Sunday, December 30, 2012

Two and Twenty Dark Tales, edited by Georgia McBride and Michelle Zink

Perhaps Mother Goose was not telling us the full story in those catchy nursery rhymes.  Perhaps, like the original fairy tales, the origins of those nursery rhymes were much darker.  In this collection, you read about a dystopian Jack and Jill; an shipwrecked Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod; and the creepiest Wee Willie Winkie you ever did meet.  It may be a good idea to read these in the daylight, because these are certainly no bedtime stories.

Overall, I found this concept to be really awesome.  I love re-imaginings of old tales, regardless of the slant, but to take something as benign as nursery rhymes and reinvent them as something dark and brooding was an act of sheer brilliance by some of the authors in this anthology.  Like any collection of short stories, some appealed to me more than others.  I was certainly more predisposed to the very dark tales, like the one of Wee Willie Winkie, and the Little Miss Muffett story.  I also liked the stories that were more closely linked to the original nursery rhyme, which both of the stories I just mentioned were.  Some readers may like the stories that are less literal, for me they just did not work.  

For some reason, I found this book to be a very slow read, and felt like I was slogging through a lot of it.  For me, each story was either love or hate.  There were no stories on which I was just lukewarm.  I wish it had been a bit more consistent in terms of all the stories living up to the "dark tale" promise.  But the coolness of the concept, and the artistry of the stories I loved far outweigh the portions of the book I hated, so I still think this is a worthwhile read.  My only real complaint is that the advanced reader copy did not contain two of the stories; that is like leaving out chapters of a book and expecting a review to review the whole book.  To me, that just does not work well from a reviewer's perspective.  

The book will probably appeal to other fans of re-imagined fairy tales or classic stories.  Also, I think the book would be appropriate for, and appeal to, older teen readers, since many of them feature characters who are young adults.

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

Friday, December 28, 2012

And When She Was Good, by Laura Lippman

Heloise finds herself fascinated with the legal case of a suburban madame who got caught, and eventually committed suicide.  Part of the reasoning behind Heloise's interest is that she, too, is a suburban madame.  After an odd childhood, with a tense family life, Heloise, then known as Helen, found herself wrapped up with a drug addict, stripping to make money.  It was not a huge leap to go from stripping to turning tricks.  And once in the business, Helen was caught, unable to do anything else with her life.  So how did she go from Helen, young prostitute, to Heloise, suburban mom and madame?  And will she end up getting caught like that other madame?

If my short summary of this book in the paragraph above seems a little disjointed, it is because the book too seems a little disjointed.  We learn pretty quickly that Heloise is a madam, but it takes a while to really learn anything else about her.  Each chapter alternates between present scenes and flashback scenes, and at first it is unclear that Heloise and Helen are the same person.  I found there to be no real transitions between the chapters, so these switches in time felt very abrupt.  It is only about 2/3 of the way through the book that the pieces start to come together.

I really liked the concept of the story.  It is not often I read books about prostitutes, so the plot and storyline seemed novel and fresh.  However, the execution, switching from past to present and back, really removed me from the story.  These flashbacks should have made me feel like I knew Heloise/Helen better, that her character would be better developed as I learned her backstory, yet I felt it actually hindered me in my attempt to connect to this character.

As far as mysteries go, I found this to have very little mystery to it.  Too much time was spent setting up Heloise's story for me to even care about the dead madame and how it may come into play.  It is no surprise that Heloise is in danger.  I would call this book more of a suspense novel than a mystery, but even the suspense falls a little flat.  The book will probably appeal more to readers of suspense or dramatic novels, rather than mystery lovers.  Not a bad book, just a little flat.

I received a review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three Graves Full, by Jamie Mason

Jason has a secret, in the form of a body buried in his yard.  He knows this secret because he put the body there.  What he does not know is that this is one of three bodies buried on his property.  When the other two bodies are unearthed and identified, Jason panics.  This panic, coupled with the twisted story behind the other two bodies, and the curiosity of a detective, lead to a night full of bad timing, mishaps, and surprising interactions.

