Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I'll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable

When looking for a new book to read, I always head to a few of my favorite sources: Instagram, the New York Times Best Seller List and Goodreads.  I've also been known to browse my local chain bookstore to snap pictures of interesting new releases.  When I'm done browsing, I add the interesting books to my library queue and wait for them to come.  By the time I actually get the book, I've very often forgotten what its about or where I found it.  This is one of those books.

Summary:  It's fall 2001.  Annie Haley is a recent college grad with no job, few prospects and a loss for what to do next.  Except for marry her new boyfriend, and handsome Marine deploying to Afghanistan.  Since she has nothing but time on her hands, she agrees to a girls trip with her Mother, who has business in a small town outside London.  On the even of their departure, Annie spies her mother holding a mysterious book, lost in thought.  On a whim, Annie smuggles the book away from her mother and begins to read a mystery about a Lost Duchess.  As Annie and her mother settling into a local inn, Annie's interest in the mysterious book grows as she learns that it takes place in the same small town in which she is staying.  Annie soon finds a talkative local who gives her more detail about the Lost Duchess, but also tells her the story behind the story.

My Thoughts:  I didn't expect to like this book, and almost didn't continue reading it after the first 50 pages.  For some reason, I took an instant dislike to Annie.  She came across whiny, unmotivated and self-centered....or basically a general stereotype for millennials.  As a millennial myself, I had no interest in Annie's journey.

And then the story within the story began, and I was hooked.  I was absolutely enthralled by Mrs. Spenser, a bawdy, crazy, completely captivating old woman who drove not only the plot but was the puppet master of everything she encountered for decades.  I could have done without the rest of the story and would have been quite happy with a fake biography of Mrs. Spenser.

The central plot (or at least the one I found most interesting) in "I'll See You in Paris" was the developing story of Pru and Win, two young people who's lives are forever changed by their association with Mrs. Spenser.  Their discovery of self as the story unfolds - both from a viewpoint in the 1970s and via Annie's perceptions in 2001 - was brilliantly done.  The characters were believable, interesting, and flawed in such a way that I wanted them to succeed.

Rating:  It's worth a library visit

Also Read By Author:  Nothing

Reviewed By: 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Sign of Seven Trilogy by Nora Roberts

As my newest pregnancy hits full swing, I find that I have to keep my reading/media on the light-hearted side of things.  Anything too heavy gets the hormones going, and nobody wants to cry over a book...at least not very often!

The Premise:  On the even of their shared 10th birthday, best friends Caleb, Fox and Gage embark on a glorious adventure: little debbie snack cakes, warm cans of coke, bike rides and camping - alone - in the forbidden Hawkins Hallow wood at the mysterious Pagan Stone.  As midnight and their birthday approaches, the boys use Caleb's boy scout knife to swear themselves as blood brothers.  They speak an oath and combine blood...and unleash a dark madness that was trapped under the Pagan Stone.

Now every seven years for seven days the demon the boys unwittingly unleashed on their birthday reigns terror upon the town and people of Hawkin's Hallow.  Buildings are burned, people murdered and only Caleb, Fox and Gage seem to remember that it even happened.

As their 31st birthday approaches, Caleb, Fox and Gage know in their guts that this Seven is their last chance to save their town from the Demon...if they can just figure out how.

Blood Brothers:  In the months before the Seven hits Hawkins Hallow, Caleb Hawkins feels the signs starting earlier and stronger than ever.  Animals are acting strangely, the woods behind his house seem to bleed, and a sense of wrong invades his dreams.  Which is why he agrees to an interview with paranormal writer Quinn Black.

Quinn comes to town with an open mind and isn't disappointed in what she finds.  Inexplicably, Quinn can see the signs as well, although she's not local to the town.  As Quinn digs into research and settles into Hawkins Hallow for the next few months, she learns that she's connected to what happens in the town.  And to the oh so handsome Caleb.

