Friday, July 29, 2011

"Never Knowing," by Chevy Stevens

I think it's impossible not to like Chevy Stevens' books. I loved "Still Missing," and "Never Knowing" is a pretty great second novel.

This novel follows Sara Gallagher as she attempts to find her birth parents. The fear and disgust Sara's birth mother feels upon being found don't make sense, so Sara hires a private investigator, who finds out the woman is really the only victim who ever escaped Canada's notorious Campsite Killer. Once she adds up the math, Sara realizes with horror that she is the daughter of a serial rapist and killer--one who is still on the loose.

She wants to forget all about it, or at least deal with it in therapy, but somehow the media gets a hold of the story. And then a man calls, claiming to be her father ...

I don't want to go into any more detail because this really is a compelling book that will keep readers speeding through to the very end. But I have to point a few things I didn't like. In Stevens' first book, the protagonist tells her story to a therapist. I loved it. In this novel, the protagonist again tells the whole story to her therapist. What worked the first time felt uninspired this time around. But it's not enough to put off any readers. Second, Sara's daughter, Ally, is a brat. I loathe misbehaving children in real life, so why would I want to read about them? Especially when the parent does nothing to curb the bad behavior. (I'm looking at you, "Certain Girls," by Jennifer Weiner. Yech.) Finally, I felt Sara's treatment of her fiance was pretty terrible at times. She freaks out about things, he tries to help, she treats him even worse. It put me off at times.

In all, Sara is a flawed yet interesting and compelling character. Stevens does a great job of humanizing what others would consider a monster, much like in her first novel. She's comfortable with her characters, knows them well. And she can really tell a story. I'd highly recommend this to mystery-genre lovers.

4.5 stars

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale," by Carolyn Turgeon

Long ago, the world between humans and mermaids was permeable. But after the sea queen decreed absolute separation, the only time a mermaid or merman could visit the top world was on their 18th birthday.

Lenia has always been intrigued by land, by humans, and waited impatiently for her own 18th birthday to see for herself what humans are like. But a powerful storm rages as she rises to the top of ocean, where she sees a ship torn asunder and humans drowning all around her. She is drawn to one young man, admiring his vulnerability and his fight to stay alive, so she pulls him to shore.

In a convent at the end of the world, a princess, Mira, hides from the enemies of her father's kingdom, warriors from the south. As she stares out at the turbulent sea, she witnesses a woman pull a man to shore. Mira is astonished to witness a mermaid, having only heard stories about the creatures when she was a child.

Both Mira and Lenia fall in love with the young man (in mere moments), who turns out to be a prince from the south ... The son of Mira's father's enemy. Christopher is nursed back to health at the convent; Lenia must return to her home, where she moons over the stranger she saved; and Mira's father rages to the convent upon hearing of the young man, who has recuperated and gone by the time the soldiers arrive.

The next third of the book chronicles a lot of longing: Mira wants Christopher; Lenia wants Christopher; Christopher wants the woman who saved him from drowning (Lenia) and whom he spent time with in the convent (Mira). (He thinks they are the same person.)

I wanted to like this book, but it's basically about all the ways women give up themselves and sacrifice their happiness for a man. And no, it's not written that way to make readers think or to introduce irony to tweens. Sadly, it's serious. One woman sacrifices her freedom in the name of staving off war. Of course, getting a man she "loves" is part of her willingness. The other woman sacrifices her voice and the core of who she is (her tail) to get the man she "loves." And why wouldn't Christopher fall for the gorgeous, almost ethereal girl who can't say boo to him? She just gazes at him with adoring eyes and allows him her heart, her body, her silence.

The final third is the expected girl-hating-girl drama, where no one puts blame on the boy. Sad, really. Sad for all the young, impressionable girls out there who'll eat this up and not think twice.

2 stars

"The Agency," by Ally O'Brien

Tess Drake has worked hard in London's literary world as an agent for authors. She has a gorgeous apartment, a secret lover, and a client she's helped rake in millions. Then her boss winds up dead from erotic asphyxia, leaving Tess' nemesis in charge of the agency. Having kicked around the idea of starting her own agency for a few years, the timing seems right. However, everything else seems to go wrong: her biggest client, Dorothy, faces a plagiarism claim; the police seem to think Tess has something to do with the untimely death of her boss; her brilliant yet underrated client Oliver is on the brink of suicide (barring divine Tom Cruise intervention); and Tess has just blurted out the dreaded "L" word to her married lover.

Tess is a flawed character who has burned a lot of bridges. She prides herself on not worrying what others think of her, but that comes back to haunt her when she's left to face who her real friends are.

Some readers may be put off by Tess' attitude, her language and actions. I loved her. She's dirty-mouthed, she's smart, she's a hard-working dynamo. And did I mention funny? This book made me laugh a lot!

FYI, this book is a collaboration between the amazingly talented mystery writer Brian Freeman and a real literary agent. I really hope there's a follow-up book!

4.5 stars

"Dead Reckoning," by Charlaine Harris

While I enjoyed this book about a billion times more than the previous two or three, I just wish the series would end. Sookie wasn't as annoying this time around, but her circumstances never change. She always has a fierce enemy and a love interest that is bound to go wrong.

