Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles, #2)Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Cinder returns in the second thrilling installment of the New York Times-bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother and the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she has no choice but to trust him, though he clearly has a few dark secrets of his own.

As Scarlet and Wolf work to unravel one mystery, they find another when they cross paths with Cinder. Together, they must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen who will do anything to make Prince Kai her husband, her king, her prisoner.

My thoughts: Yay for me! I finally snagged this baby at the library. Here's the thing is, I was at a book fair last week and trying to explain the story of Cinder, the book's predecessor, to a colleague. I couldn't remember why I loved it so much but I remembered the story. The teacher was reading the description and mumbling words with disgust like, "Cyborg?" and "Mechanic?" and "Lunar?!" Yes, yes, Megan. And much better than it sounds.

So the story leaves off as Cinder is making an escape after Dr. Erland provided some modifications and ran away to Africa. This is a slight parody on Cinderella and there are similarities but Cinderella would not be this sarcastic nor clever. I'll get back to Cinder because now we meet Scarlet who wears a red, hooded sweatshirt and crosses paths with a street fighter named (predictably) Wolf. Scarlet believes her grandmother, who raised her, has been kidnapped. Her i.d. chip was cut out and left. The police have dropped the case. Scarlet believes her grandmother would never willingly leave the farm. Through combination of events, Scarlet and Wolf join together to go to Paris to find her grandmother. This is all directly related to the other protagonist, Cinder.

Okay, a little spoiler. Cinder escapes but she ends up with another prisoner, Thorne who, in my opinion is the best character and stereotype of the book. Not only does he play the part of the arrogant yet dumb jock, his comments and actions left me laughing out loud. Unpredictable yet playing off Cinder and her personality perfectly. And this, my friend, is how I remembered why I loved the book, Cinder, so very much. Pure entertainment. Brilliant and clever.

Making a small appearance is a Goldilocks and Phantom of the Opera is intimated. It is a fairy tale retelling that is, by far, the best and most unpredictable while developing both main and secondary characters to the point that you absolutely love them.

Overarching (is that redundant?) the stories of Scarlet and Cinder is Emperor Kai who is attempting to keep world peace with the lunar queen. Cinder is a key part to this but that part is mostly told in the first book. Expect to be captivated, entertained, and a little grossed out. It's a little violent at times like any real fairy tale. At least Grimm's style. But this is much better.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mind Games by Kiersten White

Mind Games (Mind Games, #1)Mind Games by Kiersten White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a much edgier and darker concept than White's Paranormalcy trilogy. It's not cutesy with vampires who are clearly misunderstood except for the one. He's just a Creepy Vampire Guy. It's completely different.

In this book we meet Fia, age 17 and her older sister, Annie, who is blind. They are orphaned as young children and shipped off to an aunt who raises them for a couple of years before the girls are taken in on scholarship to a private school. You can smell something diabolical about that, of course. First of all, boarding schools in the United States are few and far between unless they are reform schools.

It is not a reform school or a real educational boarding school since this is YA paranormal fiction. As we continue on the timeline, the reader realizes that both Annie and Fia have paranormal abilities. Annie is a seer. Fia is something else altogether. The school is a training ground and they don't play nice. Fia has perfect gut reactions. She is trained in the fine art of fighting with knives and whatnot. She's an assassin against her will.

Much of the book is told in past tense with the present tense playing a smaller part until the end. Essentially, it is setting the stage for upcoming conflicts. The master of the school is keeping Fia in check by keeping Annie locked up and under guard and key. Fia becomes disturbed to distraction by what she is turning into. Enter incredibly suave and handsome son of the master of the school. Meet James. Does he work for his dad or is he working on his own? What are his allegiances? He is using Fia but so was his dad. You don't know whether he is good intentions or not so good.

Although written in White's signature clean style, I would add a couple of parental warnings. Violence is apparent since Fia is trained to fight and use knives. This is clearly purposeful and essential to the book's conclusion. Swearing is reported but not quoted so negligible. Sex is absent but innuendo is not. Language is clean. Dialogue is clean despite the innuendo.

