Sunday, October 22, 2017

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Book Summary
Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

Flo's Review
Well, I just flew through that one! But, I mean, it's a John Green book, so not surprising. Actually, it did take a little bit to get into at first. I'd forgotten about John Green's style of writing, where you are intimately learning the characters more so than following an action-packed plot. But there was so much to love about Turtles. I'll probably be more articulate if I go with list form, so here we go:

1. The portrayal of mental illness: This is something I cannot relate with, but while reading this book I could understand how it happened for Aza. John Green did such a good job going into her mind, that I could clearly understand how the thought spirals worked and how she ended up where she was every time. It will be interesting to see if they try to make a movie out of this one, though, because so much of it takes place in Aza's thoughts. I'm not sure how that would translate on-screen.

2. It reminded me of The Fault in Our Stars: It did. Davis and Aza are both introspective characters, like Augustus and Hazel. Both couples are broken individuals who find their way to each other and are learning how to be broken together. The dynamics of how the two couples found each other aren't similar, but at the same time they are. I absolutely see this as its own distinct story, but it did remind me of Fault, and I was okay with that. It gave me a similar feeling.

3. The ending: I'll be spoiler free, but I will say that the ending wasn't necessarily happy or sad. It was just real. It was just life. At the end of the period, everything does not tie up with a perfect bow and all the loose ends cut off. Because people go on living, continue with all the parts of their lives. And that's how this ended. The story "ended," but it didn't close. It became part of the continuing life of the characters. Some might have even found it anti-climactic, but I liked the realness and the honesty of it.

4. Daisy: What did you guys think about Daisy? I'm trying to decide. I didn't necessarily like her? I see how she is a good friend for Aza, because she is "out there" and Aza is internal. So she makes sense. But nothing really attracted me to her character. I guess in order for the story to start, though, you needed an impetus, and Aza wasn't in a place where it could have been her. So it had to be Daisy. Like I said, I understand Daisy's role in the plot, but I just wasn't enamored by her character. Thoughts??

Overall, Turtles is another signature John Green masterpiece and I enjoyed reading it. 

Book review: Across Oceans by Kelsey Gietl

Book Summary
Tragedy, unrelenting guilt, and hostile hallucinations of his dearly departed sister — that’s just typical life for Reuben Radford. 

That is until one atypical May Day. In the most unlikely of places — the cemetery of their quiet Hampshire town — Reuben meets Maggie Archer. Quirky and spontaneous, she’s like no other woman he’s ever met. By the time they part ways, in a promise not to meet again for a year, he knows she could be the love of his life.

There’s just one problem. Reuben and Maggie’s families have left them both with enough emotional baggage to fill a steamship. 

Not to mention one other little complication. Reuben has a secret. It’s not pleasant. It’s not pretty. And it’s one he’s determined to keep buried at all costs.

But if there’s one word to describe Maggie, it’s headstrong. Once she resolves to uncover the truth, she’ll stop at nothing to find it. After all, what does she have to lose? Unlike Reuben, Maggie never believed in love.

Spanning five years of England's Edwardian era, Across Oceans is the captivating story of first love, lost innocence, and the unexpected moments that change everything.

Flo's Review
Across Oceans tells the love story of Reuben Radford and Maggie Archer. It will be a delight for those who love historical fiction. I actually really enjoyed reading the Author's Note at the end of the book as she talked a bit about what was real, what was made up, and the inspiration behind the story.

I also enjoyed reading about everything surrounding the May Day festivities in a couple of the towns where this story took place. And when I first saw the name of a well-known ship mentioned, my heart started pounding faster as I debated the implications of what this could mean for the story.

Reuben and Maggie both have issues. It's understandable, based on the hand that life has dealt them both, but if I got a penny for every time I was screaming in my head for Maggie to be reasonable and for Reuben to not go down a dark path in his thoughts, I would have no voice. The banter between Maggie and Reuben was mostly fun, though when they tended to have the same conversation over and over (as commitment-phones might do), I rolled my eyes and was ready to move on.

I adored Tena and Charles! They are adorable both individually and together. They are perfect best friends for Maggie and Reuben, and they are perfect for each other. They did a great job of being foils for the main characters -- while Maggie worried about being trapped in marriage, Tena embraced it without hesitation. While Reuben worried that people would think him crazy if they knew his secrets, Charles wanted to be open about his relationship with Tena and never turned his back on Reuben. 