In addition, Sookie spends most of the book thinking/commenting on how Sam's girlfriends are always so bad for him. As Sam has said about Sookie's lovers throughout the entire series. Like we don't know where this is heading. We get it, Charlaine. You're ending the series, and it'll be Sookie and Sam together, the most lukewarm, uninspired couple anyone could think of pairing.

Many other reviewers complained about a lack of adhering to the series' timeline, but it didn't phase me, probably because I only read the books as they come out and then promptly forget the plot.

I'm disappointed in the direction the series took. Sookie was once a strong, willful character who looked out for herself and her friends/family. She loved deeply and was loyal. After Bill was out as her boyfriend, it's like any guy who came along was good enough to screw. Yet she still judges her brother for his relationship mishaps.

I talked myself out of a four-star review and gave it three stars. Really dislike the Sookie-and-Sam thing.

3 stars

"Graveminder," by Melissa Marr

Rebekkah Barrow is forced to come back to Claysville to bury her beloved grandmother, who was murdered. There she finds former friend and lover Byron, whom she has pushed away time and time again. But the two have to come together in a way neither of them could have ever predicted.

Long ago, the fathers of Claysville made a contract to keep their town members healthy and to always have their needs met. In exchange, a Barrow woman must be a Graveminder. She keeps the dead in the ground by offering food, drink and words. If any dead escape, she must bring them back to Charles (aka Mr. D) in a world that is neither heaven nor hell. But the Graveminder cannot open the gate to that world herself. She must always be attended by her Undertaker, who keeps her tethered to the living when she longs to join the dead.

Rebekkah, the Graveminder, and Byron, the Undertaker, unite to find Bek's grandmother's murderer, a walking dead girl who becomes stronger each time she eats human flesh.

This was an interesting storyline, and Mr. D's world was richly described, but the rest was kind of boring. Rebekkah's constant pushing away of Byron when they both clearly love each other got repetitive and annoying. And another character, Amity Blue, was very intriguing but was quickly dropped toward the end. She had a sexual relationship with Byron before Rebekkah came back to town, and despite assuring that she wanted a no-strings relationship, it was obvious she had feelings for him. Her other love interest became a walking dead, and later Bek says she wants Amity to take her place as Graveminder should something happen to her. However, Amity is then never mentioned again.

Charlie, Mr. D, was also interesting. He didn't have nearly enough time in the book, though he was an integral part of the plot. If there's a follow-up, I hope he gets a bigger spotlight.

The story pushed forward quickly; it was never boring. I just kept wishing for something more.

3 stars

Sunday, July 03, 2011

"The Weird Sisters," by Eleanor Brown

This was a fine book with pretty decent writing, but it wasn't terribly engaging. Three sisters wind up living back at home with their parents in the sleepy college town where they grew up. Daughters of a Shakespeare scholar, Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean) and Cordelia (Cordy) feel their fates are tied up in their literary namesakes. Each is screwed up in her own way, though not to the degree that they are unlikeable or cannot be redeemed.

Rose is the oldest, the caretaker. She babies her sisters, takes care of her absent-minded parents, plans out her life to the smallest detail. But when her fiance Jonathan is offered a teaching position in England, her world is thrown out of order.

Bean retreats from the expensive and high-maintenance life of New York City when her spending habits and thievery catch up to her. She attempts to forget her guilt and money troubles in booze and sex.

Free-spirited Cordy, her father's favorite, the baby of the family, is forced to think about someone other than herself when she finds herself pregnant.

The sisters' mother, diagnosed with breast cancer, presents a convenient excuse for the three to return home.

I enjoyed the prose to a certain extent, including the many Shakespeare quotations with which the family peppered their conversations. This was a definite character-development heavy plot, so don't expect a fast-paced, beach read. If you're looking to slow down and savor the text, this may well be the right book for you.

3.5 stars

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"In Search of Mockingbird," by Loretta Ellsworth

Took me just a few hours to read the entire book, which is a sweet story about a girl trying to feel close to the mother she never knew. The day before her 16th birthday, Erin's father announces his engagement to a woman he's been dating. To soften the blow, he hands over Erin's mother's diary from when she was 16. This only serves to upset her more since her father never talks about his late wife and all Erin has had is her mother's beloved and well-read copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird."

When she reads in the diary that her mother once wrote to author Harper Lee, Erin decides she needs to meet Lee herself. She sneaks out of the house and takes a Greyhound bus to the reclusive author's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.

This road-trip story of a teen girl finding her way in the world was cute and would be a good book for young readers. However, I think the dangers of running away from home and interacting with strangers was really glossed over. The setting is 1986 in Minnesota, so I'm sure it's meant to show that it was more of an innocent time. Still ...

Not a terribly thought-provoking or engaging book, but it was cute.

3.5 stars

"Beauty Queens," by Libba Bray

I've given up on Libba Bray. Maybe I should consider her Gemma Doyle trilogy a beautiful exception to an otherwise clunker of a catalog. This book and her "Going Bovine" were absolutely terrible. And yet, she had a really great story in the "Zombies Vs. Unicorn" anthology. So what is going on, Ms. Bray?

I thought the premise of this book was fun and interesting: a plane bearing 50 Teen Dream beauty pageant queens and their TV crew crashes on an island. The surviving girls have to fend for themselves. What's not to like with this idea? Plenty of room for character growth, plot twists, and so on.