When a book starts out with a dead body buried in the yard, you know you are in for a ride.  From the beginning, the reader is privy to the fact that Jason has killed someone, yet I would still classify this book as a mystery.  Why did Jason kill this person?  Who are the other bodies?  Why were they killed?  And what will happen to these killers?  Lots of mysterious questions to be answered.  However, there is a lot of dark humor in this book as well.  The last third of the book is full of some of the darkest slapstick situations I have ever read, and I loved every minute of it.  The ridiculous nature of those pages is what kept me rocketing toward the book's conclusion.

I very much enjoyed Jason as a character, despite the fact that we know he is a killer up front.  After learning the back story behind his actions, I could not help but empathize with him a bit.  There are a lot of other characters that are important to the story, but none so well developed as Jason.  I really enjoyed some of the odder characters, and their interactions with each other.  There was a lot of ambiguity to the characters and the story.

This was a very unique story, and a fantastic first novel.  It has me excited to see where this author will go in the future.  The book will appeal to fans of stories full of mystery and suspense, but also fans of dark humor as well.

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Vanity Fare, by Megan Caldwell

Molly is in a precarious situation.  She is separated from her husband Hugh, who recently lost his job, and has no mean to support their son, Aiden.  Luckily, Molly is hired to do some freelance copy-writing for a soon to be opened bakery.  Between playing Power Rangers, dealing with some extreme narcissists  scrounging up money to pay for therapy, and trying to rescue her mother from her own financial dire straits, Molly discovers much about herself, including a love for forbidden tasty morsels of various kinds.

This is, quite possible, one of if not the best piece of chick lit I have ever read.  In general, chick lit tends to be hit or miss for me, and often seems trite and dumbed down.  Not this book; there are son many references and parallels to major literary works that it was like a treasure hunt.  I loved all the puns on the titles of classic works, as well as the Byronic hero in the form of the character Nick.  

The characters in this story really pop.  I love Molly and all her neuroses.  She does not fit the mold, in so many ways, and that is what makes her so adorable.  She shows her vulnerability, and becomes all the stronger for doing so.  Similarly, the character of Nick is easy to adore.  I loved his character being revealed in layers.  Even the supporting characters are quite vivid, without being a distraction.

I just found there was so much to love about this book.  Discussion of delicious sweets?  Check.  Discussion of classic literary works?  Check.  A lovable if bumbling female protagonist you cannot help but root for, the perfect amount of romance and steam, and a healthy dose of snark?  Check, check, and check.  Add to this the bonus of several amazing recipes at the end of the text!  This is a great read for lovers of classics looking for something lighter to break the monotony, as well as tried and true chick lit lovers.  This delicacy is best served with a nice hot cup of coffee.  

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, December 20, 2012

Roman, by Kennedy Streath

As a small girl, TJ was forced to make a choice, one which, in hindsight, was not the wisest.  Now, upon the death of her mother, she is forced out of her high society life, and moves into a modest farm house to live with her father.  Her brother, Tony, has to leave shorty after TJ arrives, and he leaves her with a word of warning: Stay away from Roman, the dark, mysterious young man in TJ's father's care.  Yet from the moment she promises to stay away from Roman, TJ finds herself drawn to his enigmatic presence.

From the first moments of this book, I knew I had stumbled on to something very different.  I felt like I was walking into a mist, trying to figure out where this story was headed.  I knew it was more than your typical forbidden romance.  This book covers so many genres, supernatural/paranormal, theology/philosophy, mystery, as well as romance.  But the melding of all those genres resulted in a very rich and complex storyline.  There is a tenebrosity to the story that makes me forget is has a very normal storyworld setting. 

I was really captivated by TJ, and her voice.  I think she is a really rich character, with her own dark and shadowy nature.  Actually, it seems most of the characters in the book have a dark and shadowy aspect.  It kind of reinforces that you never actually know someone as well as you think.  I really liked that, it made the characters interesting and complex.

Clearly the story does not end with this one book.  At the end, I was left wondering, well, now what, a question you want serial books to leave you with.  It makes you look forward to the next book in the series, which I certainly do, because I have so many questions!

