Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Manor of Secrets

The year is 1911. And at The Manor, nothing is as it seems . . .

Lady Charlotte Edmonds: Beautiful, wealthy, and sheltered, Charlotte feels suffocated by the strictures of upper-crust society. She longs to see the world beyond The Manor, to seek out high adventure. And most of all, romance.

Janie Seward: Fiery, hardworking, and clever, Janie knows she can be more than just a kitchen maid. But she isn't sure she possesses the courage -- or the means -- to break free and follow her passions.

Both Charlotte and Janie are ready for change. As their paths overlap in the gilded hallways and dark corridors of The Manor, rules are broken and secrets are revealed. Secrets that will alter the course of their lives. . . forever.
from goodreads.com

Beth says 3.5 Stars...
I'll admit, this book appealed strongly to the part of me that loves Downton Abbey.  The cover is gorgeous and the model looks oddly like a cross between Lady Mary and Lady Sybil.  Plus, all sorts of drama both upstairs and downstairs?  I'm sold.  However, despite how short the book felt, it took most of the plot to really get into the interesting story.  The set-up filled over half of the novel and didn't even provide hints as to the secrets waiting to be discovered.  When things finally got going all of the revelations piled on top of one another.  I found pacing the biggest issue of the book.  If some of the ending excitement had spread throughout the rest of the story I think it would have been a major improvement.  It wasn't too bad for me because I don't particularly mind a lengthier buildup, but I can see impatient readers deciding it isn't worth their time.  The end was super fun and delivered some super juicy secrets both upstairs and downstairs

The characters were decent, but nothing remarkable.  I occasionally wanted to shake Charlotte for her entitlement and shortsightedness.  She is sometimes so absurdly absorbed in her idea of what the world is that she completely misses reality.  She does really mature throughout the book and has a great moment at the end.  I may or may not have given her a well-deserved fist pump.  I distinctly preferred Janie, with her no-nonsense attitude and focus on accomplishing her goals.  Her practicality coupled with the repressed desire for more endeared her to me.  The secondary characters were serviceable, but there were a few individuals I wish had received more page time.

Overall, this is a fun book if you're going through Downton Abbey withdrawal.  If historical fiction or the British aristocracy dealing with the changes of the 20th century isn't really an interest of yours, I'd skip this one.  However, if any of that sounds appealing this is a quick read that goes well with a nice cup of tea and fake posh accent.
ebook from publisher

Friday, February 21, 2014

Don't Even Think About It

Release Date March 11, 2014

We weren't always like this. We used to be average New York City high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe a headache. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn't expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. Now we all know that Tess is in love with her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That, um, Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper.

Since we've kept our freakish skill a secret, we can sit next to the class brainiac and ace our tests. We can dump our boyfriends right before they dump us. We know what our friends really think of our jeans, our breath, our new bangs. We always know what's coming. Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same.

So stop obsessing about your ex. We're always listening.
from goodreads.com

Beth says 4 Stars...
I love the premise of this book.  Who doesn't want to know what everyone around you is really thinking?  The start of the book shows that it's not going to be your typical high school YA read.  I was thinking about what genre to put this book in and I can't quite classify it.  It has a little element of other (telepathy anyone?), but it isn't really paranormal.  Whatever it is, I had an absolute blast reading it.  At first the plot doesn't seem clear; all you know is that these teens are going to need to deal with their new ability.  There's not a ton of breakneck action, but I think it works to the book's advantage.  It focuses on interpersonal drama and all the little twisty relationships that everyone has to deal with on a daily basis.  I quite liked the way it was written from the collective consciousness of all of the kids who developed telepathy.  It makes so much sense if you think about it; when you're constantly in someone else's brain personal lines start to get a bit fuzzy.  This made the book a nice little change of pace from standard narrators.

The one problem I had with the book was I wanted more!  The cast of characters was quite large and Mlynowski didn't go into everyone's lives.  There were some people I was dying to learn more about, but alas.  The characters that did get a significant amount of page time were nicely developed.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the range of reactions to the telepathy.  Some of them flourished, some couldn't handle it, and everyone received a serious lesson in honesty.  It was a delight to see all the ways that they decided to use telepathy to their advantage. The relationship dramas were the center here and having characters you could empathize with made it that much better.  The best part was that the focus wasn't exclusively on romantic relationships, ongoing or otherwise.  There were friendships, formerly apathetic individuals, and borderline enemies.  Throw all of them together to get a perfect high school meltdown waiting to happen.

