Friday, June 26, 2015

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Naturals (The Naturals, #1)

Jacque's Review: 

The Naturals is one of those books that I noticed on several Stacking the Shelves posts a couple of years ago.  I picked up a copy, but it wasn't really at the top of my TBR pile until now.  I'm participating in the COYER scavenger hunt and needed to read a book written by an author with three names.  I scanned all of my unread books and this one practically jumped out at me.

I can't believe I didn't start this series sooner.  I have been reading the Stephanie Plum, Women's Murder Club, King & Maxwell, and Kay Scarpetta murder mystery series for years, but this is the first time I have come across a YA version.

Cassie is a seventeen-year-old girl with a natural ability to read people.  Her mother was murdered five years ago and her father is overseas in the military.  When she is asked to join an FBI program for teens with various natural abilities, she jumped at the opportunity.  The program is supposed to sharpen their skills while helping the FBI solve cold cases.

Dean is the only member of the group who is a natural profiler like Cassie.  Michael is a natural at reading emotions, Leah is a walking lie detector, and Sloane is an encyclopedia who can spit out facts and statistics on just about anything.  One day, The Naturals stumble upon an active murder investigation their supervisors are working on.  Cassie is immediately drawn to it because of the similarities with her mother's case.  They begin working the case and are pulled further into the killer's world than any of them could have imagined was possible.  I was completely shocked when I discovered who the killer was and couldn't believe the lengths he/she went to.

Overall, this was an excellent start to the series.  I was completely captivated throughout the book and I loved the characters.  I gave the book 4 stars and I can't wait to see what happens next in Killer Instinct.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Book Summary
Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.
She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.
When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?
In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All the Boys I've Loved Before, we see first love through the eyes of the unforgettable Lara Jean. Love is never easy, but maybe that’s part of what makes it so amazing.

Flo's Review
I gave the first book in this duology, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, 3 stars. And I think that rating will stay steady for this book. I got all caught up in the rush of excitement for this release that what I forgot for awhile was that while I liked the first book, I didn't love it.

Then when I started reading this one, I remembered. Again, it was cute. This is a cute story. Lara Jean is cute and her family is cute. It's kind of hard to describe, but even though there were things happening in the story, I kind of felt like there weren't. I felt as I was reading through it that I was just reading Lara Jean's diary or seeing a snapshot of her day to day life. Which is okay, I guess. But it didn't really hold my interest. This book took me a long time to get through. I never felt like I had to pick up to see where the story was going to go. In the end, what motivated me to pick it up was that it was due back to the library.

All the above being said, I enjoyed many things about this book.  It has an overall safe and homey feel to it. Lara Jean reminisces a lot with other characters, and it's to happy, carefree childhood days. I loved hearing the stories from her and John Ambrose McClaren. Speaking of John Ambrose McClaren, he's the best. And there is a line from Peter at the end of this book that still makes my little heart swoon just thinking about it.

Conclusion: Not a page turner, but a smile bringer. And that's good, too :)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter

Book Summary
When Cammie "The Chameleon" Morgan visits her roommate Macey in Boston, she thinks she's in for an exciting end to her summer break. After all, she's there to watch Macey's father accept the nomination for vice president of the United States. But when you go to the world's best school (for spies), "exciting" and "deadly" are never far apart. Cammie and Macey soon find themselves trapped in a kidnappers' plot, with only their espionage skills to save them.
As her junior year begins, Cammie can't shake the memory of what happened in Boston, and even the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women doesn't feel like the safe haven it once did. Shocking secrets and old flames seem to lurk around every one of the mansion's corners as Cammie and her friends struggle to answer the questions, Who is after Macey? And how can the Gallagher Girls keep her safe?
Soon Cammie is joining Bex and Liz as Macey's private security team on the campaign trail. The girls must use their spy training at every turn as the stakes are raised, and Cammie gets closer and closer to the shocking truth.

Flo's Review
On the whole, I'm enjoying this series a lot. I already have the next audiobook in my car and ready to start listening to, and Book #5 is in the mail. This story was a great one for learning more about Macy -- we got to really see more into her character and I really enjoyed that. Also, the love between the best friends is great.