The story ended not so much on a cliffhanger, but on a question. Same effect though. I'm all kinds of curious about the answer to the question left in the air. 

Thank you to the author for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book review: Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

Book Summary
'Everybody likes everything these days. The whole world is a nerd.'
'Are you mad because other people like Star Wars? Are you mad because people like me like Star Wars?' 

If you broke Elena's heart, Star Wars would spill out. So when she decides to queue outside her local cinema to see the new movie, she's expecting a celebration with crowds of people who love Han, Luke and Leia just as much as she does. What she's not expecting is to be last in a line of only three people; to have to pee into a collectible Star Wars soda cup behind a dumpster or to meet that unlikely someone who just might truly understand the way she feels. Kindred Spirits is an engaging short story by Rainbow Rowell, author of the bestselling Eleanor & Park, Fangirl and Carry On, and is part of a handful of selected short reads specially produced for World Book Day.

Flo's Review
I've been reading this 96 page book for months. That's because it was my purse book. Do you have one of those, ladies? The wise Lemony Snicket once said, "Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." You never know when you're going to end up in a situation where you have much more time to kill than you planned. I always try to have a book. In a larger purse, most regular sized books will fit. But in my small crossbody bags, I had to carry something tiny. Enter Kindred Spirits!

This was such a cute little story, and I've been reading it at the right time. As you might have recently seen on the blog, I'm going through a phase of reading books about finding love at cons. This is not exactly that story, but it's pretty close. Elena and Gabe were fun to read. And so was Troy! I understood the nerdiness, the idea of fun that comes with camping out, the having to pee when you're sleeping outside in a line...I've been there. This book might me smile and nod and laugh. It won't take most of you several months to read -- in fact, it might only take you several hours, if that. So I definitely recommend you give yourself the slight detour of your current read and take this one in.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Book review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

Book Summary
Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role-playing game where she spends most of her free time. It's a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It's a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. 

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer--a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person's real livelihood is at stake. 

From acclaimed teen author (Little BrotherFor the Win) and Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow and Koko Be Good creator Jen Wang, In Real Life is a perceptive and high-stakes look at adolescence, gaming, poverty, and culture clash.

Flo's Review
I've been meaning to get a chance to read one of the great YA Comics offerings from First Second Books, so I was glad when I remembered to stash In Real Life in my purse before going off to the hair dresser today.

In Real Life starts off with an introduction that is pretty intense. I was thinking, "Wow, this is heavy right off," but I came to appreciate it. For one, it gave me the reader necessary background to the story I was about to read. I would have still understood and enjoyed the story without it, but it definitely helped. Secondly, it set the tone for the comic. This is not just a light picture story. This is a deep narrative that does a good job of social commentary of our modern time, and it shows that everything is not always just what meets the eye.

Jen Wang's drawings are bright, happy, and engaging.

Many years ago, I did some research into Second Life for an article I was writing. I set myself up in the world with an avatar and tried to navigate around. I was completely floored by everything I saw in there and by what I learned. The idea that things that were happening in virtual reality could actually impact my real reality was mind boggling. I couldn't believe it when I learned that real money was exchanged between Second Lifers -- and more. Admittedly, I have not kept up with Second Life since then, so I have no idea what it looks like or how it operates in 2017.

Because of my experience with Second Life, I could sort of understand Anda's introduction to the world of Coarsegold Online. But this story was also completely completely unique, and I enjoyed the exploration of economy, gaming, girl power, identity, growth, and more that this graphic novel showed me.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Audiobook review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

the hate u give, Angie Thomas

Book Summary
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Flo's Review
I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this and have it signed at YALLFEST back in 2016. I made sure to choose it from the HarperTeen table because I heard it was the "Black Lives Matter" book and I was intrigued.

I then sat on it for almost a year.

But I have been seeing it sitting pretty on the New York Times Bestseller list for weeks now. When I discovered that my local library had an audiobook copy on CD, I jumped on it.