Overall, this is a great little quick read.  I finished it in one sitting and had a blast while doing so. If you're looking for something that's a bit different, but not too crazy, grab this when it comes out.  It'll be great for curling up on an afternoon when going outside seems highly inadvisable.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Eleanor & Park

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.
from goodreads.com

Beth says 5 Stars...
I'd been hearing about this book for a while and (luckily for me) Amazon lowered the price right around the end of the year, making it impossible for me to not buy it!  I'm so glad I did.  Although this isn't my typical book, I adored it.  It spoke to the eternal misfit kid that remembers going through high school.  It would have been amazing to have a Park on the bus with me, sharing music and other things.  Although there was an actual plot, it was very much secondary to the characters sharing their stories.  I quite liked how the narration switched between Eleanor and Park, giving insight into both sides of their relationship.  The changes at times could be quite quick, and I'm interested to see if there were any differences between the ebook I read and the physical copies.  Occasionally the perspective shifts happened in the middle of the page and, while always accompanied by a heading, they could get a touch confusing.  I couldn't put the book down, which is quite interesting because it isn't designed to be a heart-pounding page turner.  I simply got completely pulled into the world of the characters.

The characters are absolutely the heart and soul of the story.  I absolutely adored both Eleanor and Park.  They had delightfully different strengths and weaknesses that were on full display throughout the novel.  It was also wonderful to see their relationship develop slowly, in a way that felt natural.  No insta-love here.  It felt earned and worthy whenever something new would happen.  The supporing characters all had more than a quick mention, especially the various family members.  Park's parents were a fantastic combination, with all of the contradictions that make for deep characters.  I completely adored Park's mother.  Can we have a book about her, please?

This is a fantastic book for current teens or anyone who remembers what it was like to be a teen.  The characters feel real, the recreation of the '80s is absorbing (although I can't vouch for its authenticity), and the end will slam into you like a feelings train. 
ebook purchased

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valkyrie Rising

Nothing ever happens in Norway. But at least Ellie knows what to expect when she visits her grandmother: a tranquil fishing village and long, slow summer days. And maybe she’ll finally get out from under the shadow of her way-too-perfect big brother, Graham, while she’s there.

What Ellie doesn’t anticipate is Graham’s infuriating best friend, Tuck, tagging along for the trip. Nor did she imagine boys going missing amid rumors of impossible kidnappings. Least of all does she expect something powerful and ancient to awaken in her and that strange whispers would urge Ellie to claim her place among mythological warriors. Instead of peace and quiet, there’s suddenly a lot for a girl from L.A. to handle on a summer sojourn in Norway! And when Graham vanishes, it’s up to Ellie—and the ever-sarcastic, if undeniably alluring Tuck—to uncover the truth about all the disappearances and thwart the nefarious plan behind them.

Deadly legends, hidden identities, and tentative romance swirl together in one girl’s unexpectedly-epic coming of age.

from goodreads.com

Beth says 4 Stars...
The only reason I have this book is because I happened to be on Facebook at the right time when HarperTeen was giving this away as a free download.  It's one of the few times my procrastinatorial tendencies have paid off.  I think this book resonated a little more with me because I'm currently spending a bit of time living in the Nordic region.  I could laugh at how everyone seems to be blond (although I have found some brunettes here) and relate to the small village atmosphere.  Revamping Valkyries was a good idea because it offers ample opportunities for awesome mythological women.  Who doesn't like giant blond warrior ladies?  The plot takes a little bit to get going and has a few stops and starts along the way, but I read this novel quite quickly because it was pure fun.  Although twists and turns are few, the plot moves at a brisk pace that will keep you involved.

Ellie was a fantastic heroine.  Although she does suffer a bit from the typical perennial lack of awareness of her own attractiveness, most of her personality is pleasant to read about.  She holds her own when she needs to and grows into a better self awareness throughout the book.  I really appreciated that the main romantic tension is between Ellie and Tuck, who've known each other for years.  None of that madness where people meet and within two hours are professing their love.  I just have to say that Ellie and Graham's grandmother is awesome.  I think it's fantastic that such a character exists.

