Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gold Star Review: Arclight

by Josin L. McQuein

Book Description:
The Arclight is the last refuge in a post-apocalyptic world consumed by terrifying monsters called the Fade. No one crosses the wall of light that keeps the last human survivors safe. There's nothing else left and nowhere to go. Or so they thought, until Marina, a lone teenage girl, stumbles out of the Dark.

Marina doesn't remember who she is, where she came from, or how she survived. And the Fade want her back. When one of them infiltrates the compound and recognizes Marina, she begins to unlock secrets she didn't even know she had. Marina knows she's an outsider in the Arclight, but she'll do anything to protect those who saved her. Whether they want her help or not.

I could not put this book down! From the opening pages, I was totally sucked into Marina's world. McQuein's writing is very suspenseful. Similar to Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Marina learns things in bits and pieces as she deals with amnesia.

It's been a little while since I've come across a book that just literally sucked me in so hard that I did not want to stop reading...especially when the book ended. I want more of Marina's journey. I want to find out where the humans will go from here.... It's hard to describe what I want to see without giving things away, but there are characters that I'm totally intrigued to see more from and I want to jump back into this world.

I'm giving this one a gold star for being completely fascinating. Danger, mystery, romance, and more...in my opinion, this is a great example of post-apocalyptic science fiction!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review: Charmed Vengeance

Charmed Vengeance
by Suzanne Lazear
The Aether Chronicles, book two

Book Description
When her true love, Steven, is forced to break their magical bond, Noli Braddock decides to join her brother on the crew of the Vixen’s Revenge.

With its gleaming brass, dark wood, and spotless clockwork gears, the Vixen’s Revenge is a beautiful airship. But Noli discovers a dangerous secret beneath its polished exterior—the crew has been hired to steal dozens of priceless Otherworld artifacts. Desperate to keep her past Otherworld experiences hidden from the airship crew, Noli fears that if she doesn’t risk telling her own secrets, the stolen artifacts will be used to destroy both of the worlds she loves.

I loved diving back into this charming blend of steampunk and faerie lore. Lazear does a brilliant job blending traditional faerie legends and affectations into an alternate history of the US. This particular book spans the country, too, which made for a lot of interesting scene changes. With the faerie realm underlayed, though, the country almost felt small, and the amazing airships made traveling a breeze.

In some ways this book truly was a bridge between the first and what will be coming in the third. There's a lot of set up for the next portion of Noli's story and characters were introduced or brought back in ways that lead directly to how they'll play a part in the next tale, yet it still felt as though it had its own legs to stand on. *NOT* to say that I wasn't immediately left wanting the next book, but I'm also happy with where things were left...for now.

A lot of that contentment with this book derives from seeing how Noli progresses as a character. Having to deal with her new...situation...bridging the gap between the mortal and faerie realms. Seeing how the people in her world help those two realms collide...there were a lot of feelings in this book...

Readers who love romance, faeries, adventure, steampunk, and alternate histories should check out book one in the series, Innocent Darkness!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: The Dark Between

The Dark Between
by Sonia Gensler

Book Description
At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.

Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

I loved the atmosphere of this book. Set in the early 1900's in England, spiritualism is all the rage. Combined with the development of early sciences, the three teens find themselves caught in a mystery that finds at its heart the question...are there really ghosts or is everything just an illusion of the otherworld? The pseudo-sciences explored were fascinating and the way that Gensler ties everything together totally sucked me in to the story.

While I had my suspicions about who was really involved with what and why, I found myself absolutely captivated watching the characters figure it all out. A great supernatural mystery for historical fans.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: Almost Home

Almost Home
by Joan Bauer

Book Description:
When twelve-year-old Sugar's grandfather dies and her gambling father takes off yet again, Sugar and her mother lose their home in Missouri. They head to Chicago for a fresh start, only to discover that fresh starts aren't so easy to come by for the homeless. Nevertheless, Sugar's mother has taught her to be grateful no matter what, so Sugar does her best. With the help of a rescue dog, Shush; a foster family; a supportive teacher; a love of poetry; and her own grace and good humor, Sugar comes to understand that while she can't control the hand life deals her, she can control how she responds.

