Thursday, July 26, 2018

Book Review: Twelve by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Twelve (The Naturals, #4.5)

Goodreads Overview:

Cassie Hobbes has been working with the FBI since she was a teenager. Now twenty-three years old, she and her fellow Naturals have taken over running the program that taught them everything they know. As a unit, they're responsible for identifying new Naturals--and solving particularly impossible cases. When their latest case brings back a ghost from their past, Cassie and the other Naturals find themselves racing against the clock--and reliving their own childhood traumas.In a small, coastal town in Maine, there has been a rash of teen suicides--or at least, that's what the police believe. Mackenzie McBride, age twelve, thinks differently. Desperate to make herself heard, she stands at the top of a lighthouse, threatening to jump... unless the FBI agents who rescued her from a kidnapper at age six come to hear her out. Enter the Naturals. It doesn't take Cassie long to realize that Mackenzie isn't bluffing: she truly is convinced that the suicides are murder, and she really will jump if she can't get the FBI to believe her. To the outside world, Mackenzie is nothing more than a traumatized child. But so was Cassie, once upon a time. So were Michael, Dean, Sloane, Lia, and Celine. With a storm rolling in off the ocean and Mackenzie's position becoming more precarious by the moment, the Naturals have very little time to get to the truth about the deaths--and about twelve-year-old Mackenzie McBride.

Jacque's Review:

I originally thought Bad Blood, book 4 in this series, was supposed to be the last.  This novella was a pleasant surprise that I jumped right into after finishing Bad Blood.  Our favorite Naturals are now 5 years older and a few of them are currently at the FBI academy becoming agents.  Celine is already an agent, so they can now work cases with a badge in the group without the aid of their mentors Agents Briggs and Sterling.  Briggs is now the director of the FBI and continues to provide the Naturals with the support they need, but is far more hands off than he used to be.

Being a novella, this story was short and sweet and provided a great introduction to a possible new Natural with a unique new ability.  There was also a hint towards the fact that Cassie's half sister may also be a Natural in the making.  She certainly had a traumatic childhood, which is a contributing factor, so the potential is there.

I loved seeing the team working together again and sincerely hope there are more cases in their future.  I would love to see this series turn into a King and Maxwell type of series where the Naturals continue working cases without always being in the direct line of fire.  These young adults have a lot of potential and I would hate to see their talents brought to a close so soon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Book Review: The Emperor's Code (39 CLues #8)

The Emperor's Code (The 39 Clues, #8)

Goodreads Overview:

As the race to find the 39 Clues builds to its explosive finish, Amy and Dan must explore an ancient culture and steal a Clue guarded by thousands of the world's best-trained soldiers. It's the most dangerous Clue search yet. As their enemies crowd in, Amy and Dan find themselves separated for the first time ever. The choice lies before them - find the next Clue, or find their way back to each other.

Jacque's Review:

My son and I have been reading this series together and we are both thoroughly enjoying it.  He isn't a big fan of reading, but the action and adventure coupled with the real life history is keeping him engaged.  In fact, he finished almost this entire book during a long car ride yesterday.  

This portion of the race focuses on China.  We learned about the last Emperor, Mt. Everest, and Chinese martial arts.  We also get a glimpse into the life of Jonah Wizard, one of the Cahill cousins competing in the race for the 39 clues. He is an entertainment superstar and part of the Janus branch.  He has made appearances throughout the series, but this is the first time that I can remember him being an integral character.  

When Dan gets separated from Amy he decides to join forces with Jonah until he can find his sister.  He doesn't have any money and with their cell phones not working in China, his options are limited.  He begins to realize the Janus's can't be trusted and he breaks off on his own again.  Amy and Dan continue to follow the clues independently until they are reunited, thanks to something Grace told them about years ago.

Amy and Dan struggle to come to terms with what "Branch" they belong to, but they realize they are not defined by their family history.  They aren't like their evil family members and they can see that they have made the right decisions when presented with moral dilemmas.   Their combined resources allow them to decipher a clue the others probably think is lost forever.  In addition, Dan's discovery provides them with a lead towards another clue the rest of the family is most likely unaware of.  If they can manage to leave town without a tale, they may be able to get a jump on the competition. 

Get out your flip flops and sunscreen because it sounds like the Cahill kids are on their way to the Caribbean!  I can only imagine what we will learn about from that are....Pirates????