Overall this is a super fun read.  If you feel the need for a little more Norse mythology in your life, grab this book.  It's a nice reminder of the beautiful Scandinavian summer with some seriously awesome warrior women.
ebook from publisher

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ever Shade

A dark twist on faeries. For Shade, a chance meeting with a powerful Teleen faery warrior who wields electrical currents and blue fires along his skin, has her joining him on a treacherous mission for the good Seelie Faerie Court across the land of Faerie. Magic and malice abound and nothing is what it really seems to be. The evil Unseelie Queen and her treacherous allies are around every corner as Shade makes her way across the breathtaking landscapes of the world of Faerie, which exists alongside the mundane human world. Shade discovers her own uncharted magic and meets some of the most powerful warriors in Faerie while battling evil dryads, conniving Teleen guards and challenges on her life with every step in a world where nothing can be taken for granted
from goodreads.com

Beth says 2 Stars...
Every reader has their pet peeves (or at least I do) and sometimes a book seems to know just how to hit them.  Ever Shade did just that for me.  What irritated me the most was the language, in both the dialogue and the narration.  The language contintually switched levels of formality, from highly stilted to standard modern conversation.  I wouldn't have minded if there was a reason for it, but I couldn't find one.  Because this book dealt with high faeries and a teenager, having super formal and modern speach together in one set of dialogue would make sense.  However, it doesn't make sense to combine them in the same character and even the same sentence.  Similar things happened in the descriptions and the other text of the novel.  Perhaps my intense dislike is unwarranted, but I don't think I'm the only person who this sort of writing annoys.  The story itself was decent, however, I felt like few things were fully explained.  Maybe it's because there are more books in this series, but I really wish the culture of Faerie and its inhabitants had been explained a bit more.  Several intersting things had just a quick line or two of discussion that wasn't enough to understand anything.

I found Shade fairly irritating.  Within the first chapter she makes a series of questionable decisions and begins getting involved in events she doesn't understand.  She just forges ahead without really attempting to gather information about what's happening.  Beyond that, I didn't find her particularly interesting.  I just couldn't gather strong feelings about both her and her epic quest, except that the quest would be interesting to follow with a different person in the focus.  The other characters were equally blah.  There was a real lack of characterization in general, but especially with the members of the company who should have been significantly more flushed out.  If asked immediately after finishing the book to name all the individuals who traveled with Shade, I couldn't do it.  Again, there was a lot of potential for neat subplots and showing different sides of Faerie that was completely squandered.

As much as I love a good story about the Fey, I would pass on this one.  Maybe the series gets better, but I'm honestly not going to continue.
book from Publisher

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Shadows of Ghosts

Shadows of Ghosts carries readers to Enara, a kingdom at war with itself, where for centuries centaurs have been treated like animals because of their horse-like lower bodies; they’ve been forced to work as slaves in the southern agricultural provinces, and have been bought and sold like livestock. But a strong abolitionist faction has convinced many that centaurs’ human torsos, heads, and intellectual abilities make them humans, who should be liberated from slavery and granted the same rights as any other person. After four years of being forced to live in a remote village and having to keep his real identity a secret, Cal Lanshire, days away from his thirteenth birthday, is given the best birthday present he can imagine. He is told the war is almost over and he will soon be allowed to return home. But then an old acquaintance unexpectedly arrives with news that changes everything. Cal’s father, the king, has been assassinated. Suddenly the outcome of the war and the very fate of the kingdom depend upon Cal being able to reach the capital where he will take his father’s place. With only his crafty best friend by his side and an escaped centaur to guide him, can Cal make it through the enchanted, hostile wilderness, past the assassins sent to kill him, and back to the capital before it’s too late?
from goodreads.com

Beth says 2 Stars...
This book has a really interesting premise, especially with the war over centaur slaves.  However, basically everything went downhill from the idea. Haucke uses a heavy hand with similarities to the US Civil War; to the point where the king is assassinated by an actor with southern sympathies while attending a play.  The southern states have left the rest of the kingdom because they want to keep their centaur slaves (condescendingly called "naggies").  I will go ahead and say that my opinions are probably colored by having just watched the movie 12 Years A Slave, which is an astounding and heartbreaking portrayal of slavery.  In comparison, this novel felt cheap and far too simplistic.  The former centaur slave's tale of escape is as cliche as it could be without any emotional power.  I think I could have forgiven some of the flaws if the story actually made me feel something, but I had no emotional response to anything in the novel.

