Friday, January 24, 2020

Book review: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Book Summary 
As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Expertly capturing the thrill of first love and the self-doubt all teens feel, debut author Phil Stamper is a new talent to watch.

Flo's Review
I really enjoyed this one. Obviously, it's a cute love story and those are my jam. But there's so much more to it than that. I'll get back to the romance, but I want to discuss the setting first.

What a unique and interesting setting! I really enjoyed learning so much about NASA and space exploration back in the '60s. Either Phil Stamper is a space fan himself, or he did a great job with his research. (Or maybe both.) He did so well showing the reader what a truly exciting and magical time it was. But there was some darkness underneath the shiny surface, as with most things. And he showed us that darkness, too. Then, with that as his base, he showed us what modern society might do in the same situation, and the darkness underneath that. 

Okay, now back to the romance :). Cal, a fixer type personality, falls in love with Leon, a young man who is discovering himself, struggling a little bit, and finding his way. It's almost like a, "Go figure!" type situation. But I loved how Stamper both said and showed that it's not that anybody needs anybody else to fix them. I jotted down this quote from Cal's mom:

"Don't aim to fix people. Fixing seems so permanent, so absolute. Like there's no room for error. Aim to make things better."

Several of the characters in the book have probably been described as "broken," so this quote is a good way to describe many of the people Cal is close to, as well  as a beautiful summation of Cal's arc throughout the book.


The Gravity of Us publishes February 4, 2020 from Bloomsbury YA. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Book review: The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

Book Summary
When King Jameson declares his love for Lady Hollis Brite, Hollis is shocked—and thrilled. After all, she’s grown up at Keresken Castle, vying for the king’s attention alongside other daughters of the nobility. Capturing his heart is a dream come true.

But Hollis soon realizes that falling in love with a king and being crowned queen may not be the happily ever after she thought it would be. And when she meets a commoner with the mysterious power to see right into her heart, she finds that the future she really wants is one that she never thought to imagine.
 

Flo's Review
Ack, this is so hard! So much of what I want to say is straight spoilery! I'm going to need you all to read this as soon as it comes out so we can go ahead and dish about certain characters, and also about predictions for the next book or two. (I'm not sure if this will be a trilogy or duology?)

So let's see what I can say...

I stayed up past my bedtime to finish this. Once I hit a certain plot turn, I had to keep going. Like, I couldn't put the book down and just go to bed. Also, the action picked up and everything happened pretty fast so I was just flip, flip, flipping the pages.

It was comfortingly Kiera Cass. Kiera Cass is basically royalty in her own right. You know what type of book and story your'e going to be getting when you open one of her books and that's why you love her. This one did not disappoint. I expected a certain type of story, of read, and it was comfortingly what I got. Her stories are like that old, worn blanket you haven't used in a few months, but then you pull it back over you and go, "Ahhh....yes....this is nice."

America and Hollis aren't exactly alike, but...they'd be good friends. They'd definitely understand each other.

Cover love. I mean, seriously. Have you seen it? It's literally all gold and shiny!

The Betrothed publishes May 5th from HarperTeen.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Audiobook review: Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Book Summary
Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she'll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There's just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia's task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor's reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

Flo's Review
Wow. This book was a lot of fun! I was a little worried about it going in because the audiobook is about 14 hours long. Usually I start to lose interest in audiobooks that surpass about 8 or 9 hours. I have to really be invested in order to make it through. 

Well, turns out I was really invested!

I hadn't closely read the summary when I started it, so when I realized it was going to have the "girl disguises herself as guy" trope, I was pretty into it. Then I read the summary and saw the Project Runway comparison. Oh, all the competition and scheming! There were definitely characters that I loved to hate in there, and it was easy to cheer for the underdog Maia. 

Then I got to the second part of the book that focuses on the journey around the three gowns. I liked that part even better than the first one! It was adventurous and magical and romantic -- and I was here for all of it. But definitely the romance. I'm such a sucker for it, and this one was really well done! 

The story didn't necessarily end in a cliffhanger, per se, but it did end in a place that makes me want to read Unleash the Dusk immediately! This was the kind of story that as soon as I finished, I wanted to talk about it with someone who had read it. Luckily, it's my book club read of the month, so I was able to do that. It made the whole experience even more enjoyable to be able to talk reaction and theory.

