Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy (5 out of 5)

•March 28, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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I’m not going to lie. The first time I read the back of this book, I thought “This could be Top Gun” for teens. It didn’t feel too far off in parts. This one was sent by Valerie at Sourcebooks. Valerie has a great affinity for picking out young adult titles that I seem to love unconditionally. That’s true of this book. You don’t have to wait for this one, kids, it came out March 10, 2015. So run, run, run to your local bookstore and pick up a copy. The book advises age 14 and up, but I think a mature 12 year old could definitely read this and handle it.

Chase, code name “Nyx”, is one of the ace pilots that the junior US Air Force has at its forefront. This is America in the year 2048, and we’re caught up in another Cold War the likes we haven’t seen since the 1980’s. Chase is one of the chosen who get to fly the experimental “Streaker” jets (the name made me think of, well, streakers, which made me giggle. This is not quite a giggle book, so at least I found immature humor in here somewhere!). Chase has a rep for being feisty, an independent super-fast thinker and doer, and no one really knows that underneath that exterior, she has a dark and lonely past. Chase isn’t real popular in the friend zone, more like a heroine with great expectations placed on her shoulders. They expect her to win the upcoming Streaker (laughs) trials and prove that the experimental jet is what they need to win their battle against the enemy. It seems like all these people want is for her to do their work, and move on. No one really cares about being friends with this brash, firebrand. That made me terribly sad. The weight of lofty expectations on a young person can weigh them down, make them take unnecessary risks, and overcome them. Instead, Chase takes this and runs with it. And winds up cracking a military secret; there’s a third, hidden Streaker, with a young hotshot pilot named Tristan at the helm. Of course, both Chase and Tristan have similar personalities and there are some clashes. Chase isn’t the sort of girl who gets along well with competitors she views as threats, even though Chase and Tristan are technically on the same team. Or are they? Can they get along for common good, or will the animosity burn the whole thing to the ground and cost them any chance of winning the Cold War? Or will it make things worse? Definitely not a dull moment in this one, readers. It begins with a bang and ends with a bang. That’s what I liked about it; once you got going, you’re sucked in immediately. There are no plodding chapters in this book. Definitely a cliffhanger throughout the book. Chase? Great, inspiring female lead. And you can never have enough of those in a genre that wholeheartedly embraced glitter vampires.

Cori McCarthy must have some ties to the aviation field, because her love of all things airborne is obvious from the first page. She has crafted probably one of my favorite female teen leads ever (The hell with you, Katniss!) and Tristan, well, it’s nice to see that they gave Chase a formidable foil who can hold his own. America in 2048 is so well written, you feel as if you are there right now. Not an easy feat for an author to pull off, but McCarthy does that. I cannot tell you enough that this was one of my favorite books so far this year, at least in the young adult genre. And I’ve read a few, thanks to Holly’s getting all these great ARC’s at the store. I strongly recommend this book if you like young adult with a touch of adventure, nail-biting scenarios, and just a fantastically crafted plot. You won’t be sorry.

Finding Paris by Joy Preble (4 out of 5)

•March 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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This one came from the Harper Collins rep, Jenny. She has her sticker on anything that she read and loved. I didn’t think I was going to dig this one as much as I did, but it seems like I’ve read more and more books lately with the family dynamic up front and center. This one is a story of sisters who stick together through thick and thin. Their mom jumps from one city to the next, and repeats with her choice of male companions, while their stepfather gambles everything- literally- by moving them all to Vegas so he can squander their money. Vegas isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but the sisters try to make the best of a bad situation. Paris is the idealistic dreamer with dreams of grandeur; Leo is the realistic brainiac who envisions a real life- graduating from college, having a career as a doctor, falling in love and getting married. Until that happens, they settle for driving all over Vegas and dreaming. One of those days, they end up at the Heartbreak Hotel Diner, where they bump into Max, a fellow student. Leo heads outside to find Paris, but finds her gone, and a strange note left behind. What the hell is going on? Was she kidnapped, or did she flee on her own? And why? Max offers to help Leo find Paris, which she accepts with reluctance.
They drive all over Vegas, following what they believe are a trail of clues, to try to figure out where Paris went. All is not straight up in Denmark, though, kids. Leo and Max both have secrets that may threaten their mission to find Paris. Leo and Max bond, but both hold their cards close to their vests, so again, not all is as it seems here.