I also had a major problem with the characters; they were so flat.  I got no depth from any of them, not even the intrepid prince Cal.  Cal constantly had these"bad feelings" about things that served to warn him of whatever danger might be around.  However, we received no explanation for his gut knowledge that kept being casually mentioned whenever something would go wrong.  Not only that, but the secondary characters also lacked complexity.  The madman at least managed to tell his story in a truly crazy way, but I'm not entirely sure how much of that was intended.  For me to really enjoy a novel I have to form some sort of connection with one of the characters, but none of them were deep enough for me to do that.  I also felt an almost complete lack of female characters.  We met one woman in the course of the action and a few others in the course of major characters' flashbacks, but none of them were given their own subplots or even lasted more than a chapter.  Where were the interesting females (because we could have had an awesome lady centaur)?

Overall I'd give this book a pass.  Although the concept is really cool, the execution fails constantly.  The plot itself isn't bad, but so much more could have been done.
ebook from publisher

Friday, February 7, 2014

Pieces of Me

Release date 2/11/2014

When high school oddball and introvert Jessica Chai is killed in a car accident, her parents decide that Jessica would have wanted her organs donated to those who so desperately need these gifts of life. But Jessica is angry about dying and being dismembered. Taking the idea of cell memory to the next level, not only do the recipients get pieces of Jessica, but gets pieces of their memories and lives moving forward—she knows what they know and keeps tabs on their growth, recovery, and development. This begins her journey to learn her purpose as she begins to grasp that her ties to these teenagers goes beyond random weirdness. It's through their lives that Jessica learns about herself, as she watches the lives she literally touched continue to interlock.
from goodreads.com
Beth says 4 Stars...
I was super excited when I read the summary for this book.  I'm really passionate about organ donation, to the point where I was the president of an organ donation awareness club in high school (SODA - we had a pretty solid acronym).  However, I hated the first part of the book.  So much so that I would have put it down if I didn't have to review it.  Jess comes off annoying and self-centered, while only giving us a brief sense of her life.  The introduction of several characters feels forced any quite a few scenes don't seem relevant to anything.  I'm so glad that I pushed through because after the car crash things really get going and it becomes a wonderful book.  The plot isn't action based and focuses instead on the characters.  Their struggles with the reality of chronic illness and the aftermath of the transplants were conveyed beautifully.
As I mentioned, the characters are the most important piece of this novel.  We get to see them from Jess's close, but just removed enough perspective.  Through her we get to know the others from both her and their thoughts and I loved it.  The ways the character's lives intersect were fun and touching.  I actually had to reread the beginning of the book when I finished because I realized I'd missed a few connections.  It was great to read about such different people because they all have different journeys to go on.  What Kizer did so skillfully was let each character have their own story and growth.  None of the arcs felt forced.  I don't want to give away too much, but suffice it to say that I wanted to alternately hug and shake certain individuals.
A final warning: don't read the end of this book in public unless you're okay with crying in front of strangers.  I think the summary for the book is a bit misleading. This isn't a story full of anger (although there is a bit of it); it's filled with pain and hope.  It shows how incredibly important organ donation is and how, despite everything, good can come from heartache.
ebook from publisher

Monday, February 3, 2014


I am a beast.

A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright--a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.

You think I'm talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It's no deformity, no disease. And I'll stay this way forever--ruined--unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I'll tell you. I'll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I'll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.
from goodreads.com
Beth says 4 Stars...
I thought this book was a lot of fun!  I'm always a sucker for a fairy tale update, so when I saw this one go on sale I bought it.  For some reason it took me months to read it, but I'm glad I finally picked it up.  I was probably a bit apprehensive after seeing stills from the movie.  The books is quite short; I read it in one sitting.  The update was done cleverly and made sense once the framework was established.  There's no way a prince could mysteriously vanish from the public consciousness in this day and age.  Making Beast one of the uber rich who in reality occupy much of the entitlement that royalty used to have was a smart move.  There weren't many twists and turns to the overall plot of the fairy tale, so no big nasty surprises.  I wish for a talking plate, though.  I did adore the little chat room dialogues that brought in snippets of other fairy tales.  The names cracked me up.
The characters fit in with the update of the story.  Kyle starts out like a run-of-the-mill popular pretty boy, but grows throughout the book.  Although he's the narrator, I didn't fully connect with him.  That might be because Belle is my spirit princess and I waited for this version to come along.  She's just as wonderfully bookish and smart as I expected.  The hardest part to modernize was that she is essentially kidnapped and it wasn't done as successfully as everything else.  Because of the isolation that Kyle imposes upon himself, there aren't too many supporting characters to discuss.
Overall I really enjoyed the book.  It's a fun, quick read perfect for a winter evening when you want something both light and dark.  Flinn made some smart choices and I look forward to reading more of her books!
ebook purchased