Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Gemini ~ Sonya Mukherjee (earc) review [@simonteen @sonyamukherjee]

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
July 26, 2016
336 pages
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In a powerful and daring debut novel, Sonya Mukherjee shares the story of sisters Clara and Hailey, conjoined twins who are learning what it means to be truly extraordinary.

Seventeen-year-old conjoined twins Clara and Hailey have lived in the same small town their entire lives—no one stares at them anymore. But there are cracks in their quiet existence, and they’re slowly becoming more apparent. Clara and Hailey are at a crossroads. Clara wants to stay close to home, avoid all attention, and study the night sky. Hailey wants to travel the world, learn from great artists, and dance with mysterious boys. As high school graduation approaches, each twin must untangle her dreams from her sister’s, and figure out what it means to be her own person.

Told in alternating perspectives, this unconventional coming-of-age tale shows how dreams can break your heart—but the love between sisters can mend it.

As conjoined twins, Clara and Hailey experience life quite differently than most everyone else. Yet, in how author Sonya Mukherjee the two girls, they are two teenage girls the reader can easily identify with and relate to.

In their senior year of high school, Hailey and Clara are dealing with their friends applying ot and going away to (or not, as the case may be) college, with looking at their own future, what it holds and what they think of that. They have a mother who wants thigns just so, who does all she can to protect them and keep them safe. They've lived in the same small town, with the same people for nearly all of their lives. For a long as they can remember.

It's always been the two of them, forever together, in little Bear Pass, California and that's been good. It is good. But is it enough?

Gemini alternates between being told form Hailey's perspective and Clara's and I really loved how this was done. With them being conjoined twins, you wouldn't expect their experiences to vary much - the how, sure, but not the what - but the author really does a great job using the dual narration to its full potential. While we do still get each girl's feelings on things that happen, what people say or do, much of Hailey's chapters are about Clara and what she's experiencing and/or what Hailey thinks she feels or thinks. And the Clara's chapters give us the same for Hailey.

Especially when you realize that the two girls technically cannot see each other face to face (as they're connect at their back), this way of seeing each one, so much, through her sister's eyes is really special.

I enjoyed that these were two teenage girls, two sisters, twins, who were dealing with much of what most deal with as they near the end of high school. There were the questions of what they want from life, what htey expect, what they're willing to put up with to get it, how to make it all happen and if they even should. The added element of them being conjoined twins was something that made the story unique and made them a bit more different, yet just as that's only a part of who they were, it's only a part of Gemini.

Gemini truly is the 'unconventional coming-of-age tale' it claims to be and one that is well written and really makes full use of the alternating perspectives,

review copy received from publisher, via NetGalley

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

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy 4th!

Happy Fourth of July!!

Book Blitz: The Proverbial Mr Universe ~ Maria La Serra [@authormlaserra @Xpresso Tours]

The Proverbial Mr. Universe 
Maria La Serra
June 27th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult, Romance

Dear girl with the red scarf,

Love was never meant to be conquered;

you have to surrender to it.

Trust me. After all, I am Mr. Universe.
When the universe conveys a message, you listen.
Olivia Montiano just caught her fiancé cheating. Now she is forced to question what she wants out of life and love. Striving to live up to her father’s unrealistic standards for the past twenty-three years, every decision she has ever made was with her father’s wishes in mind—until she finds mysterious, handwritten letters tucked away in places only meant for her. That’s when she realizes she’s been on the wrong path all along and gives her heart to a guy her father thinks is entirely wrong.
Washed-up abstract artist Nick Montgomery has had quite a few setbacks in life. He’s become accustomed to never needing anyone, thinking he’s just fine—until he meets the girl with the red scarf. She’s not his type. But the universe has other ideas. Nick has a secret he’s keeping from her, afraid it will bring their new relationship to a sudden halt.
Will they figure out what the universe holds for them?