I loved the story. I loved Paranormalcy and expected more of the same. It's not the same. It's very different. I can't wait to read the rest of the books.

No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie

No Mark Upon Her (Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James, #14)No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description: When a K9 search-and-rescue team discovers a woman's body in the Thames, Scotland Yard superintendent Duncan Kincaid finds himself heading an investigation fraught with complications. The victim, the talented and difficult Rebecca Meredith, was an Olympic rowing contender on the verge of a controversial comeback. She was also a high-ranking detective with the Met—a fact that raises a host of sensitive issues in an already tangled case.
To further complicate the situation, a separate investigation, led by Detective Inspector Gemma James, Kincaid's wife, soon reveals a disturbing—and possibly related—series of crimes, widening the field of suspects. But when someone tries to kill the search-and-rescue team member who found Rebecca's body, the case becomes even more dangerous. Pressured to find answers quickly while protecting the Yard at all costs and with his career and reputation on the line, Kincaid must race to catch the killer before more innocent lives are lost—including his own.

My thoughts: The first chapter starts out strong. Becca Meredith takes out a shell for a training session of sculling. New to the sport, I became a quick study but the book provides enough detail to understand the sport and the importance of certain boats, clubs, and backdoor entries to the Olympics. The disappointing part of the first chapter is that Becca senses something ominous and dies. Just when I was starting to like her.

The next few chapters provide a lot of background story for the characters. For those who have been reading this series, it would be (and from indications from other reviews, is) endearing as the readers catch up on the secondary story of Gemma and Kincaid's domestic life with a blended family. To a new reader, this is extraneous in some ways and validating in others. Extraneous in that I don't know these characters and I don't care about them. On the other hand, validating in that there is an element of reality that I can't ignore. The lines between work and home are never clear and the truth of the matter is that when couples have children - blended family or nuclear from the same parents, there is a certain amount of juggling and negotiating to keep a comfortable life fit. I might have been irritated by the extraneous information and somewhat confused by the introduction of all the characters but I couldn't help but admire an author that acknowledges this integral part of a person/family. I can definitely relate.

As far as the mystery is concerned, the story is well crafted and includes a number of red herrings. Step by meticulous step, the detective work is provided that rules out some suspects and opens others for further examination. I did not guess the actual culprit nor did I guess the motivation for the murder. It's a well written murder mystery with a realistic asterisk of juggling responsibilities while giving the reader a crash course on a sport I knew nothing about. But my interest is piqued.

One small spoiler; although the dangling threads are all tied up very nicely, the ending indicates that the story of Gemma and Kincaid will continue. Next time with Gemma on point.

 *I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen

The Tutor's DaughterThe Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father regain his spirits when his academy fails, agrees to travel with him to the distant Cornwall coast, to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But after they arrive and begin teaching the younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen and danger mounts. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte, only to find the music room empty? Who sneaks into her room at night? Who rips a page from her journal, only to return it with a chilling illustration?

The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry, wrestle with problems--and secrets--of their own. They both remember Emma Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. She had been an awkward, studious girl. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her.

When the suspicious acts escalate, can the clever tutor's daughter figure out which brother to blame... and which brother to trust with her heart?

My thoughts: There is absolutely nothing wrong with this book. The three stars are a direct reflection on the reader's attitude toward authors writing another Jane Austen book. Although the added Jane Eyre component kept me interested as well the historical portion of wreckers.

I know it is unpopular to say but I am tired of the Jane Austen time period. Propriety slows the story to a near snail's pace. I did find the Christian component more real and relevant than other books of this genre. It's a solid story with a nice romance and Christian driven.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Meyers REVIEW

The Comfort of LiesThe Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Meyers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: “Happiness at someone else’s expense came at a price. Tia had imagined judgment from the first kiss that she and Nathan shared. All year, she’d waited to be punished for being in love, and in truth, she believed that whatever consequences came her way would be deserved.” Five years ago, Tia fell into obsessive love with a man she could never have. Married, and the father of two boys, Nathan was unavailable in every way. When she became pregnant, he disappeared, and she gave up her baby for adoption.