The Hollow:  Fox O'Dell is town hippie-turned-lawyer and a solid presence in Hawkins Hallow.  His ties to his family and friends keep him in town even when darkness descends for a week every seven years.  As the next Seven looms, Fox digs in to fight what he knows is the last battle between the darkness and the light.  What he doesn't expect is for the darkness to hit harder, stronger, and earlier than ever.

But hope isn't lost.  With the help of his best friends Cal and Gage, and sophisticated newcomer Layla Darnell, Fox starts to see that the future may not be all darkness and loss.  In fact, with Layla's help, he sees that the future is worth fighting for indeed.

The Pagan Stone:  Gage Turner doesn't feel tied to his home town of Hawkins Hallow, or to the father that beat him from the time he was a small boy.  But he does feel tied to his best friends Caleb and Fox.  So every seven years he returns home from wherever his wanders have taken him to help his friends fight to keep Hawkin's Hallow safe from the demon that terrorizes the town.  This Seven feels different from the last.  Not only is the demon coming on stronger than ever, his friends have help, in the form of Caleb's Quinn, Fox's Layla and their friend, researcher Cybil Kinski.

As the group of people come together to learn all they can to fight the demon, Gage feels himself pulled to Cybil.  But can he trust in love when he may only have weeks to live?

My Thoughts:  I'm torn about this series.  I absolutely love the premise: three childhood best friends are fated to unleash a demon when they are just boys.  For a week every seven years, the demon reigns terror over the town, causing its inhabitants to do unspeakable things, of which they will not remember when the Seven is over.  The three boys, Cal, Fox and Gage, aren't without weapons--they heal fast and can't be infected--but are totally outclasses by the demon.  As the final Seven approaches, three women come to town and end up saving the day.  Their fresh take and ruthless research help the men find the tools to face the demon with a chance of not only surviving but riding the town of evil for good.  This is right up my alley.  This is genius.  I shouldn't have been able to put this series down.  But I could and did frequently.  I think what this series lacks (for me...others will not agree) is the lack of balance between story, romance and characters.  I loved the story, thought the romance was OK, and didn't like some of the characters.  Usually a Nora trilogy sucks me under, and this one just didn't.

Rating:  This was good for a one time read, but I won't pick it up again.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Also Read by Author:  I've read almost all of Roberts' catalog, which you can find at her website.  You can check my other reviews on Robert's books by searching for Nora Roberts in the quick search on the right hand side of the page, or by clicking individual links here:  Shadow Spell   |   Dark Witch   |   Thankless in Death   |   Concealed in Death  |  The Collector  |  Blood Magick  |  Blue Dahilia  |  The Liar  |  Dance Upon the Air  |  The Obsession

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"A Court of Mist and Fury" by Sarah J. Maas

This is a follow up book to A Court of Thorns and Roses so obviously I had to pick it up and read it immediately.  This book has some PG-13 to Rated-R moments....read at your own discretion.

Summary:  Feyre survived Under the Mountain and battled her way to happily ever after.  Except she's anything but happy.  Feyre can't cope with the cost of her freedom, even though thousands were saved along with her.  As Feyre sinks into a deep depression, her fiance Tamlin struggles with issues of his own.  Determined to protect Feyre at any cost, he locks her in his manor house, isolating Feyre from the very things that give her hope.  On the day of Feyre and Tamlin's wedding, Feyre realizes that she absolutely can't marry Tamlin.  As her heart wishes for someone - anyone - to save her, the High Lord of the Night Court appears and whisks her away, claiming that it's time Feyre makes good on their bargain to spend time at the Night Court.  Feyre's time in the Night Court helps her heal her soul, but also plunges her into the dangerous world of High Fae politics and the potential of a brutal and terrible war.

My Thoughts:  I liked this sequel, even though it wasn't what I expected.  Although longer than your usual YA novel, "A Court of Mist and Fury" was jam packed with plot, character development and action that made turning the pages quick and fun.  And now to the meat...

