Book Review – Love at Absolute Zero by Christopher Meeks

Love at Absolute Zero by Christopher Meeks

Synopsis
Love At Absolute Zero” is a comic romance about Gunnar Gunderson, a 32-year-old star physicist at the University of Wisconsin who’s determined to meet his soul mate within three days using the Scientific Method. As he channels his inner salmon for speed dating, he accidentally steps on the toes of a visiting Danish schoolteacher–and his life turns upside down.

My Review
With a fair amount of critical acclaim and a number of awards, I had high expectations for Love at Absolute Zero. But even if the bar hadn’t been set quite so high, I’d still have been disappointed. The story moves so slowly, there aren’t enough really funny moments to make up for it and it’s almost completely devoid of any heat which seems to fit, considering the title. But after hearing how laugh-out-loud funny it is and that it had been a finalist and winner of numerous awards, I did expect more. I expected to at least smile a few times.

Plot
In addition to being too slow, a jumble of events take place that don’t seem to really move the plot forward. I never really felt like Gunnar’s character evolved all that much as the story progressed. I kept waiting for the epiphany, that sudden realization of the thing he needed to do in order to overcome his flaw and finally get the girl of his dreams. Instead, his ideal girl seemed to be situationally-based. The girl he wanted was whichever one seemed to want him at the moment. So rather than Gunnar really taking control of the situation, he let the situation control his actions and his emotions.

Characters
Gunnar is not particularly likeable. He’s awkward, which can be okay, but he lacks  the bumbling endearing qualities that normally accompany an awkward protagonist that we also love. I didn’t really care if Gunnar achieved his goal or not. I was pretty apathetic about him and the story by the end of the book.

Bottom Line
It wasn’t so bad that I didn’t want to finish it, but I can’t recommend it either. It plods along with less than likeable characters and never once made me laugh, despite its promises to do so.

Title: Love at Absolute Zero
Author: Christopher Meeks
Publisher: White Whisker Books
Pages: 264
Category: Romantic Comedy
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Book Review – Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie

Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie

Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie

Synopsis
High school physics teacher Lucy Savage is finally getting rid of Bradley–and his hideous green recliner. In fact, her front lawn is littered with her cheating ex-husband’s belongings. Because despite standing her up in divorce court, Bradley is out of her life for good. Or so she thinks.

When her sister takes her to lunch to celebrate Lucy’s single status, all their talk of a no-good louse named Bradley catches the attention of a cop–who wants to arrest the very same Bradley for embezzlement. And Officer Zack Warren figures the lovely Lucy can lead him straight to his target.

When someone shoots at Lucy and then blows up her car, Zack insists she needs twenty-four-hour protection. What does he think her three dogs and attack cat are for? Still, he insists on moving right in to Lucy’s house…

Now there’s danger lurking outside and in her own kitchen, bathroom–and bedroom. Or maybe Zack, who looks like a bad boy with that shaggy dark hair and black leather jacket, is really one of the good guys, and just what Lucy needs.

My Review
I’m a Jennifer Crusie fan, but I discovered her late into her writing career, so now I’m going back and reading some of her earliest books, and based on Wikipedia, Getting Rid of Bradley is her second full-length novel. I found the story to be thoroughly enjoyable and the characters as quirky as the rest of her books. It’s not a mystery, but there is a whodunnit component that was fun to try to figure out and while it wasn’t an earth-shattering revelation and I’d more or less solved it before the end, it wasn’t so predictable that it was cliche.

What I love about Jennifer Cruise’s books are that they are lighthearted, fun, and don’t require a lot of brain power to read. And sometimes that’s exactly what I need. It’s a quick read and Lucy is delightful. She reminds me of a little bit of Stephanie Plum from the Janet Evanovich Numbers series.

Plot
The plot is more fully developed that most romantic comedies and it really works here. It’s not only about whether or not Lucy and Zack will end up together, but also who is after Lucy, whether or not Bradley is involved and to what extent, what’s the deal with the blonde, and exactly what color will Lucy’s hair end up as.

Characters
The characters are funny, warm, and quirky as only Jennifer Crusie can create them. They are exactly the kind of people you wish were real because you know that hanging out with Lucy would be a laugh a minute. What makes her so great is that she’s super smart, I mean she’s a high school physics teacher, but she’s so goofy you have to remind yourself how smart she is. Who doesn’t know someone exactly like that?

Bottom Line
Getting Rid of Bradley is not deep, complex, or particularly moving. But it’s fun, slightly unpredictable, and a good, easy read. If you’re looking for a light romantic comedy, this is the book you’re looking for.

Title: Getting Rid of Bradley
Author: Jennifer Crusie
PublisherHarlequin
Pages: 256
Category: Romantic Comedy
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Young Adult Book Review – Three (Article 5 #3) by Kristen Simmons

Young Adult Book Review - Three (Article 5 #3) by Kristen Simmons

Young Adult Book Review – Three (Article 5 #3) by Kristen Simmons

Synopsis
Ember Miller and Chase Jennings are ready to stop running. After weeks spent in hiding as two of the Bureau of Reformation’s most wanted criminals, they have finally arrived at the safe house, where they hope to live a safe and quiet existence.

And all that’s left is smoking ruins.

Devastated by the demolition of their last hope, Ember and Chase follow the only thing left to them—tracks leading away from the wreckage. The only sign that there may have been survivors.

With their high profile, they know they can’t stay out in the open for long. They take shelter in the wilderness and amidst the ruins of abandoned cities as they follow the tracks down the coast, eventually finding refugees from the destroyed safe house. Among them is someone from Chase’s past—someone he never thought he’d see again.

