Friday, May 30, 2014

The Shadow in the North

When one of Sally’s clients loses a large sum of money in the unexpected collapse of a British shipping firm, Sally sets out to investigate. But as she delves deeper into the identity of a wealthy and elusive industrialist, she uncovers a plot so diabolical, it could subvert the entire civilized world.

Beth says 4.5 Stars...
I've been a fan of Philip Pullman since I read the astounding His Dark Materials trilogy.  I picked up the first of the Sally Lockhart mysteries years ago and just never got any farther.  That's my mistake because I inadvertently missed this delightful little book.  Pullman is a master of connecting complex plot threads without dropping any of them.  There are two mysteries that at first appear only tangentially related, but that intertwine in unexpected ways revealed throughout the book.  The story weaves in and out of performance halls, back alleys, and estates without losing its flow.  I got so excited because this book (finally) has excellent pacing when it comes to the central mystery!  The language is designed to take you back in time which might be a distraction to some readers.  It occasionally feels stilted, but is rather brilliant in general.

Sally is flat out awesome.  I like my heroines fierce and feisty and she fits the bill.  However, what's so admirable is her struggle for independence on her own terms in a society that thinks her sex renders her useless.  Running a financial consulting agency might not sound thrilling, but juxtaposing it with the action of detective work adds depth to the book.  She also knows her limits and will admit when she needs help or isn't good at something rather than forcing her way through.  Fred and Jim are delightful as male leads.  The tension between Fred and Sally brings forth a nice little spark that ensures the relationships aren't overly light.  The characters behave like real people and all have some lovely three-dimensonality.  I do have to warn about the end because I didn't expect it at all and then some serious feelings happened.

If you have a historical mystery itch, then this will scratch it perfectly.  I would recommend reading the first book before picking this one up, but it isn't a necessity.  For some adventure and mystery with a dash of romance befriend Sally Lockhart and go back in time.  You won't regret it.
book from library

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

High & Dry

Framed for a stranger's near-fatal overdose at a party, blackmailed into finding a mysterious flash drive everyone in school seems anxious to suppress, and pressured by his shady best friend to throw an upcoming game, high school soccer player Charlie Dixon spends a frantic week trying to clear his name, win back the girl of his dreams, and escape a past that may be responsible for all his current problems.

Beth says 3 Stars...
I like the idea of this book quite a bit more than its execution.  The story plays out in a community where performance-based teaching fully controls the school system.  Not only that, but the high school cliques are like Mean Girls on steroids; the groups protect one another and upperclassmen can't speak with an underclassman without permission from the group leader.  This is the high pressure world where the action unfolds.  The book tries to frame itself as an intense mystery with a dash of thriller and does it somewhat successfully.  Again, I had a problem with the pacing of the plot.  Beginning with a bit more information about the flash drive and why it's so important would really have helped.  It's hard to care when the players and the main driving force are kept mostly secret.  Another issue was the intricacy of the plot.  It felt like Skilton tried to do far too much within the story and tied herself up with various plot threads.  Keeping with one main problem and applying more effort to centering the the book on it would have helped with the pacing and made it better.  There were definitely clever moments that hinted at potential for a better written mystery in the future.

I didn't particularly like Charlie or find him a compelling character.  I've read about characters I loathed, but if they're complex and interesting likability becomes secondary.  Charlie didn't capture my imagination, especially because he alternated between aggressive and whiny, with brief flashes of wit and fun.  The best part was when he let his inner nerd shine and made a few references that got a smile from me.  The secondary characters were just as bad or worse than Charlie.  The irritating Saint Ellie could do no wrong in Charlie's eyes and lacked all dimension.  She existed primarily as a projection of her perfection from Charlie's mind.  The bad boy friend, Ryder, was perhaps the most interesting of the characters in the book.  I wanted more from him because he felt more complex than anyone else.  Instead of being confused and a pawn in the game, he had layers of motivations.

Overall, the book suffered from an overabundance of ambition and a less-than-stellar main character/narrator.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly good either.  It's fine for someone who really enjoys high school mysteries, but if this isn't your prefered genre I'd skip it.
ebook from Publisher

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hollow City

The extraordinary journey that began in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children continues as Jacob Portman and his newfound friends journey to London the peculiar capital of the world. But in this war-torn city, hideous surprises lurk around every corner. Like its predecessor, this second novel in the Peculiar Children series blends thrilling fantasy with never-before-published vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reacting experience.