My Goodreads post after finishing? "Officially my favorite book of 2017." There was so much to love about this book:

1. I laughed: I was seriously laughing out loud at "breadcrumbs"! And Starr's reactions to parents at several points is great, as are her interactions with her brothers.

2. I cried: So much though! This was interesting to listen to on audiobook, because I spent so much of it legit crying. I've basically been driving around town crying for the past few weeks. The movie is going to destroy me.

3. I related: Was my upbringing like Starr's? It wasn't. But there were definitely some things she felt and was going through that I totally went through myself. She would describe a situation and I thought, "Preach!" They were things I felt and was going through in high school and my teenage self would have really liked to read this book at that time.

4. I learned: There were some good history tidbits and things I didn't know that Maverick and Starr educated me on. 

5. I want to recommend it: As I was listening to it, I was already thinking of a friend of mine that I'm going to recommend it to. (Not a YA reader at that!) 

In conclusion: I'm going to recommend it to YOU! Go read this book! Don't wait, like I did! 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Book review: I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski

Book Summary
I see London, I see France, I see Sydney’s underpants.

Nineteen-year-old Sydney has the perfect summer mapped out. She’s spending the next four and half weeks traveling through Europe with her childhood best friend, Leela. Their plans include Eiffel-Tower selfies, eating cocco gelato, and making out with très hot strangers. Her plans do not include Leela’s cheating ex-boyfriend showing up on the flight to London, falling for the cheating ex-boyfriend’s très hot friend, monitoring her mother’s spiraling mental health via texts, or feeling like the rope in a friendship tug-of-war. 

As Sydney zigzags through Amsterdam, Switzerland, Italy, and France, she must learn when to hold on, when to keep moving, and when to jump into the Riviera…wearing only her polka-dot underpants.

Flo's Review
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to travel. I don't believe in living your life with regrets, but if I did have one it would be that I never did the whole "backpacking through Europe in your 20s" thing. I went straight from high school to college, college to grad school, grad school to my first job. And now I think I'm past the time in my life when I could feasibly take a trip like this. 

So I was happy to live vicariously through Syd and Leela! :)

This was also fun because I have been to a lot of the places they visited in the book, so I knew exactly what they were talking about. And the descriptions were great for everything: I want to go see the places that I haven't been, like Monaco and Juan-Les-Pins. I commented early on when I reading that this book made me want to have an adventure with a group of friends. I looked forward to picking it up and seeing where Syd and Leela were heading next.

It almost seemed like too many cities, though? I started to feel a little weary toward the end, as if I was the one on the trip. I think the story would have just as fun if they had gone to a few less places and spent more time. And then there was the ending. It was just abrupt. Like  the author couldn't decide how to end it so she just stopped writing. I did later discover that there will be another book, so that makes a little more sense. I'm curious to see if the next book follows different people through different places? My travel loving self will probably pick it up.

Final verdict: If you want a light fun read while you travel, or one that you can read on your couch that will make you want to travel,  I See London, I See France will hit the spot!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Book review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

aziz ansari, modern romance
(Super Long) Book Summary
A hilarious, thoughtful, and in-depth exploration of the pleasures and perils of modern romance from one of this generation’s sharpest comedic voices

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?”

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

Flo's Review
I was lucky enough to snag this audiobook at a con. I love audiobooks, and I especially love audiobooks read by the author. That was all I needed. I didn't actually read to see what it would be about first before jumping in, so I was actually expecting it to be an autobiography about Aziz. Whoops.

But Modern Romance was delightful. Aziz partnered with Eric Klinenberg to study dating in the modern era and share their findings. Not surprisingly, dating has been impacted largely by the rise of technology, and especially smart phones. See?! Now I understood the cover picture and you do too! 

This book was great because it talked about a lot of things that I knew to be true, but never really considered as a direct factor of how dating today looks. For example, Aziz talked a lot about how the internet has opened up the whole world as a possibility. It's a good thing, because we know have sooo many people to choose from for a potential mate. But is it a good thing that we have sooo many people to choose from? We are looking for a soulmate, a perfect match, now because we can. We don't need to get married to start our adult lives. More and more people are experiencing "emerging adulthood," living on their own, building their careers, and trying lot of new things. All this is so different from past generations, where the pool of potential mates was often just your town or neighborhood, and getting married was a means to get out of your parents house. Therefore, a lot of young people weren't looking for the "perfect match." They would find a good one and the love would grow from there.

