Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, by Claire Legrand

Victoria is about as straight an arrow as ever there was, striving for perfection, and disliking anything even resembling silliness.  Her best, well only actually, friend is Lawrence, a boy with skunk striped hair, rumpled and untucked shirts, and phenomenal musical ability.  When Lawrence goes missing, and Victoria notices the townspeople behaving strangely, she is determined to get to the bottom of it all.  She suddenly learns that the town harbors a great secret.

You have no idea how much I wish books like this existed when I was a young adult.  This book has so much depth, mixed with heart, mystery, and a pretty substantial amount of darkness.  If books like this had existed when I was a young adult, I might have waited until I was older than 12 to read Stephen King.  I really thought this was a fantastic piece of YA literature.  The characters are memorable and archetypal.  We all had that one perfect boy or girl in school that would flip out over getting an A- as opposed to an A.  Young adult readers will be able to relate to the heart of the story, with the focus on the pressure to conform, and the difficulty in navigating friendship at this tenuous age.  The dark element in the book represents the fact that there are many kinds of evil in the world, even kinds that appear benevolent.  

The story, as I said, is quite dark, and more than once I got a creepy crawly feeling while reading it.  It is very similar to Coraline, with a pinch of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.  The story certainly transports the reader to a new world, one that is a little dangerous, a little scary, and very exhilarating.  As an adult reader, I found myself captivated with this book; I can only imagine the effects would be compounded in a young adult reader.

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


Five Days of Fear, by David Kovach

Life can chance in the blink of an eye, and that is exactly what happens to Jessica's family.  When her mother overhears a terrorist plot, she is kidnapped, and and while attempting to reach his wife, Jessica's father is shot.  Now, the authorities scramble to determine why the kidnapping happened, and to save Jessica's mother.  After growing close to the lead agent on the case, Jessica is not sure what scares her more, losing her mother or losing her heart.

This book had a really interesting concept.  I really liked the action. Just a couple of pages in, and the action starts right away.  While I normally like a lot of exposition, it is just not necessary in this book.  It is clear that this is a good family in a horrible situation.  The characters are well developed, and you actually find yourself caring for them quite quickly.  You root for them, and despise the bad guys.  I guess what I am saying, is, it does not take long to become invested in the story.  The plot has a lot of depth, tying terrorism with financial fraud and a touch of jealous old boyfriend for good measure.  It certainly is not a boring story.

The only aspect that I disliked was the romance between Jessica and the lead FBI agent.  I just found it a little difficult to believe that an FBI agent would ever cross that type of professional boundary, and it happens pretty much the moment he takes the case.  I would think that the FBI would frown on this behavior, particularly because the agent involves Jessica in the investigation process.  I know that with fiction, one has to suspend disbelief, but I just found that a little to much to suspend.  

All in all, this is a solid read, and while marketed as Christian fiction, the faith in the book is very subtle.  While there is some intense themes at play (terrorism, violence, kidnapping, etc) it is done in a way that is not gratuitous, so it would be appropriate for high school readers as well as adults.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

236 Pounds of Class Vice President, by Jason Mulgrew

Jason Mulgrew spent his formative years growing up an an area of Philly that was more an extended family than a neighborhood.  He discussed the lonely and dangerous terrain of middle and high school, discussing such things as puberty, academic achievement, rites of passage, such as getting a driver's license, and the rocky terrain of teenage relationships.  And he does this all in a bawdy, tongue in cheek manor that appeals to fans of snarky humor.

Every now and then, one comes upon a book that changes the course of man kind, that appeals to the greatest minds of our time, that sends man on a soul searched trek in the desert.  This is not that book.  But what this book did, instead, was leave me laughing my butt off.  Mulgrew tells the stories of an awkward childhood, one to which I think most of us can relate to.  One reviewer suggested if one has a happy marriage or a healthy view on sexuality, this book will be disappointing.  I disagree. I read a particularly bawdy section regarding masturbation out loud to my husband, and we both laughed until tears rolled.  And the reason it is so funny is, we have all experienced these embarrassing, ridiculous, uncomfortable, and completely real moments in life, whether it is regarding masturbation techniques or failing your driving test.

As with his first book, I think that if one looks past the raunchy (and hilarious) stories, one sees a whole lot of earnestness in these stories.  We all knew kids like this in school, and in some ways, we were kids like this in school.  One certainly must have an open mind and a sense of humor to enjoy this book; luckily I have both.  I think the book will appeal to readers who like humorous memoirs, as well as anyone who suffered a few awkward childhood moments of their own.

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


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Merry Merry Murder, by Jeff Boarts

Nothing says "Peace on Earth, goodwill to man" like a small town Christmas.  Unless, of course, you find a dead body instead of brightly wrapped packages.  That is exactly what happens the Christmas of 1954 in the small town of Kittanning.  George Cooper, a journalist at the local paper, stumbles upon the body of Dr. McDivvett, the adviser to the local historical museum.  It becomes apparent that Dr. McDivvett was not a popular man around town, and many people could have had motive for the murder.  With a close friend listed as the prime suspect, George and his wife Ruth begin their own investigation, with the some key information that the police lack.  The wind up getting far more than they bargained for.