Beth says 5 Stars...
I loved the first book when I read it a while back and was super excited to get my hands on this one.  What's fantastic about this series is that it embraces being different.  Peculiar doesn't just describe the characters, it's a fitting adjective for the story itself.  The overall structure is familiar since the children have to go on what is in essence a quest to find assistance unavailable except in one specific place.  Said place just happens to be located both far(ish) away and in a dangerous area, in this case London in the midst of WWII.  The journey and search for aid for Miss Peregrine comprises the majority of the story.  The plot moves at a nice, consistent pace save the ending in which all hell breaks (metaphorically) loose.  The vintage photographs add a unique and interesting level to the story and serve to bring readers even deeper into the world of the book.  They give striking and atmospheric visuals to make imagining what's going on even easier.

The cast of characters is so delightfully odd.  Throughout the book the peculiar abilities of the children grow stronger and show new facets.  The ending of the last novel marked all of the children and this book allows the development to shine.  The relationship between Emma and Jacob is a delight because it's sweet, relatively normal, and not the central focus of the book.  It's an important factor in some of the actions the characters take, but it doesn't dominate the story.  Most of the individuals the group meets flutter in and out of the story, adding something for the brief time they're important.  They find a few more peculiars with different abilities and I'm enjoying the various types of special talents.  It takes quite a bit of creativity to keep coming up with them!

I can't recommend this series highly enough.  Hollow City is just as good of a second novel as the first book was series opener.  The ensemble of characters, brilliant use of vintage photos, and unabashed oddness make it a breath of fresh air.  If you're looking for something different, delightful, and highly readable grab this book/series.  You shan't regret it.
ebook from Library

Monday, May 19, 2014

Til Death

Sixteen-year old Selena Fallon is a dreamer. Not a day-dreamer, but an I-see-the-future kind of dreamer. Normally this is not a problem as she has gotten pretty good at keeping her weird card hidden from everyone in her small town. Except from her best friend Kyle and her grandparents, of course. But when Selena dreams of her own rather bloody death, things get a little too freaky even for her.

Enter Dillan Sloan. Selena has seen the new guy in a different dream, and he is even more droolworthy in person. Beyond the piercing blue eyes and tousled dark hair, there is something else that draws her to him. Something…electric. Unfortunately, Dillan makes it more than clear that he does not feel the same. They just met, so why would he act like he hates her?

When Dillan and Selena are forced together one weekend to work on a school project, Selena prepares to be ignored as usual. But when she stumbles across a few undead in the backyard, Dillan comes to her rescue and reveals a whole lot more. Not only is he part of a society that hunts otherworldly creatures…she is too. And she is being targeted by a force bigger and darker than anything she ever imagined. Despite her death dream, Selena is not going to give up easy, especially when she discovers that Dillan might not actually hate her after all.

Beth says 3.5 Stars...
I just have to start off by mentioning the cover... how absurdly gorgeous is that?  After reading the book I'm not entirely sure what it has to do with the plot, but I'll take the pretty where I can.  We first meet Dillan as he's on his way to live with his uncle after some sort of mission.  As the book goes on we learn about the strongly hierarchical society of world protectors he's grown up in, although it does take a while to get a decent explanation.  The pacing of the book is a significant problem because information isn't distributed in a logical manner.  Some things that would be important to know at the beginning of the novel aren't revealed until halfway through or even later.  The action also clusters around certain events, moving the plot rapidly forward at sporadic intervals.  A lot of the in between bits felt like filler and did nothing to advance character development or enhance the story.  Of the two major reveals in the book I was able to easily guess one and in hindsight should have figured out the other.  The mystery wasn't that intense; I was more interested in getting information about the supernatural society.

The synopsis is a bit misleading as this is as much Dillan's book as it is Selena's.  The narrative alternates between their two perspectives, although Dillan's is told from a third person narrator while Selena's is in the first person.  I found that a bit odd and it took a little while to get used to, but after the initial transition period it wasn't too bad.  I enjoyed the way the relationship between the two of them built up.  The constant bickering and vexation reminded me of a scenario in my own life and made me smile.  It shows that often those who push and challenge you most can be a good partner.  However, the magical (and unexplained) electric shock-like sensation that the two have when they touch each other is a bit too convenient.  They literally have a physical spark between them.  The secondary characters had promising starts and will hopefully have time to mature over the course of the series.

This is a fairly standard entry into the paranormal romance genre.  The end was quite exciting and sets up the next book pretty solidly.  In fact, it rather cut off in the middle of an intense scene and is certainly a cliffhanger.  You might pick this up if you're really into paranormal romance as this has a bit of a different slant on the paranormal side of things, but doesn't diverge too greatly from the usual.
ebook from Publisher

Thursday, May 15, 2014


The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.


Beth says 4 Stars...
If you're unaware of this series at this point then I'm actually rather impressed.  I know this came out a little while ago, but I was waiting until I could check it out from the library instead of buying it.  Although that might seem odd, I knew the reactions from fans were super mixed and I didn't want to purchase something I thought I'd have a substantial chance of disliking.  Luckily for me I quite enjoyed the book, although I do see what made people upset.  Roth was extremely bold in this novel because she made some significant alterations to the overarching plot of the series and moved in unexpected directions.  Going into the book there's no way I would have guessed the ending or even most of the middle and I really appreciated the surprise.  Yes, there are some plot holes and everything doesn't make perfect sense.  However, the whole series requires a certain suspension of disbelief and Allegiant didn't take it too much farther.  The book was compulsively readable and totally sucked me in.  I found the experience worth it solely for the pure escapism of the story.  The alternating perspectives in the chapters worked well and added another layer of complexity.

There were definitely issues with character development, or a lack thereof, during the course of the novel.  Neither Tris nor Four grew significantly or revealed a new side of their personality.  I don't really hold it against the book because the main focus was definitely the plot.  Of course, some new characters enter into the mix, but none of them were particularly remarkable.  The major novelty was the introduction of another society that encompassed the previous world.  I'm a sucker for world within a world stories, so this hit right in a sweet spot for me. 

Although I understand the anger and disappointment of many fans, I think that Roth made interesting choices that took the book away from predictability.  I'm attempting to do this without major spoilers, which is proving quite difficult.  Suffice it to say that the book will go somewhere different from the rest of the series and whether or not that's a good thing is up to you to decide.
book from library

Monday, May 12, 2014


When eighteen-year-old Becky Randle’s mother dies, she’s summoned from her Missouri trailer park to meet Tom Kelly, the world’s top designer. He makes her an impossible offer: He’ll create three dresses to transform Becky from a nothing special girl into the most beautiful woman who ever lived.

Becky thinks Tom is a lunatic, or that he’s producing a hidden camera show called World’s Most Gullible Poor People. But she accepts, and she’s remade as Rebecca. When Becky looks in the mirror, she sees herself – an awkward mess of split ends and cankles. But when anyone else looks at Becky, they see pure five-alarm hotness.

Soon Rebecca is on the cover of Vogue, the new Hollywood darling, and dating celebrities. Then Becky meets Prince Gregory, heir to the British throne, and everything starts to crumble. Because Rebecca aside, Becky loves him. But to love her back, Gregory would have to look past the blinding Rebecca to see the real girl inside. And Becky knows there’s not enough magic in the world.

A screamingly defiant, hugely naughty, and impossibly fun free fall past the cat walks, the red carpets, and even the halls of Buckingham Palace, Gorgeous does the impossible: It makes you see yourself clearly for the first time.

Beth says 5 Stars...
The premise of this book is ridiculous and I love it.  The beginning is a bit odd and slow, but once the action starts it doesn't let up.  One thing to know going into reading this is that it's a satire which will explain a lot about the style because I initially found it extremely jarring.  The continual commentary about pop culture, our obsession with celebrity, and beauty is spot on and razor sharp.  I personally love that it often gets played out to absurdity and was constantly giggling during my reading.  As someone who also loves fashion, I appreciated some of the references to the industry and how things work.  I devoured this book in one sitting, reading straight through and completely ignoring the rest of the world.  The magical elements require a suspension of reality because people don't instantly turn beautiful.  What does happen is that suddenly someone seemingly pops out of nowhere and becomes famous overnight.  The plot capitalizes on that scenario and takes it to ridiculous heights.  Although there are a few predictable bits, there's a lot of originality and the unexpected in the book.

Becky/Rebecca's head was a fun place to inhabit for a few hours.  I love how she recognizes her own ordinariness without always letting it run her life.  She also manages to embrace the changes that Tom brings about in a relatively normal way, with a nice combination of excitement, confusion, and totally freaking out.  A detail I adored about her was how her and her mother's obsession with celebrities ended up helping her!  I know that I've definitely spent more time that I should on E! or something similar and seeing how it played into the story made me smile.  Becky's best friend Rocher (like the chocolate) is equally hilarious and her extensive knowledge of the British royal family comes in handy.  Prince Gregory fills the charming shoes of the heir to the throne just perfectly.  He's a combination of what a stereotypical modern royal should be.

The only caution I have with this book is the language; there's a fair bit of profanity.  Otherwise, grab it for a delightfully satirical romp that will pull you into a world of glamor and absurdity.
ebook from publisher

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Kingdom of Little Wounds

A young seamstress and a royal nursemaid find themselves at the center of an epic power struggle in this stunning young-adult debut.

On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches: brocade and satin and jewels, feasts of sugar fruit and sweet spiced wine. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne’s heirs, and a courtier’s wolfish hunger for the king’s favors sets a devious plot in motion.

Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem — and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined with that of mad Queen Isabel. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.

Beth says 3 Stars...
My feelings about this novel are complicated, much like the story itself.  I just saw the cover on the library website and connected it with the Printz Honor win which decided me.  I expected some sort of epic fantasy with intrigue, betrayal, and magic.  There's definitely intrigue and betrayal, but the magic is only incorporated as medieval superstition.  It took me several weeks to read the book; I just couldn't get into it for large chunks of time.  The plot is fairly slow-moving and meanders despite the intensity of the subject matter.  I'm not a particularly squeamish reader (I made it through American Psycho), but there's an undeniable gross factor about many parts of the book.  Some of the descriptions of the medical practices of the day and the sexual situations get a bit graphic.  The sex scenes are almost universally uncomfortable because they almost always represent some sort of power struggle in a relationship.  The palace and its world are richly detailed, which is the main joy of the book.  The world-building is incredible and what kept me reading.

There are so many characters that flit in and out of the story that it gets a bit hard to keep track of the minor players.  The perspective frequently shifts between Ava, Midi, and a third person narrator that follows a variety of characters.  I think this is one of the reasons I had a hard time getting into the book since I dislike the shifting narratives.  The book excelled at creating complex and varied characters.  All of them had different motivations and unique stories that wove in and out of one another.  I found none of the characters particularly likable because they all had to do unpleasant things to survive.  The closest I came to liking someone was with Grammaticus, the historian, but he still uses people to gain power and influence.  The maneuvering and power struggles were so intricate and definitely my favorite part of the book.

This isn't a book for everyone.  It's slow, dark, and constantly rotates narrators and narration styles.  It's rich and at times rewarding, but perhaps not ideal for the average reader.
ebook from library

Monday, May 5, 2014

One Man Guy

Publication 5/27/2014

Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.

Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.from

Beth says 4 Stars...
The only reason I looked at this book was because of the summary on Netgalley.  I think the cover is actually pretty awful - I have no idea why there's the paper doll motif.  However, the story definitely made up for the lackluster initial impression.  The opening pages depicting a meal out with Alek's family are just hilarious and that wit permiates the entire book.  It induced giggles on mutiple occasions, a nice change from some of the other highly serious reading I've done lately.  Just saying that it's funny doesn't give the whole picture.  Themes of family, acceptance, and self-discovery are front and center.  The novel occasionally gets a bit preachy, but keeps it under control for the most part.  In those moments Barakiva pushes acceptance, so there are worse things to emphasize.  The plot was okay, but the general structure didn't hold any surprises.  Regardless, I still enjoyed seeing the story unfold and wanted to keep reading despite being able to predict how it would end.

Both Alek and Ethan were delightful in very different ways.  I really enjoyed how Alek could struggle with his identity and place in the world without being overcome with angst.  He seemed like a real teen dealing with life as it comes and I appreciated that.  Plus, his sarcasm delighted me.  Ethan came from an almost opposite background, and thus approached situations with a very different perspective.  He managed to pull Alek out of his shell and help develop his character while maintaining a distinct identity.  However, I really loved the classic movie obsessed Becky.  Although her role was clearly a supporting one, she stole every scene she was in.  Teenage me would have wanted to be friends with her in the worst way and have movie marathons complete with sass offs.

Overall, this is a fun book that's wasn't obviously down my alley.  I also think the timing of its publication is appropriate given the discussion about BookCon and the lack of diversity on its docket.  This novel proves that there are good books out there written by/about people with all manner of life experiences.
ebook from publisher