Aziz and Eric traveled to a few different cities around the world to research their dating scenes: Tokyo, Buenos Aires, and Wichita (Kansas) to name a few. I loved these sections. It was fascinating to me to hear how the dating scenes varied in the different cultures. 

The audiobook was fantastic. Aziz kept cracking on the listeners about being too lazy to read the book and choosing to listen to it instead. He also had fun doing different voices for the people he interviewed. He mentioned in the beginning that the book had several graphs. I ended up grabbing a copy of the book from the library to look at while I read, and I was impressed with how well Aziz explained all the graphs in the book to the listeners. I definitely did not think that listening to the book took away from the experience. In fact, I might even recommend listening to it over reading it, because the funny side comments translate better (I think) when you hear Aziz say them as an aside than when you read them in footnotes.

But whether you read it or listen to it, if you want a thorough but fun examination of dating culture in the world today, I'd recommend you pick up Modern Romance.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Book review and author event: Zodiac by Romina Russell

zodiac, romina russell
Book Summary
At the dawn of time, there were 13 Houses in the Zodiac Galaxy. Now only 12 remain….

Rhoma Grace is a 16-year-old student from House Cancer with an unusual way of reading the stars. While her classmates use measurements to make accurate astrological predictions, Rho can’t solve for ‘x’ to save her life—so instead, she looks up at the night sky and makes up stories.

When a violent blast strikes the moons of Cancer, sending its ocean planet off-kilter and killing thousands of citizens—including its beloved Guardian—Rho is more surprised than anyone when she is named the House’s new leader. But, a true Cancerian who loves her home fiercely and will protect her people no matter what, Rho accepts.

Then, when more Houses fall victim to freak weather catastrophes, Rho starts seeing a pattern in the stars. She suspects Ophiuchus—the exiled 13th Guardian of Zodiac legend—has returned to exact his revenge across the Galaxy. Now Rho—along with Hysan Dax, a young envoy from House Libra, and Mathias, her guide and a member of her Royal Guard—must travel through the Zodiac to warn the other Guardians.

But who will believe anything this young novice says? Whom can Rho trust in a universe defined by differences? And how can she convince twelve worlds to unite as one Zodiac?

Embark on a dazzling journey with ZODIAC, the first novel in an epic sci-fi-meets-high-fantasy series set in a galaxy inspired by the astrological signs.

Flo's Review
I was lucky enough to meet Romina Russell, the author of the Zodiac series, last Fall at the Miami Book Fair. At the time I hadn't read any of her books yet, but I remember that she was really sweet. This led me to want to read her books, so I got Zodiac, the first book in the series. Fast forward to last Tuesday, August 29, which was the release of Thirteen Rising, the fourth and final Zodiac book. I was so excited to learn that the launch party was going to be at the Barnes and Noble super close to me! I made it my goal to read and finish Zodiac before I went.

Well it was really cool to have just finished reading the book and then go hear her talk about it and the series as a whole. Because the thing that struck me most when I was reading the book was the world-building. Forgot putting an action-packed story on our known earth. Or even on another planet. Romina created an entire galaxy! And in such precise and beautiful detail! I was seriously in awe of the descriptions and the details of all the different planets in the Zodiac. The people, the places, the vibe, the lifestyles, the city centers, and on and on. Each so different on the different houses. 

I remembered Romina talking about her writing process at the Miami Book Fair in November, and she talked about it again at the Thirteen Rising launch. She creates the world first. And, being a Virgo, she creates detailed notes and considers everything about each place: if it is like this, then what kind of person would come from that place? That's how she creates the characters.

Which brings me to Rho. She was very intense, and at times a little much for me to stomach with her, "I must go forth heedless of ALL things people are telling me or how they react." But then listening to Romina talk about Rho at the launch warmed me to her a little more. Romina explained how the person to bring change to the galaxy wouldn't necessarily be a politician or a super intelligent person -- it would be a -- HUFFLEPUFF! An AMITY! (Which I got really excited about because guess who is ALSO a Hufflepuff Amity?! That's right -- this girl.) But she talked about how Rho doesn't lie, and I thought, "Ahh, yeah, that's true." 
zodiac, romina russell
Hufflepuff, Amity, and ... Aries. I know, it's weird, right?! But that's me!
The good news is that book I had Romina sign in November? Wandering Star, the second book in the series. So I'm all set to jump right in. Romina said Wandering Star was the easiest of the four books to write - that it came out pretty much fully formed - so I am looking forward to it.