First of all, how did I not notice that Tamlin was such a dirt ball in the first book?  "A Court of Mist an Fury" paints Tamlin as a fairy equivalent of an abusive boyfriend.  While Tamling never raises a hand to Feyre, he locks her in the house when she asks to go outside.  This is not ok and is actually really scary, as at first Feyre seems to think its OK as Tamlin claims to be protecting her from the creatures on the lose in his realm.  Further, Tamlin mentally abuses Feyre by convincing her not to take an active role in his life, or even in her own.  He undermines her sense of self by convincing her that she's not as capable as she is.  Maas tries to use the excuse that Tamlin was damaged by his experience Under the Hill (and I think that it right on) but it is done in such a secondary way that it seems like it comes out of nowhere.  I felt this was sloppy on Maas' part, and an excuse to break the epic love story of Feyre and Tamlin a part.  I think its fine for the characters to grow apart, I just wish there had been more of a buildup instead of a lot of the action taking place between books.

Secondly, I disliked Feyre much less in this book.  I will even admit that, at times, I may have even liked her.  While I found her depression and lack of will in the first few chapters frustrating, I thought it was well done and true to depression as I've seen it experienced.  I also enjoyed Feyre's journey into self reliance and self discovery.  Her time with the Night Court and the relationships explored there help her become if not a certified bad ass, well on the road to bad-assery.  Don't get me wrong.  Feyre is still petulant and cocky, but her heart grows to care for others in a way I wasn't sure was possible.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the setting and character development in "A Court of Mist and Fury".  Maas has a masterful sense of description - I could see the lights of Velaris, see the beauty of the Night Court Palace and imagine every fabulous outfit worn by the main characters.  The new supporting characters were interesting and integral part of Feyre's development.  I wanted to learn more about them even as they skimmed in and out of each chapter.

Rating:  Definitely read this, if you've read the first series.  I'm going to re-read books #1 and #2 again as I feel if I missed a ton of setup in ACOTAR.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Also Read By:  A Court of Thorns and Roses (Book #1)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

"Old Man's War" by John Scalzi

I found this book at a library book sale and I immediately thought, "Hey, I have a friend who loves Scalzi!" So I paid $0.50 and took it home.

Summary: Humanity has colonized uncounted worlds and found that we are not alone. As the Colonial Union literally and figuratively rockets forward, they leave Earth in the dust. John Perry is 75 years old and not particularly interested in being old any longer. The Colonial Defense Force has the technology to make people young again, but they haven't shared that with Earth scientists. The only way to benefit from it is to enlist. And if you enlist, you can't go home again.

Perry says good-bye to his whole life and signs up for a second chance. He and a thousand other recruits are trained in the art of combat. People from all professions are there with the same goal of extending their lives, which means politicians, farmers, scientists, teachers are all brought together with a lifetime of experience and emotional investments that make them a particularly unique fighting force. They are the front line defending humanity from the exotic dangers of the galaxy and having nieces, nephews and grandchildren back home gives them that added incentive to do their best.

What I Liked: Something about Scalzi's writing style is perfect for me. Each sentence seems to be exactly what it needs to be to get the point across and introduce you to the next sentence. I read this book very quickly (by my standards) and I am eager for the sequel. He does a great job with foreshadowing so that there are a series of mysteries throughout the book, keeping me interested.

What I Didn't Like: The faster-than-light skip drive gives me the shivers.

Rating: Must Read.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"The Obsession" by Nora Roberts

By now it should be clear that I salivate every time Miz Roberts publishes a new book.  I find her writing style relaxing and her attention to detail and characters hit all the right buttons to transport me to my happy place.  So when she releases her new stand alone novel I stalked the library until I could get my hands on a copy.

Summary:  Naomi wakes one stormy night before her birthday to see her father walking into the woods.  To find some relief from the oppressive summer heat - and maybe sneak a peek at her birthday present - Naomi follows her father into the woods.  After waiting for her father to leave the hidden cellar in the ground, she opens the doors hoping to see a new bike or puppy only to find a horror so unspeakable she can't breathe.  Instead of her hoped for birthday gift, she sees a woman bound and bleeding.  And proof that there had been more before her.  Naomi is faced with a choice that will tear her family apart and impact her future for years to come.