Five years ago, Caroline, a dedicated pathologist, reluctantly adopted a baby to please her husband. She prayed her misgivings would disappear; instead, she’s questioning whether she’s cut out for the role of wife and mother.

Five years ago, Juliette considered her life ideal: she had a solid marriage, two beautiful young sons, and a thriving business. Then she discovered Nathan’s affair. He promised he’d never stray again, and she trusted him.

But when Juliette intercepts a letter to her husband from Tia that contains pictures of a child with a deep resemblance to her husband, her world crumbles once more. How could Nathan deny his daughter? And if he’s kept this a secret from her, what else is he hiding? Desperate for the truth, Juliette goes in search of the little girl. And before long, the three women and Nathan are on a collision course with consequences that none of them could have predicted.

Riveting and arresting, The Comfort of Lies explores the collateral damage of infidelity and the dark, private struggles many of us experience but rarely reveal.

My thoughts: I'm still digesting this book. The book description sets the book up perfectly. The reader knows the basic facts and the characters involved. But this is contemporary lit which involves complex relationships.

The best way to approach this book is to withhold judgment which is incredibly difficult, given the subject matter. This helps with understanding all points of view.

Nathan is a middle aged college professor who stupidly has an affair with a vulnerable young woman. He loves his wife and his sons but he is somehow able to disconnect and be something else without the responsibilities of real life. Until it becomes real and Tia announces her pregnancy.

Now we are five years post affair. Juliette has forgiven her husband but not forgotten. They have made peace and fallen into a rhythm of family. Nathan has buried his sins by being an upstanding father and husband. Then Tia's pictures arrive and Juliette has to relive the deceit and rejection all over again. This was my favorite relationship that Meyers explored. There are no easy answers but each person has to be willing to swallow some pride and look honestly at themselves and what they can accept from their spouse. Which leads me to Caroline and Peter.

This the couple that adopted Savannah. They live on different planes. Peter measures happiness by wealth. Caroline believes she not maternal enough to be a mother. Caroline, with her calculating, scientific mind, became my favorite character as she cut through the crap in conversations. It is another complicated relationship that includes Peter and Savannah with an ongoing conclusion to their stagnated lifestyle.

Tia is a rather tragic figure. Although not spelled out, Tia swims in her own victim hood. She is still obsessed with Nathan and it is her actions that is the catalyst to the crisis. Not that I disagreed with her stirring the proverbial pot. Although I didn't particularly like her, she brings a perspective to the paradigm that needs to be addressed. She paints Juliette, whom she does not know, in a light that Juliette would not fit. In Tia's mind, Juliette is the villain. Nathan chose his wife and sons over Tia and his unknown child.

Truthfully, I don't know how I feel about the conclusion of the book but I do feel satisfied with each of the women's personal growth and acceptance. It is still an extremely painful subject to address but the author delves deeply into each of the psyches of the players and the relationships.

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*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Friday, February 8, 2013

11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/6311/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What surprised me about this book is not that it is over 800 pages long but that I never got bored. It was 853 pages of a fascinating and very well researched book. I can't begin to imagine what an undertaking this project would be. Let me cover the bases of different aspects.

First, there is the paranormal aspect. Jake time travels and ages in the other time at a normal rate. Yet he always returns exactly two minutes later in this time line. Also, there is the fact that every time through the hole starts at the same time in 1958. Given that this is Stephen King, whose imagination far exceeds a normal man's, the paranormal is pretty inventive.

The second layer of the paranormal is that the past is obdurate. I had to look that one up, too. It fights the person trying to change it. And it harmonizes. The harmony is creative, fascinating and consistent. It is the consistency that impressed me.

The intricate details of Lee Harvey Oswald and those around him was incredibly well researched. Jake had to be at least 98% certain there was only one man behind the shooting. This turns him into a spy with rudimentary equipment yet he is able to seek out what he needs in a world entering electronics via a transistor radio. Also, politics are very important in all of the decisions. I was born in the Cold War and knew nothing of politics except that Russia would someday nuke us or us them. I did not know JFK's or LBJ's policies beyond the Cuban crisis. With very little lecturing, my basic understanding became sufficient to comprehend the ramifications of life with or without JFK.