Important Questions
Have you read the Zodiac series, or do you want to?

What's your sign?
...and your Hogwarts house? And your Divergent faction?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book Review: Cruel & Unusual by Patricia Cornwell

Cruel & Unusual (Kay Scarpetta, #4)

Cruel and Unusual is the fourth book in the Kay Scarpetta series.  Kay is the Chief Medical Examiner in Virginia and assists the police and FBI with solving murders that make their way through her office.  In this case, the killer sets Kay up to take the fall.  She needs to work to clear her professional reputation as well as prove her innocence in all of the crimes.  

The story begins with the execution of a death row inmate named Ronnie Waddell.  Kay completes the autopsy while her assistant Susan has to excuse herself for some strange reason.  Susan's behavior becomes increasingly erratic, which she blames on her pregnancy. 

When Waddell's fingerprints turn up at a number of crime scenes after his murder Kay is at a complete loss.  She tries to find Waddell's fingerprints within her files, but discovers they are nowhere to be found. Someone hacked into her computer system and even her administrative and HR files have been tampered with.  

Kay calls in her niece Lucy, who is a 17-year-old college student with a genius level IQ in computer science.  She sets out to find out who logged into Kay's computer and what was altered.  I obviously have no idea what will happen later in this series, but I have a feeling Lucy will eventually work for the FBI and help Kay solve future cases.  

Overall this was an excellent murder mystery.  I started this series at least 15 years ago and really enjoyed the first couple of books.  I think I lost some of my motivation because there are so many books in the series.  As of this post there are 24 novels, so I still have 20 to read if I'm going to catch up.  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book review: The Geek's Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash

Book Summary
Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Archie and Veronica. Althena and Noth.…Graham and Roxy?

Graham met his best friend, Roxy, when he moved into her neighborhood eight years ago and she asked him which Hogwarts house he’d be sorted into. Graham has been in love with her ever since.

But now they’re sixteen, still neighbors, still best friends. And Graham and Roxy share more than ever—moving on from their Harry Potter obsession to a serious love of comic books.

When Graham learns that the creator of their favorite comic, The Chronicles of Althena, is making a rare appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con, he knows he must score tickets. And the event inspires Graham to come up with the perfect plan to tell Roxy how he really feels about her. He’s got three days to woo his best friend at the coolest, kookiest con full of superheroes and supervillains. But no one at a comic book convention is who they appear to be…even Roxy. And Graham is starting to realize fictional love stories are way less complicated than real-life ones.

Flo's Review
You guys. I think I am finding a new genre niche that I'm obsessed with, and that is YA contemporary romances that take place at cons. I know it's weirdly specific, but I've read three in the past few months (I'll link them below) and I LOVED all three. So when I was at the library the other day and I spotted The Geek's Guide to Unrequited Love, I picked it up on a whim. That was Friday. Now it's Sunday morning, and I'm done with it. I flew through this!

The Geek's Guide to Unrequited Love takes place at New York Comic Con, which is an awesome setting, because I've been to NYCC and to the Javits Center many times. So it was easy to put myself in the story and see everything as it unfolded around Graham. I could easily relate to all the geeky fun, like the lines, screenings, awesome panels, and even the conversations that the characters had about their favorite fandoms.

The story started right away with us knowing that Graham was in love with Roxy and wanted to tell her about it. That was nice. I appreciated coming into the story at that point, instead of coming in earlier as he is realizing it. Starting here meant we were able to jump right into the heart of the story, which was fantastic. Good plot decision, Sarvenaz and editors!