My Thoughts:  I love Miz Roberts and this book was satisfying on so many levels its hard for me to put my thoughts into words.

Nora Roberts' books are epic, her fans legion and with the mastery of her craft comes the ability to touch on topics that may be taboo, or at least left seen as risky, in the traditional romance industry.  And Nora takes those chances and runs with them.

For example, "The Obsession" focuses heavily on Naomi's life growing up as the daughter of a serial killer.  We spend time with Naomi as a child and teenager, learning how her father's legacy and media aftermath lead to trust issues and a brokenness that play a part in making Naomi who she is.  Someone who moves around a lot, trusts a little and can't quite find her place in the world.  Normally the focus of romance is on, well, the romance, but Roberts take's the story beyond the expected in a way that works and adds to the depth of the main character.

Despite her legacy, Naomi has a lot going for her.  She has a solid brother, fabulous Uncles that love her unconditionally (and big points to Miz Roberts for giving Naomi gay uncles) and a job as a freelance photographer that allows her to travel, be her own boss, and follow her passions.  She finds a run-down house that calls to her heart and decides to take a chance to set down roots as she rehabs the property.  (And let me tell you....rehabbing houses is Tami catnip.  I could read about that and nothing else and be happy.)  While working on the house, Naomi finds a place to set down her roots and starts to find love with local hottie mechanic Xander.  Naomi begins to define herself and her future outside of her past, a huge theme in Robert's books.

And then a copy cat serial killer appears and it all goes to hell in a deliciously creepy and terrifying way.

Rating:  This one will go into my Nora Roberts regular rotation.  It was that good.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Also Read by this Author:  I've read almost all of Roberts' catalog, which you can find at her website.  You can check my other reviews on Robert's books by searching for Nora Roberts in the quick search on the right hand side of the page, or by clicking individual links here:  Shadow Spell   |   Dark Witch   |   Thankless in Death   |   Concealed in Death  |  The Collector  |  Blood Magick  |  Blue Dahilia  |  The Liar  |  Dance Upon the Air

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Out of the Easy" by Ruta Sepetys

I really enjoyed "Salt to the Sea" by Ruta Sepetys so thought I'd give one of her books another try.

Summary:  "Out of the Easy" is the coming of age story of Josie, seventeen year old daughter of a French Quarter prostitute, employee of a local book store, mascot to a local whore house and someone desperate to change her lot in life.  As New Years Eve rolls around, Josie finds herself on the periphery of a local murder investigation that will challenge her loyalties and define her future.

My Thoughts:  Although "Out of the Easy" was written for a teenage audience, I really enjoyed the story.  The depth of the characters is extraordinary and their stories unfold in the perfect (for me) way---through showing, reacting and dialog instead of being told to the reader.

Josie is complex in the best of ways.  She's a child, only just 18 and has the innocence of someone young but with the street smarts and wisdom of someone who's been on her own for far too long.  Josie longs for her Mother's love while understanding that its a lost cause.  She loves and respects Willy but can't come to trust her completely because of the scars she carries from her Mother.  She has a place in the French Quarter but is desperate to leave and reinvent herself.  The choices she makes are absolutely believable but totally frustrating.

The setting is both exotic and compelling.  The underbelly of the French Quarter with its gangsters, prostitutes and gamblers is frightening making the bonds between characters both astonishing and raw.  Who would expect a Madam of a brothel to raise one of her girls' children as her own?  Or would expect information men to look out for the people they spy on?

Overall, I'd definitely recommend this story to anyone looking for something fast paced and engaging to ready.  Please note that it's probably not appropriate for tweens.

Rating:  I'll read this again some day when I want to be lost in the mystery of 1950s New Orleans.

Reviewed By:  Tami

Also Read By Author:  "Salt to the Sea"

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"Valor's Choice" By Tanya Huff

This book was lent to me by my aunt-in-law. She is a bibliophile and thought I might be interested in this sci-fi series. Note that I read the first two books published in one text, but this review is only the first book.