Originally, I thought that this sounded like a G-rated version of “Thelma And Louise”. You know that movie–except Max isn’t playing the Brad Pitt character and getting naked. He’s a bigger part of the story than I had originally thought in the beginning of his appearance into the narrative. This book is one turn after another, folks. Just when you think you’ve figured out this trail of breadcrumbs, a huge ass raven comes out of nowhere bearing a bottle of absinthe and you’re right back in the middle of the garden path wondering if you had too many mushrooms. It’s a twisting, turning ride all the way up until the end. And a note- when you do get to that end, well, it’s something. I had a hard time really connecting to Paris as a character; I just really didn’t like the disappearing and setting her worried sister and friend off on what I thought amounted to a wild goose chase. Could you imagine if something like this happened today? Someone would get their asses beat. I liked the character of Leo a lot; maybe there was a little something in her mindset that reminded her of myself. Paris certainly reminded me a bit of my sister’s outlook on things when she was much, much younger, so it was easy to connect to their relationship, but Max was a little cog in the wheel. I say that because I feel like we never fully knew Max or what his deal was. So that took a little out of it for me. Two of the three main characters I didn’t completely emotionally connect with. I’m one of those who has to have some sort of innate connection or it’s hesitant tiptoeing the rest of the way. I’m like that in life; I’m like that with books I read also. Another thing that ticked me off was the semi-nonchalance that Paris had about setting up this ‘disappearance/scavenger hunt/wild goose chase” (It may or may not be one of those; I can’t say more without giving up the ending) and scaring the hell out of her sister and even Max. That teed me off; so that likely cost it more in my book. Overall, not a bad little story if you can get past those few things. I could enough to say that I enjoyed it, and the ending…well, that was something. Age group on this one is 9 years and up. It’s out April 21, 2015, so not too much longer on this one!

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (4 out of 5)

•March 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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Another young adult title that isn’t out yet, this one courtesy of Delacorte Press, also known as Penguin Random House. This book is released on September 1, 2015, so take your time on running down to your normal local bookstore and buying it… by the time you walk there in sandals and socks, you may just make it in time!
I was leery about taking it, but something about that cover kept at me, so I borrowed it from Holly and read it(Holly is our children’s frontlist buyer at the store, in case I haven’t formally introduced her yet). I thought upon reading the back cover that it was a “clichéd” story that you hear about everyday. Then I re-read it when I was not at the zoo known as work, and realized the character wasn’t just allergic to one or two things, more like everything! How the heck would this play out? Had to read it, and had to find out. And I don’t regret it. It was a great little book. I say little because it’s only 240 pages, and a quick read once you get going.

Madeline can’t go outside her home, she’s basically a prisoner, due to being allergic to EVERYTHING. Yes, EVERYTHING. She sees only her mom and her nurse, Carla. This is the 18 year old’s life… until the day she looks outside and sees a moving truck. A tall boy dressed all in black gives her the eye through the window. Our boy in black is Olly, and as usually happens in a young adult novel, this signals the beginning of IT. IT being Madeline falling in love with Olly. How is this going to work when Madeline can’t even leave her house? I’m going to warn you that if you’re someone who has to read a book with a straight-up format, you’re going to have a hard time, because Madeline tells us her story in diary posts, texts, charts, drawings, and lists…so if you can’t read a narrative through those devices, this is going to be a hard read for you. It wasn’t for me, because I like anything out of the ordinary. Madeline’s story is out of the ordinary, so is her and Olly’s friendship and burgeoning romance. But how can this work? Madeline is a smart cookie, although her traitorous heart is doing funny things to her, and everything, everything changes. Quite a pair, these two. I had no idea where this was going to end up, but when it did, well, I really was pleased with the outcome. If you like a young adult book that isn’t the normal story you would expect, take the leap in September. Put on your flip flops and sandals and start walking to that local bookstore to pick up a copy.