This is a young adult book, and while it is fairly tame (as far as YA books go), there is a feeling of foreboding and darkness that might make it more appropriate for older teens.  There is clearly enough substance here to captivate adult readers as well.  I, for one, and interested to see where this series goes from here.

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Circle of Witches, by Margaret Frazer

As a child, Damaris knew nothing of her mother's people, or her mother's past.  She only knew that there was something her mother feared deeply.  When tragedy strikes, Damaris finds herself living with relatives she barely knows.  Slowly, she comes to feel connected to these people and this place.  So what will she do if she finds out her whole life has been a lie?  And will she ever find out what scared her mother so?

What a rich story this turned out to be, so many themes at work in the plot.  The search for identity and connection to others, the battle between good and evil as well as man versus nature, and the everlasting pursuit of happiness.  A lot to pack into one beautifully crafted story.  The author creates a rich pastoral setting for this book.  The time of the setting is a little ambiguous, but through context it appears to be the early 1800s, as there is mention of Guy Fawkes being 200 years in the past.  There is a gentle beauty in the descriptions of the time and place.

The characters are equally rich.  While we do not see a lot of descriptions of the characters, we come to know them through the unfolding of the story.  Damaris is an incredibly complex character.  I often hear authors talking about their characters writing themselves and their own story, and I really got the feeling that is what happened hear.  I think when the author began writing this, she had no idea where Damaris would end up; that is how I felt as the reader anyway.  I was surprised in the end of where life took Damaris.  The supporting cast of characters is equally rich, and end up in places I would never have anticipated.

As the title would suggest, there is a mystical quality to the storyline, concerning paganism and magic.  One should be aware of this going into the book; if you are adverse to those things, perhaps this is not the book for you.  I personally am not typically a fan of this theme in literature, but it is beautifully covered in this story, and is only one aspect of a larger story.  All in all, a lovely book.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.  The book is touring other blogs, and tour information is located here.

Cascade, by Maryanne O'Hara

Desdemona was raised to love her father's Shakespearean playhouse.  Having suffered so much loss in her life, she is determined to not lose that playhouse.  But when her town is surveyed for consideration in the creation of a reservoir, she risks losing everything.  If chosen, the town will be flooded, which will destroy everything including the playhouse, but will also allow her to escape the life that is suffocating her.  Desire, freedom, creativity, and duty all tear at Desdemona as she chooses her course of action.

This books is so full of imagery and literary reference, my mind was, for lack of a better word, flooded.  The ties to Shakespeare are pretty apparent, between the playhouse, Desdemona's name, the paternal relationship with shades of King Lear, and the overall tragic tone of the story.  Desdemona also references Russian literature regarding parts of her situation.  But the literary work that would not leave my mind while reading this was The Awakening by Kate Chopin.  Between the overwhelming water imagery in the novel, and Desdemona's struggles against her traditional feminine role, I think the correlation makes a lot of sense.

I found the character of Desdemona to be so intriguing.  It seems to me she has to chose between allowing her town to drown or allowing herself to drown.  All of her relationships in the book are incredibly complex.  I found myself increasingly drawn into Dez's world as the story continued.  The story started out a little slow, which in retrospect set's the stage for how mundane Dez's life in Cascade truly is.  As the story unfolds, and complexities develop, it is difficult to put the book down.

With the artistic aspect to the story, imagery is so very important in this book.  I think the author creates beautiful and detailed mental images; I literally could see Dez's paintings in my mind.  In addition, I think the image on the cover of the book really beautifully describes the story.  In fact, the cover image is what initially drew me to the book in the first place, which is quite rare for me.  The story will appeal to fans of feminist literature, as well as those who enjoy fiction about the art world. 