Banding together, they search for a place to hide, aiming for a settlement a few of them have heard about…a settlement that is rumored to house the nebulous organization known as Three. The very group that has provided Ember with a tiny ray of hope ever since she was first forced on the run.

Three is responsible for the huge network of underground safe houses and resistance groups across the country. And they may offer Ember her only chance at telling the world her story.

At fighting back.

My Review
Three is the conclusion to the Article 5 series. And while this is my least favorite book of the trilogy, it didn’t ruin the series for me like a particular recent book that shall remain nameless. But what made Article 5 and Breaking Point really work, was the unresolved sexual tension burning just below the surface between Chase and Ember. That seemed to be completely lacking in Three.

What did work really well in this third and final installment of the series is the wrapping up of all of the plot points that have been brewing since Article 5. We finally learn who is behind the overthrow of the old United States and why, what happened to some of our favorite characters, including Wallace and Cara, and whether or not Tucker has been truly reformed.

Plot
The story started off slower than in the two previous books, and that may be my biggest issue with the plot. Kristen Simmons did such an amazing job of getting the adrenaline pumping early on in the first two books, that I was almost frustrated when the third book didn’t. Especially after the ending of Breaking Point. I felt like things could have really started off with a bang, heck, I was expecting it. But once things did get rolling, the momentum was sustained steadily until finally building to the climax at the end.

Characters
The characters are still solid and complex and nuanced and all of the things I love best in my fictional friends. I love that we got some decent arcs on some tertiary characters now that the major character arcs were pretty much resolved (see lack of UST above). I feel that the storylines for all of the major and minor characters were wrapped up into satisfying conclusions.

Bottom Line
Article 5 is still one of the best dystopian young adult series I’ve read, partly because it feels so real. It doesn’t rely on future science or weird theories of what makes people tick. It’s our worst nightmares from now, playing out in the not too distant future. And Three is a completely satisfying conclusion to the series, even if it isn’t as riveting as its predecessors.

A satisfying conclusion doesn’t mean everyone has a happy ending, what it means is that we aren’t left wondering, and to me, that is key. I don’t want or need a happily ever after to feel satisfied, but by the end of the first book, we knew the happily ever after was impossible given the fact that Ember’s mother had been brutally murdered. But we have resolution, closure, and hope, and that’s all I need to end a series on a high note.

Title: Three
Author: Kristen Simmons
Publisher: Tor Teen
Pages: 383
Category: Teen and Young Adult, Dystopian
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Censorship is Wrong!

September 21-27, 2014 is National Banned Books week sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA). This annual event celebrates the freedom to read. I find it appalling that in 2014 in the United States of America, with a constitutional right to the freedom of the press, that we still have to fight against censorship in literature.

Last week the ALA put out their list of the most challenged books of 2013. While I have to say that some of the titles don’t surprise me, that  doesn’t mean it’s right. Here is the list and the reasons given:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

I think it’s ridiculous to try to ban a book simply because it contains material you find objectionable. If you are uncomfortable with the contents, then I suggest you read something else. But to attempt to prevent others from reading it is more than a little bizarre and I’m not sure I entirely understand it.

Parents have both the right and the responsibility to monitor what their children are reading. That’s called parenting. And no one said it was easy. If you are not comfortable discussing topics with your child such as religious viewpoints that differ from your own, you’re both in a world of trouble when your child reaches adulthood. The time to discuss your values with your child and how to navigate a world where values may differ, is when they are young enough that you still have influence over them. The same is true when it comes to racism, political views, and sexuality.

It surprises me that parents who have no difficulty discussing proper bathroom habits with their kids, get all kinds of uncomfortable when it comes to discussing sex. Human sexuality is as natural as eating, breathing, and pooping. The minute we make it taboo, the minute it becomes something children absolutely want to know more about, and naturally, want to hide from their parents.

The same holds true when it comes to drugs, alcohol, smoking, homosexuality, violence, and offensive language. All of these are part of the world in which we live. Yes, there are age-appropriate ways to bring up these topics, but last time I checked, the board book version of Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t available in the children’s section of the library. The Bone series, however IS. And it shocks me that this is the #10 most challenged book of 2013.

I personally credit Jeff Smith with my 11-year-old twins’ current love of reading. Up until the beginning of fourth grade when they discovered the Bone series, I had to practically duct tape them to chairs to get them to read their required 30 minutes a day. But when they brought home their first graphic novel by Jeff Smith, suddenly, I was telling them they needed to stop reading and do something else. Yes, those exact words shockingly came out of my mouth.

Parents need to know what their children are reading. That is our jobs as parents. And we need to be prepared to have tough conversations with our kids about the things they read. If some parents believe the best way to raise their children is to censor everything their children read and pretend no other points of views exist, that is their right to do so. But to try to prevent others from also reading it? That’s nothing more than laziness, because they don’t want to do the hard work that needs to be done. And it’s just plain wrong. This is one of those issues that I do believe is as black and white as, well, a page in my favorite book.

Book Review – Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon

Synopsis
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon–when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach–an “outlander”–in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life…and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

My Review
I had never read historical fiction that wasn’t required reading for school before Outlander. A friend of mine recommended it and even then, I was hesitant. It didn’t sound like my thing. But with all of the rave reviews, I decided to give it a try. This was no bodice ripping romance, after all.

Outlander is a stunningly beautiful novel. Diana Gabaldon paints a beautiful backdrop for her complex, fully-developed characters to perform against. And she’s done her homework. The research that went into the novel is evident. The fact that she fully admits that she didn’t tell anyone she was writing a novel for fear of the pressure and ridicule that often goes with that, makes the depth of her research that much more impressive.

Plot
The plot was solid, although I felt it started off a little slow, especially the chicken sacrifices and detailed descriptions of plants and herbs. But once Claire visited the mini Stonehenge and was transported back in time, the story took off and never really let up. I was riveted by the harshness of life in 1740s Scotland, especially the views on women. We’ve come a long way in the past 250 years, thankfully!

The book is long and there seems to be two solid arcs. In fact, at 896 pages, the book could quite easily have been two books, but the length doesn’t detract from the story at all. I would have happily paid twice as much to have read two books, so I’m not complaining.

Characters
While the plot is definitely the part that makes this book work for me, it’s just as much character-driven as plot-driven. The characters are all strong, well-developed and so completely differentiated from one another, it’s hard to remember they’re fictional creations of the author’s imagination. I can only imagine how detailed her character bios must be.

Bottom Line
Outlander is by far one of the best-researched historical novels around. The time-traveling aspect only makes me love it more, because I’m addicted to time-traveling fiction. The romance is well-done and intense. This is easily the best book in the series primarily because the plot moves without ever dragging.

Title: Outlander
Author: Diana Gabaldon
PublisherRandom House Publishing Group
Pages: 896
Category: Historical, Science Fiction, Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes and Noble

Young Adult Book Review – Volition (Perception #2) by Lee Strauss

Volition (Perception #2) by Lee Strauss

Volition (Perception #2) by Lee Strauss

Synopsis
Zoe Vanderveen is on the run with her captor turned rescuer, Noah Brody. 

They’re in love.

Or at least that’s what he tells her. Her memories have returned but her feelings are dreamlike—thin and fleeting. Her heart can’t be trusted. Just look at what happened with Taylor Blake.

Senator Vanderveen’s new team of cyborg agents are in hot pursuit, and a reward for their capture is broadcast nationwide. Record breaking cold and snow hinder their escape. Someone dies helping them.

And their fight for survival has only begun.

My Review
This is actually my favorite book in the trilogy. It picks up where Perception left off with Noah desperate to get Zoe, the genetically enhanced girl he loves, back. He kidnaps her from the beach and helps her get her memories back that her grandfather, Senator Vanderveen, took from her.

As they run from the senator and the cyborgs he sends after them, Zoe slowly remembers that she was once in love with Noah, even if she doesn’t feel that way anymore. This is the aspect of the story that really works well. Watching Zoe struggle with what she believes and what she wants to believe kept me turning the page. Some of the high-tech aspects didn’t feel fully fleshed out and there were some plot holes that turned me off, but I was invested in Zoe and Noah enough to keep going.

Plot
I found the plot lacking in some areas. There didn’t seem to be a reason behind everything that happened and those oversights tended to bother me. If it’s not important to the plot, it doesn’t belong in the book. Period. Some of the romantic tension and conflict relies heavily on miscommunication and misunderstandings, which is common in young adult romances, but it didn’t feel contrived.

My biggest issues with the story stem from the implausible high-tech portions. I had to suspend my disbelief to get through some of it. I know a lot of popular fiction sets up the implausible as plausible and with solid world-building this can be seamless, but I didn’t feel like this was the case here. It felt like we’re being asked to just accept it without question rather than the author doing her homework.

Characters
The characters were my favorite part of the story. Told in dual points of view, we get to know Noah and Zoe better. Their characters are well-developed and believably flawed. Noah, the son of a pastor has strong beliefs that are tested when he falls for beautiful, genetically modified, Zoe. And Zoe’s faith in Noah is tested when he meets someone else who is more like Noah. You know that Noah and Zoe belong together, even though they come from very different worlds, and you only hope they’ll both figure it out before it’s too late.

Bottom Line
Volition is a solid follow up to Perception and leaves you wanting more. And luckily there’s a third book that picks right up and finishes the story. I don’t normally like cliffhangers, but this one is well enough done that I’m okay with it.

Title: Volition
Author: Lee Strauss
Publisher: ESB Publishing
Pages: 298
Category: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazon, Barnes and Noble

Book Review – Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy

Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy

Synopsis
A complete guide to writing and selling your novel. 

So you want to write a novel? Great! That’s a worthy goal, no matter what your reason. But don’t settle for just writing a novel. Aim high. Write a novel that you intend to sell to a publisher. 

“Writing Fiction for Dummies” is a complete guide designed to coach you every step along the path from beginning writer to royalty-earning author. Here are some things you’ll learn in “Writing Fiction for Dummies” 

* Strategic Planning: Pinpoint where you are on the roadmap to publication; discover what every reader desperately wants from a story; home in on a marketable category; choose from among the four most common creative styles; and learn the self-management methods of professional writers.

* Writing Powerful Fiction: Construct a story world that rings true; create believable, unpredictable characters; build a strong plot with all six layers of complexity of a modern novel; and infuse it all with a strong theme.

* Self-Editing Your Novel: Psychoanalyze your characters to bring them fully to life; edit your story structure from the top down; fix broken scenes; and polish your action and dialogue.

* Finding An Agent and Getting Published: Write a query letter, a synopsis, and a proposal; pitch your work to agents and editors without fear.

“Writing Fiction For Dummies” takes you from being a “writer” to being an “author.” It can happen–if you have the talent and persistence to do what you need to do.

My Review
This is a good entry level book for wannabe writers. It’s certainly not the ultimate guide or the only source you’ll ever reference, but if you don’t know anything about writing fiction, it’s a really good book to start with. Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy break writing fiction down into its fundamental components so that it’s easy to understand. They then build up from there to show how all of those components work together to help you write fiction in a way that works. There are sections on structuring your story, building strong character bios, creating scenes step-by-step, and how to get one scene to flow seamlessly into the next until you have a story.