I loved all of these characters. They all had their flaws and quirks and were so real, but so honest and lovable. Graham is classically adorkable -- appealing, yet he doesn't know it. And I loved hearing all the thoughts in his head about Devin. He had me literally LOL with some of them. I wanted to continuously give Casey hugs because I definitely have friends like him, and they are the best. I also appreciated how Samira was involved, not as an annoying little sibling, but a welcome part of the group. She offered some good insight into Graham as a person, based on how he reacted to her, and also she was astute and mature. I think a lot of kids are, and this is just not considered.

As I said before, I flew through this in no time at all. It's a fast read that takes place over a few days. And it was a lot of fun. If you are a nerd like me, I'd recommend you give this one a read! 

As promised here a few of my other favorite Geek Love at a Con stories:

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde:

Geekerella by Ashley Poston:

All the Feels by Danika Stone:

Are there any others you can think of? Please let me know, so I can check them out!

*I have one thing I want to say that's a bit of a spoiler so I am going to put it after the page break. Don't click in if you haven't read this book.*

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Audiobook review: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

flame in the mist, renee ahdieh
Book Summary
The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Flo's Review
I believe I've fallen prey to book expectation hype vs book reality again. This is my first experience reading a Renee Ahdieh book, but it won't be my last. I have the audiobook for The Wrath and the Dawn, and I do plan to listen to it when I can.  

But back to Flame. This was presented as a Mulan retelling, and I was ready for amazing girl powerness in the mist of advertisy, action, advance, romance, etc. What I heard was...a lot of talking and thinking. 

This is one situation where sometimes an audiobook is a disadvantage. Pages and pages of dialogue make the action seem even more stalled in an audiobook, I think. In my current situation, I listen to audiobooks when driving around town. That means that if there is a long conversation going on, I am listening to the same conversation in the morning when I drive to work, when I drive to and from for lunch, after work when I head to wherever I am headed, and so forth. Sometimes with this story, I was listening to a single conversation for several days. 

Thus, it felt to me like the story wasn't moving along. For example, I felt like the scene with Mariko where she first meets the Black Clan in the bar place took forever. I was literally listening to that same scene for several days. 

Mariko was also in her head a lot. I understand that. She is going to take drastic action, so we need to fully understand her rationalization before we can get on board with it. But I felt like so much time was spent listening to her say the same thing over and over in her head. Yes, Mariko, I know you want to find out why you were a target for the Black Clan. You've said this in your head about 27 times in the last chapter. 

Alas, I could not finish the audiobook, but as I said before, I will definitely be listening to The Wrath and the Dawn. Renee is very good and establishing setting and scenery and I am looking forward to escaping to that world.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Audio for providing me with this audiobook in exchange for my honest review.

I found my Little Free Libraries!

little free library
Booknerd Jacque and others are always talking about how they give and receive books from their local Little Free Library, and since I hadn't heard or or seen any around me, I just thought that they didn't exist. Last Thursday I was happy to discover that I was wrong!

I went to Little Free Library, typed my city and state into the map and voila! I found three! I was so excited about it, that I decided to hit all three after work. 

little free library
I didn't end up finding any books that I wanted to take, but I did leave about 3-4 books in each one for others to find and love. 

Then I went home and typed my neighboring city into the map on Little Free Library. There are 3 more that I plan to hit up when I get he chance.

I'm so excited! Do you have a Little Free Library near you? 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Book Review: In Too Deep by Jude Watson (39 Clues #6)

Image result for In too deep 39 clues

Jacque's Review:

In Too Deep is the 6th book in the 39 Clues series.  This time around Amy and Dan are off to Sydney, Australia.  This was the last destination their parents visited while on their quest.  Amy and Dan visit their Dad's cousin Shep who is a pilot and surf bum in Sydney, to see if he has any clues as to what their parents discovered or where they may have visited.  He helps them trace some of their parents steps, which of course puts them in great danger at the hands of the other Cahill family members.  

Irina informs Amy that the only person who can tell her who killed her parents is herself.  She begins having increasing flashbacks and starts piecing the events of that night together.  She is afraid to tell Dad what she remembers, which causes some tension between them.

Our history lesson in this book is about Amelia Earhart.  Her final journey involved stops in several of the areas Amy and Dan visit and of course they discover Amelia was a Cahill.  

The stakes are getting higher and the violence continues to escalate.  One of the Cahill family members even dies in this book, which was a bit of a shock.  Amy and Dan have been told from the very beginning that they shouldn't trust anyone.  They are now even questioning if their au pair, Nellie, is working for someone involved in the quest. 