Instead, "Beauty Queens" tries so hard to be funny that it's painfully UNfunny. Every page has at least one footnote to "hilariously" explain the reference to some beauty product, reality TV show, celebrity, etc. The girls are hideously vapid, completely unfazed by the deaths of their fellow passengers, more worried about how they'll shave their legs than how they'll survive the jungle.

Except Bray wants to show that underneath all that, the girls are very intelligent, feeling, suffering from labels society has placed on them. The middle of the book was actually quite good (the only reason I gave the book the two stars), delving into the lives of each teen queen. These sections were written tenderly, each girl's personal story shared with respect and without the cheesy product placements or like, the, you know, like, speech impediments.

Despite their ballgown upbringing, we're expected to accept that they knew how to build huts, filter rainwater, dig an irrigation system and know which jungle goods were okay to eat.

Bray wants the reader to take her characters seriously, but *she* didn't take them seriously. The middle, like I said, was rather lovely. There's no reason that the entire book couldn't have had that tone and still use subtle humor. Instead of making fun of the teens, we could have been rooting them on. However, I had to cheer myself on just to finish the book.

2 stars

"Allison Hewitt Is Trapped: A Zombie Novel," by Madeleine Roux

There's no warning for Allison Hewitt when The Infected crash through the window of her bookstore. In seconds, customers are dead, then reanimating and coming for her. She and a few co-workers manage to lock themselves inside the breakroom--just a reinforced steel door separating them from flesh-eating zombies.

What's a girl to do in the midst of the apocalypse? Why, start a blog, of course!

Allison has found a mysterious, wireless internet connection called SNet, and she writes down everything that happens in the days, weeks, months ahead. Friends are made and lost, love complicates survival, and the living are outnumbered by the dead.

This was a great look at what it means to be on the brink of extinction and how it can either bring out the best or the worst in people. I wasn't sure in the first few pages if it was going to be worth continuing as it just didn't pull me in immediately. I'm glad I stuck with it, though; it was intense, action-packed, humorous, and thought-provoking. No, I wouldn't have made all the same choices that Allison made, but she was likeable, smart, funny, brave, and genuine.

Interesting note: Author Madeleine Roux began this novel as an experimental fiction blog, and it quickly spread in popularity online. Also, she's from Wisconsin. How could I not love her? Can't wait for her next book, out in 2012, "Sadie Walker is Stranded."

5 stars

"Bossypants," by Tina Fey

Let me just say one thing first: I loved Tina Fey long before "30 Rock."

I love funny women, and my favorite sketches from SNL have featured Tina, Molly Shannon, Cheri Oteri and Amy Poehler.

But reading Tina's memoir really awakened for me the sense that there are people out there who think women aren't funny. Which, honestly, is just coconuts. The behind-the-scenes look at her making it as an improv actor, a comedy writer and a sitcom actor/boss was a real eye-opener. Acerbic wit combined with an awkward honesty made for laugh-out-loud reading.

I kind of want to transcribe here all of the hilarious parts that made me spit on myself, but I'm pretty sure that would be copyright infringement. And, also, you'd have no reason to go get the book yourself. One excerpt has already made the rounds, "The Mother's Prayer for its Daughter," so I'll share just my favorite part from that:

"And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it."

Seriously, what the hell are you waiting for? Go get this book!

5 stars

"Immoral," by Brian Freeman

Brian Freeman is a hell of a writer. The setting, Duluth, Minn., is such an important factor in the book that it's like one of the main characters. The reader can almost feel the bite of the fierce wind blowing off of Lake Superior, can see that hill littered with old houses battered by harsh northern winters.

Another thing Freeman does well is he creates back stories for characters even if we only see that character for one chapter. I loved how he just fills in these blanks and really fleshes out moments that can be as beautiful as they are disgusting.

Detective Jonathan Stride and partner Maggie Bei search for a missing teenage girl, the second to disappear in about 15 months. With the press and public hounding them, they seem to catch the bad guy despite producing any bodies. But not all is as it seems. In fact, just when we think the story has wrapped, we get a flash forward of three years, when everything has changed. Truths are revealed as lies; what was thought to be lies were truths. And the repercussions are great.

I have read one of Freeman's books that is actually fourth in the series before I read this, the first of the series. I had absolutely no problem reading them out of order, and at a recent signing, Freeman encouraged readers to enjoy them in any order. I will most definitely be reaching for the next Stride book.

5 stars

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Graceling," by Kristin Cashore

Katsa, niece to a king, is a Graceling, a person born with an extreme skill. In her case, she is capable of fighting an army of grown men without any harm to herself. This makes her invaluable to the king, who uses her as a thug to hurt people and keep them in line. She believes herself a monster, and it isn't until meeting a young man, Po, who appears to also be Graced with a fighting skill, that she realizes she may not be a bad person after all.

At 471 pages, this book was entirely too long. It's a book about journeys--physical, emotional, mental. There isn't much action at all, which made the plot drag a bit. My interest was kept by the characters and their growth through the novel, but it really wasn't the most exciting story I've ever read. It's not one that I could recommend to others because what could I say about it? "They travel here, then they travel there, then they go there, then back again ..." Still, I cared to find out what happened next. I just feel this could have used some direction from an editor.