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Audiobook review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Book Summary
Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. 

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

Flo's Review
This has been one of those "I want to read you, but you will remain on my shelf and somewhere on my TBR" books. Until a few weeks ago, when I found the audiobook at the library and decided to take the plunge. (Full confession: I wasn't loving the audiobook I was currently listening to, so it was an easy distraction!) I am happy to report that I simply adore this book! Adore. I'm super happy because I didn't love Leah on the Offbeat, but this gave me all the happy feels of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

What I loved most about it was this: it was 100% real. Molly is 100% real. In this day and age, so many YA books include these kickass protagonists who know exactly what they want in life and what they should do, and then they have no problem doing it. It's empowering and I absolutely love it. ...but was I like that at 17 years old? No. I was more like Molly. Molly who lives so much in her head. Molly who questions so many things. Not that Molly didn't know who she was, because she did. She had a great sense of self and was strong and loyal in her beliefs. But she also had the realistic hopes and fears of a teenager. And what I loved about her was this: Molly Peskin-Suso is quietly brave. She doesn't dismantle a dystopian society, no, but she steps outside of her comfort zone and she takes chances. I adore this girl.

Random funny note: the audiobook narrator was fantastic, but it was just funny hearing how she read Abby, because her Abby was nothing like Alexandra Shipp (who was Abby in the Love, Simon movie and is so now how I picture her.) But I also loved how the characters from Simon appeared a few times in this book. So fun!

This is the type of book you want to pick up and hug, because it's so adorable and so lovely. If you haven't had the chance to try Unrequited yet, I definitely recommend you do so!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Book Review: Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Bad Blood (The Naturals, #4)

Goodreads Overview:
When Cassie Hobbes joined the FBI's Naturals program, she had one goal: uncover the truth about her mother's murder. But now, everything Cassie thought she knew about what happened that night has been called into question. Her mother is alive, and the people holding her captive are more powerful—and dangerous—than anything the Naturals have faced so far. As Cassie and the team work to uncover the secrets of a group that has been killing in secret for generations, they find themselves racing a ticking clock. New victims. New betrayals. New secrets. When the bodies begin piling up, it soon becomes apparent that this time, the Naturals aren't just hunting serial killers. They're being hunted.
Jacque's Review:
Bad Blood is the fourth book in the Naturals series.  While some series can be read as stand alone novels, this certainly is not one of them.  In fact, it has been a while since I read All In, book three in this series, and it took me several chapters before things started falling in place again.  If you are new to this series, DEFINITELY read them in order.
I absolutely love the characters and their abilities and hope Jennifer will someday write a spin off series with the teens a little older solving crimes that do not hit so close to home.  I am always up for a good murder mystery and it would be a lot of fun reading some independent stories similar to the King and Maxwell series or even the Stephanie Plum books where we have a core group of characters solving a different case each book.

We were introduced to a new character with a different "natural ability." This provided a new dimension to the story and would be a great addition to Michael, Dean, Cassie, Lia and Sloan's abilities.  I have enjoyed seeing how the Naturals have formed a family and become closer throughout this series.  Dean and Michael in particular were always at odds, but even they provided readers with some warm and fuzzy moments in addition to their witty jabs at one another.
I was shocked at how everything unfolded at the end of this book.  Bad Blood definitely has new meaning and was not what I anticipated from the title.  Cassie is faced with an unthinkable decision after years of tracking down the people she thought were responsible for her mother's murder.  In addition, we discover characters from prior books who were far more than they seemed at the time. 
While writing this review I discovered there is a novella, which is 4.5 in the series.  I thought this was the end of the series, but now I can look forward to another 128 pages.   They alluded to certain things at the end of Bad Blood that were so open ended, that I couldn't believe this was the absolute end.  I am ecstatic to see that it is not.  I am heading to my library app to request Twelve while the story is still fresh in my mind. 
If you enjoy YA and murder mysteries, this is a highly entertaining series with some amazingly talented characters.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Blog Tour: The Wedding from Hell, Part 1: Rehearsal Dinner by J.R. Ward

The Wedding from Hell
Part 1: The Rehearsal Dinner
by J. R. Ward
Available: July 17, 2018
Gallery Books | E-book Original
ISBN: 9781982105365 | Free

Don’t miss #1 New York Times bestselling author J.R. Ward’s three-part ebook serialization: The Wedding From Hell. This exclusive prequel to her upcoming standalone suspense Consumed (available in Fall 2018) takes us back to where it all started between arson investigator Anne Ashburn and ‘bad boy’ firefighter Danny Maguire. The Wedding From Hell is a sexy standalone novella that sets up Consumed’s storyline, leaving fans hungry for more and dying to snatch it up.