The most compelling aspect of the book that connects it all is the story of Jake alias George and how he kills the five years between 1958 and the title. Who knew that King could write a love story? It is sweet and imperfect and simple and complicated. And I loved it. With all the mores of the times including segregation, I still enjoyed the view of 1958.

I must say a few words on the irony that I caught, which was not all of it, mind you. George is working on a book about an evil clown that murders children in a town called Derry. King ghost writes his own book into his fiction. Gruesome and hilarious. And irony that harmonizes for personal reasons, why not George Wallace? If not for him driving past one crooked cop roughing up one Civil Rights activist one November day, I may have grown up fatherless.

I found the story engrossing. Be aware that it contains violence, strong swear words and offensive language. Much of the offensive language is my direct referral to politically incorrect phrases. We are products of our times.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Office of Mercy: A Novel by Ariel Djanikian

The Office of Mercy: A NovelThe Office of Mercy: A Novel by Ariel Djanikian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads: A thrilling debut of a postapocalyptic world for fans of The Hunger Games

Weaving philosophy and science together into a riveting, dystopian story of love and adventure, The Office of Mercy illuminates an all-too-real future imagined by a phenomenal new voice in fiction.

Twenty-four-year-old Natasha Wiley lives in America-Five—a high-tech, underground, utopian settlement where hunger and money do not exist, everyone has a job, and all basic needs are met. But when her mentor and colleague, Jeffrey, selects her to join a special team to venture Outside for the first time, Natasha’s allegiances to home, society, and above all to Jeffrey are tested. She is forced to make a choice that may put the people she loves most in grave danger and change the world as she knows it.

The Office of Mercy is speculative fiction at its best with a deeply imagined, lush world, high-stakes adventure, and romance that will thrill fans of Suzanne Collins, Margaret Atwood, Justin Cronin, and Kazuo Ishiguro.

My thoughts: An argument could be made that this is a Utopian novel rather than the classic Dystopian. Points were made that might be considered valid regarding human suffering but also free agency exists in this society. I didn't feel a particularly strong draw toward any if the characters and I feel conflicted about the conclusion. That said, the attention to detail and story development is excellent and I found myself lost in the book which is no easy feat. It is definitely a worthwhile read. 3.75 stars.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Pivot Point by Kasie West Review

Pivot Point (Pivot Point, #1)Pivot Point by Kasie West
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Years ago I saw a Sundance Film Festival entry starring Gwyneth Paltrow called SLIDING DOORS. The premise of the story hinged on whether or not the main character missed or caught her train. Two stories played out before the audience, occasionally intersecting but giving the divergence caused by the one act of missing or catching a train. I was smitten by the entire movie. The result was that some of the life played out in both versions but they both ended differently.

So this book is similar in that regard except that Addison has a paranormal gift and lives in a compound with other Gifteds. Her parents are divorcing and her choice is to stay with her mother in the Compound or live among Normals with her father and keep secrets. With a best friend and a developing relationship with a hottie, the answer seems simple. Except Addison's gift is that she can Search her divergent paths.

With humor, excellent dialogue, character development, and enough detail to satsisfy the reader, Addison alternates chapters of both lives for the following six weeks. There were moments I forgot she was Searching because of the storytelling. I also had absolutely no idea who was diabolical or which path she'd choose right up until the end. One small spoiler is that there is romance on both ends of her choice. Different boys from different worlds, obviously. One I liked better than the other but both had their moments of sway. it depended on your point of view.

Meanwhile, there is a crime unsolved that her father is consulting on. Who is killing the teenage girls in the compound? Both stories provide clues and the answer may influence Addie's choice.

I have already ranted about character development, story telling, plot. Additionally, both points of view are so convincing, the choice is even difficult for the reader. The characters are multi-dimensional, making them that much more believable.

Ranting and Ravings: It's clean! I will recommend it to my own daughters. One Search of a choice gives Addie a version where she is assaulted by a boy from school but she comes out of it unscathed but deeply disturbed by his character. I don't recall swearing but there could have been farm words. No sex. Some kissing. Clean dialogue.

It's a winner.

View all my reviews I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.