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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Saturday, December 15, 2012

As I Wake, by Sarah DiCello

Danielle has been in a terrible accident, but what is more upsetting to her is that her travel to her past life in Cape May seems to be over.  Dani knows without a doubt that her past life as Caroline is no longer a part of her life, and mourns this.  But before she knows it, she begins traveling to yet another past life, this time as Elizabeth in 1920's New Orleans.  Once again, people from her life as Dani show up in her life as Elizabeth.  As Dani tries to learn more about her special ability to travel this way, she learns family secrets and the key to her future.

In this second book in this series, we learn significantly more about Dani as a character.  When I reviewed the first book, I mentioned I liked the past life portions of the book better than the present.  But in this sequel, I must say, I just really liked the entire story.  I felt that the balance between past and present was perfect.  The past portions of the story moved at a faster pace, which makes sense, since most readers will already be familiar with the fact that Dani time travels in her dreams.  I really liked seeing the deeper link between Dani's past lives and her present.  It made Dani's character really come alive for me, and made me really care about her so much more.

I found the story to be a complex, and richly written.  Dani is mourning the ending of one past life, trying to sort out another past life, and dealing with the reality of her present life.  It is a lot to take in.  When one character takes on multiple identities and names, it can get confusing for readers sometimes.  Yet in this book, we have multiple characters taking one multiple identities and names, and never once was I confused.  Past and present run parallel.  

I love that this book is highly romantic, with a decent amount of steaminess, without being to overly sexual.  Fans of romantic fiction will enjoy the book, and it is appropriate for both teen readers and adult readers.  I great book to read over your holiday break!

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

Below Average Genius, by Michael Buzzelli

Life is full of ridiculous moments.  The type and gravity of these moments range from making up drag queen names to blowing off George Clooney at a restaurant.  Whatever the ridiculous moments are, they are deliciously hilarious.  Read this collection of articles and prepare for some belly laughs.  Each essay is a nugget of humor, yet most are infused with wisdom as well.

I started reading this book yesterday afternoon, while my husband was at work.  By the time I made it to page six, I was laughing, out loud, so much it echoed through our house.  By the time I was finished, my dogs were looking at me like I had two heads, because I was laughing so much.  The book is simply that funny.  What makes this book so amazing, in my opinion, is that the author is so down to earth and relatable.  Many of the stories he tells are about everyday occurrences, to which we all relate.  He spends a bit of time talking about his life in Pittsburgh, a very down to earth, working class city.  However, when he talks about his life in  Los Angeles, a city that screams glamour and pretense, he still has that same down to earth quality.  

When reading many of the anecdotes, I literally could see them play out in my mind, because the author paints such a vivid picture.  See if you can imagine a comic bombing on stage and throwing cookies at the audience without laughing.  But besides the vivid storytelling and unconcealed funniness in the situations themselves, there were also moments of wry, witty, wonderful writing.  Probably my favorite line in the book comes from a story about trivia from the lids of Snapple drinks: "The word facetious contains all the vowels in the English language in the correct order. And sometimes facetiously!".  It is the type of sentence that might fly right by you, but if you stop for a minute to get the joke, it is like someone just reached out and tickled you.  Those little moments of pure genius writing are sprinkled all throughout this book, which is reason enough to read it.

As a read this book (all in one sitting), I was a great many things.  I was smiling, giggling, laughing so hard I was crying.  But most importantly I was happy that I was lucky enough to get to read it.  This book is perfect for anyone who loves to laugh, not only at other people, but at themselves as well.

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Antidote, by Oliver Burkeman

Our culture has been inundated with books, seminars, and self help programs centered around the power of positive thinking.  And while positive thinking surely can help in many situations, if it were really the end all be all, shouldn't the world have a lot less problems than it does?  If the secret to it all really was to positively envision ourselves as wealthy, shouldn't we all be rich by now?  So, given that the power of positive thinking is not all encompassing, perhaps there are other paths to happiness, enlightenment, and success.  And perhaps one of these paths is in the exact last place you would expect it to be, in pursing the things positive thought tells us to avoid.

