Monday, July 18, 2016

The Secret Language of Stones ~ M.J. Rose (earc) review [@mjrose @AtriaBooks]

The Secret Language of Stones: A Novel (Daughters of La Lune #2)
Atria Books
July 19, 2016
320 pages
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As World War I rages and the Romanov dynasty reaches its sudden, brutal end, a young jewelry maker discovers love, passion, and her own healing powers in this rich and romantic ghost story, the perfect follow-up to M.J. Rose’s “brilliantly crafted” (Providence Journal) novel The Witch of Painted Sorrows.

Nestled within Paris’s historic Palais Royal is a jewelry store unlike any other. La Fantasie Russie is owned by Pavel Orloff, protégé to the famous Faberge, and is known by the city’s fashion elite as the place to find the rarest of gemstones and the most unique designs. But war has transformed Paris from a city of style and romance to a place of fear and mourning. In the summer of 1918, places where lovers used to walk, widows now wander alone.

So it is from La Fantasie Russie’s workshop that young, ambitious Opaline Duplessi now spends her time making trench watches for soldiers at the front, as well as mourning jewelry for the mothers, wives, and lovers of those who have fallen. People say that Opaline’s creations are magical. But magic is a word Opaline would rather not use. The concept is too closely associated with her mother Sandrine, who practices the dark arts passed down from their ancestor La Lune, one of sixteenth century Paris’s most famous courtesans.

But Opaline does have a rare gift even she can’t deny, a form of lithomancy that allows her to translate the energy emanating from stones. Certain gemstones, combined with a personal item, such as a lock of hair, enable her to receive messages from beyond the grave. In her mind, she is no mystic, but merely a messenger, giving voice to soldiers who died before they were able to properly express themselves to loved ones. Until one day, one of these fallen soldiers communicates a message—directly to her.

So begins a dangerous journey that will take Opaline into the darkest corners of wartime Paris and across the English Channel, where the exiled Romanov dowager empress is waiting to discover the fate of her family. Full of romance, seduction, and a love so powerful it reaches beyond the grave, The Secret Language of Stones is yet another “spellbindingly haunting” (Suspense magazine), “entrancing read that will long be savored” (Library Journal, starred review).

The Secret Language of Stones follows the first Daughters of La Lune novel, last year's The Witch of Painted Sorrows.  This novel centers around Opaline, the daughter of The Witch's main character, Sandrine. As a young woman, it's now time for Opaline to confront the legacy or curse of being a descendant of La Lune. Whether she wants to or not.

I liked that in a lot of ways, The Secret Language of Stones was a completely separate story from The Witch of Painted Sorrows. Opaline is different from Sandrine, her mother. She knows about La Lune, knows what her mother and great-grandmother have told her. Yet, while she knows about the magic, knows the story and the lore, she's much more reticent to embrace being a daughter of La Lune.

There was not the tension and the really compelling need to find out the truth and what it all meant that there was, for me, in The Witch. Both because of Opaline's personality and that La Lune, who and what she was had already gone from unknown to known with Sandrine.

I did love the time the book was set in. Logically, I know that the World War I and the Russian Revolution shared some time; I don't think I've truly connected it before, though. I really liked how Opaline's age, her relationships (past and present) and the jewellery she makes give readers that more personal understanding of the war and its impact

As a romance, The Secret Language of Stones was not quite all that I hoped for. Any time something is called, 'a romantic ghost story,' I do have very high hopes, admittedly. My problem here was that the other character, Opaline's romantic interest never really felt real to me. He didn't feel, for lack of better phrasing, three dimensional or like a character fully separate from Opaline and her interactions with him.

Still, I very much enjoyed the rest of the story, the combination of the Paris in 1918 setting, the devastation, danger and loss from World War I, the Orloff's and their concerns over the Romanovs and Russia, and Opaline's abilities, along with what they meant was all fantastic. Plus, that ending!

(This book can be read without first reading The Witch of Painted Sorrows but I do think you will miss out on a lot of who and what La Lune is/was and what being a 'daughter' of hers could mean. )

received for review, from publisher, via NetGalley

Friday, July 8, 2016

We Own the Night ~ Ashley Poston (earc) review [@ashposton @bloomsburykids]

We Own the Night (Radio Hearts #2)
Bloomsbury Spark
June 28, 2016
250 pages; ebook
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"Happy midnight, my fellow Niteowls..."

As a candy store employee by day, and mysterious deejay "Niteowl" by night, eighteen-year-old Ingrid North is stuck between rock 'n roll and a hard place. She can't wait to get out of her tiny hometown of Steadfast, Nebraska (population three hundred and forty-seven) to chase her dreams, but small-town troubles keep getting in the way. She can't abandon her grandmother with Alzheimer's, or her best friend Micah--who she may or may not be in love with.

But for one hour each Saturday, she escapes all of that. On air, she isn't timid, ugly-sweater-wearing Ingrid North. She's the funny and daring Niteowl. Every boy's manic pixie dream girl. Fearless. And there is one caller in particular-- Dark and Brooding--whose raspy laugh and snarky humor is just sexy enough to take her mind off Micah. Not that she's in love with Micah or anything. Cause she's not.

As her grandmother slips further away and Micah begins dating a Mean-Girls-worthy nightmare, Ingrid runs to the mysterious Dark and Brooding as a disembodied voice to lean on, only to fall down a rabbit hole of punk rockstars, tabloid headlines, and kisses that taste like bubble tea. But the man behind the voice could be surprising in all the right, and wrong, ways.

And she just might find that her real life begins when Niteowl goes off the air.

There were parts of We Own the Night that I really enjoyed and some parts that just did not work for me. The storyline that dealt with Ingrid, her grandmother, her grandmother's Alzheimer's and the responsibility Ingrid felt to stay with her and care for her was very nicely done. We see both Ingrid's love for Grams, who's raised her, loved her and taken care of her Ingrid's whole life, but also her desire to leave Steadfast - and the conflict and guilt that creates.

I loved her relationship with her Grams and how the portrayal of how the Alzheimer's was affecting them both. We see some of how Grams is deteriorating, especially when it's alongside Ingrid's memories of how things were, how it can be difficult for Ingrid, but also how heartbreaking.

 The whole story involving Micah and how Ingrid might be in love with him was something I could have done without. I could understand why Ingrid thought she felt how the thought she felt about him, romantically. Where it didn't work was that they were supposed to be best friends - and how long she held onto those romantic feelings. There are a few scenes of them as 'friends' but most of their interaction and how he treats her, certainly does not feel 'friendly,' or like they're beset friends. I couldn't understand why he held such weight.

I did have to sort of suspend my disbelief when it came to the idea that no one knew Ingrid was Niteowl. It is a town of three hundred and forty seven people, with twenty three people in Ingrid's graduating class; that her secret identity stayed secret felt unbelievable. (At least to me, after having lived in a town ten times Steadfast's size.) She has to be the only one who says, 'Bless,' that often both as Niteowl and as Ingrid and she doesn't exactly sensor herself (saying she has three best friends, etc.

There were a few instances where I thought some more editing would help (tense weirdness, phrasing, timing) but nothing major. The romance was a bit off for me, Ingrid's feelings for one character didn't make sense and the deal with another seemed obvious (but not to her). I did enjoy  the parts of the book that dealt with Ingrid's grandmother, Ingrid's desire to leave Steadfast and all that she had to deal with with reconciling those two directions.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Learning to Swear in America ~ Katie Kennedy (earc) review [@bloomsburykids @KatieWritesBks]

Learning to Swear in America
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
July 05, 2016
352 pages
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Brimming with humor and one-of-a-kind characters, this end-of-the world novel will grab hold of Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell fans.

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize--if there's ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri's 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he's not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

"Yuri Strelnikov? Russia's boy genius . . . " (pg 121)

I love he different aspects of Yuri's character and, most especially, how they all come together and what that result is. He is a genius, a physicist with his PhD, but he's also only seventeen - and now he's in a foreign country where he knows no one. I like that he's so smart, that he thinks about things mathematically and thins about things very pragmatically, it makes the science-slash-NASA-slash-asteroid parts of the novel work.

Yet, Yuri is still very much a seventeen-year-old boy, too. He thinks about sex, he wants to know how to swear in English. It adds a lot of humor to the story and his character and the author does a great job balancing his genius and his seriousness about his job and what needs to be done with how he can be distracted about Dovie, how he can have a more juvenile (not immature, just not adult) way of viewing some tings. It plays into the story in a great way.

When you also add in that Yuri is Russian, the things he doesn't know about America and/or English, his observations on Americans and the slight trouble he has with the language, it really just makes his character perfect. Author Katie Kennedy really knows her character and who she's created and written his unique, endearing, funny, original and pretty unforgettable.

Of course, the book description saying Dovie does anything 'like a normal teenager,' does her quite the disservice. I love how Dovie lives - her family, her thinking, her rings (and the reason behind them), her house, all of it. Dovie and Lennon are perfect for Yuri and the story. They'rI e like a counterpoint to his character while also being a brilliant compliment.

The wonderful, original, creative characters hat I really, really loved, the premise and how Katie Kennedy used swearing as a sort of metaphor on life and humanity is all just so good. I loved this book.

(Also, I know Yuri's blond, but I couldn't stop picturing him as Anton Yelchin's Charlie Bartlett character.)

received, from publisher, via NetGalley, for review

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Little Girl Gone ~ Gerry Schmitt (earc) review [@BerkleyPub]

Little Girl Gone (An Afton Tangler Thriller #1)
July 05, 2016
336 pages
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In the first Afton Tangler thriller, the unforgiving cold of a Minnesota winter hides the truth behind an even more chilling crime...

On a frozen night in an affluent neighborhood of Minneapolis, a baby is abducted from her home after her teenage babysitter is violently assaulted. The parents are frantic, the police are baffled, and, with the perpetrator already in the wind, the trail is getting colder by the second.

As family liaison officer with the Minneapolis P.D., it’s Afton Tangler’s job to deal with the emotional aftermath of terrible crimes—but she’s never faced a case quite as brutal as this. Each development is more heartbreaking than the last and the only lead is a collection of seemingly unrelated clues.

But, most disturbing of all, Afton begins to suspect that this case is not isolated. Whoever did this has taken babies before—and if Afton doesn’t solve this crime soon, more children are sure to go missing

There's something I really lkke about Afton Tangler (besides her name). She is not like the detectives I've read in other books or series - and not only because, as a family liason officer, she is not actually a detective.  She still thinks very much like a detective and she is soon piecing together clues and investigating in a way that will keep readers captivated.

I liked that she was someone who wanted to be a detective, to be doing that work and solving crimes, but technically, she shouldn't be. Possibly because she's not a detective, because she hasn't spent years seeing horrible things and what people are capable of, her character isn't as hard as many female detective, investigator characters. Schmitt's writing, what we see of each crime and how, isn't as . . . gritty as some other books, either. It works well because we still learn the facts, still know what they're up against, and it's still plenty creepy and unsettling without as much gore or violence or just ick.

It was also nice that Afton in a mom, a recently divorced one, at that. Her daughters weren't a large focus of the story but that she was a mother, how it impacted her work on the case and saw things was a nice addition to the story and her character. I am looking forward to seeing how that plays into future books in the series.

The mystery in this one was fantastic. You quickly know what happened, who it happened to and who did it. The why is not so quick to come, though. Even as you try to discern the why, you become more and more anxious for a safe resolution. Seeing both sides of things - the investigation and watching as they uncover things, piece things together, don't notice some things you wish they would, etc and the perpetrators and their lives - really adds to the suspense and mystery. The more we learn about the abductors, the more you want to nudge Afton and Max in the right direction. The suspense and tension really builds the closer this one gets to the end. I loved it.

Afton Tangler made me think a bit of  Lisa Garnder's Tessa Leoni but not quite as hard and maybe a bit of Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder. - and JJ from Criminal Minds, especially considering the job/role she started with. With her unconventional role in the Minneapolis PD (at least for a thriller series lead), I am really looking forward to more of this series and her character.

received, form publisher, via NetGalley for review
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