What did I get from this? Madeline is a great girl with a lot of things against her, but she never gives up hope. Love at first sight can exist. Love can exist, even in the most trying of circumstances. That’s what I got from this, a lot of hope that love can conquer all. And who doesn’t want to read a story like that?

Whispering Shadows by Jan-Philipp Sendker (3 out of 5)

•March 24, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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This cover ^ is NOT the final cover. This was the cover on the advance reader copy that Wendy sent me. I prefer it to the final copy…which is below….

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Anyway..now that the cover comparison part of the blog review has passed…. I have to tell you that I’m a fan of Jan-Philipp Sendker. I read his first two fictional books, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats and A Well-Tempered Heart. And loved them both! This novel seemed to have a bit more of intrigue stacked on the shelf, though. His writing is beautiful, be fooled not. As much as I enjoyed Whispering Shadows, this did not measure up to his debut novel. That’s a book I still pick up and read time and time again. Months from now, I may go and re-read this and find some hidden joy in it. I love his writing, I love the backdrop of Hong Kong for much of the novel, and I love the imagery he projects in his story settings. However, truth be told, this did not move me. I knew I was in trouble when the first 24 pages passed and I was bored. Then the talk of people being worked to death and starving in fields; you know it’s going to be more of a bleak car ride than his previous two trips. And it was.

The novel starts out with Paul (our hero) recalling his son’s death from leukemia. This does indeed set up the novel in way of Paul’s inner struggle to move past his son’s death at such a young age. His marriage to Meredith also crashes and burns after their son dies. Paul moves to a quiet, peaceful place and settles into a pretty quiet, normal routine in which he spends quiet time mourning his boy and being a recluse. Until he get pulled, unknowingly, into the murder of an American citizen in Hong Kong. He makes a fleeting connection to Elizabeth, a distressed mother looking for her missing son, and after the body of her boy is found, Paul finds a renewed purpose in life and sets out to investigate what happened, to try to help bring justice to the murdered and peace to the mother. Bear in mind, reader, that Paul has ZERO experience.. and his detective friend Zhang, familiar with Hong Kong and its shady underpasses, REALLY bugs him into doing it, once his doubts start to surface. In the meantime, while this is going on, you have Paul rebuilding his life and falling in love with a woman who he’s been quietly attracted to, Christine. So you have rebuilding going on as well as trying to solve a mystery that has absolutely nothing at all to do with Paul. Except that the Elizabeth’s pain at losing her son mirrors his pain at losing his son. Paul and Zhang uncover all sorts of shadiness involving secret companies, money, and the Hong Kong syndicate, but really, it was hard to care. I honestly cared more about Paul finding love again with the lovely Christine, than I cared about who killed Michael, the seemingly self-absorbed young man who is murdered. It was hard to connect with anyone. I really thought that Paul is a great character, and Christine as well, so I hope happy ever after is in their future (since this is the first in a new trilogy, that’s possible). I liked the character of Zhang, especially after his backstory with the bad guy is revealed (killing a Buddhist monk? Not cool. Ever). The characters, the good guys, are written so well. Michael’s parents? I wanted to beat the father with a tire iron, and I wanted to send Elizabeth to rehab. Something about those two really bugged me while reading this.

The resolution of the book is well written, and makes perfect sense when tied in with the narrative. Jan-Philipp does an astounding job of bringing you into Hong Kong and making you want to stay forever. Paul, Christine, and Zhang are well written, in-depth, humans who are realistic and sympathetic characters whom you root for, in the battle of good vs evil. And that, friends, is about all I found to be enjoyable. The Cultural Revolution enjoys a great retelling here in Jan-Philipp’s hands, but I just didn’t seem to connect at all to the murder plot. I cared more about poor Paul finding love and belief in living life again. I cared about Zhang bringing the murderer to justice. That was all, folks. The rest? Seemed like filler to me. I hope he regains his swing in the next two installments. This man can write! This book just isn’t the best I’ve read by him.