While I generally consider myself a positive thinker, in all actuality, I am a realist.  Having worked in a corporate culture where I was assured if I wanted the company's version of success bad enough I would get it, I personally hold little stock in the positive thought movement.  No amount of thinking I am going to be a great salesperson is ever going to make me a great salesperson.  I knew this, and accepted it, all the while continuing to do my best.  No amount of arbitrary goal setting (sell enough to buy this car, and as motivation hang a picture of it at your desk!!!) was going to miraculously turn me into a top producer.  Because I was honest about my inadequacy, not only was I failing at my job, in their mind I was failing at being a positive, motivated, goal oriented person (which is total crap).  So, I am glad that someone is finally speaking out about the fact that positive thinking does not always work.

I like that this book points out a lot of the flaws in the whole self help culture.  I found the book to be very well written, each chapter covering a different aspect of the pursuit of happiness.  A lot of psychological and philosophical ideas are discussed throughout the text, making me wish I had a better background in philosophy.  I did find it interesting to learn that apparently my approach to life is in line with Stoicism and the teachings of Albert Ellis.  While I was previously aware of Ellis' teachings, I was not aware of the Stoic school of philosophical thought, so knowing I was following it without even trying to was a bit fascinating.

I personally do not care for most self-help books, so this book was perfect for me.  It is kind of the anti-self help book.  And for people who typically love self help books, I think this book could have profound impact, much more that the plethora of books on their shelves already.

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

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fall to Pieces, by Vahini Naidoo

Ella is struggling to get over the death of her best friend Amy.  The worst part of the whole situation is the whole group, Ella, Amy, Petal, and Mark, were together that final night, the night that Amy jumped, and yet Ella just cannot remember what happened.  She has a distinct feeling that her friends are lying to her, and with the help of a mysterious new boy in town, Ella is determined to chase her memories into dark and dangerous places all in the hopes of remembering.

This book can be summed up in two words: smoldering intensity.  Seriously, this book is really dark, and bittersweet.  All I could think of as I read it was this was sort of like Fight Club for the teen set.  The storyline deals with so many heavy issues, like suicide, sexuality, eating disorders, emotional neglect.  There is a lot going on here.  The characters really leap from the page.  My heart just broke for Ella with every turn of the page.  I really rooted for Ella throughout the entire story.  The ending was not what I anticipated, and I really felt Ella's emotions come through. The writing is honest, and raw; several lovely phrases throughout the text really stuck with me.

My only real concern with the book is the intended audience.  It is marketed for readers 14 and up, but I honestly think it is a little too dark for younger teen readers, and would recommend readers be at least 16.  There is a lot of instances of teen drug and alcohol use, as well as some pretty rough language, so this is best left to mature teen readers.

I received a review copy courtesy of Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest opinion.

Dianna's Way, by John Catenacci

John knew his life was forever changed when he met Dianna.  Even though she was in her 20s and he in his 40s, they quickly built a strong relationship rooted deeply in love and respect.  They marry, and have a life full of light and peace.  Suddenly, their lives drastically change when Dianna is diagnosed with breast cancer.  The next 17 years will be filled with highs and lows, joys and sorrows, and a battle they never expected to have to fight.

This is an extremely emotional book to read.  It is so clear, from the way this book was written, that John deeply loved Dianna, and loves her still.  But beyond love, his words are full of respect, pride, and amazement for the woman he married.  Cancer is never an easy subject to read about, and John certainly does not pull any punches.  This is a really honest view of what cancer can do to a person, and how it affects the relationships in that person's life.  As the book progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to read, but John never writes in a way that makes Dianna lose her dignity.

John and Dianna had a really unique relationship, of that I am certain.  I think that, for some people, the relationship may not translate to paper in a way that makes sense, because both John and Dianna have quirky senses of humor and unusual aspects of their relationship.  But the reader must remember that this book tells the stories of both Dianna and John, and strives to do so in a way that accurately honors Dianna's memory.  The only thing I was not terribly interested in was the self help new age pop psychology that John studies.  But it certainly seemed to help him cope, and played a part in his story.

