Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Review: Nowhere But Here (Thunder Road #1), by Katie McGarry

Title: Nowhere But Here (Thunder Road #1)
Author: Katie McGarry
Format: ebook
Source: Netgalley

From Goodreads: "An unforgettable new series from acclaimed author Katie McGarry about taking risks, opening your heart and ending up in a place you never imagined possible.

Seventeen-year-old Emily likes her life the way it is: doting parents, good friends, good school in a safe neighborhood. Sure, she's curious about her biological father—the one who chose life in a motorcycle club, the Reign of Terror, over being a parent—but that doesn't mean she wants to be a part of his world. But when a reluctant visit turns to an extended summer vacation among relatives she never knew she had, one thing becomes clear: nothing is what it seems. Not the club, not her secret-keeping father and not Oz, a guy with suck-me-in blue eyes who can help her understand them both. 

Oz wants one thing: to join the Reign of Terror. They're the good guys. They protect people. They're…family. And while Emily—the gorgeous and sheltered daughter of the club's most respected member—is in town, he's gonna prove it to her. So when her father asks him to keep her safe from a rival club with a score to settle, Oz knows it's his shot at his dream. What he doesn't count on is that Emily just might turn that dream upside down. 

No one wants them to be together. But sometimes the right person is the one you least expect, and the road you fear the most is the one that leads you home."

My Opinion: I first discovered Katie McGarry when I read her Pushing the Limit series, and I can honestly say that I loved every book in that series. When I learned that she was starting a new series, I was right there requesting it from NetGalley because I had to learn for myself whether she could top her first series, and boy did she! I can see why she called this series Thunder Road, but it is also about each and every character in Nowhere But Here pushing the limits of their own lives, but in a much deeper way, which will make sense when you read the book, and I highly recommend that you do.

The story is told from two points of view: Emily's and Oz's. Eli is Emily's biological father who, as she's heard all her life, hooked up with Meg (Emily's mother) and when she found out she was pregnant he took off, wanting nothing to do with Meg or their baby. Meg remarried when Emily was 5 and Eli signed away his parental rights so Jeff could adopt her. They've had a good life, and Emily loves Jeff as much as if he were her biological father, and he loves her back just as much. Emily is 17 now, and for the last 7 years she has seen Eli once a year when he comes to visit her where she lives in Florida, but she doesn't feel a bond with him at all. 

Emily's life changes when Eli sends a message to Jeff containing a copy of his mother Olivia's obituary, saying she has died of cancer. Emily has always heard that Olivia and Meg hate each other and have ever since she turned Meg away when she became pregnant while still in high school. So it strikes Emily as very strange when Meg and Jeff decide to take Emily to Olivia's funeral in Snowflake, Kentucky, especially since Emily never even met the woman when she was alive. Meg has always refused to talk about her life in Snowflake except to say that Eli, who belonged in a motorcycle club, the Reign of Terror, and his whole family are crazy and violent and how lucky she was to escape that life. Now at this point in the book I remember thinking that this story was a bit edgier than the books in Katie McGarry's Pushing the Limits series, but I was loving it because it was written so well you can't help but feel invested in the new characters. You can feel Emily's confusion over all of this and her wish that they could just stay in Florida since she doesn't want to have anything to do with Eli or his family, but she goes along with what her mother and Jeff want because it seems important to them that she go.

While there, many, many unexpected things happen, and Emily finds out that she been lied to her entire life when it comes to Eli, Olivia, and the rest of her family in Snowflake. She finds out that she and her mother actually lived with Olivia and her husband (Emily's grandfather) Cyrus until Emily was 2 years old. Olivia tells her that they were very happy there until Meg stole Emily in the middle of the night and took off for Florida with no warning at all. Olivia learns that Meg told Emily that Eli's family is crazy and that "the people in Snowflake are the worst kind of evil," which breaks Olivia's heart. Unfortunately, Emily finds out that Olivia is not dead yet when she is saying hello to Eli, who is standing next to the casket Olivia is laid out in, and Olivia, in her excitement to see Emily, sits up and starts talking to her! Apparently Eli accidentally sent a copy of Olivia's obituary (which she had written herself to make sure it was done right) instead of an invitation to the party Olivia was throwing to celebrate her life while she was still alive to enjoy it! To add to the horror Emily experiences, she already has a major fear of dead people because when she was 8 years old she fell in a hole already occupied by a dead person in the middle of the woods and after screaming and screaming for help, she ended up spending 12 hours alone with the body until she was finally rescued. Needless to say, Emily agrees with her mother that this whole family is nuts and she doesn't want to have anything more to do with therm. You can imagine her surprise when her dad, Jeff, and her mother decide she should spend a month or so with them so she can learn about that side of her family! Everybody in Snowflake says she's in danger if a rival motorcycle club, The Riot, learn that she is Eli's daughter, and they feel, since she just showed up there with no warning, word might get out and the best people to protect her are the Reign of Terror. Emily is really not down with this at all but is out voted by her mom and dad. 

This is when we really get to know Oz, who is 18 years old and has only wanted one thing his entire life: to become a full member of the Reign of Terror. Eli gives him the job of babysitting Emily while she's in Snowflake and making sure no danger touches her. This doesn't go over well with either Oz or Emily, since it's not exactly love at first site! But as they spend time together, Oz discovers that Emily's not a pushover, that she has a spark in her that he comes to appreciate and love, and Emily discovers that Oz isn't just a dangerous motorcycle driving Reign of Terror follower and future member, that he has a soft side and a very tender one that she falls in love with. 

I can't say any more about the story, although I could honestly write page after page about this amazing love story. I loved every character in this book, and can't wait to read the rest of the books in the series to come so I can find out about some of my favorites: Razor, Chevy and Violet are at the top of that list!

Emily and Oz grow so much as characters during this story, but Eli also does his fair share of changing too. Emily's life changes so drastically during the book, and in her own words: "Without what has happened, there's no doubt I would have stayed in the same bubble I was raised in and I'm not just talking about remaining in Florida. I never would have experienced anything new in life." I couldn't have said it better myself!

There is so much to love about this book - the characters who are amazing, the plot which contains secret piled upon secret, and the ending, which was so heartwarming that I can't even begin to describe it. I recommend this book to anybody who read Katie McGarry's first series, Pushing the Limits, and to anyone who hasn't read any of Katie's books yet - What are you waiting for, people?! You're missing out on some amazing and heartfelt stories here!

I give this book a very, very enthusiastic 5 stars and I'll be holding my breath to read the next story in line, which stars Razor, and is called Walk the Edge. Nowhere but Here is definitely a must read book of 2015 :D

I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review: Tiger Boy, by Mitali Perkins

Title: Tiger Boy
Author: Mitali Perkins
Illustrated by: Jamie Hogan
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads: "“One of the new tiger cubs has escaped from the reserve!”When a tiger cub escapes from a nature reserve near Neel’s island village, the rangers and villagers hurry to find her before the cub’s anxious mother follows suit and endangers them all. Mr. Gupta, a rich newcomer to the island, is also searching—he wants to sell the cub’s body parts on the black market. Neel and his sister, Rupa, resolve to find the cub first and bring her back to the reserve where she belongs.

The hunt for the cub interrupts Neel’s preparations for an exam to win a prestigious scholarship at a boarding school far from home. Neel doesn’t mind—he dreads the exam and would rather stay on his beloved island in the Sunderbans of West Bengal with his family and friends.

But through his encounter with the cub, Neil learns that sometimes you have to take risks to preserve what you love. And sometimes you have to sacrifice the present for the chance to improve the future."

My Opinion: Neel is a young boy who lives on an island in the Sunderbans of West Bengal who is happy and content with his life with the exception of two things: 1) the Headmaster of his school has entered Neel into a competition to win a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school in the larger city of Kolkata, India; and 2) the Bengal tiger reserve on a neighboring island has announced that a baby tiger has escaped and has made its way over to Neel's island, where it has become lost. 

Neel's island, among others, has been devastated repeatedly by cyclones and people are having to leave to try to find work in the bigger cities, but Neel loves his island and his family so much that he never wants to leave, and if he wins the scholarship, he feels like he will lose both. He is a natural when it comes to reading or writing anything in English or Bangla, but math is another story altogether. He hates math and sees this as his way out of winning the scholarship and having to move away. 

There is an evil man called Mr. Gupta who is trying to take over the island and who has absolutely no regard for the Sunderbans or any of their traditions. He cuts down the trees that serve as natural barriers to protect the rice and chili fields of the farmers from the cyclones when they hit, and when he hears about the lost tiger cub, he puts a bounty out on its head, hiring locals to help him find it by offering more money than they can turn down. Even if they know it's not the right thing to do, food is scarce, and money even more scarce, so they do it to feed and clothe their families. Neel's friend, Viju, tells him about the bounty, but since Viju and his father are helping Gupta to search the island, he swears Neel and his other friend, Ajay, to secrecy. Even though Neel knows he can't tell anyone or risk breaking his promise to Viju, he worries and worries about what's going to happen to that poor little cub if Gupta finds her.

What I loved most about this story was its heart. Neel and his sister, Rupa, are so moved by the story of the lost little tiger cub that they put themselves into danger's way to try to find her. Jai, Neel's father (whom he calls Baba), is so eager for Neel to win the scholarship and have a better life than he can give him, ends up going against what he knows is right to try to earn enough money to hire a tutor to help Neel pass the math portion of the scholarship examination. Everybody but Mr. Gupta have such big hearts and think about everyone else, which is so refreshing to read. I also loved the descriptions of the island and life on the island that Mitali Perkins injects with such clarity:

"This pond was freshwater, but most of the creeks and rivers in the Sunderbans were salty and muddy. Neel didn't mind - he loved the tang of salt on his tongue and the squish of mud between his toes. Home for him was the hiss of his father's boat a it slipped through the deltas, golpata branches swaying in the monsoon rains, and the evening smell of jasmine flowers near his house mingling with green chilies and fresh ilish fish simmering in mustard-seed oil. Neel had climbed all the tall palm trees, waded in the creeks, and foraged for wild guavas in every corner of the mangrove forest."

When you get to the end of the book, you learn that Mitali Perkins lived in the Sunderbans when she was young, which is why her descriptions are so, well, descriptive! I highly recommend this book to children and middle grade kids to teach them something as simple as how to be respectful to people and how to do what is right even when no one else is, to something bigger than themselves, the plight of the Bengal tiger and the lives of the people who live in Sunderbans. 

I am giving this book a very happy 5 stars :D

I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Rapunzel Untangled, by Cindy C. Bennett

Title: Rapunzel Untangled
Author: Cindy C. Bennett
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads: "Rapunzel is not your average teenager. 

For one thing, she has a serious illness that keeps her inside the mysterious Gothel Mansion. And for another, her hair is 15 feet long. Not to mention that she’s also the key to ultimately saving the world from certain destruction. But then she meets a boy named Fane, who changes all she has ever known, and she decides to risk everything familiar to find out who she really is. 

Filled with romance, adventure, and mystery, Rapunzel Untangled is one story you won’t want to put down. Discover the true meaning of love and friendship in this modern twist to the classic fairytale."

My Opinion: I will first mention that I love fairy tale retellings, but it's always a crap shoot as to whether the story will be told well or you will be left feeling a bit let down. I'm very happy to tell you that in this case, it is done very well! Cindy C. Bennett manages to keep the basic elements of the story (Rapunzel has very long blonde hair and is locked in a tower, although in this case the tower is in a huge rambling mansion that is always under construction on one wing or another, and the "prince" who eventually rescues her) while adding her own modern twist to it. 

Rapunzel is told by her "mother," Gothel, that she has an extreme immune deficiency and if she were ever to leave the house, the germs that are out in the world would kill her. She is obviously home schooled, but she learns to turn this into an advantage when she discovers that the internet can be used for more than just school. In fact, she discovers Facebook and quickly finds the profile of a local boy named Fane Anderson and sends him a friend request, which he accepts. Since her mother knows nothing about how the internet works, Rapunzel is able to keep Fane a secret, and they proceed to chat regularly and even become friends. 

Rapunzel is very careful to keep her situation a secret, but since there is only one rambling mansion in town that is always under construction and constantly growing, the Gothel Mansion, Fane figures out who she is and where she lives, and thus begins there secret courtship whenever Rapunzel knows that Gothel will not be home. 

I loved how cute Rapunzel and Fane were together, both on Facebook and then when they met in person. Fane is very protective of Rapunzel and is always careful when coming in contact with her because of her immunodeficiency, but he doesn't coddle or baby her, which is good because Rapunzel definitely doesn't consider herself a damsel in distress. 

The story follows them as they try to figure out why Rapunzel is kept locked away, and then, as they investigate further, who she is.

I really enjoyed this book. There was definitely character growth from start to finish, the pacing went along very nicely, and the romance was cute without being too syrupy. I liked the twists and turns as they really got into their investigation of Rapunzel, and thought the ending was perfect.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good fairy tale retelling, and also a cute romance. I'm giving this book a very enthusiastic 5 stars and look forward to reading more of Cindy Bennett's work in the future :D

I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review: The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood and Co. #1), by Jonathan Stroud

Title: The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood and Co. #1)
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads: "When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again . . ."

My Opinion: When I saw this book on NetGalley I thought to myself, "Hey, this sounds like a book my 8 year old son would like: not too scary, entertaining enough to keep him interested; it's a bit long (440 pages) but we could read a little bit every night, so sure, I'll request it." Little did I know that he would find it too scary for bedtime, so instead of reading it to him, I read it to myself (although admittedly, the 20 minutes I would have spent reading with him morphed into about 2 hours a night for me - until I reached the big finale that is, at which time I refused to put my Kindle down until I had finished the book)! This isn't a cute little ghost story with namby pamby Visitors (as they are called) - these ghosts don't just float around looking a little scary until they are smacked with iron and the bones salted. No, these ghosts, depending on what level of haunting it is, are evil, violent, malevolent, vengeful spectres that are capable of causing serious bodily harm, and in some cases death. The scariest part is that because adults can't see the Visitors, kids are hired to take care of them because they are the only ones with the psychic sensitivity to see and hear the apparitions!

I like how the story starts in with the action right away as Lucy Carlyle and Anthony Lockwood are on the job, trying to stop a haunting without all of their gear, which, as Lucy reminds Anthony repeatedly, Anthony forgot to pack. This turns into much more than they were expecting to encounter as they find out the ghost is much stronger and much angrier than they first thought. Mayhem ensues and the night ends with the house burning down around them. I also like how they tell the back story of how Lucy came to work for Anthony at Lockwood and Co., along with George, the resident researcher. Where at first I thought the book just seemed rather long for a middle grade book, by the end I had decided it leaned more towards the YA end of the spectrum because it was just really scary due to the amazing descriptions of some of the evil the kids encounter, thanks to the detailed writing of Mr. Jonathan Stroud. I also didn't realize it was the first book in the Lockwood and Co. series right away since it wasn't listed this way on NetGalley, but after much info dumping, which was actually background info on the supernatural problem, why only kids work the hauntings (although usually under the supervision of an adult), and again, how Lucy came to work with the boys, I checked on Goodreads and lo and behold, it all made sense. I could see how knowing all of this would come in handy when reading future books in the series without having to repeat it again and again, so I decided to just enjoy the info and file it away for future reference.

I loved the characters because they were so very different from each other which meant that they got on each other's nerves just like you would expect real kids their age to do when trying to live together. Besides each having their own distinct and unique personality, they each had a special role to play in the business as well. As I mentioned before, George was their researcher (and damned good at it), checking out the location of each haunting before they actually went there to dispatch with the problem, as well as researching any stories, legends, or hopefully facts he could find associated with the haunting. Anthony Lockwood was the enigmatic, charming leader of their motley crew. Anthony's special talent was his strong spectral vision which allowed him to see the "death glows" and any visual signs of the hauntings before the others. Lucy, who had really hoped to get a job with a bigger more established firm, completed the trio. Her last job had ended in the deaths of everyone she was working with that night, with the exception of herself and her supervisor, so she couldn't get hired anywhere else and decided to give Lockwood and Co. a try. Lucy's gift was that her hearing was very sensitive to any noises associated not only with the hauntings themselves today, but also with the usually violent event that started the haunting in the first place (I'm not sure if that makes sense but if you read the book, it will, and I can't figure out how else to describe it!); she can hear things no one else can, and even when there is complete silence, she can sense if things are going good or bad. She can also pick up a haunted object and glean feelings and info about the owner, which is a very rare gift. They are much stronger together than as individuals, and it doesn't take them long to figure that out and to learn to work together in a way that brings out the best in all of them. 

All of this leads to a job that they are forced to take on when the fire they caused that burned the house down (during the job at the beginning of the book) led to them being sued and losing most of their jobs when news of the fire got out. This job is fishy in many ways: the elderly man who hires them (who is a bit off himself) says it is one of the worst hauntings in recorded history but they can't take their strongest work aids (magnesium flares and Greek fire to be exact) along with them because he doesn't want anything to catch fire, even though that would mean risking their very lives, and he only gives them 2 days to prepare for the job, which gets George all riled up because he usually needs weeks to complete his research. They are being offered a ridiculously large amount of money for the job though, and have no choice but to take it. This is the job which finally brings us to the Screaming Staircase, which, along with other assorted and terrible hauntings and apparitions in the house, are what make the last part of the book so deliciously horrific, and believe me, Jonathan Stroud makes it worth the wait! His descriptions of the awful, violent events that have taken place at this particular country manor over the course of hundreds of years, and what the kids find when they start investigating, had me looking over my shoulders more than once to make sure nothing was trying to creep up on me! 

The book never mentions the time period in which the story takes place, but I think it is a modern day alternate reality kind of setting, in and around London, England, with a distinctly old time feel to it, which is to say it felt like I was reading something in the vein of Sherlock Holmes or the like, which I absolutely adored!

In summary, I loved the characters, including their realism and their growth - not only as investigators who must learn to work together as a team to survive and thrive, but also as individuals who start off keeping their emotions close and not letting the others in, to talking, laughing, and confiding in them as they start to really care about each other. I thought the pacing really worked great, giving us information in small bits so we don't get overloaded and keeping the action very steady throughout - until the end, when everything explodes into sights, sounds, feelings, danger, and fear, and you are on the edge of your seat in anticipation of how it will all end. And lastly is the ending itself, which is so exciting and so scary and so perfect. I recommend this book to lovers of scary (not tame) ghost stories, with likable characters who are flawed but are able to learn and grow throughout the story. I am giving this book a very enthusiastic 5 stars and I look forward to reading the next book in the series when it comes out :D

I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: The Peculiars, by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

Title: The Peculiars
Author: Maureen Doyle McQuerry
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads: "This dark and thrilling adventure, with an unforgettable heroine, will captivate fans of steampunk, fantasy, and romance.
On her 18th birthday, Lena Mattacascar decides to search for her father, who disappeared into the northern wilderness of Scree when Lena was young. Scree is inhabited by Peculiars, people whose unusual characteristics make them unacceptable to modern society. Lena wonders if her father is the source of her own extraordinary characteristics and if she, too, is Peculiar. On the train she meets a young librarian, Jimson Quiggley, who is traveling to a town on the edge of Scree to work in the home and library of the inventor Mr. Beasley. The train is stopped by men being chased by the handsome young marshal Thomas Saltre. When Saltre learns who Lena’s father is, he convinces her to spy on Mr. Beasley and the strange folk who disappear into his home, Zephyr House. A daring escape in an aerocopter leads Lena into the wilds of Scree to confront her deepest fears."

My Opinion: Number one, I have to say how much I LOVE the cover of this book! It's gorgeous and made me even more eager to read this book than I already was. I am already a huge steampunk fan, and was very interested to learn more about the Peculiars themselves, the "people whose unusual characterstics made them unacceptable to modern society," with modern society here meaning the late 1800s. I couldn't wait to hear their stories.

Lena has always had very long fingers with an extra knuckle on them and thin hands, as well as long, thin feet, which she tried to hide from the time she was very little by wearing gloves and learning to tuck her feet under her dress when she was sitting so no one would notice her. Her mother always said they were a birth defect and she was made to feel embarrassed and different by her own grandmother. She grew up hearing stories about the Peculiars, who some said didn't exist at all, and the government itself says have no soul so they are not even considered to be human. They all have some sort of unusual physical characteristic, and though Lena never talks to anyone about it, she is afraid that her hands and feet are signs of goblinism, which scares her to death because she believes her own father, who left her and her mother when she was 5, was a goblin, and goblins are not known for being nice, polite beings that contribute to society. Instead they are known for being thieves and wanderers, and Lena doesn't want this to be her future. Surprisingly, on her 18th birthday her mother gives her a letter from her father in which he leaves her an inheritance and the deed to the family mine in the town of Scree, which unfortunately is known to be the home of Peculiars and very scary creatures; basically not a friendly place to visit at all. I loved that Lena sucked up her courage and decided to go find her father in Scree and get some answers to the questions that have plagued her all of her life.

Along the way, on the train ride to Knob Knoster, where Lena plans to hire a guide to get her into Scree using the money from her inheritance, she meets a young man who is also traveling to Knob Knoster, to be the librarian for a very eccentric inventor, which excites him to no end. The young man is named Jimson Quiggley, and the eccentric inventor is a Mr. Tobias Beasley. Unfortunately, the train is set upon by thieves, who steal Lena's inheritance, but Lena is lucky enough to find work with the same Mr. Beasley that Jimson is working for. She loves her work and her employer, but when asked to spy on him by someone she thinks is her friend, she agrees, which I can't say I liked, but she is nothing if not flawed, which makes her a much more interesting character than someone who always makes the right decisions and lives with no regrets! 

Although I loved the world building, the inventions, and in particular, the descriptions of the Peculiars that Lena meets along her way and on her journeys, which definitely don't end with working for Mr. Beasley, I have to say that the pacing itself was off for me. I was excited to read the book, but the beginning and middle really dragged on sometimes, which I've read was a problem for others as well according to their reviews, but I was glad that I hung in there because the last third of the book or so was full of action and suspense and danger and all the good things that you hope to find in a story!

In summary, although the pacing was off and the book dragged on in places, when the pacing finally picks up, it is a very exciting ride that I would recommend to lovers of YA books with steampunk, adventure and action elements. The world of the Peculiars is like no other world that I have ever read about, and given the number of books I have read in my time, that's saying a lot! I give this book 4 stars, with one star taken off due to the slow pace at times. But the character growth and the action at the end earned it the 4 stars :D

I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review: Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories (Chester the Raccoon #5), by Audrey Penn

Title: Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories (Chester the Raccoon #5)
Author: Audrey Penn
Illustrator: Barbara Leonard Gibson
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads: "Chester Raccoon's good friend Skiddel Squirrel has had an accident and will not be returning - ever. Chester is upset that he won't get to play with his friend anymore. Mrs. Raccoon suggests that Chester and his friends create some memories of Skiddel, so that they will have good memories when they miss him. Chester, his brother Ronny, and their friends decide to gather at the pond, where they combine their memories and create a touching celebration of their friend's life.

Many young children must face the loss of loved ones or the need to attend a funeral. This sweet story will help children to understand the positive purpose behind memorial services and how "making memories" can provide cheer and comfort when missing an absent loved one."

My Opinion: This was such a sad yet poignant little book. For everyone who has ever been asked what being dead means from a child who has lost a friend or loved one, you know how hard it is to answer that question. I thought Audrey Penn did a phenomenal job with it. When Chester Raccoon's friend Skiddel Squirrel has an accident and his teacher tells the class he will not be returning ever again, he wants to know what happened and why. His mother tells him just like old Mr. Beaver, "His heart quit beating and his body didn't work any more." Chester now understands, and "his insides felt jumbled and he was very sad." I think that's a wonderful way to describe this feeling in language a child would understand. 

When Chester is still upset, Mrs. Raccoon suggests that they make a memory of Skiddil Squirrel, "that way you'll never forget him." She explains what that means and they set out to go to one of Skiddil Squirrels favorite places to play, and along the way they pick up a whole slew of friends who want to make a memory of him as well.

As usual, Audrey Penn takes a very difficult subject down to a child's level, not telling too much or too little, and makes it easier to understand. Also as usual, Barbara Leonard Gibson's illustrations are spot on and adorable to boot.

I highly recommend this book to parents who are trying to help their little one understand and deal with death and give it a special 5 stars :D

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Review: Deja Date (Better Date Than Never #9), by Susan Hatler

Title: Deja Date (Better Date Than Never #9)
Author: Susan Hatler
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads: "Melinda Morgan commits to running her favorite neighborhood bakery when the owner, who’s like a second dad to her, falls ill. Then she finds out his adventurous son, Nate Carter, is back in town. Nate was Melinda’s first kiss and greatest heartbreak all rolled into one, yet he’s still as charming as ever. 

When Melinda learns Nate’s dad is selling his bakery, she realizes her dream to own the bakery herself. But in order to access her inheritance funds, she must first complete her father’s Carpe Diem list, which challenges her to take risks she normally wouldn’t—like only dating someone who leaves her breathless.

Nate wants a second chance with her and she finds him nearly impossible to resist. Could he be the key to completing her dad’s list and saving the bakery? And can he help her do both without breaking her heart all over again?"

My Opinion: I didn't realize when I requested this book through NetGalley that it was the ninth book in a series, but luckily, it could stand alone, too! I enjoyed it so much! I loved the characters, who were flawed and realistic. I loved watching Melinda open her heart to people, even though it seemed like it almost physically hurt sometimes. I know that feeling, and Susan Hatler captured it perfectly!

Melinda starts out getting fired from her customer service job, which she absolutely hated, and agreeing to take on the manager position at Bernie's Bakery, both to help out Bernie who is having problems with his health and needs to take a break, and also because some of her happiest teenage memories are when she worked there. Enter Nate, Bernie's drop dead gorgeous son, and Melinda's first love, and the first man to break her heart when he just disappeared when they were teenagers and she never heard from him again, until now. Unfortunately, she has completely closed off her heart to him to avoid getting hurt again and nothing Nate does can change that. She is also still grieving the loss of her father in a hot air balloon accident when she was 14, and because of that she refuses to take a chance on anything that might break her heart. 

When Bernie's Bakery comes up for sale, Melinda decides to take her inheritance from her father, which she has refused until  now, to buy the bakery since she realizes that would really make her happy. This is when her mother finds a letter that Melinda's father wrote to her naming the conditions that she must fulfill in order to receive her inheritance - he calls it her Carpe Diem list. 

I loved watching Melinda make friends, even though that was scary because she always felt that she didn't measure up to the other girls, and basically just allowing herself to be happy. 

In summary, even though I haven't read the other books in this series, I absolutely adored Deja Date, and I have made it my Carpe Diem list to read the other eight books in the series! This is a short story and reads very quickly. The characters grow from beginning to end and the pacing of the story is perfect. I would recommend this book enthusiastically to any lovers of contemporary romantic fiction, and give it a very happy 5 stars :D 

I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Velveteen, by Daniel Marks

Title: Velveteen
Author: Daniel Marks
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads: "Velveteen Monroe is dead. At 16, she was kidnapped and murdered by a madman named Bonesaw. But that’s not the problem.

The problem is she landed in purgatory. And while it’s not a fiery inferno, it’s certainly no heaven. It’s gray, ashen, and crumbling more and more by the day, and everyone has a job to do. Which doesn’t leave Velveteen much time to do anything about what’s really on her mind.


Velveteen aches to deliver the bloody punishment her killer deserves. And she’s figured out just how to do it. She’ll haunt him for the rest of his days. 

It’ll be brutal... and awesome.

But crossing the divide between the living and the dead has devastating consequences. Velveteen’s obsessive haunting cracks the foundations of purgatory and jeopardizes her very soul. A risk she’s willing to take—except fate has just given her reason to stick around: an unreasonably hot and completely off-limits coworker.

Velveteen can’t help herself when it comes to breaking rules... or getting revenge. And she just might be angry enough to take everyone down with her."

My Opinion: I must admit I've had a hard time with this review. On the one hand, the synopsis of this book was what drew me in and made me want to read this book, but on the other hand, the book was much more about Velveteen's time in purgatory than it was about her getting revenge on the serial killer who murdered her. The book opens with a bang, with Velvet haunting her killer, Bonesaw, and trying to set free another of his victims. Then Velvet is pulled back to purgatory, and it all gets rather muddled. I definitely admired the world building of purgatory, even if I was confused half the time Velvet was down there. She's proud of the fact that she "has no emotions", but this made it a bit hard for me to like her. She was rude and bossy with her underlings, the gang she leads, and when a new very cute guy, Nick, arrives, she is rude to him, then she's making out with him, but then she treats him like crap again, which was very confusing. What could have been a very cute romance was almost embarrassing to watch.

Then it turns out that purgatory is suffering from earthquakes that could collapse it, which I don't understand, and Veltvet herself is contributing to this problem by going back and forth between purgatory and the real world to haunt Bonesaw, which causes more and more tremors every time she does this.

I know it sounds like I didn't like the book at all, which isn't true, hence the hard time I've had writing this review. There were some really good parts, and a lot of really confusing, although not terrible parts. 

Another problem I have is that this book was targeted towards "Teens and YA, and Children's Fiction," but I thought a lot of it would be too much for those age groups and should have been targeted to "New Adult." I think a lot of people will enjoy this book because it is dark and Gothic and does that well. For some reason I was just confused and felt like the book was murky and hard to navigate more often than not. 

I'm giving this book 4 stars because I think it will appeal to a large group of people, but I have to take off 1 star for the sheer confusion of it all. Part of the 4 stars is due to the absolutely gorgeous cover of the book! I loved it and thought it set the dark and Gothic stage for the book very well.

I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Domination (C.H.A.O.S. #3), by Jon S. Lewis

Title: Domination (C.H.A.O.S. #3)
Author: Jon S. Lewis
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

With six arms and jaws that can snap a man in two, the warmongering race of aliens known as the Thule has conquered every planet they’ve attacked.
And now their invasion of Earth has begun.
Humanity’s only hope springs from a mysterious Thule legend about a Betrayer, who they believe will rise up and destroy their people. The American government tried to manufacture their own Betrayer by injecting children with Thule blood but time after time the experiment failed . . . until Colt McAlister.
A decade later, Colt is a 16-year-old cadet at the CHAOS Military Academy where he’s training to defend mankind. But he’s afraid that the alien blood may be turning him into a Thule—and he’s beginning to suspect that fulfilling his role as the Betrayer may cost him everything.
Experience a cosmic battle filled with high-tech gear, gateways to other planets, and ultimate stakes. Not everyone will survive. But heroes will rise up and step into their destiny in this earth-shaking conclusion to the C.H.A.O.S trilogy."

My Opinion: I've enjoyed this series so far and had high expectations for the conclusion, Domination, and boy was I right! This book had some really bad ass action scenes - the descriptions were so intense you really did feel like you were there! 

At the beginning of the book you can tell that the Thule have continued their invasion of the Earth as the setting is dark and desolate. You jump right into the action as Colt and Danielle are out on patrol and encounter one of the Thule. Since Colt was injected when he was only 6 years old with Thule blood in an effort to create "super soldiers" who would be better equipped to fight the aliens, he is faster and stronger than his fellow cadets but he worries that along with the good comes the bad - he fears he is turning into a Thule himself.

I really, really enjoyed this book. It was a very fast read, as were the other two books in this series. The almost nonstop action keeps you glued to the pages, and most of the characters are very likable. The ones who aren't were purposely written that way so that is in no way a complaint. The ending was everything you would hope for and leaves you breathless. Colt changes from a scared boy at the beginning of the book to a young man who finally accepts himself for who he is and works with what he has. 

As a last point, my teenage son, who isn't much of a reader, actually read this whole series and loved it as much as I did. It not only got him reading, which is always good, but it gave us something to talk about and discuss. 

In summary, in case you can't tell by now, I loved this book and highly recommend it for YA lovers of sci-fi, action, romance and suspense. I give it a very enthusiastic 5 stars :D

I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Say You're Sorry (Joseph O'Loughlin #6), by Michael Robotham

Title: Say You're Sorry (Joseph O'Loughlin #6)
Author: Michael Robotham
Format: audiobook
Source: local library


When pretty and popular teenagers Piper Hadley and Tash McBain disappear one Sunday morning, the investigation captivates a nation but the girls are never found.

Three years later, during the worst blizzard in a century, a husband and wife are brutally killed in the farmhouse where Tash McBain once lived. A suspect is in custody, a troubled young man who can hear voices and claims that he saw a girl that night being chased by a snowman.

Convinced that Piper or Tash might still be alive, clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin and ex-cop Vincent Ruiz, persuade the police to re-open the investigation. But they are racing against time to save the girls from someone with an evil, calculating and twisted mind.."

My Opinion: Michael Robotham is one of my all time favorite suspense writers and even though I haven't read any of the other books in the Joseph O'Loughlin series, I had heard that they can all be read as stand alone novels, and this proved to be true. I got caught up in the mystery right away and was kept interested clear to the end. 

Piper and Tash went missing three years ago and although the police investigated the disappearance, most people thought they had just run away, because that was in fact their plan. But something went wrong and three years later, Tash's body was found frozen in a lake following a terrible winter storm. Coincidentally (or not) Tash's old home, where two elderly people now lived, was the scene of a double homicide and fire that same night. 

The characters are all easy to relate to, as Michael Robotham's tend to be, and the reader is kept guessing throughout the book as to how all of the players fit and who did what to whom. As usual, I guessed who the perpetrator was, but then I second guessed myself, then third guessed, until I was as confused as I started out to be. The author drops clues in that throw you completely off, but that's a good thing in a suspense story - who wants to be able to figure it out easily? How boring would that be? 

The pacing was perfect as the story moves along at a steady pace, and the reader is kept guessing until the very end. I loved this book and highly recommend it to lovers of suspense, mysteries, and all around good story telling. I give it a very enthusiastic 5 stars and look forward to going back and starting the Joseph O'Loughlin series from the beginning. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review: Crash Into You (Pushing the Limits #3), by Katie McGarry

Title: Crash Into You (Pushing the Limits #3)
Author: Katie McGarry
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads: "From acclaimed author Katie McGarry comes an explosive new tale of a romance forged in the fast lane 

The girl with straight A's and the perfect life—that's who people expect Rachel Young to be. So the private school junior keeps secrets from her wealthy family…and she's just added two more to the list. One involves racing strangers down dark country roads in her Mustang GT. The other? Seventeen-year-old Isaiah Walker—a guy she has no business even talking to. But after the foster kid with the tattoos and intense gray eyes comes to her rescue, she can't get him out of her mind. 

The last thing Isaiah needs is to get tangled up with a rich girl who wants to slum it on the south side for kicks. But when their shared love of street racing puts their lives in jeopardy, Isaiah and Rachel will have six weeks to come up with a way out. Six weeks to discover just how far they'll go to save each other."

My Opinion: I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

I read the first two books in this series and loved the character of Isaiah, and couldn't wait for him to get his own story, so you can imagine how excited I was to find out that he was the main male character in Crash Into You! He is totally my kind of guy in the real world: tattoos, bad boy, misunderstood - you know the type. I couldn't imagine anyone being good enough for him (yes, I get freakishly attached to and protective of the characters that I love!), but lo and behold, along comes Rachel Young, and I was sold. She isn't your stereotypical poor little rich girl from the right side of the tracks - she loves cars and decides to live dangerously and try her hand at street racing. Things don't go quite according to plan, and she ends up running with the help of a very attractive, dangerous, tattooed racer by the name of Isaiah Walker. They don't know if they care very much for each other at first but they're forced to work together to solve a problem, and if their chemistry has anything to say about it, it's just a matter of time before they can't fight it anymore and they get together.

I really liked the characters in this installment of Katie McGarry's very popular series Pushing the Limits. I already loved Isaiah and came to love Rachel's feisty self as well.

The pacing of the story was perfection as usual and I loved watching the characters change and grow as the story went along. I recommend this book to all lovers of YA and new adult contemporary romantic fiction and give it a very happy 5 stars :D

Review: A Bedtime Kiss for Chester Raccoon (Chester the Raccoon), by Audrey Penn

Title: A Bedtime Kiss for Chester Raccoon (Chester the Raccoon)
Author: Audrey Penn
Illustrator: Barbara L. Gibson
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads: "The sun is up, it's time for little Chester Raccoon to go to bed, but he is frightened by the shadows the sun is creating on the walls. Mrs. Raccoon soothes him with a Kissing Hand, and he is able to go to sleep.
This sweet and decidedly unscary board book is both a light-hearted way to calm children's fears at bedtime, along with a gentle introduction to Chester Raccoon and the Kissing Hand for the younger child. Funny illustrations will gentle the scary-looking shadows in a bedroom."

My Opinion: I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

I read this book for my grandson and I'll let his words be my review: "Again! Again!" He loved the fact that Chester Raccoon had to go to bed while "the rest of the world is waking up". He also thought the shadows were cool and "not scary at all because it's light out, silly!" I think he totally missed the subtext, haha, but he loved the book, so he and I both give the it 5 silly stars! I have to go now because he saw me typing this, saw the picture of the book above, and is requesting that I read it to him yet again :D

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Review: Death, the Devil, and the Goldfish, by Andrew Buckley

Title: Death, the Devil, and the Goldfish
Author: Andrew Buckley
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads: "From the Bahamas to Heathrow airport, to the rain soaked streets of London the dead have ceased dying. 

This is inconvenient for a number of reasons but what’s the real reason behind the chaos?

In London we find Nigel Reinhardt, a disgraced, confused, and gifted London police constable who owns a prophetic goldfish. In Ireland the Angel of Death questions the value and position of his current employment. At Majestic Technologies Celina McMannis works diligently on a top secret project. At the South Pole there lives a very unhappy penguin.
When the Devil hatches a nefarious plot to take over the world by possessing a cute little kitty and seizing a factory of robotic Christmas elves it’s up to Nigel and his group of unlikely companions to save the world or die trying… or both."

My Opinion: If you like British humor, you will love this book! I was very surprised to find out that this was Andrew Buckley's first book because it is crazy, totally out of control, and in my humble opinion, very, very well written. I can't imagine how he kept track of everything that was gong on because it was hard for me to do it, and I was just reading it!

The Devil possesses a cat and convinces Death, over many drinks in an Irish pub, to quit his job. Thus, people stop dying, or do die but can't get into heaven or hell without going through Death, which is becoming quite a nuisance! To add to the fun, we have a goldfish who can predict the future and sends out messages telepathically, but he has an attention span of 3 seconds so once he sends it, it's gone from his memory! My favorite part is how after each message is sent, he swims around his fishbowl and discovers the castle in it, again, and again, and again, and it makes him so happy every time!

My other favorite character is the penguin turned human, who has a very interesting way of viewing the world!

There is also a detective, a bunch of evil elves, including Eggnogg the dancing elf, an AI genius of Scottish ancestry, and many more, too many to list here! I loved them all, but the Angel of Death was especially fun because he traveled in a cloak of magic that made everyone who saw him or interacted with him in any way completely forget him as soon as they turned away, which made ordering a drink at a local bar somewhat difficult!

Overall I thought this book was terribly funny in a way that reminded me of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I absolutely loved! There is a special kind of humor to these two books - what I've heard called throwaway humor, with one liners thrown this way and that, and each of them funnier than the one before. It is very entertaining and definitely worth your time to read. I recommend it to lovers of British humor, which is pithy and fabulous, and anyone who likes to reads Terry Pratchett, as this book brings his books to mind when you are reading it.

I give this book a very enthusiastic 5 stars :D

I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.