As a pantser, one who writes by the seat of their pants, I found the idea of structuring my novel up front to be interesting and I tried it for the second novel I wrote. I was concerned that having an outline wouldn’t stifle my creativity, but instead it gave me a trail to follow. I now write everything with a very loose outline and that often changes as I go, but it helps to know where I’m going before I write my first word.

Like all Dummies books, Writing Fiction for Dummies contains checklists at the end of each chapter to help you review and retain the information you just read. Probably the sections I found most useful were those on editing. For me, first drafts come easy, but editing is the bane of my existence. Dummies helped me structure and execute drafts in the same way that I structured and outlined my first draft.

Additionally, the book contains useful information on writing a pitch, synopsis, query letter, and how to go about searching for and identifying appropriate agents in order to get published.

Bottom Line
How to Write Fiction for Dummies is a solid entry-level reference and if you’ve never written any fiction and don’t know where to start, I highly recommend it. Randy Ingermanson is also known as The Snowflake Guy and takes a scientific approach to writing. He developed a software application for structuring and writing fiction, called Snowflake Pro. If you buy Writing Fiction for Dummies, Randy offers a 50% discount off of Snowflake Pro. Not a bad deal.

Title: Writing Fiction for Dummies
Author: Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Pages: 385
Category: Writing Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazon, Barnes & Noble

Cover Reveal – Contemporary Romance – Ready for You by J.L. Berg

Ready for You by J.L. Berg

Ready for You by J.L. Bert

About the Book
Title: Ready for You
Series: Ready #3
Author: J.L. Berg
Release Date: May 26th, 2014
Genre: Romance
Goodreads: Link

Synopsis
Eight years ago, Garrett Finnegan’s world shattered the day Mia vanished from his life. He’s been struggling to pick up the pieces ever since. Haunted by memories and ghosts of the past, he chooses a solitary existence rather than risk his heart again.

Mia Emerson has made one wrong decision after another but none worse than walking away from the boy who stole her heart so long ago. When her new life is turned upside down, she finds herself returning to her roots and the hometown she left behind. Maybe now she can find a way to heal from the devastating mistakes of her past.

When a chance encounter brings these former lovers together, passion reignites in a way neither is prepared for. Can Garrett move beyond his anger and find a way to forgive? Will Mia’s insecurities and fears cause her to once again flee the life she’s destined to live?

Garrett and Mia will soon discover that they must journey into the past to find their way home.

About the Author
J.L. Berg is a California native living in the South. She’s married to her high school sweetheart and they have two beautiful girls that drive them batty on a daily basis. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her nose stuck in a romance book, in a yoga studio or devouring anything chocolate. J.L. Berg is represented by Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC.

Where to Find J.L. Berg
Website | 
Goodreads | Facebook Twitter

Book Review – Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter

Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter

Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter

Synopsis
A small Georgia town erupts in panic when a young college professor is found brutally mutilated in the local diner. But it’s only when town pediatrician and coroner Sara Linton does the autopsy that the full extent of the killer’s twisted work becomes clear.

Sara’s ex-husband, police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, leads the investigation — a trail of terror that grows increasingly macabre when another local woman is found crucified a few days later. But he’s got more than a sadistic serial killer on his hands, for the county’s sole female detective, Lena Adams — the first victim’s sister — want to serve her own justice.

But it is Sara who holds the key to finding the killer. A secret from her past could unmask the brilliantly malevolent psychopath .. or mean her death.

My Review
This is my first Karin Slaughter novel. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of her until a friend of mine invited me to see her speak at the La Jolla library last year. To say she was a compelling speaker would be an understatement. She did not read from her book, she did not really talk all that much about her books. She spent the vast majority of the time talking about her childhood and how she came to write such dark and twisted fiction. And it was funny! I loved her on the spot!

After picking up her latest book, Unseen, and getting it signed of course, I rushed home and downloaded Blindsighted. As with most thrillers, the book kicked off on the first page with a gruesome murder that only became more disturbing the more we learned about it. The story is riveting, a definite page-turner.

Plot
The plot is relatively formulaic. A horrific murder is committed and the race is on to find the killer before he strikes again. The subplot about the town’s coroner, Sara Linton, who also happens to be the town pediatrician and hot police chief, Jeffrey Tolliver who also happens to be her ex-husband is well done and smoothly incorporated. Lena Adams, the twin sister of the victim and also one of Jeffrey’s detectives, has a more complex subplot as she copes with the death of her sister.

My only complaint is that I figured out whodunit before the big reveal. And that was where the plot became a little too formulaic for me. I just assumed it was the character you were least likely to suspect and I was right. However, I didn’t figure it out until late in the story, only a couple of chapters ahead, so it didn’t significantly impact my ability to enjoy the book overall.

Characters
For a plot-driven story, the characters were well-developed. Far more so than many in this genre. In fact, Karin Slaughter excels at character development, which makes you want to read the next book because you feel like the characters are real people and you want to know what happens to them next.

Bottom Line
I thoroughly enjoyed Blindsighted. It was gripping, intense, and scared the crap out of me. Pretty much what you want from a good thriller.

Title: Blindsighted
Author: Karin Slaughter
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 400
Category: Thriller
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Young Adult Book Review – The Hurricane by Jennifer DiGiovanni

The Hurricane by Jennifer DiGiovanni

The Hurricane by Jennifer DiGiovanni

Synopsis
Travis and Becca grew up within shouting distance of each other, but led very different lives. When quiet Travis leaves for college, Becca senses that part of her life has chipped away, one she never expected to miss.

In the midst of a major hurricane, Travis returns to his shuttered hometown to check on his father. After months apart, Becca sees Travis again and realizes that something has shifted between them. Will it take the combined forces of nature to finally bring them together?

The Hurricane is a modern tale of unrequited love filled with complex characters, difficult family relationships, and a secret from the past that becomes the key to a young couple’s future.

My Review
I love The Hurricane. It’s a sweet romance with enough teen angst thrown in to keep me turning the pages. Becca discovers that the boy next door is more than just the caretaker’s son when he rescues her in the middle of a devastating hurricane. Like many girls in this situation, she wonders how she overlooked him for so long.

Becca Thompson comes from a different world than Travis Brennan, even though they live next door to one another. Becca’s family has money and Travis’s family works for the Thompsons. Travis has to work to put himself through college while Becca attends an exclusive prep school. Yet, they’ve known each other their whole lives.

As Becca begins to see Travis in a new light, she realizes he’s always known everything about her and she knows nothing about him. Over the holidays, they build on a lifelong friendship and it grows into something more. But the two different worlds they come from becomes a bigger issue when Becca’s parents, wayward documentary filmmakers, suddenly decide to exert parental control.

Plot
For a teen romance, the plot is more multi-faceted than many in the genre. There is a lot standing in the way of Becca and Travis’s happiness, not least of which are the class differences. But there are also ex-girlfriends, Travis’s reputation as a heartbreaker, Becca’s parents, and as is typical with teens, rampant misunderstandings.

Characters
No one does characters quite like Jennifer DiGiovanni. Becca is loveable and sweet, Travis is as patient as he is hot, and might just be the perfect boyfriend. But by far, my favorite character is Becca’s younger sister, Avery, who is hilariously spunky. As Travis says to Becca about Avery, “I like your sister. She’s a shorter, louder version of you.” I love the fun, funky, and quirky supporting cast. Best friends, snobby neighbors, and even controlling, yet mostly absent, parents are more than just stereotypes.

Bottom Line
I loved The Hurricane so much the first time I read it, that I read it again after the author revised it. I smiled, laughed, and cried. Both times I read it. It’s a quick read, full of light moments as well as some pretty emotional ones. And it’s damn hard to put down.

Title: The Hurricane
Author: Jennifer DiGiovanni
Publisher: N/A
Pages: 229
Category: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to Purchase: For a limited time, read it for free at SwoonReads

Young Adult Book Review – I Am Number Four by Pitticus Lore

I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies #1) by Pittacus Lore

I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies #1) by Pittacus Lore

Synopsis
In the beginning they were a group of nine. Nine aliens who left their home planet of Lorien when it fell under attack by the evil Mogadorian. Nine aliens who scattered on Earth. Nine aliens who look like ordinary teenagers living ordinary lives, but who have extraordinary, paranormal skills. Nine aliens who might be sitting next to you now. The Nine had to separate and go into hiding.

The Mogadorian caught Number One in Malaysia, Number Two in England, and Number Three in Kenya. All of them were killed. John Smith, of Paradise, Ohio, is Number Four. He knows that he is next.

I AM NUMBER FOUR is the thrilling launch of a series about an exceptional group of teens as they struggle to outrun their past, discover their future—and live a normal life on Earth.

My Review
That might be the single best hook for any book I’ve ever seen. It certainly hooked me and I bought it based on that alone. The story started off strong and only got stronger. It’s one of the few books that has given me chills that wasn’t written by Stephen King. But it’s not gorey suspense in the tradition of King, it’s just good, screaming alien fun. Well, maybe not fun so much as thrilling, like a rollercoaster ride that is more turns and twists than the slogging uphill climb.

Number Four, also known as John Smith, is on the run from the Mogadorians, or Mogs, and moves to Paradise, Ohio to hide out. It’s hard enough being the new kid at school and even harder when you’re just a little bit strange. John’s legacies, his alien abilities, begin to manifest as he hides out in small town America.

Add to that the fact that the school’s penultimate “it” girl likes him, much to the anger of her football star ex-boyfriend, and the Mogs aren’t the only thing John needs to watch over his shoulder for.

Plot
The plot moves along at a clipped pace as John and Henri, his guardian, keep a watchful eye out for aliens, John’s abilities begin to develop, and oh yeah, the school bully wants a piece of him. John befriends nerdy Sam, whose father disappeared and Sam is sure aliens are involved. Even John thinks he’s a bit out there, but it doesn’t stop the two from becoming best friends.

The plot continues to build until the Hollywood blockbuster climax that never lets up. The romantic subplot is sweet and angsty as only a teen boy’s perspective can bring.

Characters
The characters aren’t particularly deep, but it’s not a character-driven story. This is about the plot and the plot brings it, so it’s okay that we don’t have solidly developed characters. There is enough to them that they feel real and their motives are clear, never acting against character.

Bottom Line
I Am Number Four is a fun thrill-ride and is difficult to put down.

Title: I Am Number Four
Author: Pitticus Lore
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 452
Category: Young Adult SciFi
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Young Adult Book Review – The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Synopsis
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

My Review
The 5th Wave is unlike almost any book I’ve read. It’s dark on a whole new level and almost completely devoid of any hope, and yet it’s riveting. The story starts off after the 4th wave, when Cassie doesn’t know who she can trust. Through flashbacks, we get to see how she got to this awful point and it’s terrifying. Now she’s on a mission to get to her younger brother, Sammy, the only family she has left and therefore the only person on earth she cares about.

The tale unfolds through 91 chapters broken up into 13 “books.” Most of the story is narrated in first person from Cassie’s point of view, but about a third of it is told from another survivor, nicknamed Zombie, and a small piece through the eyes of a mysterious “silencer.”

As Cassie tries to survive and get to her brother, she runs into the sexy and mysterious Evan Walker. Against all instinct, she decides to trust him because she doesn’t feel she has any other choice. Meanwhile Zombie and a crew of other kids, train to take down the aliens. It becomes clear that Cassie and Evan are on a collision course with the Zombie and his friends and that keeps the pages turning.

Plot
The plot is complex and well structured, but it is long and plods along in some spots. I found it difficult in the middle to keep going, even though I really wanted to know what happened to Cassie, Evan, Zombie, and Sammy. But the story picks up during the second half and takes off, making it very difficult to put down.

Characters
Cassie is an interesting character and reminds me much of Ellie Linton from the Tomorrow When the War Began series by John Marsden. And maybe what both kick-ass characters have in common is that they’re both conceived and written by male authors, giving them a harder edge than many female protagonists. But Cassie’s roughness is part of what I love about her.

Zombie and Sammy are also likeable and I know it’s not a popular opinion, but I actually really like Evan. I know a lot of readers found him creepy, but I love that he’s willing to risk everything for Cassie. When he says, “Before I found you, I thought the only way to hold on was to find something to live for. It isn’t. To hold on, you have to find something you’re willing to die for.” I knew my feelings about him were forever changed.

Bottom Line
The 5th Wave is scary, intense, and at times, hard to put down. At 497 pages, it’s long for a debut author and my only real complaint is that the middle sags quite a bit. But it’s worth slogging through to get to the other side which is an E-ticket ride all the way to the finish.

Title: The 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 497
Category: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Young Adult Book Review – Tomorrow When the War Began (Tomorrow Series #1) by John Marsden

Tomorrow When the War Began (Tomorrow Series #1) by James Marsden

Tomorrow When the War Began (Tomorrow Series #1) by James Marsden

Synopsis
When Ellie and her friends return from a camping trip in the Australian bush, they find things hideously wrong — their families are gone. Gradually they begin to comprehend that their country has been invaded and everyone in their town has been taken prisoner. As the reality of the situation hits them, they must make a decision — run and hide, give themselves up and be with their families, or fight back.

My Review
There are not enough words to adequately describe how MUCH I love this book. It’s intense, and thrilling, emotional, raw, witty…everything I love in a book and more. The story is set in Australia, where a group of teens decide to take one last camping trip before school starts back up. While camping deep in the bush, their country is overtaken by an enemy that is never fully defined, but that feeds the plot so perfectly. And because the teens don’t know who is behind it, neither does the reader.

As the reality of what has happened slowly dawns on Ellie and her friends, a chill washes over the reader. It is so utterly believable that you can’t help but get caught up in the story, feel the initial shock and growing fear as they realize everyone they love is gone, their pets dead, and they have no idea what has happened.

Slowly they put the pieces together and decide to fight back, first against their own fears, and then against the enemy. The emotion that John Marsden brings to the story is authentic. As a high school teacher, he has a deep understanding of the teenage mind and draws his characters so beautifully real that it’s hard to remember they’re fictional.

Plot
The characters deal with the realities of life in a country ripped from under them and the ugly realities of war. They’re the only ones left to do something, and yet nothing in their lives has prepared them for it. The story starts off a little slow, but not haltingly so. John Marsden beautifully sets up his pivotal moment, building to the unfolding horror like a steady climb up the steps of Hell, where the kids have been camping. And then it takes off at breakneck speed, from one intense moment to the next, allowing us only small moments to catch our breath.

I think what I love best about this story is the way the characters are so deeply affected by what has happened and what they have to do. So many stories of this nature have the characters deal with emotions in the moment, but there never seems to be any lasting damage from the events. Often, characters are broken by what happened before the story starts and play into the character arcs. But in Tomorrow When the War Began, the characters are profoundly affected by what they need to do, and we see them break before our eyes.

Characters
The characters are what really make this book what it is. Yes, it has a pulse-pounding plot, but the nuanced complexities of Ellie, Homer, Fi, Robyn, Corrie, Lee and Chris take the story from just a thriller to something so much deeper. Ellie is a fun-loving only child who considers her friends to be family. The way she adores her friends makes me adore her even when she’s getting on my last nerve.

Homer is the guy I want to hang out with, the one I want as my best friend. He’s a crazy Greek with streak for getting into trouble, but would never abandon you in the thick of things. He’s definitely the guy you want along on your camping trip or an attack on an unknown enemy.

Corrie is Ellie’s best mate, the one she’d do anything for. Their relationship is at the heart of the story and ultimately the most emotional and heartbreakingly real. Corrie stands by Ellie when Ellie snaps and alienates everyone else, but she does it with love and a touch of humor.

Robyn is sweet and principled and is constantly finding those principles put to the test. Standing by her long-held beliefs or standing by her friends is a battle she fights nearly every day and it’s both painful and satisfying watching her grow.

Fiona, or Fi, is the sweet, wholesome, rich girl from town hanging out with the “rural inbreds” and she’s so clearly out of her element that most of the comic relief is at her expense, but she takes it with grace.

Chris is the town stoner, but he’s no Jeff Spicoli. Chris is far deeper than I originally thought and the more I learn about him, the more I like him.

And finally, there’s Lee. What can I say about Lee except that I love him. So completely and truly. He’s a musician and the only one of the group who the others don’t really know. Ellie invites him along as a last choice because she finds him “interesting.” He ultimately becomes her love interest, but he’s much more than that. Lee is the center to Ellie’s craziness. He’s willing to do what needs to be done, regardless of how awful he finds it. He’s not immune to the consequences of their actions, but he understands better than the others that war sometimes means difficult choices and that beating yourself up constantly over those choices isn’t prudent.

Bottom Line
Tomorrow When the War Began is probably the best young adult dystopian novel you’ve never read. John Marsden has created a totally believable and horrifying world and plunked his complex characters into it to play out a what-if scenario that is brilliant on so many levels. The fact that it is just the first book in a series, and that I read the entire ten-book series in under three months, is a testament to how incredibly much I love the Tomorrow series.

Title: Tomorrow When the War Began
Author: John Marsden
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Pages: 293
Category: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

April is National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. Established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, it is now celebrated every April. Libraries, poets, writers, schools, and even publishers celebrate with a wide variety of activities. Strand Books, a New York bookseller, is challenging the masses in a Book Spine Poetry contest via Instagram where they will repost their favorite entries.

I had so much fun coming up with three ideas, none of which are really all that creative, but it was still a blast. Admittedly, the overwhelming majority of books I’ve bought in the past four years have been ebooks, so I had to work with older books, but that only made it more challenging. Try your hand at a few and see how addicting it is. I’d love to see what you come up with. If you create your own, post a link in the comments.

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YA Book Review – How to Say I Love You Out Loud by K.A. Cozzo

How to Say I Love You Out Loud by K.A.Cozzo

Synopsis
Jordyn’s always wanted to fit in more than she’s wanted to stand out. Until she realizes there’s something, or someone, she wants even more than that.

For Jordyn Michaelson, having a severely Autistic sibling means her wants or needs never come first. It means keeping friends from her new school at a distance and hiding the truth about her brother Phillip. She’s lost friends because of her brother before. She refuses to be once again known as nothing more than “Phillip’s sister.”

So she’s settled for friend status with Alex Colby, even though she still clings to the memory of one steamy kiss last summer. Even though she’s in love with him. Not that it matters anyway, because Alex is with Leighton Lyons now. Confident, competitive field hockey all-star Leighton goes after whatever she wants. Jordyn could never go up against someone like that. Jordyn’s kept her feelings and desires hidden away for so long, she’d have no idea how to begin anyway.

When Phillip’s private school closes and he’s forced to join Jordyn at image-conscious Valley Forge High, she’s desperate to keep her sibling status hidden. But secrets are always more complicated than they seem, and before long Jordyn has alienated her friends and gained some very unwanted attention from Leighton. The only person who seems to have her back anymore is Alex, if only Jordyn could put her trust issues aside and let someone in. When Alex hints at lingering romantic feelings, will Jordyn take a risk and go for it, even if it means letting someone see the real her? Or will Jordyn stay silent and let one last chance with Alex slip away for good?

My Review
This story hooked me from the first chapter. Jordyn has a secret and I was dying to know what it was. Plus there’s a guy who’s both cute AND hot, which is a nearly irresistible combination, and she can’t be with him because of the secret? Yeah, my interest was piqued.

When I found out Jordyn’s big secret, my feelings about the book blossomed. This was no longer just a teen romance, but was now a deeper story dealing with very real, contemporary issues faced by very real people.

Nearly everyone knows at least one family dealing with autism. In fact, we know three families with autistic children. In the United States, autism impacts one in 88 children — more than two million — and tens of millions worldwide.

The issues Jordyn faces are not unique to her, but her reaction and the ways in which she copes are all her own. It’s hard enough being a teen girl, harder still when you’re the new girl in town, add to that an autistic brother who’s suddenly attending your exclusive high school, and you have a recipe for disaster. Author K.A. Cozzo brings it all to a beautifully crafted climax and satisfying conclusion.

Plot
The plot is intelligent, nuanced, and layered. Jordyn struggles to get through 60 days without anyone finding out that Phillip is her brother. In the meantime, she watches Alex’s relationship with Leighton, captain of her field hockey team, unfold in front of her, twisting the knife deeper. And underlying it all is Jordyn’s inability to speak her mind, stand up for what she believes in, and take control of her life.

Characters
Jordyn is incredibly likeable despite her faults. You pull for her because you want her to see that life can be so much more than she’s making of it. You can’t help feeling her pain — loving someone who will never be able to express their love back and watching the boy you secretly adore be with someone else. Gosh, I just want to hug her.

And then there’s Alex Colby. He is my new book boyfriend. It was Aiden St. Delphi from the Covenant series, and I never believed anyone would be able to knock him off his perfect pedestal, but Alex Colby has done just that. While not perfect, Alex is perfectly flawed in a way that only makes me love him more.

The supporting cast is limited because this is primarily Jordyn’s story, but her mother is well-fleshed out as is Leighton. They are solid, believable characters that add depth and conflict.

Bottom Line
Autism is real and the author handles the topic deftly, never whitewashing it, nor making it more than it is. This is a deep story filled with longing, hope, love, acceptance and forgiveness, with undertones of redemption that comes from learning to speak out loud for yourself and for others. The friendship and love between Jordyn and Alex feels authentic, and heartbreaking, and beautiful. This story has something for readers of all ages. Don’t let the category be your guide.

Title: How to Say I Love You Out Loud
Author: K.A. Cozzo
Publisher: For a limited time, available to read for free at SwoonReads
Pages: 194
Category: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseSwoonReads

Young Adult Book Review – Onyx (Lux #2) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Onyx by Jennifer L Armentrout

Onyx by Jennifer L Armentrout

Synopsis
Being connected to Daemon Black sucks.

Thanks to his alien mojo, Daemon’s determined to prove what he feels for me is more than a product of our bizarro connection. So I’ve sworn him off, even though he’s running more hot than cold these days. But we’ve got bigger problems.

Something worse than the Arum has come to town…

The Department of Defense are here. If they ever find out what Daemon can do and that we’re linked, I’m a goner. So is he. And there’s this new boy in school who’s got a secret of his own. He knows what’s happened to me and he can help, but to do so, I have to lie to Daemon and stay away from him. Like that’s possible. Against all common sense, I’m falling for Daemon. Hard.

But then everything changes…

I’ve seen someone who shouldn’t be alive. And I have to tell Daemon, even though I know he’s never going to stop searching until he gets the truth. What happened to his brother? Who betrayed him? And what does the DOD want from them—from me?

No one is who they seem. And not everyone will survive the lies.

My Review
I loved Obsidian. Devoured it. Nothing JLA ever writes could possibly be as good as Obsidian. Except for Onyx. She took Katy and Daemon to a whole other stratosphere when it comes to romantic tension. After Daemon saves Katy’s life at the end of Obsidian, he’s ready to finally be honest with her, he likes her and he thinks she likes him, too. But Katy’s convinced his feelings aren’t real, that they’re based on nothing more than some sort of weird alien connection as a result of saving her life.

All she wants is a normal, HUMAN boyfriend. Is that asking so much? Enter cute California surfer, Blake. As a So. Cal girl, I can attest to the cuteness of California surfer boys, so I was on board with a little diversion, and it was fun to watch Daemon’s jealousy rear its ugly, albeit sexy, head.

But when your next door neighbors are aliens and constantly being watched by the DoD, nothing will ever be that simple. Chaos ensues. Katy uncovers a secret the DoD would rather remain covered and, as she so often does, makes all of the wrong choices. This time the consequences are far worse than she could ever have dreamed.

Plot
The plot was simply amazing. This action-packed sequel hit the ground running and never let up. The romantic subplot sizzles even more than in Obsidian. Anything but predictable, JLA foreshadows so expertly, you don’t even realize until after the fact how beautifully she’d set you up. And it was delicious to sit back and watch Daemon working so hard to get Katy after she spent all of Obsidian trying to get him.

Characters
As fantastic as the plot is, the characters are what really make this series. The characters are well-rounded, if not essentially deep. They are fun and funky and the kind of people you’d want to invite over for Friday night zombie movie watching and popcorn.

Bottom Line
This is a fun, pulse-pounding read that is equal parts exciting, funny, and quirky, and I highly recommend it.

Title: Onyx
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Pages: 416
Category: Young Adult Paranormal Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazon | Barnes & Noble

Young Adult Book Review – Paranormal Romance – Meant to Be by Tiffany King

Meant to Be by Tiffany King

Meant to Be by Tiffany King

Synopsis
Krista Miller feels like she has lived her entire life in a glass box with her every emotion on display. She can’t help feeling like a defect as her sensitivities have made her socially inept and without any real friends; the one exception being the boy that visits her each night in her dreams.

Krista’s emotions are put to the test when a move to California triggers a devastating change to her fantasy world. The nightly comfort that the boy provides has now become a recurring nightmare as he is taken from her by an unseen force.

Struggling to appear normal, Krista enrolls in a new school and finds it to be nothing like she thought. Her new life is sent spiraling out of control from a strange connection with a boy, Mark, who claims to know all her secrets.

As Krista begins to explore the emotions that Mark evokes in her, secrets about their mysterious past and their predestined purpose threatens to separate them just when they have found each other.

My Review
I want to start off by saying I love Tiffany King, but this book didn’t do it for me. Unlike many books I read, it started off strong and fell apart toward the end. Usually books start off slowly and then grip me by the middle.

Meant to Be started strong with a great concept. Krista sees the same boy in her dreams every night. She’s in love with the boy in her dreams even though she’s never seen his face. After she and her mom move to Santa Cruz following her father’s death, her dreams change, becoming darker and leaving her feeling empty. They still include the mystery boy, but something has changed and her dreams no longer bring her comfort.

The story stalls about midway through, but builds to a stronger finish, although it had more loose ends than I was hoping for and ends abruptly.

I didn’t feel the connection between Krista and dream-boy Mark. Tiffany King does a masterful job of building that chemistry in her other books, particularly Unlikely Allies and Forever Changed. In fact, she does it so well, it compels me to buy anything she writes. But Krista and Mark’s relationship felt forced after the initial spark.

Plot
The concept is really good and unique, but I think it could have been expanded and drawn out a little more. Although I’m interested to see what happens next.

Characters
To me, the characters were the weakest aspect of the book. I don’t like Krista at all and I’m having a hard time understanding who Mark is or why he even likes Krista. Maybe it’s just that they’re meant to be, but that isn’t good enough for me to feel it. Also, Krista has just discovered that another boy, Shawn is likely her brother, but she doesn’t develop much of a real relationship with him, even though she’s been raised as an only child. That didn’t ring true to me.

I really liked Sam and Shawn, though. They were far more interesting than Mark and Krista.

Bottom Line
Interesting concept, some unique plotting, and a decent climax. If you like paranormal romance with a twist, you should enjoy Meant to Be.

Title: Meant to Be (The Saving Angels #1)
Author: Tiffany King
Publisher: Unknown
Pages: 288
Category: Young Adult Paranormal Romance
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble