Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book Review: Murphy's Law

TITLE: Murphy's Law
Book 1 in the Molly Murphy series
AUTHOR: Rhys Bowen
GENRE: Historical Mystery
PREMISE: An Irish woman immigrates to the United States to escape possible prison and becomes embroiled in a murder investigation.
MY REVIEW: I picked this one up on a whim because I've been watching Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries on Netflix and it's made me crave historical mysteries again. This was...honestly pretty much business as usual when it comes to these historical mystery series.
There's the plucky young sleuth (in this case Molly). There's historical notes to show you that the author did research. There's an interesting mystery. There's a possible love interest with a cop/detective. This series doesn't exactly break boundaries.
But it's still decent. I may pick up the next book. If you're into cozy historical mysteries, this series will certainly fit the bill.
WHO SHOULD READ: Cozy mystery series, historical mystery fans, Miss Fisher series fans
MY RATING: Three and a half out of Five plucky Irish women

Monday, September 28, 2015

Book Review: Daughter of Dusk

TITLE: Daughter of Dusk
 Book 2 in the Midnight Thief series
AUTHOR: Livia Blackburne
GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: August 4rth, 2015
PREMISE: Kyra and Tristam deal with the consequences of their choices.
MY REVIEW: It turns out this is the last book in this particular series. That explains a lot about the ending. Though I still have many questions. Mostly about the world building, but oh well.
As a story it did the trick. It was just as entertaining as the first book. It brought about the conclusion in a mostly satisfying way. As I mentioned, I still feel a little unsure about some details. But those are minor things that did not hinder any enjoyment of the book so I don't think it's a major issue.
If you liked the first book, this one will bring that story to a satisfying end for you. I hope we see more of Livia Blackburne in the future. She has interesting ideas if nothing else.
WHO SHOULD READ: fans of Midnight Thief, fantasy fans
MY RATING: Four out of Five shapeshifters

Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Review: Royal Wedding

TITLE: Royal Wedding
Princess Diaries Book 11
AUTHOR: Meg Cabot
PUBLISHED: June 2nd, 2015
CATEGORY: Adult (though a companion book to a YA series)
GENRE: Realistic Fiction
PREMISE: Michael finally proposes to Mia while the usual drama that is Mia's life goes on.
MY REVIEW: Much of the joy from this book comes from satisfaction of knowing what happens to my favorite characters. The Princess Diaries books were some of the first YA books I read back in the day. I stuck with the series all the way through the end, so this was mostly a huge nostalgia trip for me. I imagine it's probably the same for others who have stuck by Mia through out the years.
Cabot delivers a satisfying happy ending. We get to learn what happened to pretty much everyone in the Princess Diaries series, except for maybe Josh, but I don't think any of us cared about Josh. This book also served as a good intro to the new character of Olivia, Mia's half sister, who now has her own middle-grade spin-off series. I plan on checking that one out soon, Olivia was kind of adorable in this and I imagine her series will be just as fun.
If you have not read any of the Princess Diaries books, this probably won't hold much interest for you. This is for longtime readers of the series, and it is a satisfying goodbye and hello to a new set of characters.
WHO SHOULD READ: Princess Diaries fans, Meg Cabot fans
MY RATING: Four out of Five crowns

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Where to Start: Adult Contemporary Fiction/Realistic Fiction

Here's where to start if you want more realistic fiction, but with adult characters. Please note, I'm not including romance or mystery here. Those genres will get their own lists in the future.

Some staples (please note, note, there are a lot of staples, this is just where to start):
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Piccoult

Some more current popular titles:
Room by Emma Donoghue (movie is coming soon)
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but with these books under your belt, you should be able to move on and figure out what you want to read next.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Book Review: Oblivion

TITLE: Oblivion
Book 3 in the Nevermore Trilogy
AUTHOR: Kelly Creagh
PUBLISHED: July 28th, 2015
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
PREMISE: Isobel goes after Varen in the nightmarish dream world of Edgar Allen Poe.
MY REVIEW: It has always saddened me that Nevermore has never gotten the recognition it deserved. Yes, I give, it is cheesy paranormal romance. But it's like all the good things about paranormal romance and none of the annoying things.
There is a good plot. There is a solid romance (that is not unhealthy, thank you). There is solid characterization and character growth. There is no villifying the pretty popular girl, no love triangle nonsense, no bad boy who is a jerk but you love him despite him being a jerk nonsense. Literally all the things that can annoy me about paranormal romances sometimes, are nonexistent here. If you ever need to know how to make excellent YA paranormal romance without all the traps that the genre can often fall into, just pick up this series and follow its example.
This was a good, solid ending to a good, solid trilogy. I'm sorry to see it go, but I sincerely hope we see more of Creagh in the future.
WHO SHOULD READ: Twilight fans, Paranormal Romance fans, Edgar Allen Poe fans
MY RATING: Four out of Five poets wreaking havoc with your love life

Monday, September 14, 2015

Book Review: Deceptive

TITLE: Deceptive
Book 2 in the Illusive series
AUTHOR: Emily Lloyd-Jones
GENRE: Urban Fantasy/Adventure
PUBLISHED: July 14th, 2015
PREMISE: As the government continues to crack down on immune individuals, Ciere, Daniel, and Devon all struggle with the consequences of their choices.
MY REVIEW: Illusive was a vastly underrated book from last year that delivered a great heist urban fantasy thriller tale. The second book continues that but with more consequences and an even faster pace.
One of the things I adore about this series, is that nothing is black and white. Far too often (and in YA especially) authors try to make everything clear cut with characters. You know you're supposed to be rooting for this character, while this character is bad, etc. This series does not do that. The author makes all the characters flawed. All the characters have issues and are not necessarily making right decisions (looking at you, Devon and Daniel). But they are never villified for making these decisions. That's...kind of refreshing to be honest. It's half of why I like this series so dang much. The other half is that it's just a well done thriller series that doesn't slow down and is endlessly entertaining.
Despite the fact that government going after super-powered individuals is not necessarily a new thing, the author manages to put a fresh spin on the idea. What we get is a very entertaining thrill ride. I can't wait for book three.
WHO SHOULD READ: those that read and liked Illusive, Darkest Minds trilogy fans, thriller movie fans
MY RATING: Four out of Five action scenes

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Book Review: The Fixer

TITLE: The Fixer
Book 1 in The Fixer series
AUTHOR: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
PUBLISHED: July 7th, 2015
GENRE: Mystery
PREMISE: A teen gets sent to live with her sister in DC and discovers that her sister is a powerful political fixer.
MY REVIEW: Ever wonder what Olivia Pope from Scandal was like in high school? Possibly, this could have been her life. This is basically Scandal, the YA version but with much more likable and stable characters. Which is sad, because these characters aren't even really all that stable, but they're still more stable then Olivia and co. Yes, Scandal is that dramatic and bonkers. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out on Netflix, it's quite a ride.
Personally, I loved this. It was the best things I loved about Scandal but a little more grounded then what that show has become (seriously...don't get me started on the last season, we'd be here all damn day). As I've come to expect from Barnes, it's fast paced, but a controlled fast pace. There's many twists and turns and the author explains clearly why these characters do what they do. With some of these twisty books character decisions don't tend to make sense. With Barnes, she develops her characters so well, that I don't question it at all. That's pretty rare in fiction.
Once again, Barnes managed to take an idea that's been done before and give it a new fresh twist. Also once again, I loved the twist she put on it. Definitely looking forward to the next book in this series.
WHO SHOULD READ: Jennifer Lynn Barnes fans, Scandal fans, politics fans
MY RATING: Four out of Five politicians

Friday, September 11, 2015

Book Review: Kindred

TITLE: Kindred
AUTHOR: Octavia Butler
CATEGORY: Adult/Modern Classic
GENRE: Sci-Fi/Time Travel
PREMISE: A black woman living in the seventies, with her white husband gets sent back in time to her ancestors who live on a slave plantation in the south.
MY THOUGHTS: Butler was an author who was around for quite awhile. She's what I call a quietly well known author. Meaning that in certain reader circles, her name is passed around like wildfire. When I did my search into old sci-fi to look into, her name was one that kept popping up on lists. However, if you talk to a casual/mainstream reader, chances are they'll say "who?". Never mind that she's won both Hugo and Nebula awards.
I wish she was more well known after reading this. This book was awesome. It's like a ten times better version of A Time Traveler's Wife. Some of you may recall, I loathed that book. Well, this book takes that premise of a person time traveling for random reasons and actually gives it a much better spin. Personally, I can't help but wonder if this is where Niffenger got her inspiration from in the first place.
I will warn: this is not a light-hearted book. It does not sugar-coat the south or what went on in that time period. Dana has some pretty horrific experiences while in the past. If you're looking for a romantic view of the past, this ain't it. This is not escapism sci-fi. It does however make you think. If anything, it kind of shows how far we haven't come. There are some attitudes in this book that have not gone away from both the history part and the present day era I'm sorry to say.
WHO SHOULD READ: Sci-Fi fans, Time Traveler's Wife fans, time travel plot fans, those looking for diversity in their sci-fi

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Where to Start: YA Contemporary/Realistic Fiction

From here on out, we're going by genres. First, repeat after me: YA is not a genre, it is a book category, much like adult fiction or middle-grade is. YA can be anything from contemporary to fantasy to mystery to urban fantasy and heck, most of the time they blend the genres anyway. It is NOT all the same. Please, stop saying this. Especially if you haven't even read beyond Hunger Games.

YA Contemporary/Realistic Fiction: This is YA that takes place in present day. There is no magic/special powers/aliens or the like happening. Just real people and real problems. A lot of times this can be code for romance. But most of the time it's usually just a blend of romance and drama.

Staples of YA Realistic Fiction you should read pronto, because otherwise you'll get funny looks if you say you haven't read them:
Looking for Alaska (or Fault in Our Stars) by John Green
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Some Popular YA Contemporary Authors:
John Green
Laurie Halse Anderson
Maureen Johnson (would start with 13 Little Blue Envelopes or Bermudez Triangle)
E. Lockhart (would start with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landou-Banks)
Sarah Dessen (would go with Just Listen or The Truth About Forever)
Rainbow Rowell
Gayle Forman (would start with If I Stay)
David Levithan (would start with Every Day)
Simone Elkeles (would start with Perfect Chemistry)
Morgan Matson (would start with Amy and Roger's Epic Detour)
Jennifer E. Smith (would start with This is What Happy Looks Like)
Courtney Summers

Some Popular Contemporaries to Read Now:
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Duff by Kody Keplinger
To All the Boys I've Loved Before series by Jenny Han
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Review: The Cage

TITLE: The Cage
Book 1 in The Cage Trilogy
AUTHOR: Megan Shepherd
PUBLISHED: May 26th, 2015
GENRE: Science-Fiction
PREMISE: Aliens have taken a group of teens into their spaceship in order to try and preserve the dying human race.
MY REVIEW: I'll be honest, I didn't know what to make of this book at first. I won't lie, it's slow-going at first. As it goes on however, it moves into something that is pretty awesome.
It actually reminds me a lot of the Maze Runner. Unlike the Maze Runner however, there's more decent female characters, and diversity, and it actually looks like the author thought the set up through. Sorry, I'm not into Maze Runner that much. The first book was decent, but like Divergent, it all fell apart by book two. Again, I warn for slowness here. In fact, I suspect many will get frustrated by the teenage drama, but it actually becomes sort of worth it by the end where there's a very nicely done twist.
Hopefully, this won't fall apart in the sequels like the above mentioned series, but I trust Shepherd. Her Madman's Daughter trilogy kept it up all the way through, so I'm sure we'll have a similar awesome time here.
WHO SHOULD READ: Maze Runner fans, Sci-Fi fans
MY RATING: Four out of Five alien experiments

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

TITLE: An Ember in the Ashes
Book 1 in Ember in the Ashes Trilogy
AUTHOR: Sabaa Tahir
PUBLISHED: April 28th, 2015
GENRE: Fantasy
PREMISE: Fantasy about a rebellion brewing and a boy and girl from different sides caught up in the struggle.
MY REVIEW: This has been the it YA book of the moment lately. Everyone is talking about it. It's been passed around like wildfire. I'm probably one of the last bloggers on the planet to read it because I am me. Luckily, it does live up to the hype for the most part.
I'll be honest, I'm not as in love with it as everyone else seems to be. To me, it's pretty average fantasy to be honest. The world building is a bit thin for my taste and the romance is not very well developed. Other then those issues though, the story is great. The writing is well done and the characters are nice and complicated, when they're not having predictable romances. There are twists and turns everywhere, like all good YA has, so it's definitely a page-turner. I absolutely see why people have gotten into it.
So some of the praise has maybe been a bit over the top, as usual, in this day and age. But mostly, this is a well done YA fantasy, and one of the strongest debuts I've read this year. This is also a perfect book for those of you who are awaiting the third book in the Winner's Trilogy. It's got much of the same vibe as that trilogy does.
WHO SHOULD READ: fantasy fans, Winner's Trilogy fans
MY RATING: Four out of Five warriors

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Where to Start: Middle-Grade

So you've discovered middle-grade fiction. It's great isn't it? I personally think some of the most creative books are coming out of middle-grade right now. If you're not reading middle-grade, you're seriously missing out on some fabulous books.
The definition of middle-grade can be...a bit broad. But for this list, I categorize it as books that deal with characters from ages 10 to 13/14ish. Mostly because that's usually how publishers categorize it. If you're ever unsure about whether or not a book is YA, Childrens, or Middle-Grade I suggest going to your local Barnes and Nobel and seeing where it's shelved. B&N tends to put books where the publishers tell them to put the books, and what it's being sold as, is usually what it is. FYI, the middle-grade section in these stores is in the childrens area and put under ages 9-12.
As with the classics, my advice is to start with MG books that happen to fall under genres you already love. There are also some staples out there which are a good idea to just read if you want to hold any sort of conversation with middle-grade book fans.

Staples you should read pronto:
Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (yes, this is technically MG, though I say it's both MG and YA)
Percy Jackson series (and spin-offs if you want) by Rick Riordan (same)
A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket (especially since there's going to be a Netflix series starting next year)
Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer

General Middle-Grade:
Holes by Louis Sachar
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

If you like Historical Fiction:
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The Witch of Blackbird Pond Elizabeth George Speare
Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomary

If you like Fantasy:
Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke
Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

If you like Sci-Fi:
Animorphs series by K. A. Applegate

If you like Mystery:
The 39 Clues series by various authors
Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene (also check out the Hardy Boys series)
The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart

If you like Contempoary/Drama fiction:
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Are you There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (also check out Freckle Juice and Just As Long as We're Together)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

Personal favs: The Sister's Grimm series by Michael Buckley
Chronicles of Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reading Through the Classics: Fahrenheit 451

TITLE: Fahrenheit 451
AUTHOR: Ray Bradbury
CATEGORY: Modern Classic/Adult
GENRE: Dystopian
PAGES: 159 (for this version anyway)
THOUGHTS: Yes, believe it or not, I never had to read this one for school. I suspect there are two reasons. The first is that I went to school in the bible belt. This book is generally not popular among that crowd (don't know why though, it doesn't go into religion that much at all). The second is that all of my teachers were very into the teaching only dead white dudes who wrote the serious kinds of literature. In other words, no fantasy/sci-fi of any kind. If you're looking for one of the things that probably helped make me a genre book lover, this right here is probably one of them.
Reading a book like this is a strange experience. It's one of those that are very influential and as I was reading I kept thinking to myself "oh...so THIS is where that sort of idea came from!" I suspect many read this book and misinterpreted many of the messages in it. I can also clearly see where it has influenced dystopian writers as well.
Personally...I have mixed feelings about it. As a classic, it is absolutely important, and I think everyone should read it. As a book though....I liked the things it talked about more then the actual book, if that makes sense. There's a reason this book gets assigned in school: it's a great conversation starter. There are so many ideas floating around that get you thinking. It was just a little too anti-technology for my taste (and I strongly suspect that this is where baby boomers got their technology-ruins-us-all attitude from). Also, after reading the coda and afterward that was included in this book...I don't particularly like Bradbury much as a person. But that happens with a lot of writers for me, so oh well.
This is a fascinating read though. If you're into dystopians, it's a great way to look and see where the genre got a lot of its influence from.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Book Review: Spelled

TITLE: Spelled
AUTHOR: Betsy Schow
GENRE: Fairy Tale Retellings/Mash-up/Reimagining, Fantasy
PUBLISHED: June 2nd, 2015
PREMISE: In a world of fairy tales, a princess goes on a quest after messing up big time.
MY REVIEW: I am so torn about this one. On one hand, it's right up my alley. It's a reworking of fairy-tales. It's metaish, there's a spunky heroine. There are so many references and puns. It is damn enjoyable.
It's just...not really what I'd call a well written book. It's actually a little juvenile in tone for a YA book as well. I felt this might have been more suited for the middle-grade crowd, more then for the YA crowd. It also drags a bit and the world...isn't terribly developed well.
But for a average read, it's still darn enjoyable if nothing else. I can deal with average books if it's at least a FUN average book. This isn't the most challenging of reads, but I've certainly had worse.
WHO SHOULD READ: Once Upon a Time fans, Retelling fans, those who like parodyish sorts of books
MY RATING: Three and a half out of Five magical shoes