The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield (3 out of 5)

•March 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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Home Sweet Home? Funeral Home Sweet Home throws a whole different curve ball in there. Kate Mayfield grew up in small town, segregated Jubilee, Kentucky. Her father is the town undertaker, and Kate’s upbringing is by no means the norm. How could it be? Kate bears witness to all sorts of town secrets, weird fetishes, and of course, the bodies of victims of murders, accidents, and suicide. Kate’s father takes a pretty central role in this book, because keeping up the façade of the town funeral director, he begins to crack. Kate’s parents marriage takes a direct hit when he begins cheating, and he begins drinking all the time. Kate gets older and begins to change from a trusting, helpful child to a rebellious, straightforward teen, all the while trying to learn about life outside of a funeral home, while watching her father’s walls begin to crumble. Growing up in a town like Jubilee had to be an experience in itself, and adding to it the fact that Kate is surrounded by death her entire childhood into her teens, while trying to break away and learn what life is outside of the cloistered walls of the funeral home and the town itself. There have been a number of books out in the past year about being an undertaker, growing up in a home where your family were undertakers, not to mention memoirs of morticians. It’s an aspect of life (and death) that fascinates the public consciousness and many of us read these types of books to satisfy the curiosities of death itself; the process, the aftermath, the healing. Still others read about them to see the human nature side of things; how does one live comfortably in a home when there are corpses there? Did those living there develop an indifference to it, or do they get creeped out? How does one come to terms with it? Do they come to terms with the reality of it? Tons of questions coming to the surface. There will never be a shortage of people eager to read this sort of memoir. And yes, I am one of those people.

I really wanted to love this book. Instead, I ended up liking it a good deal. It wasn’t missing anything, I just couldn’t tune into Kate’s psyche the way I had with other memoirs that were similar in subject matter. More than one blurb I saw mentioned it as Six Feet Under meets Mary Roach. I got a little of that, but I wasn’t a big fan of either the show, or the author. I enjoyed Mary Roach’s first two books, but lost interest. She is so far into detail that I felt like the emotional side was neglected. And yes, there is one, despite the fact we’re dealing with a dead body. Those who are left behind- that’s the emotional side. I felt like Mayfield’s book was the opposite- she dwells a great deal on the emotional side, and there is a little in way of detail of what goes on behind closed doors of the funeral home, but it gets lost in the emotion emanating from the author. I kind of was hoping for a nice balance of the two, but I didn’t quite find the balance. I also really wanted to feel a connection to the family, instead, I wanted to beat the hell out of her father when he started to turn to other earthly delights to get through the nights of his occupation. Everyone has to have a coping mechanism, and some people have destructive ones. The book just fell apart for me midway through Mayfield’s seguing from child to teen who wants to rule the world; I felt like the anchor had slipped for me as a reader. Of course, I plowed on until the end. Overall, you have to admire Mayfield’s moxie in morphing from the dark side to the side with sunlight and life. I just didn’t quite get into this book as much as I thought I would have. An effective biography, nonetheless.

Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Turado (4 out of 5)

•March 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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This is not a book a lot of people would read, especially if they live in a fucking bubble about the state of the economy and the world as it is right now. I read Nickel & Dimed years ago and couldn’t tell enough people to read it. I’m going to have to say the same thing here. Linda Tirado has pulled the blinders off of the human conditions that afflict those who are barely making ends meet, food put onto the dinner table, and bills paid, but nothing left to save for a future that may be bleaker than this reality is. What this book gave me was determination to keep fighting, and to find a way to exist in this financial mushroom cloud hanging over all of us.
Everyone who has had problems making ends meet needs to read this. Tirado manages to do in less than 200 pages what the rest of us have been bitching about for a long while. She makes it short and simple, and it isn’t pretty. She’s effective, though. You put this book down, and it makes you think. It makes you realize that a lot of the struggling you are going through? Not your fault. She takes to task all of the parties responsible, and in a great way to end the book- an open letter to the rich. Self righteousness has never been written this well, and so succinctly. I’m fond of reading non-fiction and this one, well, it’s as real as it gets. But Tirado doesn’t drone on and on, and she provides plenty of examples to back up her observations. I’m really late to the party with this one, it came out last October on Penguin (Now Penguin Random House), but I would advise you to pick up a copy and give it a read, and pass it onto the next person. You can never be too aware of what’s going on, especially if it affects those you care about (or yourself, down the road).
In way of solutions or probable answers, though, we’re up a bit short. Tirado does her best to get our indignation ignited, but at the finish line, we’re all still left with the reality of the situations. There isn’t much that we can take away from this as far as action goes, but the information that she’s imparted you with? Priceless. Take that to the bank.

Galactic Hot Dogs 1: Cosmoe’s Wiener Getaway by Max Brallier, Illustrated by Rachel Maguire (5 out of 5)

•March 20, 2015 • 1 Comment

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Holly, the children’s frontlist buyer for the bookstore I work for, was appalled when I told her I wanted to read this. Then she said it was impossible to get a copy, as we did not have a straight up S&S rep for children’s titles(happily, this is no longer an issue). That and the fact that I was asking her to get an advance for me that was a children’s title. And yes, I’ll be completely honest. I really was won over by the title. And the bright, vibrant cover when I saw it in the catalog. However, Holly didn’t remember that I email Wendy as often as possible requesting titles that S&S put out that grab my interest. And I always try to send a review; often I forget, as I am overwhelmed with books! And yes, I think the whole premise of the book sounded fantastic. And it was- is- pretty fantastic.

This is the first in a series that will be out on May 5, 2015, and is brought to us by Simon & Schuster. My copy, obviously, came from Wendy at S&S. Your age group on this one is 9-12; although I would also throw 42 in there (my age). I like silly, fun books when I read children’s titles. Or twisted, weird, dark humor (young adult/teen). You can tell from the blog that I like any and all children’s titles where the aliens are involved. Or just silly books. Life is too hard sometimes; and if books are your escape, why would you not pick up this title and give it a shot? You should!

Cosmoe is the Earth-Boy of our story. He’s the captain of the Neon Wiener, the best food truck in the solar system. His assistant and friend, The Big Humphree, accompanies him on his travels through the galaxy, where many days are spent cruising and staying crazy busy. This book is full of the fun food adventures of Cosmoe and Big Humphree. Among the highlights that you and the youngins have to look forward to: playing Super Moon Death Ninja Jab, cooking up Mega Dogs, staying on the run from evil, mutant worm monsters, and trying to protect all from the Ultimate Evil. Here’s the thing, dudes and dudettes. This book is FUN. There isn’t nearly enough FUN in the world today, and even in some of the children’s books I have picked up in the store as of late. The book has awesome illustrations, as well. It’s like a cool, funny comic book for kids, minus the beautiful format that usually accompanies the term GRAPHIC NOVEL. The lingo is fantastic- right on par with how I normally speak. Dude, hot butts, turbo ear slaps, I mean how could I not love it right there? But, as I said, a book is a book and many people are involved in the creation and presentation of it to the masses. Max Brallier has over twenty books to his credit, so he’s not new to this. This is, however, the first of hopefully many Galactic Hot Dogs books. Rachel Maguire’s illustrations bring these unforgettably funny characters to life. (Especially that Mega Dog. Holy crap, did I want a Wrigley Field hot dog after seeing this one brought to life in the pages. And I normally do not like hot dogs.).

So, how do I tell you how much I loved it? I hope I did just that. I also hope that you run out to your nearest independent bookstore on May 5, 2015, and pick up this awesome adventure for your little ones.

 
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