readers have complained that she fades over time.  I tend to disagree.  I think Jane's initial toughness is a facade, and that as her life takes a turn, her emotional barriers fade.  Just because a female character is emotional, that does not mean she is no longer strong.  On the contrary, I think Jane makes a very strong and brave decision regarding her fate.  I think we seen Jane evolve throughout the book.  I found many of the other characters very entertaining, and felt as though the dialogue was believable, something often difficult to achieve with young adult writing.

The book has very dark themes to be sure.  There is hinted sexuality, even fetishism and abuse, murder, and street violence to name just a few.  However, I do not think that these themes deem the book inappropriate for young adult consumption.  Many of these same themes (and symbolism) can be found in Dracula, which is often required high school reading.  

Personally, I found the book to be lovely.  I thought the writing was lush, and often haunting.  I found the book to be fairly believable, even in its strangest moments, and actually would not mind reading more stories about the goings on at Birch Grove Academy.

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Lighter Shade of Gray, by Devon Pearse

For years, Devon watched her mother sink further and further into the mire of mental illness, and developed a fear that she would someday meet the same fate.  This fear let her to push away her one great love, the man for whom she fought so hard throughout her youth.  Now, ten years later, her best friend Cass is facing crisis.  Suspected to be involved with the murder of her sister's abusive boyfriend, Cass drags Devon into the tangled web of half truths and secrets.  But, it turns out, Devon has a few secrets of her own.  Can Devon reconcile her friendship, come to terms with her lost love, and deal with her mother's alternate reality?  And how do all these fractured parts of Devon's life make up the bigger picture?

I was cautioned by the publisher to heed each word that was written in this story, because each word was chose with purpose and meaning.  At 470 pages, this semi-autobiographical novel is a beast, yet the publisher was right, each and every word had an impact.  Because the book is semi-autobiographical, we learn quite a bit about the author's life, and are left to wonder what is fact and what is fiction (a process I with which I was fascinated).  Hemingway is mentioned as a particular literary favorite of Devon's, and I think he has a tremendous impact on her writing style.  That same lavish, deliberate use of words to create detail, and really paint a picture for the reader.

While the story does have a lot of major and minor plot points, they somehow make perfect sense to me.  Perhaps it is that blend of fact and fiction that makes it so.  We are dealing with mental illness, abuse, gang violence, murder, lost love, fractured relationships of all kinds; it is a lot to handle.  My favorite subplot was Devon dealing with the young girl Libby, who is hospitalized with Devon's mother.  Devon allows her identity to become somewhat enmeshed with Libby's, and it lends an incredibly poignant quality to the story.  I was pleased with the way that subplot was resolved in the end.

While this novel does contain qualities of a murder mystery, as well as a romance, it is so much more than that.  In many ways, it is a ghost story, with Devon haunted by the ghosts of love scorned, and memories past.  I think it will really appeal to fans of dramatic literature.  Do not let the 470 pages daunt you; for me, they seemed to fly past.  I just cannot say enough about how beautifully this book is written.  I hope many readers find this when searching for that other, lesser quality book, about shades of grey.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Simmer, by Kaitlyn Davis

Now fully aware of who she is, and the impact of her existence on mankind, Kira visits a conduit community, where she meets more of her own kind, including some relatives.  It becomes clear that Luke's feelings for Kira are more than just brotherly; Kira finds herself confused regarding their relationship, as well as her relationship with Tristan.  Kira learns her own power, and finds herself a bit frightened of it.

For a series that had a shaky start, I was really happy with the way this book turned out.  I feel like the storyline in this book moved quicker, and kept me more interested.  I felt like the story really lost that Twilight feeling, and developed its own identity, which I think is probably the best thing that could happen for this series.  

I really enjoy Kira's character, she is no wall flower.  She has strength and power, something rarely seen in young adult paranormal romances.  I like seeing Kira develop, and learning more about her relationships.  I am particularly interested to see where the love triangle aspect of the story leads in the future.

The editing was much tighter than the initial book in this series, so I really enjoyed the book a whole lot more than I anticipated I would.  I think this is a solid series for fans of vampire love stories.  It will certainly appeal to young adult readers of paranormal fiction, and adult readers as well.

I received a review copy as part of Tribute Book Tours. See the rest of the tour here.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jeff Boarts' Blog

A while ago, I reviewed a wonderful book written by my friend Jeff Boarts.  The book is garnering attention in my area, since it is set in my town.  He is holding a book signing here in Kittanning on June 23.  I strongly recommend anyone in the Kittanning area check it out!

Take a look, and if you have not already, read my review of Jeff's novel, A Flash of Murder.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ignite, by Kaitlyn Davis

Kira has spent most of her high school career in boarding school in New York, but for her senior year, she will be attending a public school in Charleston.  When she starts school, she is befriended by a group of kids, including Luke, her new best friend.  Yet she finds herself drawn to Tristan, a bad boy is who is apparently Luke's biggest nemesis.  It quickly becomes apparent that there are more than high school cliques factoring into this mutual disdain between Luke and Tristan, but what exactly is going on, and how does Kira figure in to it all?

This book is a pretty standard young adult paranormal romance book.  Parts of it are quite original, particularly the concept of conduits harnessing the power of the sun to destroy vampires.  However, early in the book, I found it to be a bit too reminiscent of Twilight, in fact the cafeteria scene was like deja vu, with only the apple missing.  As someone who was not a huge Twilight fan, that made me skeptical of book at first.  Luckily, as the story unravels a bit more, the similarity to Twilight lessened, and I found myself quite interested in the story.

The author does a good job of establishing the romance between Kira and Tristan, as well as the conflict with Luke.  I really liked that Kira is an independent female character.  She does not depend on one of the men in her life to rescue her, she rescues herself instead.  I thought some of Kira's family issues were down played a bit, she was delivered some pretty harsh news that never really seems to get dealt with.  But perhaps that will come later in the series.

In general, I thought the book was better than average, in terms of plot, storyline, and character development.  My biggest complaint with this book was the lack of editing.  It is rife with grammar and spelling errors, confusing to/too, than/then, your/you're, die/dye.  It made me want to stop reading.  And before anyone points out that many of my reviews also have grammar and spelling errors, let me stop to remind you that book authors and editors get paid to produce error free work.  I review for free, and do not pay an editor to edit my work for errors.  When you expect people to pay money for the work you produce, you should strive to make it as close to perfection as possible.  I would highly suggest this book be re-edited, and then it could become a truly remarkable young adult paranormal romance.