This was another entertaining story.  My son and I have enjoyed learning some history while following the Cahill children on their quest.  Once he finishes his assigned summer reading for school I'm sure we will start the next book in the series.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Book Review: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Jacque's Review:

This was one of the choices for my son's 7th grade summer reading, so we both read it.  The book is about a boy name Toby who lives in Antler, TX, which is a small town where "nothing ever happens."  The story takes place during the summer of 1971.  His best friend Cal's older brother is currently serving in the Vietnam war and has been writing each week, so we learn that war is nothing like how they used to play soldiers in the lawn.

The biggest thing to happen to Antler is the day Zachary Beaver's trailer pulls into town.  He is supposedly the world fattest boy and is put on display like a circus act.  People can pay $2 to see him in person.  This would have been a novelty, but Zachary's legal guardian leaves town without him and nobody knows when he will return for Zachary.  The town sort of adopts him and the boys soon realize they have more in common with Zachary than they ever imagined.

Another theme in the story is abandonment.  Not only was Zachary abandoned, but Toby's mother leaves for Nashville to try out in a singing competition.  Toby eventually realizes his mother's dreams of becoming a country music superstar were not being fulfilled in Antler and she wasn't happy here.  He begins to wonder when or if she is really coming back.

This was a pretty fast read with a number of thought provoking topics for young readers.  My son and I both remained engaged throughout the book and enjoyed the characters and their stories.  I would definitely recommend it for middle school children.  There was a lot more substance to this story than your typical middle grade book and it allowed my son to read something a bit different from his typical reading selections.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book review: Be the One by Byron Pitts

Book Summary
Drug Addiction.
Mental Illness.

None of these should be realities for anyone, much less a young person. But for some it is the only reality they have ever known. In these dark circumstances, six teens needed someone to “be the one” for them—the hero to help them back into the light. For Tania, Mason, Pappy, Michaela, Ryan, and Tyton, that hero was themselves. Through stirring interviews and his award-winning storytelling, Byron Pitts brings the struggles and triumphs of these everyday heroes to teens just like them, encouraging all of us to be the source of inspiration in our own lives and to appreciate the lives of others around us.

Flo's Review
Be the One is essentially based off six interviews/profiles by ABC News Correspondent Byron Pitts. I picked up an ARC (advance reader's copy) of this book at ALA Midwinter in January, and it's been my on-and-off purse book for awhile. I finally committed and finished it this weekend. Be the One is good for that because it's six separate stories of a child who overcomes. This is the kind of book that makes you sad and mad that he world is what it is, but also proud that the world is what it is -- because all six of these children overcome. It's a short inspirational read that reminds you that your own life is not so bad, and it really gave me hope for the younger generation and their power to overcome. I will be donating my copy in hopes that it inspires someone else to overcome any and all obstacles that are put in his or her way.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book review: The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Book Summary
The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a wizarding classic, first came to Muggle readers' attention in the book known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Now, thanks to Hermione Granger's new translation from the ancient runes, we present this stunning edition with an introduction, notes, and illustrations by J.K. Rowling, and extensive commentary by Albus Dumbledore.

Never before have Muggles been privy to these richly imaginative tales: "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot," "The Fountain of Fair Fortune," "The Warlock's Hairy Heart," "Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump," and of course "The Tale of the Three Brothers." But not only are they the equal of fairy tales we know and love, reading them gives new insight into the wizarding world.

Flo's Review
This was cute. I grabbed it from the library to be my purse read (the book I keep in my purse at all times in case of emergency), and it served the purpose well. I found myself reading wizarding world fairy tales at the car dealership, while waiting for a friend to arrive, and in other random places. I had forgotten that we know the last tale, The Tale of the Three Brothers, from Deathly Hallows, so it was a nice surprise to read that story again.

The other four tales were crafted to sound similar to stories that we Muggle children hear growing up. I thought they were very well done. Of course, I had fun reading Albus Dumbledore's notes and interpretations on the stories as well. These gave this Muggle reader background and context for the Wizard tales, which helped with their enjoyment.