Summary: The galaxy is inhabited by a variety of intelligent species. In order to develop spaceflight and establish colonies on other worlds, all these species had to first develop their civilizations to a point where they were diplomatic, almost to a fault. The logic seemed to be that all species that were too violent would destroy themselves before they could become interplanetary. Dozens of these peaceful species found each other and formed the Confederation and thrived together for many years until the Others came along and brought war. All diplomatic attempts failed spectacularly and the Confederation quickly realized it did not have the temperament for war. And so they recruited the dumb and brutish humans to fight on their behalf.

Sergeant Kerr is the senior non-com for a platoon on recently pulled from combat duty. They are to escort some diplomats to a world where the dominant species is considering joining the Confederation. If the mission succeeds, they would be a new species with a penchant for violence that could fight the Others. If the mission fails, they might someday be enslaved by the Others and be set against the Confederation. Kerr is surprised that her combat troops are being used for what amounts to parade ground duty, and that is the first hint that something is not quite right.

What I Liked: Huff writes in a very natural style that is very easy to digest. Kerr is a great protagonist, someone worth cheering for and easy to identify with.

What I Didn't Like: I wish I had a more complete sense of life in the Confederation. This book tightly focuses on one story arc and it's hard to imagine what is beyond it.

Rating: Recommended. I will read more of this series!

Also Read by This Author: None

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"The Cosmic Connection" By Carl Sagan

I found this book in a used book store and bought it simply because it was written by Carl Sagan.

Summary: This is a non-fiction book in which Sagan discusses projects and theories that he is familiar with regarding our place in the universe and the possibilities of contacting other intelligent life. Surprisingly for a book written in the 1970's, it is a nice introduction to all the major ideas on the topic. For example, he discusses Dyson spheres, which still comes up today as an exciting futuristic idea. Similarly, he spends time considering the SETI program, both in terms of finding evidence of other life and ways that others might find us.

One gem is his discussion of the plaque added to Pioneer 10 as a message for any extra terrestrials that might discover it in flight. Sagan was the person who made it happen on this mission and several following missions. His insight as to the intentions and the process of designing the plaque is something you likely wont find in any other book.

He shares his experiences studying dolphins, giving insight into the difficulties in communicating with a totally different but intelligent lifeform. The most persuasive point he makes in arguing that dolphins are in fact intelligent is that they have learned several words in English, but not a single human has learned any Dolphin. It is a fascinating idea to think that maybe dolphins are as smart as we are, and the thing that distinguishes us from them is our manual dexterity and ability to use tools.

I am also extremely fond of Chapter 37, where he begins his Starfolk narrative. Chapter 37 is subtitled A Fable and recounts the history of us, from the beginning to today. It places us right here and now, in context, cleanly and clearly, with the grandeur of myth, but without the falsehoods.

What I Liked: I love the feel of Sagan's writing. He is 100% that one professor you had that was able to pack profound knowledge into a casual conversation. His books feel like a transcript from a musing lecture with the rigor of a researched publication.

What I Didn't Like: I have no complaints about Sagan.

Rating: Recommended.

Also Read by this Author: Pale Blue Dot, The Demon-Haunted World.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Salt to the Sea" by Ruta Sepetys

Image via amazon
I picked this book up after I saw it land on the New York Times Best Seller List. 

Summary:  The Red Army is advancing upon Germany, brutalizing anyone in their path.  The Nazi's have ordered citizens to remain in place.  Those who are caught disobeying orders are shipped off to work camps or killed.  It's a brutally cold and lean winter.  And you're a young adult on your own, hoping to make it to the coast and the ships that could bring you to safety...if the rumors are true.  Told in alternating points of view, "Salt to the Sea" is the story of four young adults desperate to find safety in the unforgiving German countryside.  As their paths cross, the young adults reluctantly band together, using each others strengths to and weaknesses to gain advantage and reach a ship that will take them out of harms way. 