But, honestly, this book bugged me. I just could not with Cammie. I think I'm getting old, because my main issue was that she BROKE EVERY SINGLE RULE BASICALLY. REPEATEDLY. And then -- she NEVER got punished for it! Basically, the book went like this.

1. Cammie is told specifically not to do something.
2. Cammie does it anyway
3. Cammie is caught and then brings up how her dad is dead and cries so she is consoled and not punished.
4. Repeat.

Sometimes in there she is given a talking to from her Mom and/or aunt. Which is basically like, "That was bad, Cam. Okay, moving on!" Of course she is going to keep breaking rules if she is never punished for doing it. (Listen to me: I'm not even a Mom yet and I sound like a Mom! Lol. But for real though...) There is one particular instance where her Mom was like, "If you do this again, you won't be able to do X." So what does Cammie do? The same thing again! And does she still get to do X? Yes, she does! 

I understand from a literary standpoint that Cammie can't be stuck at school for the action of the story to move forward, but I also think it's very unrealistic that she basically just breaks rules left and right with her roommates and whatevs, that's cool. 

Let's see how I feel in Book #4. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Soundless by Richelle Mead

Okay, Richelle Mead is actually signing The Ruby Circle here, but see that stack of books next to her? That's Soundless. And I got one. So this picture totally works for this review.
Book Summary
From Richelle Mead, the #1 internationally bestselling author of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines, comes a breathtaking new fantasy steeped in Chinese folklore.
For as long as Fei can remember, there has been no sound in her village, where rocky terrain and frequent avalanches prevent residents from self-sustaining. Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.
When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink and many go hungry. Fei’s home, the people she loves, and her entire existence is plunged into crisis, under threat of darkness and starvation.
But soon Fei is awoken in the night by a searing noise, and sound becomes her weapon.
Richelle Mead takes readers on a triumphant journey from the peak of Fei’s jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiugo, where a startling truth and an unlikely romance will change her life forever...

Flo's Review
I devoured this book in a day. It was a crazy, crazy travel day full of unpredictability and literally including trains, planes AND automobiles. But I started Soundless earlier in the day and finished it that night when I finally, finally made it home.

My favorite thing about this book was the uniqueness. I have not read a lot of books based in Chinese folklore, so I really enjoyed the images that this world painted in my mind. Secondly, I was impressed with the amount of research this story must have taken. According to her author bio, Richelle "has always had a particular fascination with mythology and folklore." But I'm sure this unique story probably took some research. Then, there's the idea of being soundless. How do you describe sound? It had been gone from Fei's village so long, that there weren't even words for it. All the ways I can think of describe a sound right now involved these type of sound words, so it was really neat to read about Fei's challenge with this. Finally, if Richelle wasn't a rock climber, then she had to have done some research on techniques and challenges to help her with Fei's trips up and down the mountain.

The beginning felt a little bit rushed to me. Fei makes a really quick choice in what may have been a few hours or even an afternoon, but to the reader it felt instantaneous. I wasn't expecting the ending, and it was entirely magical. It left me with a smile on my face. 

Soundless will be released in November 2015, and it's worth you picking up. This story is a fast read and it's unique and magical. Also, what a pretty cover!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter

Book Summary
Cammie Morgan is back, and it's clear that her life hasn't calmed down since the events of I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You. At first, giddy anticipation is in the air. Gallagher Academy, Cammie's elite spy school, is hosting a visit from a covert training center for boys. Soon after the boys' arrival, though, everything goes dangerously awry when a series of security breaches are discovered at the academy. Worse yet, teenage agent-in-training Cammie is being blamed for the penetration. With the school's top-secret status at risk, the Gallagher Girls have to work quickly to save their beloved school. 

Flo's Review
A great book second book! Now that we are familiar with Cammie's world and the cast of characters, it was really nice to enjoy their interactions and shenanigans. I have so many questions, though! If you've read the book and want to help a girl out, my spoilery review is on Goodreads:

This book continued the theme that being a teenage girl can seem just as hard as being a spy. This is what makes the series, but that being said, there was kind of an overuse of the phrase: "The girl in me..... The spy in me..." 