This was a sweet, heart-string plucking book. It reminded me a lot of One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Sugar is a girl who strives to be sweet...to take on the world with a positive attitude. Even after she gets stuck in foster care and she doesn't quite trust her new situation, she vows to be kind. What a fabulous and strong character! A girl who is forced to take on a grown-up role too young, Sugar's street smarts, compassion, and independent character carry this story through to a satisfying conclusion.

If you like realistic stories about characters dealing with tough situations, but not something quite as hard to read as A Child Called It, this is the type of book you should check out.  There is also a super cute puppy in this story, so if you're an animal lover this would probably be a great choice too.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: Kennedy's Last Days

Kennedy's Last Days 
by Bill O'Reilly

Book Description:
On a sunny day in Dallas, Texas, at the end of a campaign trip, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is assassinated by an angry, lonely drifter named Lee Harvey Oswald. The former Marine Corps sharpshooter escapes briefly, but is hunted down, captured, and then shot dead while in police custody.

Kennedy's Last Days is a gripping account of the events leading up to the most notorious crime of the twentieth century. Author Bill O’Reilly vividly describes the Kennedy family’s life in the public eye, the crises facing the president around the world and at home, the nation’s growing fascination with their vigorous, youthful president, and finally, the shocking events leading up to his demise.

Adapted from Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling historical thriller Killing Kennedy, with an unforgettable cast of characters, page-turning action, and art on every spread, Kennedy’s Last Days is history that reads like a thriller. This exciting book will captivate adults and young readers alike.

I'm actually surprised about how much I learned about JFK from this short book. Did you know that he was a speed reader?  Did you know that JFK had no intention to go into politics? He wanted to be a reporter.  Did you know that he had to do physical therapy every day for his back because he'd injured it in a war? 

No? I didn't either.  

This book is short and engagingly informative.  There are some great photos that match up to the stories that show exactly how JFK became President of the United States.  I also really enjoyed how the story alternates between describing JFK's history and then Lee Harvey Oswald's. 

If you like history, but don't want to read a "text" book, this would be a great choice. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review - Redemption

by Veronique Launier
Hearts of Stone, book one

Book Description:
Aude Vanier is a sixteen-year-old rock star with a problem—stone monsters keep attacking her. And when they do, she finds herself chanting in a language she doesn’t understand.

Guillaume de Rouen has been stuck as a gargoyle on a church for the last seventy years, until Aude’s chanting releases him back to his seventeen-year-old human form.

An ancient Iroquois prophecy about the destruction of Montreal is coming true. Together, Aude and Guillaume can stop it. But Aude is the descendant of a centuries-old coven of witches—a coven that Guillaume failed to protect seventy years ago. This time, if they fail, the world will never be the same.

Okay, I have to admit first thing that I am very fond of gargoyles. I love books with gargoyle characters. This stems directly from one reading the Xanth series by Piers Anthony, which brought some amazing character concepts to life for me, including Geis of the Gargoyle's, Gary Gargoyle. That combined with my interest in art history and the beautiful stonework that exists on many historic buildings leads to a love and fascination for gargoyles and other stone creatures.

I found Launier's debut book to be great conceptually. It combined the existence of gargoyles with a very spiritual and pagan sort of witchcraft. Added to that mix is a Mohawk prophecy about the end of the world and you have a very, very intriguing sort of end of the world story.