Finally, I love that this book was written as a fundraiser for Lumos. Stories help our children in many ways, and this is just one more. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Audiobook review: Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare

Book Summary
Would you trade your soul mate for your soul?

A Shadowhunter’s life is bound by duty. Constrained by honor. The word of a Shadowhunter is a solemn pledge, and no vow is more sacred than the vow that binds parabatai, warrior partners—sworn to fight together, die together, but never to fall in love.

Emma Carstairs has learned that the love she shares with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, isn’t just forbidden—it could destroy them both. She knows she should run from Julian. But how can she when the Blackthorns are threatened by enemies on all sides?

Their only hope is the Black Volume of the Dead, a spell book of terrible power. Everyone wants it. Only the Blackthorns can find it. Spurred on by a dark bargain with the Seelie Queen, Emma; her best friend, Cristina; and Mark and Julian Blackthorn journey into the Courts of Faerie, where glittering revels hide bloody danger and no promise can be trusted. Meanwhile, rising tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders has produced the Cohort, an extremist group of Shadowhunters dedicated to registering Downworlders and “unsuitable” Nephilim. They’ll do anything in their power to expose Julian’s secrets and take the Los Angeles Institute for their own.

When Downworlders turn against the Clave, a new threat rises in the form of the Lord of Shadows—the Unseelie King, who sends his greatest warriors to slaughter those with Blackthorn blood and seize the Black Volume. As dangers close in, Julian devises a risky scheme that depends on the cooperation of an unpredictable enemy. But success may come with a price he and Emma cannot even imagine, one that will bring with it a reckoning of blood that could have repercussions for everyone and everything they hold dear.

Flo's Review
I always know what I'm going to get when I read a Cassandra Clare book. Beautiful, rich descriptions of the characters. So close and so well done that I feel like I'm in the room with them. Like I know them intimately. Moments that are captured so entirely, with all five senses, that I feel like I am living them and not just reading about them. And agony at the end.

Silly me, I was reading the last forty pages or so thinking, "This might end on an alright note. What can possibly happen in just a few pages that will be so devastating?" Silly me. I forgot I was reading a Cassandra Clare book! Needless to say, I finished it a couple of hours ago and my heart still hurts. 

There is no other writer like Cassandra Clare. She has an amazing ability to make me feel like I am in the story, like I know these characters as my close personal friends and not just people I am reading about. I feel everything they feel. Hurt and power and fear and love and anger and injustice and responsibility and love. 

Julian Blackthorn. Daaang. This man was on in this book! Mad respect for that boy! Lord of Shadows felt to me more like Julian's story than Emma's, and I was okay with that. I want him on my side of life. But maybe not as my parabatai? Because I'd probably fall in love with him, too, and that's definitely no good.

Kit Herondale. I also really enjoyed reading his perspective. He went from skeptic to believer, from outsider to insider, and I am so sure he has a big role to play as the story continues. I can't wait to see it. Cristina was also amazing -- knowledgeable and kind. And ooooh the villians! I found Zara Dearborn more infuriating than the sea demons! 

I listened to this one on audiobook. My audiobook CD limit is usually between 6 to 8 discs. More than than is too long. This one was 19. I had to know what happened by the end, so I read the physical book instead of listening to the last disc, but I listened straight through 18 CDs. And I loved every minute of it. I was driving around thinking to myself, "This is a 5 star book. I love this." James Marsters did an amazing job with his reading. It was like I could tell a bit of the character's personality through his voicing of them. This was especially true for Zara, Ty, and others. He read Cristina, Jaime and Diego really well, and then the next chapter he was killing it reading Annabel or Malcolm. There are so many different characters in this book and he somehow made them all sound completely individual.

According to Goodreads, the third book in The Dark Artifices doesn't come out until 2019. Maybe by then I will have recovered from the ending of this one. That also gives you plenty of time to read Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows -- which is no small feat with Lord of Shadows weighing in at 701 pages. But I'm almost sad that I'm done listening to it. I'm not sure I'm ready to leave the Blackthorns yet.

I thought it couldn't get better than The Mortal Instruments. Then there were The Infernal Devices. (Jem! Amirite?!) And now there are The Dark Artifices! So so good. 

Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster for sending me an audiobook copy in exchange for my honest review.