Spotlight Friday (77)

What’s happening, guys?  It’s Friday!  And I definitely have new books to share!  And for many people, this is the end of their school year this week, so enjoy your summer, my friends!  Check out some of these books while you lounge by the pool.  🙂

When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

Release Date: June 4, 2013

Summary (from Goodreads)Filled with humor, raw emotion, a strong voice, and a brilliant dog named Sandy Koufax, When You Were Here explores the two most powerful forces known to man-death and love. Daisy Whitney brings her characters to life with a deft touch and resonating authenticity. 

Danny’s mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.

Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn’t know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.

When he gets a letter from his mom’s property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother’s memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.

What’s To Like: I’m a sucker for books that I know are going to be sad, but are also supposed to be funny.  Mostly because I think there needs to be a certain amount of humor in bad situations or we’ll all go crazy.  (I’m that person who tries to make people laugh when they’re sad.)  I think Danny’s got a real struggle ahead of him, but I want to see where his story takes him.  I feel like there will be a lot of wisdom in this book too.

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

Release Date: June 11, 2013

Summary (from Goodreads)When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service—the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive. 

Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect foil.

But Isabelle has no idea her new “friend” is the hired help, and Maude’s very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.

What’s To Like: This book sounds really interesting.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.  And it doesn’t say when it’s set, but I’m going to guess turn-of-the-century based on her outfit in the cover and the fact that there’s still an aristocracy that won’t socialize with anyone of lower class.  But it’s definitely interesting, right?  A normal girl gets hired to be friends with an aristocratic girl?  Secrets and trouble to come…

My review of Belle Epoque.

Born of Illusion (Born of Illusion, #1) by Teri Brown

Release Date: June 11, 2013

Summary (from Goodreads)Anna Van Housen is thirteen the first time she breaks her mother out of jail. By sixteen she’s street smart and savvy, assisting her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, and easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums and mentalists in 1920’s New York City. Handcuffs and sleight of hand illusions have never been much of a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her true gifts secret from her opportunistic mother, who will stop at nothing to gain her ambition of becoming the most famous medium who ever lived. But when a strange, serious young man moves into the flat downstairs, introducing her to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, he threatens to reveal the secrets Anna has fought so hard to keep, forcing her to face the truth about her past. Could the stories her mother has told her really be true? Could she really be the illegitimate daughter of the greatest magician of all?

What’s To Like: I know I normally stay away from books about the Roaring ’20s, but I’ll make an exception to this because it not only has ghosts and seances, but it has magicians and tricks.  And I’m a sucker for magic tricks,  mostly because I’m trying to figure out how they did it.  I’m very interested to see how the mother is written, considering she’s supposed to be so awful.  And I want to know who this guy downstairs is.

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Mind Games (Mind Games, #1)

First Lines: The moment he bends over to help the sorrow-eyed spaniel puppy, I know I won’t be able to kill him.  This, of course, ruins my entire day.

Ok, I’m going to admit up front that I like Kiersten White’s writing.  I think she’s got a great sense of humor that shows through not only in her writing, but also on her Twitter feed.  (Seriously, I love looking for her tweets.  She says some of the funniest things.)  And when I saw this book at the library, I grabbed it.

Fia and Annie, sisters, have been orphans for about seven years.  Ever since, Fia has seen it as her responsibility to look after her older sister.  Annie is blind, but she has visions of the future sometimes.  An organization took an interest in Annie and, because they had to or Annie wouldn’t have come, Fia.  Suddenly, Fia’s being trained as an assassin.  And her first real hit happens to be on a dog-loving teenager.  But when she finds herself unable to go through with it, what kinds of consequences will arise?  How did Fia screw up the future?

It was an interesting story.  Fia is a very strong female protagonist, even though she’s definitely broken at times.  (The story flips not only between Fia and Annie’s perspectives, but between the present and the past.)  So you get to see the different ways Fia herself knows she’s broken and how Annie knows it.  It makes both of them more real.

Now, I don’t have any sisters.  I can’t exactly relate to that relationship, but I am an oldest child and therefore know that feeling Fia has to protect her sister.  I thought that dynamic between the two was played out pretty well.  But again, I don’t have sisters, so I can’t be sure.  And really, their relationship didn’t play as big a part in the story as you would think.

Let’s see…what else…well, I guess I should mention that it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.  For example, with all the flipping between the sisters and the past/present, I found myself being pulled out of the story.  Sure, there were some very important things we learned in those flashbacks, but it didn’t help the flow of the story.  For just a 238 page novel, that can be a serious drawback.

Overall, it was still a good read.  It could have been better, though, and maybe that’ll happen in the next book.  Because there was a killer cliffhanger at the end of this one, and I would really like to have the sequel now, please.

Enchanted (Woodcutter Sisters, #1)

First Lines: My name is Sunday Woodcutter, and I am doomed to a happy life.

When looking for books in the library, I must consider three things: 1) Is this book on my to-read list? 2) How long has it been on my to-read list? and 3) Have I already grabbed a couple other books on this same subject?  (I’m picky.  I can’t have like, 3 vampire books in my hand and expect to not get sick of them by the end of the second book.)  I hadn’t read a fairy tale novel in a while, so this was a definite grab.

Sunday Woodcutter is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter.  Basically, what that means is that she’s overlooked because she’s the youngest in the family.  All of her sisters are also named after the days of the week, which Sunday doesn’t like.  So she writes to express herself.  And one day, she happens upon a frog in the Woods that wants to hear what she’s written.  Before she knows it, she’s friends with this friendly frog.  One night, she kisses the frog goodbye and leaves too quickly to realize that her love has changed the frog back into a man, or rather, a prince.  Prince Rumbold of Arilland, a man her family despises.  Intend on making Sunday fall in love with him as a man, Rumbold returns to the castle and begins constructing a plan.  But Sunday’s not easy to woo.  And why does she have such strong feelings for a man she barely knows?

So this story is a little bit of a lot of stories.  There are small references here and there to other stories, but they’re just entertaining rather than something that affects the story much.  And that was fine.  I liked that this book wasn’t completely based on the story of the Princess and the Frog.  It made it a little harder for me to pin down what I thought would happen at the end.

And Sunday is a pretty good heroine.  She’s thoughtful and loving, but she can be unreasonable and selfish.  (I think that last one may somewhat come from being the youngest in the family.  She’s babied by her dad.)  I’m not saying I want a perfect main character.  It’s just that some of the things she did didn’t sit well with me for whatever reason, maybe because I’m the oldest in my family and it’s hard for me to relate to her.

I wasn’t all that big a fan of Rumbold either.  Like, he was a good guy and all, but he was just kind of…boring.  There wasn’t much to him, for being a main character.  I thought he had more personality as a frog than as a man.

But there were other great characters.  Sunday’s sisters, especially Friday and Saturday, were great.  And the sequel is following Saturday, which should mean that the next book is far from boring.  Saturday isn’t the kind of girl to sit and wait for love to find her, and I’m really excited to see where that one goes.

Crash (Visions, #1)

First Lines: My sophomore psych teacher, Mr. Polselli, says knowledge is crucial to understanding the workings of the human brain, but I swear to dog, I don’t want any more knowledge about this.

This quick little barely-over-200-pages novel was something I grabbed somewhat impulsively at the library.  I wanted a 5th book (because I try to cap my library trips to 5 books), and this short book seemed like the perfect choice.  It had a different subject matter than the others ones I had grabbed.  So I took it.

Jules is kind of a social outcast in her high school, and not a small part of it being that she drives the family’s meatball truck to school every day.  (It has two meatballs on top, leading to numerous jokes, as you can imagine.)  But mysteriously, Jules begins having vision of a single crash.  Everywhere she looks, she can see a fiery crash that kills nine people.  She knows she has to do something to save lives, but it may be harder than she thought it would be.  Especially once she realizes that one of the dead is a boy she’s loved/had a crush on for years…Can she make him believe her, even though he has no reason to?

Right from the beginning, I wasn’t sure I would like it.  The narration jumped from being in the present to being highly in Jules’s manner of thinking and creating lists like “5 Reasons Why I May Be Crazy” (which I made us just as an example).  It kind of took me out of the story, and that bothered me, but I quickly got used to it.  It helped get Jules’s point of view through.

One thing that did bother me is something you can see in the opening lines.  That is not a typo.  She really says “I swear to dog” or some other way of not saying “God”.  Which was really bizarre.  Because there were a couple of times when she really did say God and I had no explanation for why it was suddenly ok.  But while she had a problem saying God, she had no problem dropping F-bombs.  That was a really weird moment when I realized that.

The action of the story was good too, especially because it moved quickly.  It’s only a 233 page book.  If you want to make the story go, you’ve gotta move fast.  I could have probably finished it in one sitting, but I didn’t because I started it at night.  Anyway, it’s a fast read and it’s pretty interesting.  You get pulled into Jules’s family drama, like how their pizzeria has a rivalry against another local pizzeria.  And her family has a bunch of problems that you can’t help but feel for her for.

It’s a pretty good read, and I’m excited about where the sequel might take this story.

Something Strange and Deadly (Something Strange and Deadly, #1)

First Lines: “Dead!” a woman screamed.  “It’s the Dead!”  My heart shot into my throat, and shocked cries rippled through the station.

This was on my to-read list for a while.  And I passed it up in the library at least four times because my arms were already full of other books or I was like, “I’ll see what else is here and come back to this if I can’t find anything else.”  And knowing me, I found other things or I forgot about this one.  But last time I was in, I finally grabbed it.

Eleanor comes from a relatively wealthy Philadelphia family, but that doesn’t mean she’s worry-free.  She’s not.  Her brother, Elijah, has gone missing on his return from studying abroad.  Her family is about out of money, and her mother is determined to marry Eleanor off to the first rich man who looks her way.  But there’s even worse news out there: the Dead have come to Philadelphia.  Eleanor knows that whoever is controlling the Dead must have also taken her brother.  If she wants to save Elijah, she’s going to need help from a group called Spirit-Hunters, who have been hired to protect the city.  The more time she spends with the group (and the frustrating Daniel), the more dangerous life gets.  Because not only is Eleanor risking her reputation by associating with the Spirit-Hunters, she may well be risking her life.

In case you didn’t figure it out, the Dead are zombies.  This is a zombie story, and kind of a steampunk as well.  It’s also a historical fiction because it takes place in 1876, Philadelphia.  I had to figure out the year the hard way by putting clues together for the first quarter or third of the book before getting a concrete date.  I’ll just help you guys out and tell you this.

I didn’t know how I’d feel about this book, after just having finished a creepy ghost story.  But this was actually really great.  The action kicks right off, as you can kind of tell with the opening lines.  Eleanor’s a very strong female lead.  Very strong.  And while I really liked that, I also kind of wish there was an opposite in the story.  Like, Eleanor is constantly breaking the rules and strong, but I thought the story would be stronger if there was another strong female character in the story who followed the rules and still got things done.  It made it a little hard for me to understand why this was a historical fiction if Eleanor was going act pretty much like women do today.

There’s a lot of other interesting aspects to the story as well.  The mystery behind what happened to Elijah drives the story really well, but there’s also some politics in the story that mess with Eleanor’s plans and surprise twists every now and then.

I respected this story a lot more when I reached the end and saw something that I’ve only seen one other time in books that I can recall.  Dennard doesn’t mince words.  This story can be gory at times, so if that bothers you, proceed with caution.  But it’s not too bad.  Just when the Dead show up.  I’m really excited to see where the sequel goes.

Spotlight Friday (76)

It’s Friday again!  And it’s the Friday before Memorial Day weekend if you’re from the States!  3 days of chilling and cookouts.  And reading.  I can deal with this.  Here are three more books to look forward to!  And boy, are these gonna be something!

Impostor (Variants, #1) by Susanne Winnacker

Release Date: May 28, 2013

Summary (from Goodreads): Tessa is a Variant, able to absorb the DNA of anyone she touches and mimic their appearance. Shunned by her family, she’s spent the last two years training with the Forces with Extraordinary Abilities, a secret branch of the FBI. When a serial killer rocks a small town in Oregon, Tessa is given a mission: she must impersonate Madison, a local teen, to find the killer before he strikes again. 

Tessa hates everything about being an impostor—the stress, the danger, the deceit—but loves playing the role of a normal girl. As Madison, she finds friends, romance, and the kind of loving family she’d do anything to keep. Amid action, suspense, and a ticking clock, this super-human comes to a very human conclusion: even a girl who can look like anyone struggles the most with being herself.

What’s To Like: This is actually a recent find of mine.  I was looking through upcoming books and found this.  I love murder mysteries, though I need them just sparsely or they get to be too much.  But with the twist of having Tessa be able to mimic the DNA of anyone she touches, that’s really cool.  It’s like having infinite Polyjuice Potions!  Yes.  I did just make a Potter reference.  I think this will be a really cool series, so I’m interested to see how this goes.

Elegy (Hereafter, #3) by Tara Hudson

Release Date: June 4, 2013

*Potential Series Spoilers in the Summary.  This is the LAST book in the trilogy!*

Summary (from Goodreads)A stalker ghost, misguided Seers, and spellbinding wraiths—Amelia Ashley has faced them all. Now her greatest hope is to spend the rest of her afterlife with her living boyfriend, Joshua. But the demonic forces return to give her an ultimatum: turn herself over to the darkness or watch them murder one living person per week until she does.

Amelia fears she might really be doomed, until the forces of light give her another option. She can join them in their quest to gather souls, with a catch: Once she joins them, she can never see Joshua again.

Faced with impossible choices, Amelia decides to take her afterlife into her own hands—and fight back.

What’s To Like:  I really loved following this series.  Amelia is an unlikely hero who has an inner strength to her that people rarely see unless it’s called for.  And that’s really the way heroism should work, right?  It shouldn’t be overly bragged about.  So I’ll miss Amelia when her story’s all told.  Until then, I just have to wonder which choice she’ll make.  And wait.

My review of Elegy.

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Release Date: June 4, 2013

Summary (from Goodreads)Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.

Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?

Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she’s going?

What’s To Like: So, I really love Dessen’s way of writing love stories.  I have 3 of them myself (ironically, none of which I bought.  I won all 3 of them in one form or another).  And I think this book is just as relatable as the others because I mean, how many of us growing up thought we were destined for more than our hometowns?  I know I did.  And I’m not totally sure this is a love story in the sense that others are like This Lullaby.  I really don’t know what to expect out of this one.  But I’m definitely looking forward to it.

My review of The Moon and More

Girl of Nightmares (Anna, #2)

First Lines: I think I killed a girl who looked like this once.

I got this book back at Christmas, and I finally got around to reading it.  See, I forgot what happened in Anna, so I had to reread the last 50 or so pages of it to remember what happened and become reacquainted with the characters.  That was incredibly helpful, though I probably should have just reread the book.

*Potential Series Spoilers in Next Paragraph*

Cas Lowood hasn’t seen Anna in months, not since she created a door to Hell in her house and disappeared down it to save him and his friends.  Cas walks around as though he’s half dead as he misses her.  His friends continually remind him that Anna did what she did to save him, but it doesn’t help because he loves her and doesn’t to think about the torture she must be going through where she is.  It doesn’t help that he sees Anna everywhere he goes.  He knows that something is wrong when he always sees her in pain.  Cas doesn’t know what’s happening to Anna or exactly where she is, but he’s determined to save her, the same way she saved him.

First off, I want to let everyone know (in case they didn’t already) that this book contains profanity (like F-bombs) and quite a bit of graphic, creepy scenes.  If that’s totally not your thing, this book probably isn’t for you.  I read creepy stuff all the time and there were parts in this I think they only reason I didn’t have nightmares about it last night was because I was reading it while on the phone with my boyfriend.  I didn’t even want to try to picture some things.

The plot itself was pretty good.  I don’t want to say it was amazing, because it wasn’t.  It took me a while to get into the book.  The beginning was a little slow because it’s really just Cas moping.  Certainly there is some action there as well, but it really didn’t get amazing until the 2nd half of the book.

The characters, however, were great as always.  Not only Cas, our lead, but the supporting characters like Thomas and Carmel felt real to me.  I could picture a girl like Carmel doing what she did.  And I felt like I could have met people like Thomas and Carmel in high school.  I understood them.  I liked that because that helped me get invested in the story.

Now, the ending I thought was a little weird.  A bit abrupt, honestly.  But to keep from spoilers, I won’t say much about it.  However, I will say that I had to do research after I finished because it felt like it may have been the end of Cas’s story, but not really at the same time.  Turns out the Anna series is a rare duo story, not a trilogy or a stand-alone.  I really don’t know if I’ve ever read a duo story before.  But it’s a weird lingering feeling I have from it.  I want more, mostly because I’m used to getting more than just 2 books.  But also because there is just so much more that could be done at this point.  I’m a little frustrated, actually.

Overall, it’s a good read, but it doesn’t exactly live up to all the action and creepiness I remember coming from Anna.