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: http://www.booknerdsacrossamerica.com/2017/02/book-review-queens-of-geek-by-jen-wilde.html

Geekerella by Ashley Poston: http://www.booknerdsacrossamerica.com/2017/02/geekerella-by-ashley-poston.html

All the Feels by Danika Stone: http://www.booknerdsacrossamerica.com/2016/06/all-feels-by-danika-stone.html

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.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Book review: Lucky in Love by Kasie West

Book Summary
Can’t buy me love…

Maddie’s not impulsive. She’s all about hard work and planning ahead. But one night, on a whim, she buys a lottery ticket. And then, to her astonishment—

She wins!

In a flash, Maddie’s life is unrecognizable. No more stressing about college scholarships. Suddenly, she’s talking about renting a yacht. And being in the spotlight at school is fun…until rumors start flying, and random people ask her for loans. Now Maddie isn’t sure who she can trust.

Except for Seth Nguyen, her funny, charming coworker at the local zoo. Seth doesn’t seem aware of Maddie’s big news. And, for some reason, she doesn’t want to tell him. But what will happen if he learns her secret?

Of course this book is adorable! -- look how adorable the author Kasie West is!!
Flo's Review
Aww! I love Kasie West! This book was exactly what I needed today. I was worried in the beginning that I wasn't going to like Maddie, that she might be too rigid and uptight for my tastes, but that wasn't her at all. She was smart, clever, quick, and loving. I admired her tenacity to get what she wanted and her loyalty to her friends.

Lucky in Love felt to me like a very honest and realistic portrayal of the what would happen for a teenager (she just turned 18 when she bought the ticket) who wins the lottery. At first, to quote The Lego Movie, "everything is awesome!" Maddie thinks the money will solve her family's problems, and it does seem to for awhile. She makes some fun splurge purchases. But then the honeymoon ends and the reality sets in. Being a millionaire is certainly awesome, but it also brings its own slew of problems.

And now, for the rest of the review, let's dish about Zoo Seth. What a cutie! A perfect match for Maddie and definitely swoon-worthy, book boyfriend material. I pretty much thought everything he said and did was completely adorable. I had so much fun reading Seth and Maddie's relationship and rooting for them! 

I finished Lucky in Love in about a day. It was bright and happy. So easy to read, and I didn't want to put it down. So I didn't. If you're looking for a book to put a smile on your face, this is the one.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Book review -- Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

Book Summary
She will become one of the world’s greatest heroes: WONDER WOMAN. But first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning. . . .

Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world.

Alia just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together, Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. If they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

Flo's Review
I love me some Leigh Bardugo. Seriously. She is super sweet and smart and her books are amazing. I fell completely in love with the Shadow and Bone trilogy, and I have a Six of Crows poster just above my desk. So of course I was over the moon to hear that she was telling a Wonder Woman story.

And it was so good, guys! Everything that I love about Leigh's writing was in strong showing: the witty banter between characters, the rich world-building, the high stakes of saving the world, the romance. Leigh took a character that I was already familiar with and made me love her even more.

Even though Diana is a powerful Amazon, she was written in a way that made her relatable. I felt I could understand her frustrations in the beginning of the story and the desires that fueled her throughout. I really loved how she looked at the human race and saw the beauty in it.

At one point in the story Diana warily thinks to herself, "This is too easy..." and I was feeling the same doubt and apprehension. And then -- BAM! -- plot twist! I wasn't expecting it, of course (I never do), so I completely blown away.

But Diana wasn't the only wonderful woman character in this story. I would choose Alia and Nim to be my sisters in battle any day! They were fully human, compared to Diana and other characters, but their humanity was their strength. It was really very cool.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer had some jaw-dropping and fun-to-read scenes in New York City and Greece. I cannot rave about this book enough. Just do yourself a favor and pre-order it. Or go out on August 29th and pick up a copy.