I thought I might like Spin the Dawn, but I was just so pleasantly surprised to have loved it as much as I did. I love when a book does that!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Book Review: Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwell


Goodreads Overview;

It is New Year's Eve, the last day of Virginia's bloodiest year since the Civil War. Dr. Kay Scarpetta plunges into the murky depths of a ship graveyard to recover the very human remains of Ted Eddings, an investigative reporter. What kind of story was Eddings chasing below the icy surface of the Elizabeth River? And why did Scarpetta receive a phone call from someone reporting the death before the police were notified? She soon discovers that Eddings' murder is merely the first layer of something much deeper --- a labyrinthine conspiracy that will put all of her criminal and forensic knowledge to the test like never before. For Scarpetta, the real challenge won't be cataloging the growing number of dead bodies, but preventing herself and those she loves from becoming the next victims.

Jacque's Review:

This is the 7th book in the Kay Scarpetta series. While all of the books involve independent cases that can be read and enjoyed on their own, I would recommend reading the series in order if you plan on reading more than just a few of them. The characters and their relationships with others in the series evolve from one book to the next. It would be rather confusing in that aspect if you decide to skip around. 

In this installment, Kay is investigating the murder of a reporter that worked relatively closely with her office. Her assistant medical examiner in another distract, who should be the one handling this case, had a death in the family and had to return to England for the funeral. He offered to let Kay stay at his house while he is gone, which she accepted. When people start prowling around his house, she begins to question her own safety and why her assistant is really out of town. 

Another member of her staff is impacted by the investigation and an unusual event takes place at her office. Someone really doesn't want the results of this investigation to get out. The closer Kay and her team get to the truth, the more dangerous things become.

Now that Kay's niece, Lucy, has graduated from the FBI Academy, she is an actual member of Benton Wesley's team. He is a profiler for the FBI and heads up a number of investigations in this series. Kay is one of his consultants and doesn't have a second thought about putting herself in danger, but she does not want Lucy on the front lines. Lucy is a computer genius, which should allow her to work behind the scenes, but that is not the role Lucy wants and Benton is not about to hold her back. She is a valuable member of his team and he takes full advantage of her skills in this book.

Overall, this was enjoyable murder mystery. There are currently 25 books in the series, so it is a daunting undertaking if you plan on reading the entire series. I have been reading these books since 2011. This isn't the type of series you have to continue reading for fear of forgetting some of the content, so I pick one up whenever I am looking for a good murder mystery. I enjoy the characters and both the police and medical aspects of the investigations. I do find it humorous to read about some of the technology now that these books are almost 25 years old. What was high tech and advanced back then is archaic now. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Book review: The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord


Book Summary
It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

Flo's Review
I loved, loved, loved Open Road Summer, and have been looking forward to jumping into another Emery Lord book since I read that one. The Start of Me and You did not disappoint! What a great story. There was so much to love about it. First, I loved the relationship Paige had with her best friends. Emery did a great job of showing us each of their personalities, as well as how the four of them fit together. It can be hard to establish such a close friendship as theirs through showing and not telling, but Emery hit the nail on the head. 

Next, Ryan Chase. He was adorable. I was so happy that he didn't end up being the obsession that was a actually a jerk. No, he was great. He did make a good friend to Paige, and he and Max were a good addition to Paige's friend group. 

The dynamic with Paige's parents was interesting. It's something that I've heard about happening, but I've never had the opportunity to experience it in any way. So it was definitely fascinating to read about it from the views of her parents and from Paige. I also loved Paige's relationship with her grandmother. The other supporting characters, like Paige's sister and Aaron's other friends, provided some good scenes and opportunities to show Paige's personal growth as well.

And finally, Max. I mean, do I really have to say anything about Max Watson?! Max. Max. Max. 😍
I have the sequel, The Map From Here To There, on deck and I cannot wait to spend Senior year with Paige and her friends.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Book Review: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown


Jacque's Review:

My husband rowed in high school and college and still rows as an adult. I tried it for a few years and could definitely relate to the grueling schedule and workouts involved, even at a lower level of competition. My husband read the adult version of this book and really enjoyed it, so my 14 year old son and I read this YA version as one of his choice books for school.

The story begins with Joe Rantz as an old man telling his story to Daniel James Brown, who decides he would like to write a book about Joe.  Joe tells him the story shouldn't be about him, but needs to be about "the boat." Brown is a little confused because he believes Joe is talking about the rowing shell or the crew, but he is actually referring to something that is almost beyond definition. "The boat" was a shared experience when 9 men came together to achieve greatness.

Rowing had a long history in the Ivy league where wealthy young men enjoyed competing in this prestigious sport. Joe was not as fortunate. He was poor and worked hard to attend the University of Washington where he hoped to earn an engineering degree and improve his quality of life.  He had enough money to pay for his first year of college, but needed to make the rowing team if he wanted any chance of having enough money to finish his degree. The team ended up consisting of mostly young men like him. They were strong, hard working, and determined to work through the pain to achieve a goal.

The story isn't just about rowing. It teaches a number of life lessons while sharing some of the many struggles that took place during the depression. The book also explores what it was like in Nazi Germany before and after the 1936 Olympics. Hitler put on a remarkable show for the general public, but what was going on behind the scenes was deplorable and ultimately lead to the start of the second world war.

This is a very motivational story that people of all ages can learn from. It is about overcoming obstacles, perseverance, and teamwork. These working class boys with no prior experience were able to achieve greatness by putting their teammates ahead of themselves. “What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn’t harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them. He had to care about his crew.”

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Queen's Assassin by Melissa de la Cruz

Book Summary
Caledon Holt is the Kingdom of Renovia's deadliest weapon. No one alive can best him in brawn or brains, which is why he's the Guild's most dangerous member and the Queen's one and only assassin. He's also bound to the Queen by an impossible vow--to find the missing Deian Scrolls, the fount of all magical history and knowledge, stolen years ago by a nefarious sect called the Aphrasians.

Shadow has been training all her life to follow in the footsteps of her mother and aunts--to become skilled enough to join the ranks of the Guild. Though magic has been forbidden since the Aphrasian uprising, Shadow has been learning to control her powers in secret, hoping that one day she'll become an assassin as feared and revered as Caledon Holt.

When a surprise attack brings Shadow and Cal together, they're forced to team up as assassin and apprentice to hunt down a new sinister threat to Renovia. But as Cal and Shadow grow closer, they'll uncover a shocking web of lies and secrets that may destroy everything they hold dear. With war on the horizon and true love at risk, they'll stop at nothing to protect each other and their kingdom in this stunning first novel in the Queen's Secret series.

Flo's Review
This has been on my TBR for awhile, so I was super excited to win a copy from Bookish First. I thought it would make a good travel companion, so it came along with me over the holidays. 

Here's the thing...it was alright. Like, all of it. Was fine. But just fine.

The world and the world building I could tell was well thought out. But maybe almost too well thought out? I felt like I was constantly forgetting what place was where, and which people wanted what. I feel like if I was really focusing I could have gotten everything, but I wasn't in the mood to really focus. I just wanted to be entertained. Thankfully, and a strength of the book, is that even with me not fully understanding the political dynamics of the world, I could still enjoy the story.

The characters...were alright. Caledon is fine. Shadow is fine. They're fine together. But there was nothing about either one of them, or about them together, that really made them stand out for me. 

Same with the story. It was interesting. It was fine. Again, well thought out, but it just didn't stand out for me. 

Here's my question for you guys...do you think part of this could be because I'm having Fantasy Fatigue? (I just made that term up, but I'm meaning it here like I've read so many fantasy novels lately that they're all starting to blend together into one nondescript blob.) Like, maybe I would have had a stronger reaction to this story if I hadn't been on a such a fantasy kick lately. Maybe I've burned out.

What do you think?


The Queen's Assassin publishes February 2020 from Penguin Teen. Thank you again to Bookish First for the advance reader's copy.

Book Review: Skipping Christmas by John Grisham


Jacque's Review:

The Kranks' daughter, Blair, leaves for the Peace Corp. and for the first time ever, she will not be home for Christmas. Luther, an accountant, went through all of his receipts from the prior year and discovered exactly how much Christmas cost them last year...and what did they have to show for it? Why not spend half as much and enjoy a luxurious Caribbean cruise, since it is just the two of them this year?

It sounds like a great idea until word begins to spread. The neighbors are upset because their street likely will not win the decorating contest since one house will not have a giant Frosty on the roof. Various charities arrive and the Kranks have to tell them they are skipping Christmas this year. Friends are disappointed they will not be hosting their annual Christmas Eve Party. Coworkers can't believe they will not be at the office party. Even their pastor is disappointed to hear they will not be at the Christmas Eve service. 

Everywhere they go they are reminded of the frivolousness of the season and Luther is pleased with his decision. His wife, on the other hand, is tired of all of the grief and wants to give in to a few requests, but Luther stands firm. No Christmas this year!!

Everything is going reasonably well until they receive a call from Blair on Christmas Eve. She is in Miami  and will be home in a few hours to surprise them for Christmas. Of course, she is expecting a big holiday party, a tree, Frosty on the roof, and a wonderful Christmas meal. Will the Kranks be able to pull together a traditional Christmas in less than a day?

This was an entertaining and hilarious holiday story and definitely put the season into perspective. How much do people really spend on a holiday, which is supposed to be about celebrating the birth of Jesus? Is it really worth all of the time, energy and effort we put into it every year? It isn't about the money or the gifts. It is about the tradition and spending time with friends and family. The Kranks learn this lesson in a rather amusing way and I'm sure will not try Skipping Christmas ever again.