Tuesday, December 27, 2011

200 Book Celebration Giveaway

At the beginning of 2011, I set a crazy goal to read and review 200 books this year.  Believe it or not, I actually accomplished my goal, and tonight I posted the review of the 200th book!  Amazing right?  Since I accomplished my goal, I decided to celebrate.

I set this goal to build my literary muscle, so it makes sense that my celebration will be something that allows someone else to flex their mental muscles too.  That is why I have decided to give away a $50 Amazon Gift Card!  

So, here are the details for the Giveaway:

Giveaway begins right now, and ends at 12:01 am January 7th, 2012.  Any entries received after that time will be invalid.

Anyone at all can enter.  All you need to do is complete the form below with your name, email, and the title of your favorite book.  The email address must be valid, as this will be how the giftcard will be sent to the winner.  Pretty simple, right.

However, there are several things you can do to earn extra entries:
Follow this blog, and tell me how you follow it (GFC, Networked Blogs, RSS) +2 entries
Follow @tiffanysblogs on Twitter  and tell me your user name +2 entries
Like the Tiffany's Blogs page on Facebook and tell me your user name +2 entries
Write a blog about this giveaway and leave me the link +5 entries
Give a helpful vote to one of my reviews on my Amazon profile, and tell me which one you voted for +5 entries
Share info on the Giveaway on social network sites (Twitter, Facebook, G+, etc.) and leave the links +3 entries per link

So as you can see, you can easily increase your chances to win by doing a few simple things.

Now, the only thing left to do is to enter through the form below:

Friends Like Us, by Lauren Fox

Willa and Ben were best friends in high school.  They had a little oddball club of two members.  After high school ended, however, they drifted apart, as high school friends sometimes do.  Willa met Jane in college, and another best friendship bloomed.  Now Willa and Jane are roommates, but when Ben re-enters the pictures something odd happens.  Ben and Jane fall in love, and Willa ends up being left out.  What will happen to the dymanics as these relationships cross all sorts of boundaries?

From the very beginning of the book, we know that there has been a sad sad turn of events in the friendship of Willa and Jane.  Because we know something happened, but do not know what, we are hooked.  We want to know what happened, and we want to try to fix it.  I found myself adoring Willa and Jane both, and saddened to think that something was coming that would hurt them.

While the storyline is not the most original, the thing that really stood out to me was the character development of Willa and Jane.  The reader can not help but feel for these women, and the wounds they suffer.  I was completely wrapped up in the story.  I will admit that I was not wholly satisfied with the ending of the book, but mostly because I wanted their story to continue.  I think the book will really appeal to fans of contemporary fiction, particularly dealing with difficult relationships.

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

Summer of My German Soldier

Patty Bergen does not have what you would call a happy home life.  Abused by her father, Patty struggles to find her way through the world, and often resorts to telling lies.  When a German POW camp is established in town, Patty is fascinated with the prisoners.  One in particular, Anton, develops a rapport with her, and later Patty shelters him as he attempts to escape.  As a Jewish girl, helping a German soldier is seen as a major betrayal, and has serious impact on Patty's life.

This was a difficult story to read, both in terms of the themes and the writing.  First off, the subject of an abused child is always hard to read about.  However, I found the book, and the way it handled the topic of abuse, to be so scattered.  I just had a really difficult time finding a connection with Patty's character.  While her situation was atrocious, the lying and other aspects of her personality made her hard to like.

I also did not really understand Patty's relationship with Anton.  Was it a crush, was it inappropriate, was it a fantasy, or was it just purity of the human spirit?  I have difficulty understanding what motivated her to help him, and what his view of the relationship was.  