3 stars

"Zombies Vs. Unicorns," by Holly Black, ed., and Justine Larbalestier, ed.

YA authors Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier engaged in a heated debate online about which was better: zombies or unicorns. So many people added to the argument that they rounded up other well-known YA authors to write stories for a collection to end the debate.

Frankly, I don't know why it's even up for discussion. Hands-down, zombies win. This collection only underscored that fact with the zombie stories being clever, funny, frightening, and vastly memorable to the pallid unicorn stories.

One of my faves was from Carrie Ryan, who took readers back to the same world as her "Forest of Hands and Teeth" takes place, not long after the infection raged across the earth. Her story, "Bougainvilla," was well-crafted and could very well have been molded into its own novel.

I also quite enjoyed "Love Will Tear Us Apart," by Alaya Dawn Johnson. A male zombie looking just for sex and brains falls for a young man who has been trained in weaponry to kill monsters. The language is graphic, the band references excellent, the nature of the story unapologetic.

Some of these stories definitely made me want to check out the authors' novels. Fun read.

4 stars

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Desires of the Dead," by Kimberly Derting

Follow-up to “The Body Finder,” this second offering by Kimberly Derting finds Violet still afraid to let anyone in on her secret: she can sense dead bodies, animal and human. These bodies call to her in various ways—smells, sounds, flashes of light—and can wreak havoc on her senses. Only when the body is found and given a proper burial can Violet find peace from the calling. These imprints, as she calls them, even remain with the person who has done the killing. This was what got her in trouble in the first book.

This time around, Violet anonymously calls in a tip for authorities to locate a body and finds herself under the watchful eye of an FBI consultant, Sarah Priest. She avoids contact with the woman as much as possible, pretending not to know anything about having a special gift. But Sarah Priest has a secret, too, that has to do with a cute, intense boy named Rafe.

Meanwhile, Violet is navigating new territory with best friend and new boyfriend Jay. And someone else is very unhappy with their relationship, someone willing to try to scare Violet away from Jay.

It’s been a while since I read “The Body Finder,” but I recall enjoying it a lot. Though I did like “Desires of the Dead,” I found myself getting annoyed by Violet. She came off controlling at times, even emasculating boyfriend Jay. Whenever their “homework” sessions (i.e. making out) got too serious and Jay pulled back, Violet would taunt him with “you’re such a girl” or make comments about he was the girl and she was the guy. It was like because Violet is female, she can get away with putting pressure on her boyfriend for sex. Not just that, but calling him names at times. I’m sure the author thought this was harmless, something to add levity to serious situations, but it put me off the character immensely.

However, Violet wasn’t consistently acting like this, so it didn’t pull me away from the story completely. I still enjoyed the book and would read the next Body Finder novel. I just hope the author takes into consideration the message she’s sending via her character. Strong female voices are important, especially in young adult fiction, and Derting has an opportunity and a responsibility to present the kind of heroine to which other young women can aspire.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Solemnly Swear ...

... to do a better job of updating this blog.

As a punishment, I spent the last three hours posting reviews of all the books I've read so far in 2011. Hope you can find some good suggestions for yourself amongst them.


"The Enemy We Know," by Donna White Glaser

Letty is a fantastic character, a therapist struggling to keep her professional life professional and her personal life sober.

New to AA, Letty is on a path of regaining control of her addiction to alcohol, but a stalker aims to trip her up at every step. The strength of this character is that she relies on her humor to make the best of the situation, to get her through hard times. It's also a double-edged sword because it helps her deflect from the very real danger she is in.

Author Glaser kept me chuckling throughout, even out-right guffawing in parts. To be completely honest, I was hired to proofread this book, so any mechanical errors to be found are completely my fault. You see, the book was so compelling that I sometimes found myself not working, but racing through pages to see what happens next.

Great first book, and I absolutely cannot wait to read the next Letty Whittaker mystery! Visit Donna's website here and sign up to win a free copy of "The Enemy We Know."

5 stars

"The Dark & Hollow Places," by Carrie Ryan

Let me tell you something. Carrie Ryan knows how to write a book. Her writing is so fine-tuned, there isn't a single sentence that should be cut. She knows how to build and break tension, how to amp up horror, how to give moments of utter peace, and how to create a world so unique, terrible, and lonely that it breaks your heart. Yet you cheer on the characters, your heart races along with theirs, your muscles tense as if to join their fight, you hope against hope for a happy ending.

Carrie Ryan knows how to write a book.

In this third offering, a companion to "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" and "The Dead-Tossed Waves," Annah survives in a world that is nearly completely overcome by plague rats--Mudo, Unconsecrated. Zombies. Left on her own for nearly three years as Elias (first seen in "Dead-Tossed Waves") joined up with the Recruiters, Annah has learned to take care of herself. She blends in with crowds, keeps to herself, and lives with the guilt for having once left her bleeding, frightened twin sister, Abigail, in the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

As she's about to set off to finally find her sister, convinced Elias will never return, Annah sees her sister in the Dark City as she is taken prisoner by the Recruiters. Meeting up with Catcher (also from DTW), they find Elias just as a horde of the Mudo break down the barriers to the Dark City. In order to save themselves, Catcher, who is infected but immune to the disease, making him unnoticed by Mudo, turns himself in to the Recruiters in exchange for the safety of the others. Catcher uses his ability to walk among the Mudo unscathed to scavenge for supplies and is kept in line by the threat of harm against Annah, Elias and Gabry (Abigail).

The backdrop of millions of undead clamoring for their blood serves only to highlight the cruelty of the Recruiters as they kill other humans for sport and try to use Annah and Gabry for their own sick pleasures. Annah and the others are left to wonder what kind of world they are trying to survive for if what's left is so poisoned.

5 stars

"The Dead-Tossed Waves," by Carrie Ryan

This book wasn't as wonderful as "The Forest of Hands and Teeth," but it was still pretty excellent.

A companion to "Forest," this novel is told from the point of Gabry, daughter of the first book's main character. Unlike her mother Mary, Gabry is frightened of almost everything. She wants to keep her safe life at the lighthouse where she's grown up, but a single decision puts in motion a world of changes.

When a Mudo attack leaves a few friends dead, her best friend captured for punishment, and her crush Catcher infected, Gabry tries to make sense of it all. When her mother leaves the city to return to the Forest of Hands and Teeth in order to search for those she left behind so long ago, Gabry feels abandoned and seeks help from Elias, a young man beyond the barrier who is on a mission of his own.

Catcher realizes he is immune to the infection and can move among the Mudo undetected. He uses this ability to stage a fake breach of Mudo to create a diversion among the militia in order to rescue his sister from her imprisonment. When the militia, called Recruiters, realize Catcher is immune, they stop at nothing to capture him and use him. Catcher, Gabry, Elias and Cira escape to the Forest to find Gabry's mother and to try to elude the Recruiters.

Like Carrie Ryan's first book, "The Dead-Tossed Waves" has a great love triangle, intense heartache, and a terrifying and lonely world that is difficult to forget.

4 stars

"City of Fallen Angels," by Cassandra Clare

This book was a major letdown. It's mostly a lot of lead-up to the ending with nothing happening through the rest of it. I'm glad Simon and Isabelle were featured more, but the Jace and Clary drama was just ridiculous. Granted, most teenagers are ridiculous in their angst and hormones and their feelings of "no one will ever understand me!" But characters should rise above that, not wallow in it.

Jace tortures himself over and over again about his upbringing, his father Valentine versus his real father Stephen Herondale, his feelings about his feelings (I know, right? Annoying much?), how he doesn't really deserve happiness with Clary.

Clary doesn't understand why Jace is pulling away from her, so she decides to stay away from him. More drama and doubt and zero communication.

And then there's the sickly sweet reunion between them before, shocker, Jace turns dark inside again.

Basically, the whole book is like a place-holder for Clare's next book. If the first three in the series weren't so darn good, I'd be severely annoyed at having wasted my time reading this one. The only saving grace was that we get more involved in the lives of Simon, Isabelle, Maia, Jordan, Alec and Magnus.

Sorry, Cassandra Clare. I love this series and your writing talent, but this falls far short of what you're capable of.

2 stars

"City of Glass," by Cassandra Clare

Second time around reading this book in preparation for "City of Fallen Angels."

There was plenty of action in this third installment of the Mortal Instruments series, as well as tension for Jace and Clary as they struggle with their feelings for each other. Valentine's diabolical plans are clear: to infiltrate the City of Glass and take down the Clave. How he hopes to accomplish this isn't so clear, at least until the end.

The introduction of possible new love interests for Jace and Clary serve as a way they can rid themselves of inappropriate feelings toward each other. Simon is also given a chance to become more of the story, proving to the Shadowhunters that he is strong and trustworthy.

I felt this was a strong book and would have made a great end to a great series. Unfortunately, Clare's "City of Fallen Angels" prolonged the storyline, and not in a good way. I can only hope the fifth book brings back the action and amazing level of writing talent I know that Clare possesses.

5 stars

"Sh*t My Dad Says," by Justin Halpern

I followed "Sh*t My Dad Says" on Twitter for a while before Justin Halpern got his book deal, so I knew I had to eventually read the book. It was really nice to get some back story on Justin and his 73-year-old father, Sam Halpern. Between his dad's profanity-laced quotes on everything from life and girls to pets and sports, young Halpern chronicles his relationship with his straight-talking, tough-love-style father.

This book isn't for the easily offended or for those who have no sense of humor. Sam Halpern, like it or not, doesn't mince words. And it's not always easy to take. It's definitely hard to imagine liking someone so blunt and who thinks nothing of dropping f-bombs when speaking to his 6-year-old. There's a lot more to the elder Halpern, though; his love for his family is evident.

Fave quote:
On Getting an Internship at Quentin Tarantino's Production Company
"That is one ugly son of a bitch ... Oh, yeah, no, congratulations. If you see him, try not to stare at his face if you've eaten anything."

4 stars

"City of Ashes," by Cassandra Clare

**Spoiler alert** Don't read this review if you haven't read the first book yet.

Book 2 in the series finds Clary dealing with the emotional fallout of learning Jace is her brother. She turns to best friend Simon to lose herself in something resembling love, but pretending does neither of them well. Her mother is still in a comatose state and her father, Valentine, is still perpetrating horrific acts of violence and destruction in the attempt to collect all three Mortal Instruments.

Clary and Jace each begin to realize the special gifts Valentine has given them while negotiating the minefield of their feelings for each other. Adding to their difficulties is the conviction of the Clave's Inquisitor that Jace is secretly helping Valentine.

Lots of action in this book. Kept me up until 2 a.m. to finish, even though I've already read it once before. That's good writing, folks.

5 stars

"City of Bones," by Casssandra Clare

Re-reading series since the fourth book just came out. Still love this as much as the first time I read it.

After her mother suddenly disappears, Clary discovers the world is inhabited by demons, vampires, werewolves and other Downworlders and that she, herself, comes from a line of Shadowhunters. Created by an angel, Shadowhunters protect humans by dispatching demons back to their own worlds. But one dark Shadowhunter long thought dead has come back with a new plan to rule the world as he sees fit.

Clary must search for and find the Mortal Cup before it ends up in the wrong hands. She joins Shadowhunters Alec, Isabel and Jace, along with her best friend Simon, as they battle vamps, a Greater Demon, and each other in their quest.

Complicating things is the attraction Clary and Jace have for each other, while poor Simon has been in love with Clary for years. An additional complication involves Valentine, but I won't spoil it for new readers.

Very "Harry Potter" meets "Twilight." Except with all the great writing of HP and none of the constant damsel in distress of "Twilight."

5 stars

"To Kill A Mockingbird," by Harper Lee

I'm glad I reread this as an adult because I can appreciate the social commentary and message better. The story incorporates class struggles as much as racism, told by a young girl trying to figure out what keeps everyone separated. What a clever way to explore these themes without being preachy. After all, who can blame a child for her innocence and questioning?

Just as compelling is the mystery of Arthur "Boo" Radley. We meet him only once, at the end, yet his presence is missed throughout the novel.

It was difficult to read the "N" word at all, let alone as frequently as it was used in the book. But I stand by the author's use to show the times, the location, and the ugliness of those using it.

These admirable characters--Atticus, Jem, Scout, Boo, Calpurnia, Tom Robinson, etc.--will stick with me. Already I wonder what lives they led after the book's closing. That's the mark of fine craftsmanship.

5 stars

"Cloaked," by Alex Finn

Takes on several old fairy tales: the shoemaker and elves; princess and the frog; the tailor who kills the giants; the old man and the magic fish; the six swans, etc.

This is more of a juvenile book than YA. Not a lot of substance, dependent mostly on magic to move the plot along.

A princess asks Johnny, who fixes shoes at a fancy Miami hotel, to find her brother-turned-frog. In exchange, Johnny gets money (his family is poor, so he desperately needs it) and her hand in marriage. He accepts and goes off on a journey filled with witches, magic cloaks, talking animals, murderous giants and paparazzi. Best friend Meg helps him and reveals some magic powers of her own.

Cute book for preteens. No swearing, harmless kissing scenes, moral wrap-up.

2 stars

"Beastly," by Alex Flinn

I thought it would be fun to read the book before seeing the movie "Beastly." Major difference, though, is that in the book, Kyle is literally turned into a beast. Hair covering his whole body, clawed hands, long snout. But he walked upright and talked like a human. From everything I've seen of the movie trailer, the curse just turns him into a tattooed version of Powder. (Yup, I just rocked a 1995 reference. Old school.)

Also, Lindy, the girl Kyle, who renames himself Adrian, falls for, is supposed to be very plain looking, with crooked teeth. Of course, not the movie version.

This was just an okay book. Entertaining, sure, but not likely to stay with me or to be something I'd recommend. I found it irritating that the more Adrian changed to a better person, the more he talked like a proper gentleman in British novels.


3 stars

"The Night Season," by Chelsea Cain

Serial killer Gretchen Lowell wasn't featured much in this book, but she's set up to reappear in the next one. Whenever that will be.

I wasn't as pulled in to "The Night Season" as I was with Cain's other books. Not sure why. Still like it a lot, but it didn't have that pull. Maybe because Gretchen had nothing to do with the killings in this plotline? They weren't as scary, either, or as gruesome.

Still love Archie and Susan. Man, I hope these are turned into movies. I love Archie's journey to recovery of being Gretchen's victim, of abusing drugs, of forgiving himself for mistakes. He's a very rich character.

4 stars

"Evil at Heart," by Chelsea Cain

Second time I've read "Evil at Heart."

I love the way Chelsea Cain writes. She's pretty sick. I don't know how she can come up with the gruesome ways her serial killer, Gretchen Lowell, tortures people. It's pretty disturbing and off-putting to read, but in the most absorbing, addicting way.

You have to love main characters Archie Sheridan and Susan Ward. They're so compelling, especially Archie, who'd been Gretchen's only surviving victim. He suffers from sexual Stockholm Syndrome, is addicted to pain meds, and desperately wants to regain control over his life. Susan... Well, she just wants to be a journalist, not a reporter. She also wants Archie. Looking forward to see if that will play out in Cain's newest book, "The Night Season."

If you're a mystery book fan and aren't reading this series, you are big-time missing out.

5 stars

"Black Swan Rising," by Lee Carroll

"Lee Carroll is a pseudonym for the collaboration between Hammet Award-winning mystery novelist Carol Goodman and her poet and hedge fund manager husband, Lee Slonimsky."

Parts of it reminded me of Neil Gaiman's "American Gods," but in a more reader-friendly sort of way. Several times I thought, "If Neil had written AG *this* way, I'd have loved it!"

Carol Goodman always has a way of weaving history, art, literature into her novels that make them feel alive. Even creating a story unlike her usual literary mysteries, she couldn't break away from that habit. And the story is richer for it.

I didn't fully feel the connection between Garet (Marguerite) and the vampire Will, but I guess it's explained in her living more than one life. Still... Eh. I wish there'd been more about her friend Jay.

There were times my eyes glazed over when reading about "transmigration of atoms" and changing to water, wind, etc.

Will definitely read the follow-up (I assume there will be) to see Garet's quest to find Will and the Summer Country (land of the fey).

4 stars

"The Radleys," by Matt Haig

Super boring vampire novel. I kept thinking, "It'll get better." It didn't.

1 star

P.S. Sorry I couldn't put more effort into reviewing this book. I just didn't give a crap about the characters, so why bother?

"Breathers: A Zombie's Lament," by S.G. Browne

A romantic zombie comedy--Rom Zom Com.

Andy fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a tree. He and his wife died, but he reanimated a few days later. Now he lives in his parents' basement, stinking up the joint with his decomposing body. His mother refuses to touch him, and his father frequently threatens to send him off to a zombie zoo or research lab. Andy goes to therapy and attends a zombie support group. He is frustrated with his unlife and the way he's treated by society--no rights, no freedoms, no protection from Breathers.

When Andy meets a new zombie friend who turns him and the support group onto the pleasures and benefits of eating human flesh, things take a turn for the better. Injuries heal, his heart begins to beat, he finds confidence and love with fellow support group member Rita.

If only the Breathers would acknowledge the zombies' rights to existence...

Great social commentary, funny, entertaining.

4 stars

"Clockwork Angel," by Cassandra Clare

There wasn't really much about the clockwork angel--the necklace Tessa wears--in the book. Mostly that she wore it, then a brief scene toward the end when it animates and helps save her life. Didn't even seem to be that surprising to the main character.

Love the triangle with Tessa, Will and Jem. Even more so that it's so subtle between Jem and Tessa. Pretty sure only Will really notices. Should make for great scenes in next book.

Love the world of Shadowhunters. So much freedom for story lines, yet Clare sets rules and keeps it believable.

The villain isn't as scary as Valentine was in the first series, but there's room to grow.

Can't wait for next book!

4.5 stars

"The Other Side of Dark," by Sarah Smith

Don't know where to start....

Katie sees ghosts ever since her mother died a year ago. A ghost of a young man, George, befriends her and tells her he guards an important treasure inside a condemned historic house. Meanwhile, Law Walker, who used to have a crush on Katie, finds himself interested again.

This book really takes on some tough issues--race, class, society, education, reparations. It also weaves Boston history into a haunted story--one all the more disturbing because of its basis in true events.

The writing didn't feel like a YA book, really. But with high school characters, what else could it be classified as? Very interesting book that would make excellent discussion for a book group.

4 stars

"The Lost Saint," by Bree Despain

I liked the protagonist, Grace Divine, better in this second book. She goes to a darker place, struggles with her inner wolf versus the need to do good. Frankly, the first book had too much lovey family-ness for my taste. I kept picturing this really religious family in my town. I think Grace's struggles in this book made her much more relatable as a character than previously.

With boyfriend Daniel acting strange and disappearing often, her family life upside down, Grace begins to fall under the influence of Tal, who seems to know what she's going through. He helps her tune into her superpowers, but this leads her to begin losing herself to the wolf.

Daniel and Gabriel fight to keep her safe, but brother Jude--who has allowed the wolf to take him over--delivers Grace into the hands of a monster.

With a pretty decent cliffhanger, I'm left disappointed I don't already have the next book in hand.

4 stars

"Blood Song," by Cat Adams

I don't think the two authors who collaborated in the writing agreed on what kind of book this was supposed to be. The first half was mostly serious with an occasional smartass remark by the protagonist. The second half had a lot more sarcastic, going-for-funny lines. Felt like I was reading MaryJanice Davidson's Betsy Taylor series. At least MJ Davidson had that style from the start and throughout her series, so you know exactly what the tone was supposed to be.

Protagonist Celia is bitten by a vampire and becomes an abomination--part human/part vampire. Many people/creatures want her dead. Very serious in the beginning, then suddenly Celia's always cracking jokes.

The revelation near the end of the book that she's part siren serves to 1) get her male help when she needs it and 2) to set up a sequel. Also, there were too many character names. I shouldn't have to think for several minutes on who each person is or who's being referenced. I'd probably read the sequel, but I'd be hoping the authors have settled on a set style.

3 stars

"Dances With Wolves," by Michael Blake

I'm impressed with the author, who read books on Indian history for years and years before writing this book, his first novel.

I've long enjoyed reading about Native Americans, and keeping their history alive in the minds of the collective public is incredibly important. This book portrayed Comanches, though the movie portrayed Sioux. Blake noted the difference in the afterword but also said he felt the change was okay because their "essential components of spirit and wisdom" are the same.

Other difference--Dunbar is 29, Stands With A Fist is 26. Kevin Costner and the leading actress were greatly older. The book ending has Dances With Wolves and Stands With A Fist staying with the tribe. The movie shows them leaving camp so soldiers wouldn't track them down. I think the movie ending was much more heartfelt and heartbreaking. I have a feeling Blake couldn't bring himself to tear apart his characters. He was too close to them. Great book, though.

4 stars

"Mockingjay," Suzanne Collins

** spoiler alert ** I am not at all satisfied with this ending. It feels too crushing. More heavy that it needed to be.

In the first two books, I raced through, enthralled by the action, the horror, the love triangle. The good/repressed/poor determined to defeat the bad/indulged/rich. The reader fell in love with all of the characters. This time around, there wasn't much more than our beloved characters being tortured, maimed, used, killed. A war waged between two powers, neither good, with the blood of citizens, merely pawns, soaking into the ground they fought over.


And our hero? Katniss? Broken, burned, traumatized nearly beyond recognition. Did the author need to kill Prim? Need to isolate Katniss? It just all felt so heavy-handed. I invested in reading three books, put in a lot of caring. That much darkness can't be relieved by a two-page epilogue showing children and a vague happiness (or at least not a bone-crushing sadness) 15 years down the line.

3 stars

"Catching Fire," by Suzanne Collins

I'm glad I waited until this trilogy was all published before I started reading it because I think I'd go crazy waiting for each next book.

With the Capitol still pulling strings, Katniss and Peeta were forced to enter the arena again for the Quell. This time there's a stronger background of not just underlying fury with the Capitol, but full-out riots and uprising. And Katniss is the districts' symbol of resistance, of hope. Whether she likes it or not.

I so love the character of Peeta. He's earnest, honest, warm, loving. I want Katniss to love him back, and I'm afraid of Gale--also a great character--ruining their relationship.

Tomorrow I start the final book in the trilogy. I anticipate war against the Capitol, lots of bloodshed, and at least one broken heart.

5 stars

"The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins

Read it in two days. Loved everything about it. Katniss is a fantastic protagonist, strong but with room to grow. In a future United States, natural disasters have claimed most of the land and just 13 districts survive, ruled by The Capitol. Due to a failed uprising, The Capitol keeps its districts in line by annually holding the Hunger Games, in which one boy and one girl from each district are all forced to face off against each other in a televised fight to the death.

I was warned by several people about how disturbing this book is. It certainly isn't for the faint of heart, but I had not problems with its graphicness. It felt like a warning about those in power, about the battles we choose to fight. But I'm sensing that with growing anger and with citizens being fed up of being poor and hungry, there could be another uprising. Can't wait to read the next two books!

5 stars

"Thirteen Reasons Why," by Jay Asher

OMG. This book is so disturbing!

Hannah Baker decides to kill herself, but first she records on tape all the reasons why she's made this decision. Next, she sends these tapes to the 13 people who've pushed her to this choice.

Alternately, we get the point-of-view of ninth listener Clay, a boy who had a crush on Hannah. While on one hand we see all the ways Hannah reached out for help, we also get the ways she didn't reach out. The ultimate theme is that everything affects everything else.

Poor Clay, hearing the voice of a girl he'd cared about describe all the terrible ways people had hurt and traumatized her--but hearing it much too late to help.

This book will stay with me for a long time to come.

5 stars

"Infinite Days," by Rebecca Maizel

The book started out great, really putting a twist on the YA vampire niche. Lenah had been a vampire for 600 years before becoming human again through a magic ritual performed by her maker, Rhode.

I loved how Lenah wasn't sweet and innocent or needy. She reflected a lot on her evil past, the coven she'd created, the thousands she'd slaughtered. But halfway through, it just started getting typical YA/Twilight. Very disappointed by the killing off of a favorite character. I hate when authors kill off the best characters.

Also, I felt like the author relied on "magic" to explain everything. It allowed too much for her character to get away with without really having to account for the how. I liked the characters, though, and will definitely read the follow-up, out sometime this year.

3 stars

"April & Oliver," by Tess Callahan

I disliked the 3rd person, present tense; it was distracting. There were too many character names, plus their nicknames, to keep track of. Also the author was too vague at times about ages of characters at all the different times they were shown.

I liked the dysfunction and pull of April and Oliver to each other. Interesting that Callahan didn't make April's abusive boyfriend wholly evil, but broken from life experiences.

I thought Bernadette was a strong character. She wasn't a one-dimensional girlfriend who is always insecure or a nag. She doesn't abuse April for the way Oliver feels about her. And I liked that Oliver didn't stray from Bernadette just because his feelings for April grew, changed, warped. He still loved her while being drawn into his past feelings for April.

I really liked that Oliver--so together, on the right path--found his world become confusing and unsure, unstable. He couldn't really have a future with April--the screw-up, bad decision-maker--while still looking at her as someone who messed up her life. He'd hold all the power. He had to find his life come unraveled as well--law school, the piano, Bernadette.

I liked the ending. No long, drawn-out explanation of what happens next. Just an extension of communication from Oliver to April. Leaves the reader with a hope that finally these two can be who they want and need to be with each other and for themselves.

3 stars