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


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Coming of Age...AGAIN, by Carol Mizrahi

Sometimes, friendships last a lifetime.  This is certainly the case for Sylvia, Barbara, Irene, and Rochelle.  They met as girls, and their friendships have continued through all the various stages of life.  Now in their " early sixties, the women anticipate their "coming of age" moments and major life transitions are over.  They could not be more wrong.  Luckily, they always have each other for support during major life moments.

This book was so much fun to read, I read it straight through, snickering and giggling all the while.  I really loved how the author set the stage during the prologue, introducing the four main characters, and discussing how the friendships developed over their lifetime.  In just a few paragraphs, these characters were well developed, their personalities fleshed out in a way that helps ups prepare for each woman's story to come.

The characters are all Jewish women, and there seems to be a lot of Jewish wisdom and humor injected into this book.  While I am not Jewish, my brother is, and I really appreciated this aspect of the book.  I imagine my brother would be howling with laughter if he read this book.  There is so much heart in this story, I would love to have these women as friends.

I think there are some important life lessons in these women's stories.  My favorite is Rochelle, and they symbolism of the butterfly in her story.  Fans of chick lit will love this story, as will fans of humorous stories of everyday life.  This book was the perfect way to spend my Sunday morning.

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

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Before You Go, by James Preller

Jude is just finally starting to get on with his life.  After the death of his younger sister, life seems somehow strangled.  But now, on the verge of his senior year, he is finally able to find some happiness.  And then, in one moment, his tiny patch of happiness is lost once again.  And all the platitudes in the world are not going to chance his reality.

This book simply breaks your heart.  Jude breaks my heart.  The story is very straightforward, no fancy prose or grand literary devices.  And yet it just works, the impact is tremendous.  I thought the story was engaging, and it felt genuine.  The dialogue seemed honest and realistic for teenagers.  Similarly, I think the characters were realistic.  Jude deals with his emotional struggles much like any teenage boy would.  And in regards to his blossoming romance, I could feel his nerves and anxiety subtly simmering on the page.  It all seemed familiar, honest, and real.  The book is short, and the pace of the story is pretty swift, so it made for a very quick read.

It is hard to think about young adults going through terrible situations, and in turn to read about them, but the reality is that these things to happen.  A book like this could provide some comfort to a young adult survivor.  The loss of a young person can be so difficult to comprehend, and this book might make it easier.  It certainly could give a sense of legitimacy for a survivor feeling that those well meaning "everything happens for a reason" reactions are hard to swallow.  The book is marketed to ages 12 and up, but given the aspect of death, as well as indications of underage drinking, the book is probably more appropriate for readers 15 and up.

This books is from my personal library, all opinions are honest and original.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Tragedy Paper, by Elizabeth LaBan

It is Duncan's senior year at the Irving Academy, which means he will face the dreaded Tragedy Paper, the school equivalent of a senior thesis.  When Duncan moves into his room on the first day, he finds something interesting left behind by Tim, the albino student who lived in that room the year before.  Duncan soon becomes obsessed with the story of Tim's downfall the previous year, and learns for himself what tragedy really is.

This book had a very interesting concept.  You have one setting hosting two parallel stories, with two sets of characters.  You have Duncan's present day story, his relationships and struggles during his own senior year.  Then you have Tim's story from the prior year, which is presented around the context of Duncan's story.  At the end of the book, the two storylines merge into one.  I liked the two different points of view, I thought they played off of each other well. 

I was really fascinated by Tim's character.  Albinism is a topic on which I know very little, so I actually learned a bit by reading a book where a main character is an albino.  Tim's albinism figures heavily into the story, but it is clear that he is more than just his albinism.  I thought both Tim and Duncan were very well developed as characters, but Tim was the stronger of the two for me.  I found the female characters in the book a tiny bit flat, and never really cared about their parts of the story.  There was a certain amount of literary symbolism in the book, and more than a slight nod towards Shakespeare.  However, one did not get bogged down by the symbolism, and I liked that subtlety.   

I think this is a great book for young adult readers, and would make for an interesting lesson plan if paired with Macbeth.  The book has enough depth to appeal to adult readers as well.  

I received a review copy courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.   