I know the book, while fiction, is semi-autobiogrpahical.  I just felt like the author was working out some personal demons, as opposed to focusing on developing an engaging story.  This is targeted to late middle grades, early young adult readers, but I am not sure this is the best demographic.  While it is appropriate from a reading level standpoint, I am not sure that target group will be engaged by this book; it may be better received by older young adult readers.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Christmas Singing, by Cindy Woodsmall

Mattie's heart was broken when her childhood sweetheart broke their engagement, but she moved on.  She moved to a new town, and started a cake business.  But when fire strikes her bakeshop, Mattie is forced to revisit her old town, her old life, and her old love.  Suddenly, everything she thought she knew is not exactly as it seems.

This was a perfect holiday read for me.  Cindy Woodsmall does a wonderful job creating characters that readers really care about.  I found this story to be really unique, focusing on a strong independent woman in the Amish culture, which is a rarity.  Mattie is a strong character, wonderfully written, and as a reader, you long to see her happy.  

I really liked that the story showed struggle, and felt it emphasized the similarities between the Amish and the English.  I think that is part of why Amish fiction is so popular, because it helps bridge a gap between cultures that seem so foreign and antithetical, when in reality the cultures share many commonalities.  The story is one of my favorites by the author, and it made for a wonderful, peaceful, hopeful holiday read.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher.

A Clockwork Christmas, by Jenny Schwartz, J.K. Coi, PG Forte, and Stacy Gail

A repentant thief who fall in love with her victim.  A man in love with a very different
kind of woman.  An Australian suffragette in need of a man, merely for political purposes allegedly.  A woman who suffers from a tragic event.  These are the themes of the short stories in this book, each set in an alternate reality with heavy steampunk overtones.

I have very mixed feelings on this book.  Some of the stories were great, and some were quite weak.  Some of the stories lived up to the Clockwork Christmas title, and some did not.  As a collection of short stories dealing with the futuristic steampunk genre, I think the book certainly delivers.  Each story has steampunk elements, some are subtle and some are bold, but each delivers.  Where the book falls flat, in my opinion, is as a collection of holiday inspired or themed stories.  I thought the first story in the book did the best job of blending the holiday and steampunk elements, but it went downhill from there.

As with all short stories, there was little time in the tales for detailed character development.  Two of the stories did a great job developing both character and plot, but again the others fell flat.  I greatly disliked the story set in a revisionist South, where the South won the Civil War; I felt that point added nothing to the story, and it just bothered me.

The book was also a lot more sexual than I anticipated; while this was intended to be steampunk romance, the additional holiday aspect somehow made me think the romance would be sweet.  But there was quite a large dose of steam in these steampunk stories, and I am not sure the blend of clockworks, mechanical steam based inventions, Christmas, and sex was quite up my ally.  However, I think fans of steampunk and romances, and especially steampunk romances, will probably greatly enjoy.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Other Mothers, by L.N. Cronk

David has a beautiful life, with his wife Laci and their two children.  They have recently added to their family by becoming foster parents to Amber, and David feels strongly that Amber should be a permanent part of their family.  However, God seems to have different plans, and the family faces some of their toughest struggles yet.

Once again Cronk opens the world of her characters from the Chop Chop series, and allows the readers inside.  I especially like this book, since it focuses a lot on David and his journey, much like the first book did.  I feel that as the series continues, we really get to see so many of the characters blossom, and we see it through David's eyes; now it is his turn.

As always, Cronk bravely tackles some tough subjects, and I like the fact that she allows her characters to be imperfect.  Sometimes Christian authors do not want to show negative emotions or situations in their writing, but I find that authors that do produce work that is more relatable to readers, and Cronk exemplifies that.  Her writing is honest, and real; it allows readers to see pieces of themselves and their own struggles in the stories.

The book, and in fact the entire series, has wide appeal for both Christian readers and non-Christian readers.  I continue to look forward to the next book in the series, and am secretly dreading when the series ends.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Identical, by Ellen Hopkins

Raeanne and Kaeleigh are identical twins.  Identical on the outside, at least, but inside, the girls could not be more different.  Kaeleigh harbors a secret, Raeanne harbors one as well.  As Kaeleigh deals with her fathers unwanted affections, Raeanne pines for them.  As Kaeleigh binges, Raeanne purges.  As Kaleigh pushes boys away, Raeanne juggles multiple partners.  What happens when all the secrets bubble to the surface?

I have read many of Ellen Hopkins' young adult books, but this was, by far, the most powerful of them all.  This book focuses on trauma, and the effects it can have on the lives of everyone involved.  Trauma spanning generations, states, political affiliations.  There is also an emphasis on seeking wholeness in unlikely and unhealthy ways.  We see brokenness in nearly every character in the book, each of them using different means to feel whole again.  

I thought the character development was so incredibly done, particularly once the secrets are all revealed.  This is one of those books that, once you know the ending, you are compelled to go re-read it again, looking for all the hidden clues.  And Hopkins is a master of hidden clues.  I found this writing to be really brilliant, and it reminds me why I love novels written in verse form so much.

I know that books with tough subject matter are questionable for young adult readers, so parents should be fully aware of the content before allowing their children to read it.  This book is probably most appropriate for young adult readers at the older end of that spectrum, late high school to early college age.

This book is from my personal library.

What Ho, Automaton!, by Chris Dolley

Reggie is an avid fan of detective novels, such as Sherlock Holmes.  When he has the good fortune to cross paths with an automaton named Reeves, he adopts his as a personal assistant of sorts.  First we learn of the pairing's fortuitous meeting, then we learn what happens when Reggie and Reeves team up to investigate the disappearance of several society debutantes.

While I have never read any Wodehouse, I am familiar with the premise of his stories, as well as his iconic characters, so I was able to appreciate the homage that this book was intended to me.  It is a cocktail of Wodehouse and steampunk, with a Sherlock Holmes chaser, and it was intoxicatingly funny.  I found myself snickering and snorting as I read, thinking the entire time "this is pure awesome".

Still a rather new fan to the steampunk genre, I really enjoyed the subtle steampunk aspects to the story.  I particularly loved the Victorian revisionist setting, what with the Queen having mechanical limbs and all.  I found the Reggie and Reeves characters to be well developed, and I loved their interactions.  The first story is the pairing is just a short introduction to them as characters, and an explanation as to how the met.  The real meat and potatoes of the book is the second story, which I found to be hilarious. 

My husband is a big Wodehouse fan, so when I described the book to him, he fell in love with the concept; I think many Wodehouse fans will like the book.  Fans of the steampunk genre will also greatly appreciate, particularly if they have an appreciation for good British humor.  All in all, this book is full of win for me, and I would love to see the author write some follow up stories for Reggie and Reeves.

This book is from my personal library.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ripper, by Amy Carol Reeves

The year is 1888, and Abbie Sharp has recently relocated to London.  She is living with her grandmother because her mother has passed away, and is finding life in society a bit dull.  Abbie begins working at the Whitechapel Hospital, and shortly after she begins there, a series of grisly murders occur, all prostitutes who had been patients at the hospital.  Abbie begins to have a series of visions regarding the murders and murderer, who is now being called The Ripper, and finds herself pulled into an uncertain world of dark, shadowy forces.

I have to admit, I find serial killers fascinating.  So, when I first heard about this book, I knew I would most likely find it interesting.  Set London in the late 1880's, the book involves the coming of age story of Abbie Sharp, which just happens to be occurring at the same time as a murder spree that will later be attributed to Jack the Ripper.  I found the book to be unique and well researched.  The facts of the Whitechapel murders are skillfully mixed with the fictional story of Abbie, and mixed with a dash of the paranormal, to create an interesting story about why the murders occurred.  I quite enjoyed this alternative take.

The characters for the most part are very well developed.  Abbie finds herself in a bit of a Victorian love triangle, which I feel could have been a bit more emphasized.  The development of the romantic angle seems a little jerky to me, but I think it still helps add to the overall story.  I really loved the paranormal aspect to the book, both with Abbie's visions and with what she later learns is the source of the violence in London.  

All in all, I found the book to be an engaging read involving a fascinating historical event.  I think the book will appeal to young adult fans of historical, horror, and/or paranormal fiction; some adult readers will also enjoy it, I certainly did.

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Under the Same Sky, by Genevieve Graham

Her whole life, Maggie has seen him.  As a child, she saw him, as a young woman she saw him, and as her life embarked on a path of terror, she saw him.  In fact, he is what saved her.  Maggie endures a series of horrific events, and through it all, the vision of a man calms her, soothes her, saves her.  The man is Andrew, a Scottish lad who also grew up seeing visions, visions of the American lass he will later learn is Maggie.  Drawn to each other across years and miles, the two can only hope to survive together.

I told the author, when I was midway through the book, that it was stealing my breath and breaking my heart.  She responded that she hoped it would heal my heart as well, and I am happy to say her hope was fulfilled.  This book?  Breathtaking.  Honestly.  This is not your typical damsel in distress with a heaving bosom beneath a ripped bodice type of romance novel.  This, well, this is pure magic.  The story is so incredibly written.  The way that Maggie and Andrew have parallel lives, paths occasionally crossing on a metaphysical plane.

Maggie's character is what really broke my heart.  This poor girl, her story is so painful.  I cannot imagine any reader not having an intense reaction to Maggie's story.  And yet, her strength, her will to survive is so beautiful.  I felt more connected to Maggie than to Andrew, but I feel certain that without sometimes seeing through Andrew's eyes, this story would have been incomplete.  I think it is brilliant the way Graham allows their stories to unfold simultaneously.

There is a deeply spiritual connection between Maggie and Andrew, and that is what makes this story so romantic.  I am the type of reader who longs for that type of story in a genre that, despite its name, is often reduced to shallow sexuality.  I think real fans of romance novels will enjoy this book, particularly those fond of historical romances and Highland romances.  

Genevieve Graham has outdone herself this time.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author and publisher.

Masters of Seduction, by Marsha Canham, Virginia Henley, Jacquie D’Alessandro, Jill Gregory, Sherri Browning Erwin, and Julie Ortolon

What would you do if you had your heart's desire revealed to you in a vision?  Follow the story of a mystical mirrored brooch as it travels through time, and the stories of six different women.  Each woman sees a vision of what she truly desires, but how many of them will have the courage to actually seek it out?

With a title like Masters of Seduction, and a chiseled man on the cover, this book made me a little nervous.  I tend to shy away from explicit romance novels, but I decided to take a gamble with this book.  Well, lo and behold, I hit the jackpot.  This books is amazing, pure and simple.  Each of the six authors in this short story anthology write a beautiful story, with vivid characters.  The stories were dreamy and romantic, passionate and steamy, but never crossing over into trashy or smutty as so many romance stories are apt to do.  Most of the stories are historical romances, following the mirror from its ancient roots to more modern times.  One story is a contemporary paranormal romance, and one is just a contemporary story.  But the stories are woven together in this anthology to reveal the bigger story and mythology of the mirror itself.

For short stories, the character development was exceptional.  The historical romances, in particular, really lept from the page in terms of vivid characters and setting.  I think romance fans will love this book.  I really liked the fact that it gave me a taste of some new romance writers, ones I am sure to revisit in the future.

I received a review copy courtesy of one of the authors.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Sound Among the Trees, by Susan Meissner

Holly Oak is a Southern mansion with a rich, and troubled, history.  It was once inhabited by Susannah Page, who was rumored to be a spy for the North during the Civil War.  Some older ladies in the community think that Susannah haunts the house, and the women of Holly Oak do seem bent toward tragedy.  Currently the house is inhabited by Adelaide, who is Susannah's great-granddaughter.  When a new bride moves into the house, many of the family secrets come tumbling out of the woodwork.

I thought this book was, in a word, magnificent.  I loved the concept of a house being haunted, not so much by specters, but instead by the ghost of regret.  I think that redemption is a strong theme among many of the characters, and I like how each of the main female characters has her own distinct journey to take.  I found the characters very well developed, and enjoyed learning each of their stories.  It was fascinating to me to learn the history of the house and the inhabiting family, all the while seeing how the past influenced the present.

I quite enjoyed the setting as well.  As a Yankee, I find myself enraptured by the thoughts of the Deep South and the old fashioned ways so often seen there.  Whether the chapters were about the War, or about a modern day garden party, I found myself really engaged in the setting.  The house itself is a character, and I love that the reader does not know whether or not the ghosts are real.

The only criticism is that so much of the latter part of the book occurs through correspondence between Susannah and her cousin.  I found reading nothing but one side of the correspondence tedious after a point.  But that is honestly my only critique.  I think the book will appeal to fans of historical fiction, as well as Southern fiction.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher.


The Other Brother, by L.N. Cronk

Ever since his best friend, Greg, died in high school, David has watched over Charlotte, Greg's little sister, as if she were his own.  When she had personal struggles during her senior year at high school, David and his wife Laci really helped Charlotte.  Now she is in college, and learns of some shocking developments.  David fears his relationship with his "little sister" will never be the same.

Once again, I am floored by the humanity and realism shown in the work of L.N. Cronk.  This book continues the Chop Chop series, which follows a group of characters whose lives are forever changed by a young boy named Greg.  In this installment of the series, we see the blossoming of a new generation of characters, and the continued evolution of their relationships.

I really love that we have seen some of these characters, like Charlotte and Jordan, grow up over the course of the last few books.  It makes the readers fully connected to the characters, and invested in the story.  I believe that is why these stories read so easily; it is less like reading a novel, and more like reading a letter from an old friend.  There were a few surprises in this book, ones that make me excited to see where the rest of the series is headed.  This book especially emphasizes that period when teenagers are transitioning to adulthood, and some of the struggles that ensue not only for the individuals, but for the people who have loved them as they have come of age.

I think these books are equally appropriate for adult and young adult readers, as the content is really wholesome, but also realistic.  Once again, I am unable to find fault with this series.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ask the Dice, by Ed Lynskey

Tommy Mack has had one real profession in his life,  as a hit man.  Now that Tommy Mack is getting older, he is worrying about things like cholesterol and retirement.Now he finds himself framed for murder, and suspects his boss is behind the frame job.

This book is a great blending of contemporary crime literature and classic noir fiction.  While the language and pacing are more contemporary than pulp novels, the themes and characters are reminiscent of old time noir.  I really enjoyed the character of Tommy Mack.  He is flawed, and that is part of his appeal.  He is resistant to change, likes poetry and jazz, reflects on his life as an adopted child, all while being a contract killer on the run for a murder he actually did not commit.  Talk about a paradox.  

I thought the story was really engaging.  This is not one of those books where you anticipate the plot from the get go; the storyline and characters are complex and surprising.  And for a book centering around a hitman, there was not as much violence as one would expect.  It was much more interesting that the books violence is subtle; to me that is so much more threatening and effective.  

I think fans of noir fiction will really enjoy the book, as well as fans of contemporary crime thrillers, since the book so skillfully weaves a story borrowing from both genres.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Nine Ways God Always Speaks, by Mark Herringshaw and Jennifer Schuchmann

What would you do if someone told you God spoke directly to him or her?  What does it mean for God to speak; is it a feeling, an audible voice, a dream, or a physical presence?  Does God really provide us with signs regarding His will for our lives?  These questions, and many others, are pondered in this book.

I think I anticipated that this book would help me better recognize God speaking in my life.  I am not sure anyone can actually help me in that area, and I think it was naive of me to think that this book would either.  The book talks about ways people perceive God speaking in their lives, but it also does a fair share of casting doubt on the legitimacy of those claims.  I kind of felt there was some double speak, since the book talks about ways God can speak, then seems to raise doubts as to whether those things actually are God speaking.  Is God sending us a sign, or are we merely seeing what we want to see.  I left the book feeling no more or less convinced about God speaking in anyone's life, let alone my own.  A better title, to convey the message of the book, would be Nine Ways God May Speak.

The book has an anecdotal nature.  In some ways this is good, and in some ways it is bad.  It is good when relating actual anecdotes, stories of people who feel or perceive God at work in their lives.  However, the anecdotal nature, when relating biblical stories, does not work for me, and instead comes across as irreverent.  Some people may like this writing style, may feel better able to connect with the scripture that way, but for me, it was distracting.

I can see that this book could be very helpful and inspirational for those seeking books on spiritual growth.  For me personally, however, it just did not connect.

This book is from my personal library.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Scrooge has lived his life as a skinflint, never showing charity and certainly never embodying the Christmas spirit.  As Christmas nears, Scrooge is visited by spectors of Christmas past, present, and future, to show him the error of his ways, and teach him that Christmas spirit must be held in one's heart all the days of one's life.  Will Scrooge learn this lesson in time to save himself?

This is a story with which most of us are familiar.  There are countless adaptations in the form of children's books, movies, and abridged texts, so I am quite familiar with the story.  However, I have never actually read the complete original text.  Imagine my surprise when I found such elegance and beauty in Dickens' original words.  This coming from me, someone who does not always have the greatest appreciation of Dickens.

I have always loved this story, and found the message so deeply touching.  I have so much empathy for Scrooge as a character, have suffered a lonely childhood and gone without real happiness his whole adult life.  It is nice to see the theme of redemption so clearly illustrated in this tale.  This is probably the classic Christmas story, and I imagine it will be, in some form, a permanent part of my holiday traditions.

This book is from my personal library.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Their Last Suppers, by Andrew Caldwell

Ever wonder what a person's last meal was?  We often hear of death row inmates requesting a special last meal.  Many people never realize that their last meal is in fact the last, but it is still interesting to see what they had.  Explore the final repast of many people throughout history, including Marylin Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, and Adolph Hitler.

The premise of this book is brilliant, being one part history book and one part cookbook.  I think this idea is so clever, and particularly like that some of the more antiquated recipes are adapted for current preparation.  Each chapter talks about a specific historical figure, gives a bit of backstory, then discusses the final meal before giving recipes from the menu.  It sounds like a no fail book.

Unfortunately, I have some pretty serious problems with the book.  Within the first two pages of the introduction, I found multiple typos and grammatical errors.  Normally, I am not a stickler for these, and rarely do I mention them in reviews, but when you are talking recipes with precise measurements, typos in any section of the book make me very nervous.  I would be livid if I bought pricey ingredients for a recipe, only to have it ruined by a typo.  Finding them so early in the text make me have a critical eye, and as a result, I found a lot of flaw with both the historic and culinary aspects of the book.  

Historically, the book seems to tout quite a few inaccuracies as truths, and contains no proof of research in the form of citations or footnotes.  This is a huge error when writing any type of historical work.  Even if the book is not attempting to be a strict, serious, scholarly historical work, if history is part of the selling point for the book, you should do historical research properly.  Similarly, I found some of the recipes to be incomplete, instructionally, and generally poorly written/explained.  I do not think I would feel comfortable attempting most of the recipes in this book.

The book is a bit of a let down.  Wonderful idea, but poorly executed.  With a bit better editing, and a considerable overhaul to the historical research, this book has the potential to be wonderful, appealing to historians and foodies alike.

This book is from my personal library.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The End of Marking Time, by C.J. West

Michael is a highly skilled man. Skilled at burglary and various crimes. But, eventually, the law catches up with him, all while he lie sleeping. He wakes from a coma to learn that the justice system has completely changed, and his life will never be the same. Their are steps Michael must complete in order to completely re-enter society, and he has a difficult time following the rules. Will he be able to change in time to save his own life?

I found the premise of this book fascinating, and not all that difficult to imagine. I think that a scenario like this, involving a total rehaul of the penal system, is entirely plausible. In Michael, we see a character who really has to go through a rebirth of sorts. Not only has everything changed, but to him (having been in a coma) the change seems as if overnight. While everyone else has had time to adjust, Michael is in do or die mode, and it makes for an interesting internal conflict.

There is not a lot of external action in the book, a few conflicts between Michael and other characters. The story more focuses on that internal conflict, so the book has a much more pensive feel than readers might anticipate. I also think that the potentially prophetic nature of the book can make readers a bit squirmy. However, it will appeal to fans of dystopian fiction, and crime fiction, as it artfully blends the two genres.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

The Secret of Lies, by Barbara Forte Abate

As an adult, Stevie finds herself running from the reality of her life, and chasing the ghosts of her youth.  As a child, she and her sister would spend their summers at the shore with their Aunt and Uncle.  During those summer holidays, crushes develop, friendships form, and somehow, inexplicably, the girls grow into women.  Their final summer at the shore, Stevie picks up on a unusual bond forming between her sister and her uncle, until  the situation reaches a boiling point, and tragedy strikes, a tragedy that affects Stevie for the rest of her life.

There was something soft and lilting about this book, even at its darkest points.  There was a dreamy deja vu quality to the writing, particularly the portion of the book set at the seashore.  It was if I could smell the sea air as the words unfolded from the page and danced around me.  It was really breathtaking.

I loved the character development, particularly the young Stevie and her sister.  As the summers wear on, and the situation becomes strained, the characters' tension absolutely simmers on the page.  I just could not get enough.  After the tragedy strikes, the story moves away from this and more towards how Stevie deals with the situation in the long term.  Of the two portions of the book, I liked the part leading up to tragedy, which served as a turning point in the story.  The second part of the book felt a little detached and disconnected for me, but still served to move the story forward.

All in all, I though this was a good contemporary fiction novel.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cliques, Hicks, and Ugly Sticks, by KC McCrite

This are a little cramped in April Grace's house.  She lives with her parents, and her snotty sister Myra Sue.  Now the neighbors, Isabella St. James and her husband, have moved in while Isabella recovers from a car accident.  And now, April Grace finds out there is going to be a new baby!  On top of the troubles at home, April finds that one of her closest friends has turned on her, and has created a new clique which ridicules April and other kids.  Growing up is never easy, but especially not for April Grace.

I just adored this book.  I found the storyline sweet and honest, and April Grace is one of the most endearing characters I have ever met.  She reminds me so much of myself as a middle schooler!  This is the second book in a series, but it does a great job filling in the back story, so I never felt lost or confused with the storyline or the cast of characters.  

The book is geared toward a middle grade reader, and I think the storylines are quite appropriate for that age group.  However, the 1980's setting will be foreign to a tween reader, more suited to adults like me who lived then.  It would either work better as a tween book set in current times, or more developed into an adult book set in the 80s.  As it is, it feels a little hit or miss with both demographics, though I personally loved the book.

This is classified as a Christian book, and while there were themes of faith and Christian messages in the book, they were not dominant, so the book can still appeal to a mainstream audience.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher.
    I review for BookSneeze®

The Trouble with Thieves, by Maurice X. Alvarez and Ande Li

If you think life on Earth is wild, try living in Averia, where the natives are bird like humanoids.  But how would one get there? Cecil finds himself there after he falls into a portal, owned by a thief named Kormer.  Anndrew, Cecil's school mate, travels into the portal with Kormer and his traveling companion from the future, Jeransy, to try to get Cecil back to his own world.  However, life in Averia agrees with Cecil, and he becomes incredibly powerful; why should he return to his mundane life?

I think the reason I struggle so much with reading fantasy novels is because I lack imagination.  Clearly, the authors of this book do not have the same problem.  Multiple planets, languages, and storyworlds have been artfully created for this book.  As I read, I had trouble picturing it in my mind, not because it was not well developed (it certainly was) but because I lacked the imagination.  It made me sad that I was not able to enjoy the story as fully as it deserved to be enjoyed.

I found the character of Kormer to be fascinating.  He flits through time and space via his portal, creating relationships with individuals he knows he will never see again.  He is an adventurer.  I would have liked to seen the story focus more on him individually, instead of adding Jeransy to the mix.  I found her presence a bit on the distracting side.  Similarly, I liked Cecil's character, and enjoyed watching him grow in his powers.

Overall, I think this book is well written, and highly imaginative.  It would appeal best to fans of fantasy writing, particularly that involving other planets or galaxies, such as the writings of Douglas Adams.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The House of Silver Magic, by John Booth

Life for the Grange family is forever altered.  Not only are the suffering from the lost of their father, the children and their mother also face the loss of their house, since their father secretly sold it before his death.  But, through a seeming twist of fate, the family finds the means and opportunity to buy a grand house, a house full of magic and secrets.  It is the magic of the house that will save the Grange family from their enemies.

John Booth writes a type of fantasy fiction that is nothing short of beautiful.  This book is full of wonder, and enchantment like few I have encountered before.  From the first sentence, the reader is endeared to the Grange family, and wants to see them succeed in their new lives.  I found the characters to be incredibly well developed, and especially loved that the house has a character, nee, characters, of its own.  It is exciting to watch the children learn of their heritage and discover their powers.

Often, adult fans of young adult books are criticized for relishing in childish stories.  I can assure you, while this book will clearly appeal to young adult readers, there is nothing childish about it, and any adult reader can be proud to be a fan.  The story is unique, the writing is sublime, and the magic is, well, magical.  I am so pleased to learn that this is the first in a new series, and cannot wait to see what lies ahead for the Grange family.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wish, by Alexandra Bullen

Things are a little tough for Olivia right now.  Her family has moved, partly in order to help themselves heal with the death of Olivia's twin sister, Violet.  Olivia is starting a new school, and tries to make some friends, but finds herself wishing she still had her sister.  Suddenly, Violet appears to Olivia, and helps her learn that sometimes, when wishes are made from the heart, the come true, and they come with consequences.

Who among us has not made a wish or two?  Most of the time they are frivolous, but occasionally, our hearts ache for something with such longing.  That is why it is easy to relate to this book.  I found that in terms of the targeted young adult audience, this book was well conceived.  The characters sound like real teens, and encounter real teen scenarios and dilemmas.  I liked both Olivia and Violet's characters.  Death of a sibling, particularly a twin, could be devastating for a teen, and I liked that this book centered around such a touch topic, using light humor to soften the blows.

I was a little troubled by the behavior of some of the teen characters, and the fact that there were no consequences for the drinking and sneaking out, but that is part of what makes the story more true to the life of a teen.  We all know they encounter that kind of stuff all the time.  I think that many adult readers would have a hard time connecting with the book, since it is so focused on the teen world, but for the intended audience, I think the book is great.

This book is from my personal library.

Jane Was Here, by Sarah Kernochan

Jane shows up in her home town, trying to piece together her mysterious past. The problem is, she lived about 150 years ago.  Apparently reincarnated, Jane lived part of her second life posing as an autistic woman.  She has snippets of memories from her past, and returns to her New England home to try to piece them together.  She encounters old enemies in her forms, and her appearance puts many peoples' lives in upheaval.

I really really wanted to love this book; instead I just found it to be o.k.  I am intrigued by stories involving reincarnation, so the concept of this book fascinated me.  And I think in terms of a the reincarnation story line, not only involving Jane but also her love interests, the author does a great job.  I liked watching the wounds of the past manifest themselves in the present day; it reinforces the idea that everything has consequences.

However, I found there to be a bit too much going on in the book, too many characters, too many subplots.  It was all just a little too much.  Because there was just so much going on, including a child who makes her own religious philosophy (what the?), I found it difficult to connect to the story as much as I would have liked.  I wanted to focus on Jane, but there was all this other literary noise that distracted me; by the time we got to the end of Jane's story, I had kind of checked out.

I think the book was well written, and many people will love it.  But for me, it just did not connect.

I received a review copy courtesy of Crazy Book Tours.