I really liked Aude and Guillaume as the main characters. Aude, or as she likes to be known "Odd," is a rock princess who generally knows what she wants from life. When her life is thrown into chaos, she very realistically goes through some stages of denial, acceptance, and general WTHeck?! I really liked how in some respects she was very much in charge of herself and knew what to do to handle things and in other scenarios, she accepted that she couldn't control the things happening around her. Guillaume was able to help keep her safe and to give her a touchstone in the crazy new world she had to deal with, but he also respects that she is powerful in her own right. At first, I didn't like jumping between their perspectives, but as I continued reading I actually found it to be a great way to see all facets of the story.

This was a great summer read for me. Fast-paced, interesting and with a romance thrown in to boot. I'm really looking forward to seeing where the next book in the series goes...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review: Mortal Fire

Mortal Fire
by Elizabeth Knox

Book Description:
Sixteen-year-old Canny Mochrie's parents go away on a vacation, so they send her off on a trip of her own with her step-brother Sholto and his opinionated girlfriend Susan, who are interviewing the survivors of a strange coal mine disaster and researching local folklore in 1959 Southland, New Zealand. Canny is left to herself to wander in a mysterious and enchanting nearby valley, occupied almost entirely by children who all have the last name Zarene and can perform a special type of magic that tells things how to be stronger and better than they already are. With the help of a seventeen-year-old boy who is held hostage in a hidden away house by a spell that is now more powerful than the people who first placed it, Canny figures out why she, too, can use this special magic that only Zarenes should know, and where she really came from.

I read Knox's Dreamhunter duet a few years ago and fell absolutely in love with her worldbuilding and storytelling. Knox once again brilliantly blends historical fiction and magical realism, creating a world where a reader feels they could step right in and feel the magic in the air.

Canny is a fascinating main character surrounded by mysterious secondary characters whose secrets are slowly revealed as Knox layers each person’s story into others to create a complex world. If you also read Knox’s previous novels you'll catch small references to the Hame Dreamhunters, but this book brings readers into a fresh new aspect of that world with its own circuitous storyline.

For readers who like different time periods and cultures, this is a great blend of magical realism.  (Realistic fiction with a hint of magic) 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review: Also Known As

Also Known As
by Robin Benway

Book Description:
Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations.

Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.

I really enjoyed this light-hearted spy story.

The teen voice was perfect. Maggie and her friends were all totally believable, each with their own foibles and backgrounds. The action was both believable in the sense that Maggie was not the perfect spy... and had me on the edge of my seat at times.

The romance...ah, the romance... I loved it. It was rocky. It was funny. It was just gushy enough.

I did not want to put this book down at all as soon as I started reading and in fact, I would love to see a follow-up story! Fun, funny, and full of surprises.

Recommended for high school readers looking for a fun summer read! 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Review: Boundless

by Cynthia Hand
Unearthly series, book three

Book Description:
The past few years held more surprises than part-angel Clara Gardner ever could have anticipated. Yet through the dizzying high of first love to the agonizing low of losing someone close to her, the one thing she could no longer deny was that she was never meant to have a normal life.

Since discovering the special role she plays among the other angel-bloods, Clara has been determined to protect Tucker Avery from the evil that follows her . . . even if it means breaking both their hearts. Leaving town seemed like the best option, so she's headed back to California—and so is Christian Prescott, the irresistible boy from the vision that started her on this journey in the first place.

As Clara makes her way in a world that is frighteningly new, she discovers that the fallen angel who attacked her is watching her every move. And he's not the only one. . . . With the battle against the Black Wings looming, Clara knows she must finally fulfill her destiny. But it won't come without sacrifices and betrayal.

In the riveting finale of the Unearthly series, Clara must choose her fate once and for all.

I thought that Hand did a bang-up job finishing the series. There were things I thought would probably happen and they did, but the suspense to get there was perfect. Clara remained a character that I could totally believe, stuck in a situation that kept me riveted. I loved her relationships with friends and family and the way that nothing was black and white...everything had shades of gray. The way that the romance tied up, too, left me absolutely satisfied. All around this is one of the best angel-themed series I've read and I can't wait to recommend it to more readers!