About the Book:
It’s a classic recipe for disaster: Take one bridesmaid who thinks pink is the root of all evil, mix with a best man who’s hotter than a four-alarm fire, add in their explosive sexual attraction, a nightmare bridezilla, two cat fights, and an emergency call, and you have the wedding from hell.      

Experience the sizzling start of Anne and Danny’s intense relationship. Is this the start of something good...or just an erotic one-night stand that rocks their world, but must never be repeated?

About the Author:
J.R. Ward is the author of more than thirty novels, including those in her #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series. There are more than fifteen million copies of her novels in print worldwide, and they have been published in twenty-six different countries around the world. She lives in the South with her family.

Read an excerpt from the book after the page break.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Audiobook review: A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

Book Summary
The highly anticipated third book in Sabaa Tahir's New York Times bestselling EMBER QUARTET.

Beyond the Empire and within it, the threat of war looms ever larger.

The Blood Shrike, Helene Aquilla, is assailed on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable, while the Commandant capitalizes on his madness to bolster her own power. As Helene searches for a way to hold back the approaching darkness, her sister's life and the lives of all those in the Empire hang in the balance.

Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer. But while hunting for a way to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would aid her, and is drawn into a battle she never thought she'd have to fight.

And in the land between the living and the dead, Elias Veturius has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher. But in doing so, he has vowed himself to an ancient power that will stop at nothing to ensure Elias's devotion--even at the cost of his humanity.

Flo's Review
Wow. What a roller coaster of emotions this book took me through! It culminated at the end when I was driving from work literally yelling out loud at my audiobook because of the situations our three main characters found themselves in and the choices they made. Then, I had to have to have a full text conversation with with a friend who'd recently finished it about all the reveals and plot twists. Unsurprisingly, I saw exactly NONE of them happening. "Sabaa is a genius," my friend said. I 100% agree.

After listening to the audiobook for A Torch Against the NightI knew that I wanted to read Reaper the same way. The three narrators read their characters so, so well. Laia's reader is feminine but fierce, innocent but daring. Helene's is strong, with a touch of vulnerability hidden deep beneath. And Elias is Steve West. (Confession: I love Steve West and will listen to pretty much any audiobook he reads.) 

Moussa (I'm sorry if I'm spelling this wrong) was an interesting character who I hope we see a bit more of in the final book. I was happy to see the hard-fought for character growth of Darin in the novel. And, without being spoilery, l love one of the conversations at the end of the book and what it means for the next novel. I cannot wait to see how it will all shake down in book 4. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Book review: The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

Book Summary
From the author of I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a laugh-out-loud story of love, new friendships, and one unique food truck.

Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn't so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind? 

With Maurene Goo's signature warmth and humor, The Way You Make Me Feel is a relatable story of falling in love and finding yourself in the places you’d never thought to look.

Flo's Review
Why did I wait so long to read this?!?! I've had it sitting on my TBR pile for months now and felt like reading a light, fun, romantic YA this week. I asked hubby and Twitter which one I should go for and they both said The Way You Make Me Feel, so in I went.

So how did it make me feel? Warm. Fuzzy. Happy. Let's start with the cover love. Look at the pretty! It's such a great color combination -- fun, but not in-your-face intense. Happy and calming at the same time.

I adored I Believe in a Thing Called Love, and Goo's sophomore effort did not disappoint. It's been awhile since I've been able to add a new book boyfriend to my list, and Hamlet definitely makes it. Hamlet is everything! I love that he is all energy and optimism and random. More importantly, he is open where Clara is guarded. Their relationship works so well because he is just what she needs to bring her out. Any other type of personality would just bring up her sarcasm and dismissal, but Hamlet made her want to take a hard look at herself. But without forcing her. I cannot say enough about how great the two of them are.