Monday, December 3, 2012

I Am Not Esther, by Fleur Beale

Kirby is more of a parent to her mother than the other way around, despite the fact that she is just a child.  So when her mother decides to send Kirby away to live with her religious extended family, Kirby is mystified   She knows nothing of this family, other than her mother's estrangement.  When Kirby arrives at the fundamentalist family's home, they rename her Esther, and send her into a spiraling identity crisis.  Attempting to make her conform to their strict rules and ways, Kirby fights them, and attempts to open their eyes to the larger world out there.

While this book is aimed at young adult readers, as an adult reader I still found the book to be pretty engaging.  Kirby/Esther is an incredibly complex character.  Her identity struggle is not limited to her time with her religious family; on the contrary, her identity is the parental figure in her relationship with her mother has stunted her development from the start.  When her uncle forces the persona of Esther upon her, that merely intensifies her struggle.

The book reminded me of fundamentalist cult-like sects who have gained notoriety in the past few years.  It makes one wonder what it is like to be born and raised with an environment like that as their reality.  I like the fact that the story focuses on Kirby rebelling against it because she knows there is more to life than this one religion.  I also like the fact that she turns out to not be the only rebel.  While the story takes some sad turns, I am glad the end of the book takes time to further explore Kirby's relationship with her mother.

The book is certainly appropriate for young adult readers, but makes for an interesting, albeit fast, read for adults as well.

This book is from my personal library, all opinions are honest and original.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Nobody Has to Know, by Frank Nappi

Cam is the favorite teacher in the high school.  Young, attractive, energetic, encouraging, and a real mentor for his students.  He connects with his students in a unique way.  However, when one particular student begins to connect with him on a deep emotional and romantic level, Cam heads down a path of self destruction that will take amazing twists and turns.

This was a really amazing story.  One part Lolita, one part Pretty Little Liars, and one part Twilight Zone.  While the story of a teacher getting involved with a student is nothing new, the author certainly puts a unique and thrilling spin on it in this book.  What I liked best about the story was just when you think you know where it is going, a new twist is thrown at you.  It keeps you on your toes as a reader, and I was really surprised at the ending.  The action moves quickly from the beginning, and kept me glued to the book.  I finished the book in about 3 hours, because I just could not put it down.  

The only drawback for the book, for me, was the character development.  I found the characters to be a little flat, not as robustly developed as I would have liked.  This is not a terribly unusual thing for thrillers, often developing the action is a higher priority, and the action was certainly well developed in the story.  However, I found myself unable to connect with the characters.  Had there been just a bit more development of them upfront, I think I would have felt the pain of the story a lot more intensely.  As it was, I had no pity for Cam, but I had no anger for him either.  This is just a personal preference, wishing for more character development.  The story certainly works as it is.

I received a review copy courtesy of Tribute Book Tours in return for my honest opinion.  See the rest of the tour here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dear Teen Me, edited by E. Kristen Anderson and Miranda Kenneally

What would you say if you were to write a letter to your teenage self?  Would you try to prevent bad decisions?  Would you try to give comfort and encouragement?  Would you warn yourself?  This books contains letters from over 70 contemporary authors to their teenage selves, delving into heavy topics like abuse, sexuality, self harm, eating disorders, and bullying.

Wow.  When the very first letter made me weepy, I knew I had stumbled onto a truly special book.  Many of these authors write young adult works, so there were quite a few of them I was unfamiliar with.  Yet their stories were so, well, familiar.  There is something in this book to which every reader will relate.  Many of these authors struggled with really painful situations, and were able to channel that pain into a creative outlet.  As a result, this book is incredibly inspiring.

Books like this spread the message to our youth that life can be so much better, and you can be so much more, than your youth would seem to indicate.  Yet, as an adult, I found the book incredibly comforting, and uplifting.  It made me feel as if I, too, can achieve my dreams.  While the topics discussed are pretty heavy, the book is incredibly appropriate for teen readers, since the letters all discuss things dealt with during teenage years.  This would be a great book for a parent and teen to read together, to open up some lines of communication.

I received a review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.