In the past, I have not been much of a mystery reader, but for the second time, Jeff Boarts has hooked me.  I really like the historical aspect of the storyline.  The historical nature of the town plays a huge role in the plot, to an extent where the town itself seems to be a character in the story.  I feel like, in this second book featuring George Cooper, we get to see a whole new side of our amateur sleuth.  We learn more about George's past, and see a lot more of his relationship with his wife.  I really liked this aspect, as it made me really care about the characters.  At one point, George and Ruth are thrust into an precarious situation, and I found myself really caught up in that moment, because they had been so well developed as characters.  And the best part of the book is that, while the second in a series, it functions perfectly as a stand alone book as well.

I found myself truly surprised at the end of the story and the revelation of the murderer.  Throughout the story, I had no real clear indication as to who the culprit was; while there were lots of possibilities, it does not all come together clearly until the very end.  I also like that there was more than one mystery for George to solve.

The book appeals to readers of many genres other than mystery.  Fans of historical fiction, thrillers, and nostalgic small town stories will also find a lot to love in this book.  It would make an excellent Christmas gift for the book lover in your life.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Happens on Sunday, by Laurie Koozer

Pittsburgh is a great many things.  But above all, Pittsburgh is the home of the Steelers, and during football season, life itself seems to revolve around the games.  Steeler football touches all aspects of life, as we see through the tales of several woman.  Their ages and positions in life all vary, but the one thing the have in common, for better or worse, is that their lives are impacted by Steeler football.  Set against the backdrop of the 2005 NFL season, we watch all of these women taking their own journeys, as the Steelers try to journey to the Superbowl.

I am going to say, up front, that this book will be best appreciated by someone familiar with Pittsburgh.  The city, with all her nuances and quirks, is as much a character in this book as the women whose stories we follow.  The book is chock full of Pittsburgh references that would leave an outsider's mind spinning.  But for me, someone who became a Pittsburgher, not by birth but by choice, and spent the 2005 football season living in my first Pittsburgh apartment, this book was simply fantastic, and brought back a lot of memories of that season.  

The female characters are solidly developed.  One of my favorite subtleties of this book is the way all 6 of the main female characters spill over into each others stories, in tiny little ways.  That is exactly how life in Pittsburgh is; it is a big city with a small town feel, everyone seems connected.  I thought that to be clever, and really skillfully woven into the stories without seeming artificial or contrived.

Each woman has her own story to tell, whether she is a newlywed, a divorcee, a high school student.  Each woman deals with her own issues.  The book as a whole seems to deal with the way women interact, with each other, with men, and with a city so obsessed with football.  The book paints a pretty accurate picture, in a tongue in cheek way, of the mania of Steeler fans.  On the surface, the characters (and the city herself) may seem a little silly, being so focused on football, but once you spend some time with them both, you will see that the people are full of heart.

I think this book is the perfect book for any Steeler fan, particularly females.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review. 


Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Desire Path, by Jan Shapin

Life during the Depression and World War II was interesting, and the world was full of interesting people.  For Andy, Anna Mae, and Ilse, lives intersect at odd and interesting angles.  These three people dance in and out of each others lives for years, each drawn to the other in ways that are almost obsessive.  Much of the attraction within this triangle involves the politics and political affiliations of each person.

I absolutely adore books set during the 1930s and 1940s, so I jumped at a chance to review this book.  Pretty quickly I realized I was over my head, but in a pretty wonderful way.  A large portion of this book focuses on two aspects of that historical period about which I know very little: labor unions and Communism.  Because of this, I found myself wondering away from the text to learn more about these aspects of history, so to better understand the nuances of the book, particularly from Andy's perspective.  This book sparked a long, detailed conversation with my husband.  And I love when books push me to learn and grow.  Fiction can be educational.

I really liked the way the book is set up, with each main character getting their own part of the book.  I struggled with Andy's section, mostly because I knew so little of labor union politics.  My heart broke for Anna Mae during her section of the book, mostly because she seemed so lonely.  Seeing each character from the others' points of view, as well as hearing their stories first hand, really makes the reader get a good picture of each character.  I found this to be some of the most complete character development I have ever encountered.  In some ways I felt like I knew the characters better than they knew each other.

The narrative does jump around a bit on the timeline, especially in Andy's section of the book, which gave me a little trouble until I got the rhythm of it.  For this reason, I really took my time reading this book, and allowed myself to fully grasp the impact of the stories. 

I found the book truly fascinating.  Fans of historic literature will enjoy, and there is a nice romantic aspect to the story as well.  It's just a solid story that made me stretch my knowledge base.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. See the rest of the tour here.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Owlet, by Emma Roberts

Iris has lived her whole life thinking she was responsible for the death of her mother, and knowing without a doubt she was different.  Homeschooled due to severe asthma, Iris is haunted by strange dreams of a mysterious island where her life is completely different.  When her father reveals that not only is the island a real place, but that he is sending Iris there, she realizes her life is nothing like she thought.  Iris learns that she is part of the Stryx, a strange race of people whose souls are part human, part avian.  What could this all possibly mean?

This book was quite unusual, and unlike anything I have ever read before.  The concept of humans with animal souls are not entirely new, but it is unusual in young adult literature, so I really like this fresh new concept.  Not all young adults want to read about vampires, so kudos to the author for creating fresh new mythology for teen readers.

I did find a large portion of the story confusing, but I think that is sort of the point.  Iris is in the dark regarding the truth of her heritage, so we are finding out the truth along with her.  This serves to really bond the reader to Iris as a character.  I found Iris to be endearing, and my heart really went out to her throughout the story.  I am curious to see where this series goes.

I received a review copy courtesy of Tribute Books Tours in exchange for my honest review.