Just like I Believe in a Thing Called Love, I was so delightful to read the relationship between Clara and her dad, Pai. It's the exact opposite of the whole "parents absent from the kid's lives" in YA thing, and it's realistic and refreshing. I also liked the friendship between Rose and Clara. They went from being enemies to BFFs super fast -- it might be a tad unrealistic, but I like them so much better as friends that I did not care. The awkwardness was so cute. 

Two things prevented me from giving this 5 out of 5 stars. First, Clara was kind of a jerk at the beginning. She was hard to swallow. I read several reviews where people DNF because they didn't like her and how she treated people, and I understand. Usually when I don't like the protagonist, I struggle with the book. I don't know what kept me engaged here. Maybe I subconsciously knew that she would get better? Maybe because everything else about the book -- the writing, especially -- was so good? Luckily, Clara got better really quickly.

Secondly, toward the end there is suddenly this whole, "I love LA! I have pride in my diverse city!" thing going on. Like, it's hit pretty hard. I guess there were subtle references to this idea throughout the book, but definitely not enough to make me think that this was an important part of the story. So when the last chapter kept going on and on about it, I felt it read a little random. Like an add-on. "Here's the story, and P.S. Gooooo Los Angeles!"

But everything else I adored. ADORED. I flew through this book in two evenings. When I finished it, I set it down and immediately exclaimed, "Adorable!" I had a big smile on my face, too. It made me so happy. So if you're up for a book that will be fun and easy to read and will make you happy, look no further than The Way You Make Me Feel.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Book review: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

Book Summary
This mystery thriller reunites Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama for a political mashup full of suspense, intrigue, and laugh out loud bromance.

Vice President Joe Biden is fresh out of the Obama White House and feeling adrift when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident, leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues. To unravel the mystery, “Amtrak Joe” re-teams with the only man he’s ever fully trusted—the 44th president of the United States. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Delaware, traveling from cheap motels to biker bars and beyond, as they uncover the sinister forces advancing America’s opioid epidemic.

Part noir thriller and part bromance novel, Hope Never Dies is essentially the first published work of Obama/Biden fanfiction—and a cathartic read for anyone distressed by the current state of affairs.

Flo's Review
I mean, where do I even start with this book?! Did you ever think you'd be in world where "Obama/Biden fanfiction" is a thing?! 

So this book is cray, basically. But in a good way. It's meant to be fun, and it's fun. I had a good time reading it. Shaffer did such a great job with Joe. I could see him thinking these crazy things and saying these crazy things and even doing (some of!) these crazy things. Like, here's an example: have you ever played the game "Cave, Marry, Kill"? (We did this a LOT on the Hunger Games Fireside Chat back in the day. In fact, I think "Cave, Marry, Kill" might be a spin on another game that I can't think of the name of right now.) Anyway, Joe and Barack are having like a slumber party, basically, in a shady motel (and this isn't even the weirdest part of the book, folks!) and Joe tries to start a game of POTUS, SCOTUS, or FLOTUS:

"It's a game we used to play in the Senate, while we were waiting our overnight filibusters, I name three women, and you say who you'd like as your--"
"You got it."

I won't reveal how the game went, because #spoileralert.

But interspersed in the book are some great quotes -- I have a lot of page flags in my copy. For example, here's a nice inspirational one:

"You've got to have patience. It takes more than eight years to build a legacy--and it takes more than a term or two reshape the world. Change happens incrementally."

A large part of this book is the focus on the bromance between Joe and Barack. Indeed, it actually reads like a romance novel in some parts (as it's meant to). The beginning of the story starts with Joe idling away at home, looking at all the pictures of Barack out doing water sports and having fun. He feels like Barack just dropped their BFFedness -- yes, I think I just made that word up -- after the two of them left office. His feelings play a part in the plot of the novel. Because, oh yes, these two are running around Delaware trying to solve a murder.

I would be interested to hear how much research Shaffer had to do about Joe Biden for this novel. Because I believe a lot of it is based on fact, and it's just embellished and added onto to get the fiction.

This was a quick read, definitely a tongue-in-cheek kind of affair. It publishes July 10, 2018. Let's end on a final, inspirational quote:

"As long as you have hope," he said, repeating his words from that day, "you're still in the game."
"And when you lose it?" I asked, echoing a field organizer's question.
"You can't lose it. Hope never dies."

*Thank you to Quirk Books for providing me with a copy in exchange for may honest review.