I am really enjoying this series! Cammie and her friends are fun, dedicated, and loyal. Reading about their classes and assignments is fascinating. On to Book 3!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Book Summary 
Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Flo's Review
I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of this ARC at ALA Midwinter in Chicago this January. I had heard such great things about it was always "one of the next books" I was going to read. Then I discovered that author Sabaa Tahir was going to be one of the authors signing at an event at McNally Jackson's bookstore in New York City while I was there for BookCon. I brought my copy of Ember to get signed, and I ended up choosing it as the book to read while I traveled, based entirely on the fact that it was the largest book I was carrying. (Well, also because it's my book club's read for June.)

I didn't expect to finish it so quickly but due to traffic and weather and other uncontrollable things, I spent a lot more time traveling than I expected. Thank goodness for this book! There were several times where I was sitting in a cab freaking out that I wouldn't make it somewhere on time and then I thought to myself, "There's nothing I can do about it, so let me just read." In the anxious state I was in, not all books would be able to completely take my mind away from the present. But Ember did.

I think my favorite part of this book was that I continuously switching my ships! Basically, whenever there was a romantic scene I was like, "Aww! I like these two together!" Then the next romantic scene, even if it was one of the same characters as the previous and a different character, I thought, "Aww! But I like these two together, too!"

The world was action-packed and terrifying. I would never ever ever want to live in it.  We got such great backstory on these characters, that with the exception of a few, I understood their actions and sympathized with them. The things these characters were asked to do were horrifying and fascinating -- I was so sad for them, but I couldn't stop reading. I was impressed with how they handled them. 

It looks like the sequel finally got the green light, and thank goodness! I don't think anyone would be okay with leaving the story how the ended. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Duff: Movie Review and #DuffParty Giveaway!

The Duff by Kody Keplinger was one of the first books I reviewed for Book Nerds Across America. I enjoyed it, and I was interested to learn that they were making it into a movie. I vaguely wondered how exactly they would translate the book plot to a movie, and I later learned that they did not. I won't get into how the book differs from the movie -- you can simply Google "the duff movie versus book" and you'll be bombarded with the differences.

Unfortunately, I never got to see the movie in the theaters, so I was scoping out when it would be available in digital and DVD format so I could rent it. Enter The Duff Twitter account: They asked me how I would throw a #DuffParty and I answered them -- and then I won! All the goodies you see listed above!

The official The Duff Viewing Party was on 5/30 when I was at BookCon, but I invited a friend over the following weekend for our belated #DuffParty:

Popcorn is popped, nail polish and manicure kit is out and ready...

...and drinks are served! Cheers!
We both agreed that the movie was cute and Robbie Amell is adorable. My friend recognized Bella Thorne from Blended, which I've never seen. We thought all the actors gave great performances. Overall, this is a cute, fun movie to watch with your girlfriends on a chill night in...

The Giveway! we're going to help you do just that! Two (2) winners will each receive:

  • 2 Duff popcorn cases
  • 2 Duff manicure kits
  • 2 Duff nail polish sets

We'll run this contest until June 22. To enter, simply do what I did to win -- tell us (in the comments) how do you do a Duff viewing party? Be sure to include your email address so we can contact you if you win!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

BookCon 2015!

Awesome lanyard, amirite?!
I was super sad that I couldn't go to BEA this year because of work, but I was excited to see that BookCon was going to be 2 days this year. All day Saturday and all day Sunday? I could do that! I hopped the first flight out Saturday morning and made it to the Javits Center in New York City around 11:30 a.m., about an hour and a half after the Con began.

I went to the exhibit hall first, where the publishers started strong -- books, t-shirts, and all types of swag were being handed out! There were a LOT of people at BookCon and the lines were crazy long, but everyone was really nice. One of my favorite parts about book conventions is actually meeting new people in line. It's just so much fun to talk about your favorite books and book characters with people you GET YOU, you know?!

Saturday was a fun day, but it took me awhile to get into my groove. I missed out on some books and some signings that I was hoping to catch, but that's just part of it. I definitely still got some great books and signings. I was wandering around the exhibit hall when I saw Leigh Bardugo in the Macmillan booth! She wasn't signing books yet, but I was able to get the cutest picture ever: