Top Ten Tuesday - Quotes About Books and Reading

Saturday, May 24, 2014


Favorite Quotes About Books and Reading
Number 10: "A room without books is like a body without a soul." Cicero
Number 9: "Books, Cats, Life is good." - Edward Gorey
Number 8: "So many books, so little time." - Frank Zappa
Number 7: "Libraries were full of ideas - perhaps the most dangerous and powerful of all weapons." - Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass
Number 6: "When I was eight, I decided that the most wonderful thing, next to a human being, was a book." - Margaret Walker
Number 5: "A well composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way." - Caroline Gordon
Number 4: "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. A man who never reads only lives only once." - George R.R. Martin  
Number 3: "Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers." - Charles William Eliot  
Number 2: "One must be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us." - Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel.
Number 1: "When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes." - Desiderius Erasmus

Review - The Selection by Kiera Cass


The Selection
By Kiera Cass
Released: April 24th, 2012
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Purchased




I definitely wasn't the first to jump onto The Selection bandwagon. I've never been a fan of reality TV, particularly The Bachelor and considering that was basically what this book was, I had decided early on to skip it. Until it started gaining momentum - and more momentum. Everyone on Goodreads was talking about this book - and how they were Team Maxon or Team Aspen. Eventually, I decided if the book had caused this much of a stir there had to be something to it. So, I picked it up. And realized that I should've followed my gut instinct to ignore it.

The Selection is a "dystopian" book, set in Illea -  which is ruled by a monarchy and the population is split into strict caste systems. The main character, America Singer, is being forced by her mother to apply for The Selection, a contest in which 35 girls are selected from the country to compete for the hand of the prince of Illea, Maxon. Despite the fact that she had no intention of really trying in her application (such as not practicing her pretty smile or wearing brand new clothes when her initial picture is taken for the competition), lo and behold - she is one of the 35 girls selected! Big shock. The rest of the first book is America adjusting to life at the palace, where she and the other girls are getting to know the prince and trying to impress him.

And that's basically it. Cat fights ensue. As well as shameless flirting and female gossip. Oh yeah, there's also a part in the novel where the castle gets attacked by rebels, but that's hardly glanced at when compared to all the romance plots. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's first look at the two main characters.

America Singer. Ignoring her terrible name (get it, she's a singer - and her last name is singer? So funny.), let's first look at the definition of a "Mary Sue." According to Springhole.net, a Mary Sue is, "A character (male, female, or otherwise) who is given or is expected be to given unwarranted preferential treatment and unearned respect, thereby compromising the integrity and believability of the story and/or its characters." Now, let's look at America. Overly beautiful without even trying? Check. (Bonus points for having red hair, which ALL female lead characters seem to have now.) Has a sudden luck of serendipity by being chosen to compete in the Selection? Check. Is completely rude to the prince, but he somehow likes her anyway? Check. Seen as special and beautiful and elegant by most (if not all) other characters in the book? Check. And, believe me, I could go on.

Next is Prince Maxon, who seems to suffer from the same dull character scheme and could easily be labeled a "Gary Stu," the male equivalent of Mary Sue. He's the smart, handsome, hardworking prince that all the girls are fighting over. Guess what? He's ambivalent about the Selection. He has all the girls' best interests at heart - heck, he even lets the ones who don't want to be there go home. He treats all the girls with the utmost respect and gives them all the same sweet words they expect. He's the perfect guy. Seriously, there's no negative characteristics to this guy. Unless you count stupidity - which I'll get to in a second.

The only character with even a little bit of interest or story arc is Aspen, who was America's lover before she was sent off to the palace. But he's seen as an ass the entire book and doesn't even get mentioned in 2/3 of the novel.

I guess a lot of what irritated me about this novel was America and Maxon. America is seen as the perfect girl, but her actions are anything but. The very first thing she does when she meets the prince is knee him in the crotch. I guess he finds that a turn on, as he immediately takes an interest in her. Overall, America's a perfect girl, but she has SO many problems. She's expected to earn money for competing in the Selection to feed her starving family - but all she can do is lament about how she lost her boyfriend and how nobody understands her or asks what she wants. She's not even trying to win the prince's hand - she's only there to collect the pay check - but she's the one he's most interested in. She has a chance to rule a freakin' country and all she can do is complain.

And Maxon? He's about as bland as a rice cake. For being so smart, he definitely doesn't make many smart decisions in the book. There's one scene, where America finds him taking a break from a counsel with his father and advisors and she tells him about how people in her caste, as well as the lowest caste, are starving. And this completely takes Maxon by surprise. You're born with a silver spoon in your mouth and the world in your hands and - what - there are people who are less fortunate than you? I'm completely blown away! Not only that, but towards the end of the book, one of the girls practically rips America's dress from her body and, when America tries to get Maxon to send the offender home, he refuses - saying that that particular girl is very nice and she must be mistaken. What, Maxon? I thought you trusted America?

I just get so frustrated with this book, simply by the characters and their supposed perfection - only to be compounded by their idiotic and sophomoric actions.

The only good thing the book had going for it - which is the plots concerning the rebels trying to overthrow the monarchy - is hardly even addressed. I get that it's probably addressed further in the series, but why include the plot device if you're not even going to elaborate on it? There's a scene in which the castle is invaded - something that could cause great drama and bloodshed - and all we get is a scene with the girls hiding away in the dungeons and America swooning over Maxon - but, oh yeah, she doesn't want to be with him. So why is she swooning over him in the first place? Ugh!

To be fair, I guess I'm just reading too much into the book. I understand this isn't supposed to be some grand piece of literature that keeps people talking through the generations and is evaluated in classrooms. But that doesn't mean that the characters don't deserve even a bit of effort. I think that if Mrs. Cass had fleshed out her characters and storyline, the book would've had much more appeal. As it is, it leaves me questioning why I'm even rooting for the main characters to begin with. Heck, I'm hardly doing that! I was hoping Aspen would have more "air" time - he's the only one that resembles a reasonable human being.

That said, it's at least an easy read - and despite how much I rip about it, I did manage to finish it. And apparently people find something appealing about it, as I'm largely in the minority when it comes to my critical opinion. It's just not for me.

However, if you're a hopeless romantic that likes to read sweet, fluffy stuff - this is definitely your book.

Top Five Tuesday - Favorite Movie Adaptations of Books

Friday, May 23, 2014


Favorite Movie Adaptations of Books

Number Five: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, based off the novel by Ann Brashres. I'll be the first to admit, this is one of the two movies on here that are ranked more on nostalgia than actual merit. My best friend and I bonded over these books in high school (and we're still best friends to this day!), so you bet we were excited when we found out this was coming to theaters. Unfortunately, the day we went to see it, there was a huge thunderstorm that knocked out the power at the theater. Haha! Nevertheless, we had a movie night when it was released on DVD. And really, though there are a lot of inaccuracies in the movie, I definitely loved the cast choices for the four friends, particularly Amber Tamblyn as Tibby and Alexis Bledel as Lena.  






Number Four: Fried Green Tomatoes, based off the novel by Fannie Flagg. This is the other movie that was ranked largely on nostalgia. While this movie is a great adaptation of the book, I think that perhaps Hunger Games (where I nearly got motion sickness) or Warm Bodies could've tied with it. Still, it gained the fourth spot based on the fact that I used to watch this movie with my mom all the time. Even when I didn't understand everything, I sat beside her and simply enjoyed being with her. As I grew older and finally read the book, I really began to appreciate how well the movie sticks true to the book. I've seen this movie countless times, and I still cry at the end! If you're looking for a funny and heartwarming movie, this one if for you.





Number Three: The Silver Linings Playbook, based on the novel by Matthew Quick. Okay, really? Who isn't in love with Jennifer Lawrence by now? And who could possibly resist those deep blue eyes of Bradley Cooper? I'll be the first to admit that that's one of the best perks to watching this movie! Haha! In addition, though, this is a great adaptation of the novel. Jennifer and Bradley bring a great amount of emotion to touchy subjects addressed in the movie and book. The only quibble I had with the movie was that Patrick's father was much more likeable, rather than aloof and judgmental in the book. Nevertheless, this movie has a permanent place on my shelf.




Number Two: The Help, based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett. This is one of the few movies that I saw before reading the book. The first time I ever heard of the book was when I saw the trailer for the movie. I went out and bought the book the night I saw the movie and dived right in. I loved both! The movie captured the southern life of 1960, doing the book justice. The characters were great as well, particularly Bryce Dallas Howard, who played Hilly - the antagonist. She completely owns the part and you can tell she's having a blast the entire movie. The entire cast brings to the screen the spirit that the book captured.




Number One: The Book Thief, based on the novel by Markus  Zusak. I completely adore this book and movie. I was a little disappointed that I was never given the chance to read it for school, as I would have loved to have an in depth discussion over it in the classroom. I just read the book last year and when I saw that it was being made into a movie, I squealed. What can I say about the movie? The setting and imagery? Magical. The acting? Phenomenal. Accuracy to the book? One of the best I've ever seen. It's the type of movie that I can watch over and over and never get tired of. Not to mention that Sophie Nelisse is absolutely adorable as Liesel, and Geoffrey Rush is superb as Hans. I feel the heart, agony and suspense every time I watch this movie. Do yourself a favor and definitely check it out!  

Review - Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Amity & Sorrow
By Peggy Riley
Released: April 16th, 2013
Genre: General Fiction
Source: Advanced Review Copy



Amity and Sorrow, a debut novel by Peggy Riley, starts off abruptly with a mother, Amaranth, fleeing from a polygamous compound after it caught on fire with her two teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow. They drive continuously for four days until Amaranth crashes the car on a farm in rural Oklahoma, and are thus stranded in the summer heat with no place to go and nowhere to turn. The girls, having never left the compound before, are experiencing the outside world for the first time and their mother is returning to it for the first time in several years. It isn’t long before the farmer, Bradley, notices the strangely dressed and eccentric family and reluctantly takes them in.

The rest of this gripping story is told from several perspectives, often switching from mother Amaranth and daughter Amity, and sometimes the author even gives us interesting insight to brooding Bradley and passionate Sorrow. Much of the plot revolves around the small family learning to cope after being stranded on a stranger’s land and how both daughters, who had never been taught anything that didn’t pertain to religion, the Bible, or housekeeping, experience the bizarre new world they’ve found themselves in. The climax of the story occurs when disaster strikes the farm and Amaranth is forced to make a very difficult decision for those she loves. For fear of giving away too much, I won’t discuss much further on the story itself, other than to say that it will keep you guessing until the very last chapter and that the mysterious origins concerning the compound and the fire are something you’ll least expect!

I applaud Peggy Riley for writing such a difficult and unapologetically honest novel. In fact, there are many points in the novel that are, quite frankly, disturbing to the casual reader. I oftentimes found myself needing to set the book aside for a moment, as the content itself became too difficult to digest at once. Polygamy, sexual abuse, and radical religion are all considered to be taboo in many modern day cultures and Riley touches upon every one of these aspects – and even others – with aplomb and truth. Her writing itself is poetically simplistic and her depictions of the compound and the Oklahoma panhandle, as well as the thoughts of each character lead me to believe that she will have a great future in fiction. I believe that this will be the first of many books to come.

Much of this book, I believe, revolves around love and what it means to be a family. There are others themes and symbolism in this book, which means that it would serve as a fantastic group read and is even deserving of a second read. But what fascinated me so much was Amaranth’s revelation about family. By joining into polygamous relationship, she had been searching for belonging and love but, throughout the story, she discovers that she never really received any of that from her husband or her forty-nine sister wives. Instead, she finds an unlikely family in Bradley, his father, and their farm hand, Dust. And, in a more difficult lesson, learns that not all love is meant to be. Sometimes, you just have to let someone you love go. Sometimes, though we hate to admit it, those we love are beyond our help and never really wanted us to begin with. It is a painful lesson, but one I respect.

It is also interesting to read the story from younger sister Amity’s perspective. She’s a growing girl of twelve, suddenly thrown from a life she knew and was comfortable with to an entirely new one. The struggles she works through are frighteningly realistic and at many points in the book I felt sorry for the young girl. Much of the book, from Amity’s perspective, is a coming of age story, a narrative of how she finds her place in the world after having been kept from if for so long. And, even at the end of the book, the reader is left wondering if she has come to any real resolution concerning her origins and where she intends to go.

Overall, a very interesting read!

Review - City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte


City of Dark Magic
By Magnus Flyte
Released: November 27th, 2012
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Giveaway



I have to admit, City of Dark Magic was quite alluring for a variety of different reasons. First and foremost, I am a huge fan of mystery novels and the mystery aspect of the novel – as well as the inclusion of magic, alchemy, music, and history – had me enchanted. What I didn’t anticipate was the huge ride I would be taken on from page one!

Admittedly, this novel isn’t like others that I had read or reviewed in the past. I thought it would be something similar to an urban fantasy intermingled with mystery and while it did have some elements of that type of genre, this novel had so much more. Crime, murder, sex, and adventure just to name a few. The whole book was like a roller coaster ride; as soon as one small plot seemed resolved, another would pop up and take its place, oftentimes leading to an even larger plot. There were a lot of bits in the books that seemed rather superfluous at first, but would then turn out to be a rather big clue to the mystery that, Sarah (the protagonist), was trying to solve. It was a wild ride – one that you would have to suspend your reality for and just enjoy in the moment. So, if you like books with logical meaning, this book probably isn’t for you. But then again, magic hell portals that turn out to be multi-dimensions and toenails with hallucinogenic properties aren’t run-of-the-mill aspects of a book – which is one of the reasons City of Dark Magic is so tantalizing.

I’ll be the first to admit that Sarah wasn’t my favorite character. In fact, there isn’t much about her that is very likeable. I would have appreciated a young woman who struggled to get her doctorate and make it big in musicology; one that would immobilize a man with a single well placed kick to the testicles…. As long as she didn’t sleep with and let every man in the book touch her. It seemed as if her promiscuous tendencies didn’t really add to her character and only served to well… put sex into the book. On the upside, many of the side characters in the novel prove to be more interesting. Pols and Max especially, I would have enjoyed learning more about. Even Nico. While Sarah might not be the best person to see the book through, the others are definitely interesting and prove to make the book highly amusing and suspenseful.

The writing, in general, is very nice. The novel takes place in Prague – a city of mystery and romance – and it undoubtedly hard to capture in words. Magnus Flyte described the place with beauty thought and the witty humor and sarcasm found throughout the book is particularly entertaining. The whole mystery of the novel includes Beethoven and the letters addressed to his “Immortal Beloved.” Throughout the book, we are given clues and with the help of Sarah, Max, and the others we come to learn that some secrets are buried deep in the past – and probably should remain there. The plot gets fairly complex and will keep you guessing and turning the pages until the very end.

The end, unfortunately, didn’t live up to my expectations. I had expected an action packed resolution. And while it was certainly action packed… it was, in a way, anticlimactic when it came to finally defeating the bad guy. I won’t give too much away, as I hate spoilers, but I did feel a little cheated. Then again, with a book that exudes peculiarity, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything less.

Overall, a very entertaining read! Just be sure to leave your conceptions of reality behind before cracking it open!   

Review - Cora, The Unwilling Queen by Amy Hutchinson

Cora, The Unwilling Queen
By Amy Hutchinson
Released: December 22nd, 2012
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Giveaway



It seems like many authors are trying their hands at retellings of popular mythology. As a fan of Rick Riordan, I’ve read a great deal of Greek/Roman/Egyptian mythology retellings and I’ve become quite a fan of the genre. When I saw that copies of Cora, The Unwilling Queen were up for grabs on Goodreads, I had to enter. Luckily, I was chosen as one of the winners!

Cora, The Unwilling Queen is a retelling of the story of Hades and Persephone. I find this particular mythological story interesting, as I haven’t really come across any that have focused on it. Hutchinson did a great job of weaving the story into Cora’s life. I thought it was particularly fitting that the pomegranate was on the cover! Haha.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Cora is a relatable character, as she was the kind of person to sort of blend into the background in high school and really let her friends help to define her. She isn’t drop-dead gorgeous or popular or a girlfriend of the hottest guy in school. She’s really a girl that you could get to know and be friends with. Her best friends, Joanna and Roxy are also interesting to read about, particularly the latter. It’s nice that they were there to help and support her through the trials she encountered during the story – though, admittedly, it would have been nice to have Cora a little more involved in her own troubles. Roxy was the one who found out that she was experiencing something similar to Persephone and when she’s in the Underworld, Soren is always coming to her rescue. Having Cora a little more active would have been a nice change to ultimately see.

Also, I felt that the pace of the book was rather fast. I felt that Cora’s story could have been fleshed out to where we learned a little more about her family and Soren and her friends. If Hutchinson had done that, I think that a 250 page book could have easily been a 350+ one. There were a few editorial issues here and there with double words but there really weren’t enough to take away from the story. I understand that the book is self-published and I hope to see if picked up by an actual publisher; it would be interesting to see how the story would change with an editor’s eye and encouragement. I think that it is entirely possible that they would be interested.

Cora had its drawbacks, but overall it was an enjoyable book.

Review - Into Great Silence by Eva Saulitis


Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss among Vanishing Orcas
By Eva Saulitis
Released: January 15th, 2013
Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir
Source: Giveaway



Into Great Silence, by Eva Saulitis, is a moving memoir of her time spent in Prince William Sound studying the AT1 Transient pod orcas, better known to the author and reader as the Chugach Transients. Saulitis starts her story by showing the reader exactly how she started her study and how her fascination with the orcas began. Interestingly enough, her first encounter occurred while she was working at a fish hatchery, in which she saw the pod of orcas swimming nearby. Seeing as she was already into the field of biology, her interest grew and – in an amazing stroke of luck – was chosen to help work on a boat called Lucky Star for Craig Matkin, who studied resident orcas. From there on, her love for the animals was fueled and – for her graduate thesis – she decided to study the habits of the Chugach pod. It wasn’t but a couple of years after she started to help Matkin and others that the Exxon Valdez spill occurred, forever changing the Sound and surrounding waters. Into Great Silence is largely focused on the life of the orcas after the fateful spill and how such a disaster affected their lives.

Saulitis tells the reader up front that this will not be a book with a very happy ending. In the prologue, she is already lamenting the great loss of life in the pod and – as we read through the subsequent chapters, Saulitis – with her beautiful and poetic storytelling – is able to instill in the reader love and great respect for the gentle giants of the Sound. By the end of the story, my heart was breaking for the poor animals who – against all odds – still try to live in the Sound to this very day, though their numbers are greatly dwindling. Saulitis herself wonders whether the pod will continue to survive or if there will come a day where she wakes up and discovers that the last of the whales she had come to know and love have perished.

Into Great Silence is a reminder to readers of the beauty and fragility of nature, that one single moment in time can forever alter a way of life that has existed for several thousands of years. It is a stunning, albeit tragic, story of love, loss, and human attempt to right a wrong great done over twenty-four years ago.

Review - A New Home for Lily by Mary Ann Kinsinger


A New Home for Lily
By Mary Ann Kinsinger and Suzanne Woods Fisher
Released: February 2013
Genre: Middle Grade
Source: Giveaway






I was pleased to discover that I had won a copy of A New Home for Lily through the Goodreads First Reads program. I’ve been entering Amish book giveaways on the site for several months now and this was the first one I won!

A New Home for Lily is the second installment in The Adventures of Lily Lapp series. While this book can be read as a stand alone novel, I chose to borrow the first book, Life with Lily, from the library and I highly recommend reading the books in order to take as much away from the story as possible. This story is a middle grade read, ranging from ages eight to twelve, but I think it would be a great family read and is even enjoyable for adults as well. While the story might be told from the perspective of young Lily, she certainly doesn’t deal with childish problems and the story can keep all ages entertained.

A New Home for Lily opens with the Lapp family moving from New York to their new home in Cloverdale, Pennsylvania. While Lily has a few things to look forward to (her grandparents will live not too far away and she already has one new friend, Beth), she also struggles to adjust to a smaller and, in her frank opinion, uglier home, fiendish billy goats, troublemaking Aaron Yoder, and meddlesome Effie Kauffman. On top of that, there are several changes in the church that Lily has to adjust to. So, life for Lily suddenly becomes much more difficult than she could have ever imagined.

In between schoolhouse hijinks, cooking disasters, and an unexpected new arrival, Lily learns several lessons about others, about her faith, and about herself.

I’ve been a fan of Amish and Christian fiction for many years now and have read a wide variety of authors when it comes to the subject. (Lewis, Woodsmall, Fisher, and Brunstetter just to name a few.) While all the books are engaging and lovely reads, oftentimes they focus on romance. I, for one, am a sucker for a good romance novel, but it was refreshing to see a new perspective in this literary niche. While the point of view of the novel is from an eight year old girl, I think that the change was engaging and offered insight into the Amish from a bright, new light. Kinsinger and Fisher write with surprising clarity when it comes to little Lily and the innocence from which the book is told is partially what makes it so charming. The audience is learning, right along with Lily, exactly what it means to be Amish and to have a strong faith and respect for others.

I really like that this genre had branched out and is trying to appeal to younger readers. I wish that I would have had something like this series when I was growing up. In addition to the nice story, there are sweet line drawings that serve as illustrations and even a list of frequently asked questions concerning the Amish in the back. I think it would be a great introduction for children to the Amish culture, too.

I loved this series so far and will be eagerly awaiting future installments.


    

Review - The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalb


The End of Your Life Book Club
By Will Schwalbe
Released: October 2nd, 2012
Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir
Source: Advanced Reader Copy





Going into The End of Your Like Bookclub, by Will Schwalbe, I knew this would be a book that had the potential to move a reader. Most notably, I expected, through tears. The title gives little to the reader’s imagination as to the outcome of Mary Anne’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. We all, even as readers who just pick up the book, know that she will die throughout the course of the book. I expected the book to be a tear-jerker, one that I would have to put down for a time and move on to cheerier things before I picked it back up and continued.

Although some of the content in the book is saddening – after all, discussing the closing of someone’s life is never easy – I was thoroughly surprised by the amount of humor and spirit was in the book. Yes, it was the tale of a dying woman and her son, but it was also a celebration of her life as well. As I read, I came to feel as if I knew Mary Anne intimately. She’s a strong woman with amazing character and bravery, even if she repeatedly denies such claims in the book. Throughout the book, you learn of many of Mary Anne’s projects and passions – most of which have to do with aiding third-world countries and their inhabitants – and you grow to have a deep respect for her. This book moves you, but not only just to tears. It inspires you to be a better person, more aware of others and their needs. As well as the knowledge that just one smile can change not only a person’s outlook, but also their life.

The author, Will Schwalbe, tells his mother’s story with surprising clarity. Throughout the course of the story, he is dealt blows that many of us can relate to. Having had family who has battled cancer before, I could personally relate to Will’s troubles concerning his mother’s health. When is it appropriate to ask if she was okay? Should he simple ask if she wanted to talk about how he was feeling? Should he cut trips and vacations short in favor of spending more time with his mother, knowing it will only cause her pain to see him going out of his way? These are all questions that people who have dealt with an ill family member can relate to. His writing style, thought admittedly slow at times, is very beautiful and poignant.

This book will certainly have a permanent place on my bookshelf. Anyone who enjoys a love for reading – which was shared by both mother and son in this book – will enjoy The End of Your Life Book Club. It reminds us that books not only have the power to teach us, but also to change us.

This book is an Advance Reader’s Edition and was provided by Knopf for reviewing purposes.  

Review - Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey


Dark Currents
By Jacqueline Carey
Released: October 2nd, 2012
Genre: Fantasy (Urban)
Source: Advanced Reader Copy



Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Dark Currents was my first introduction to author Jacqueline Carey and it certainly did not disappoint. Dark Currents is the first novel in the Agent of Hel series, and it offers a perfect blend of magic and mystery! I inhaled the book and hardly put it down.

Many of the other books I’ve read involving urban fantasy fall onto a scale of either very good or, to put it bluntly, very bad. Moreso, those concerning the two basic supernatural beings, vampires and werewolves, often leave quite a bit to be desired. Dark Currents, however, involves vampires, werewolves and a myriad of other supernatural beings such as ghouls, ogres, mermaids, fairies, and – of course – the hell-spawn herself Daisy. These added magical elements give the book a unique flavor, in my opinion, and only help to strengthen the world of Pemkowet that the author has created.

Another problem I often encounter with urban fantasy books is that the heroine is often entirely unbelievable. She is either took weak and vulnerable – a basic cut-out of the damsel in distress – or too “bad ass” and unrelatable. Daisy falls into the middle of this spectrum and, as such, turns out to be a character the audience and really trust and relate to. She deals with those problems that typical young adult women do. She has friendships she worries about maintaining, budding relationships, struggles with paying the rent, ect. The fact that she’s an agent for the Norse goddess, Hel, is certainly exceptional, but she does the work of the goddess with believable aplomb. She’s not immediately the best agent ever. She doesn’t know how to wield a weapon when she first picks it up, neither does she have complete confidence in her ability to dish out justice and solve the mystery. In short, an urban fantasy main character can often make or break a book, and Daisy is a character that an audience can enjoy following throughout the length of the story and for several books to come.

The other characters are also individuals that the reader can grow to like. Each has their own distinct personality as well as quite a bit of mystery concerning their histories of how they came to dwell in Pemkowet. If you are anything like me, you’ll find yourself silently rooting for these characters, too, and will have your own favorites in addition to Daisy. Like any other town, Pemkowet is full of crazy people and each and every one is one you’ll love to learn about in the future.

The mystery aspect of the novel was especially catching to me. I’m a big mystery fan and it was largely the reason I entered the giveaway on Goodreads to begin with. Many of the clues involving the murder in Dark Currents are revealed through a psychic reading by Daisy’s mother and really come into play throughout the chapters. And, while you learn who the culprits are and what they are aiming to do earlier in the story, a surprise twist will keep you turning the pages well into the night.

Dark Currents was a fantastic book and I will definitely be keeping my eye out for future installments in the Agent of Hel series!

Dark Currents is an Advance Reader’s Edition provided by the publisher for review purposes.     

Review - Shunning Sarah by Julie Kramer


Shunning Sarah
By Julie Kramer
Released: August 7th, 2012
Genre: Mystery
Source: Advanced Reader Copy



As a fan of both mystery and Amish fiction novels, I was delighted when I found that free copies of Shunning Sarah, by Julie Kramer, were up for a giveaway on Goodreads. Luckily, I was one of the eight chosen to receive a free advance copy from Atria. Knowing that Julie Kramer is a National Best Seller, and based on reviews of her past novels, I was confident that I would enjoy the mystery aspect of the novel. What I was a little more hesitant about was the accuracy of the Amish aspect of the novel. Having read Lewis, Woodsmall, Fisher, Brunstetter (among others) and combined with the research I’ve done on Amish culture and language, I was hesitant when I first cracked open Shunning Sarah. The last thing I wanted to read was an otherwise fascinating novel that was full of inaccuracies concerning the main suspects.

Luckily, my fears were ungrounded. Not only did I get a crash course into the world of Riley Spartz and investigative reporting, but the Amish aspects that I read where intriguing and – most importantly – largely correct. In addition to a murder on Amish soil, the reader also gets to grapple with an angry bear on the loose, Riley’s unconventional new boss, and corruption within the law.

When it comes to mystery novels, the ending often makes or breaks the book. For fear of divulging too much information, I won’t say too much other than you won’t be disappointed! Many aspects of this novel are largely unprecedented when it comes to Amish culture and the ending will leave you thinking long after you finish the last page and put the book back on the shelf. Is someone truly unforgivable? When should a society that values forgiveness over revenge finally seek help from outsiders to help protect loved ones? And these are only a couple of questions...

Overall, if you are looking for a great mystery novel – one that will keep you turning the pages well past midnight – pick up a copy of Shunning Sarah! Even those who haven’t read the previous installments in the Riley Spartz series (like me) can appreciate this book as a stand alone novel if need be. As for me, I will certainly be reading the four previous books in the series and anxiously awaiting more in the future! 

Review - Applewhites at Wit's End by Stephanie S. Tolan


Applewhites at Wit's End
By Stephanie S. Tolan
Released: May 8th, 2012
Source: Library Loan

 
 


We all have those books that helped define who we were growing up. We tend to remember which picture book we enjoyed the most when we were being tucked into bed at night. We remember the first real chapter book we ever read, over and over praising ourselves for the big step we were taking from books with pictures to book with purely words. And, eventually, we remember those books that helped to shape us into the individuals we are today. Growing up, I read Surviving the Applewhites when I was in the seventh grade – admittedly, a little older than the intended age group. But I fell in love with the eclectic and artistic family nonetheless. As a child who spent most of her time with her nose in a book and a writing tablet at my side, I could relate to the strange family and I found a strange camaraderie in the main character, E.D. Applewhite, who was trying to find her place in the world at the same time I was. I admired the characters, the plot, the book as a whole and especially the theme – that everyone is valuable, no matter what given talents they have. It has a permanent place on my bookshelf. So – ten years later – when I see that Stephanie S. Tolan has written a sequel, I could hardly contain my glee.

Originally, I thought I would be fairly biased when it came to reviewing this book. In fact, I hadn’t even intended to leave a review, but when I finished the book, I felt compelled to share my experience. The plot of the sequel involves the Applewhite family – after having found out that most of their money had been squandered – decided to open an arts camp for gifted children to help pay for the expenses of keeping up with the family home, called Wit’s End. Eventually, six children show up for the camp – all as different from each other as the Applewhite family itself. E.D. helps to coordinate camp activities as the rest of the family engages the campers in artistic workshops. There are several misadventures along the way, and the camp – Called Eureka! – doesn’t remain operating as smoothly as intended for very long. Not but a few weeks after opening, the family starts to receive threatening letters in the mail about camping regulations and threats to shut the camp down. In addition, there is a shady character walking around the sixteen acre grounds. I won’t reveal too much more, as the bulk of the book involves the family dealing with these catastrophes in a way in which only the Applewhites can.

I loved getting the opportunity to be reintroduced to the family. The characters that I had grown to love in the first book are back with their usual spunk and even the bad-boy Jake kept me grinning from the first page to the last. But, as often happens in sequels, I feel the second book doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the first. (And, granted, there were problems with the first book that I chose to overlook, as I had been thirteen when I read it.) Many of the campers that were introduced in this book were cut-out characters that we really didn’t get to know very well. This, of course, is problematic if the bulk of the story is focused on the campers. I felt that if the book were a bit longer – and if the author could have focused some more on these new characters – the book would have been a good deal stronger. Also, the ending of the story felt entirely rushed to me. The first ninety percent of the book led up to the climax, which was resolved within ten pages. I felt that it could have been fleshed out a great deal more. And, in addition to that, we don’t know how the rest of the camp turns out, as she abruptly ends the book after the family decides to put on an end-of-camp production and show detailing all the hard work the campers had done. I do, however, approve of the final scene. But I won’t reveal TOO much about that.

Overall, this book was fun, easy read that I enjoyed. Anyone who has read the first one will love to meet the family again, but don’t expect the story to shine a light to the first.