My Thoughts:  "Salt to the Sea" is one of those books that I think about long after I've turned the last page.  While I hold a degree in History, World War II has never been an event on which I've spent much time.  Battles and politics don't interest me, and that's the gist of most lower education courses.  What "Salt to the Sea" did differently, and what captured my attention so soundly, was the focus on the people effected by the war; specifically, those that would be left behind by those fighting: children, teens, the impaired and elderly. 

To steal a term from the targeted demographic: this book gave me all the feels.  At times I found "Salt to the Sea" so bone chilling I had to put the book down.  The idea of children and young people left on their own in situations where death is near certain made me feel  angry, helpless and unsettled.  I wanted to know where the parents were, why the children were alone, and why someone didn't step in to protect them.  However, when the story felt most bleak and all hope seemed dash, the bright glimmer of hope was woven through the fear and sadness.  The combined goal of survival and sudden loyalty among the main characters lends a lighter touch to a dark story.  I enjoyed watching the characters open their hearts to one another as they built their own family from the wreckage around them. 

Overall, I thought "Salt to the Sea" was wonderfully written.  The action was fast paced, which felt appropriate for the story and the events unfolding.  The alternating view points of the four main characters flowed together masterfully - it was easy to keep track of the characters and their back stories and different view points added layers of  emotion to the overall plot.  Finally, although "Salt to the Sea" is a work of fiction, the authors passion for telling an honest story was well done.  I imagine any of the plot points could--and probably did--happen. 

Rating:  I'll reread this one over and over again.  Please note, there are some triggers in this book, as well as imagery some parents will not find acceptable for their children. 

Also Read:  Nothing yet, but the Author's other works are now on my TBR list. 

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I saw a picture of this book on instagram and checked it out from the library on a whim.

Summary:  Nick Young has been called home to Singapore for his best friend's wedding and it only seems natural to bring his girlfriend of two years home with him.  Unfortunately for Rachel, Nick forgot to tell her that his family is rich.  And not just really rich, but crazy rich.  Oh, and with his best friend getting married, Nick is now the most eligible bachelor on the island.

Rachel is unprepared to be thrust into a world where millions are spent each season on designer clothing and houses and apartments put castles to shame.  But what's even worse than being blindsided by the strange world Nick's family lives in is the unsettling knowledge that Nick's family and circle think she's a gold digger...and learning that they will hold nothing back to break them apart.

Full of intrigue, gossip and the idle rich, "Crazy Rich Asians" is a fictional but in-depth look at the insane lives of China's elite.

My Thoughts:  I didn't know what to think when I picked this book up, but I gave the gold and hot pink cover a chance and was soon engrossed in the insane lives the characters lived.  Each chapter follows a different character or set of characters through a two week period in Singapore.

Nick is the only son and presumptive heir to a massive fortune.  Taught never to talk about money, it never crosses his mind to warn his girlfriend Rachel about his radical lifestyle in the home country, nor does it cross his mind that his family won't love Rachel as much as he does.

Rachel is an economic professor at NYU and is thrust into a world full of social rules, unspoken understandings and gossip without any preparation.  Faced with the label of gold digger, Rachel must fend off bored rich daughters attempts to scare her back to America.

Added to Nick and Rachel are Nick's obnoxious, social climbing cousin Eddie, his classy yet fragile cousin Astrid, Nick's mother Eleanor and her crazy friends, and a variety of other crazy rich but slightly insane other characters.

I really enjoyed the cast of characters.  Their personalities, motives and lifestyles were planned out meticulously, which added a rich layer of detail to the story.  The plot was ridiculous, but was also part of the charm.  You can tell that Kevin Kwan, a native of Singapore, loves his country and its luxurious, colorful culture.

What I didn't like was the ending to the book.  I wanted the story to wrap up each story line with a definitive ending for each character.  What happened instead felt like a pat on the head and a "maybe to be continued."

Also Read By:  N/A

Reviewed By:  Tami