“I think it’s safe to say it would be safer for you if you took your bike to work.”
He winked at her.
“Ha, funny.” She looks at the people who gathered around; some were locals, and some were tourists. What she enjoyed the most was the view of downtown Montreal.
Nick waited for her to get settled on the steps of the Chalet du Mont Royal before handing her back a vanilla ice-cream cone.
“Wasn’t that fun?”
“Yes, it was. But I don’t know how I’m going to get back. My legs are so tired.”
“What’s the rush?”
Olivia shrugged and smiled at him.
“Is there somewhere you have to be?”
“Do you?” She acted nonchalant, not wanting to give Nick the satisfaction that she was easily available.
He smiled appreciatively. “Great, we both have nowhere to be. So there’s no rush.”
He glanced down and frowned. “You better start working on that ice cream before it drips.”
Olivia licked her ice cream, making more of a mess of herself. She laughed, and Nick handed her more napkins to help her clean off her sweater.
“You know what else I haven’t done in ages?” She looked up at Nick, who sat one step above her.
“What’s that?”
“Ping pong.”
He made a funny face like she said something revolting.
“Come on, who doesn’t like ping pong?”
“Just to let you know, I’m silently judging you.”
Olivia glanced at his gray polo shirt with happy faces scattered all over it.
“Don’t you dare be judging me, Montgomery. Where did you find this lame top?” She playfully ran her hand across his chest, feeling him stiffen under her touch. His smile slowly faded and out of nowhere, there was a particular affliction overshadowing his face.
“Don’t worry, Montgomery, my hands are clean.” She put her hand up to show him.
“No, it’s not that.” His voice had become heavier. “There something I’ve wanted to tell you.” Something in his tone caused for concern. Then she thought maybe he didn’t want things to go back to the way they were. Maybe he realized during their time apart that he’d rather be just friends. Or worse … there was someone else. She was afraid of what he was about to say. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. She could feel the presence of it, this thick air hovering above them. Olivia didn’t know if it was the ice cream or this familiar feeling of complete disappointment because the tugging in her stomach began to grow.
Aware of his stare, she glanced up to find his eyes on her, and for a moment Olivia wished he would kiss her to make it all go away.
Author Bio:
Maria La Serra, a fashion designer, turned writer, lives in Montreal with her husband and two children. She will try everything at least once, except for skiing, hiking or camping-okay anything relating to activities done in the great outdoors. The Proverbial Mr. Universe is her first novel.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Twisted ~ Hannah Jayne (earc) review [@Hannah_Jayne1 @SourcebooksFire]

Sourcebooks Fire
July 05, 2016
304 pages
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When her father is accused of being a serial killer, Bex becomes the ultimate bait in this game of cat and mouse

Bex is ready to start a new life in foster care. There, she won't be known as a serial killer's daughter. Though her father was never tried for the murders attributed to "The Wife Collector," he disappeared after questioning. And Bex struggles with the guilt that she provided the circumstantial evidence that convicted him in the public's perception—and drove him to abandon her.

But when a body turns up in her new hometown, all signs point to the Wife Collector. Bex's old life isn't ready to let her go. The police want to use Bex to lure in her father. But is she baiting a serial killer or endangering an innocent man? 

"...And let people think she was a serial killer just because her father was.
Not anymore.
That was Beth Anne Reimer.
And she was Bex Andrews now." 

I think I asked too many questions for Twisted. I really loved the premise of a girl whose father is a serial killer (or, technically, an alleged serial killer), what that's meant for her both with the public and internally, and her, now, trying to start a new life, apart from all of that - only to have it return.

The years between when the story takes place and Bex's father's arrest really added an interesting element to the story. It let her be a child when everything transpired but a teenager now. I did wish there had been more background as to her 'becoming' Bex Andrews.

I think her new name paired with foster parents who knew nothing of her past (or who her father was) seemed a bit hard to believe, especially when her caseworker was so absent.

Bex's new life is going very well for her, with fast, new, popular friends, loving and doting foster parents making her feel at home and even a boyfriend. It did seem like the relationships progressed rather quickly (form how being someone's 'girlfriend' came about to her foster parents being her 'parents' and loving her, etc) which felt kind of rushed. (Then something spoilery with another character seems to have incredibly little impact or aftermath for the characters.)

There were a lot of good hints and clues given, some real and some to lead readers astray, but they all make you want to know how it's going to end. Thanks not only to the clues given - real or not - but also Bex's second (and sometimes third) guessing people, their motives, and events both past and present, you really want to keep reading and see what the truth is.

The actual action of the ending, what physically occurred, was exciting and rewarding. I am not so sure about what we learn by the end. I really wanted an epilogue or something to explain a few more things, form those that didn't make sense to me or weren't explained to things that needed that extra bit of information to be more plausible.

Overall, Twisted is a compelling mystery that will keep readers turning the pages, but there were less answers, less explanation that I would have liked.

digital copy received from publisher, via NetGalley, for review
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