Mini Reviews

Today's selection of mini reviews is a motley crew (when are they ever not?), and presented in order of "age" ... from middle grades to women's fiction. It's an interesting ride.

Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle
Christopher Healy
Walden Pond, 2013

I am a little in love with this series. Or maybe it's the Princes Charming. Or the fact that Healy is taking such well-known fairy tales and turning them on their head in ways so topsy-turvy (and perhaps a little insane) you can't help but laugh to yourself. I'm still a fan of Liam. I think he's such a wonderful fairy tale hero, even in this mishmash version, and he grows as a character. After all the ups and downs and twists and turns and absolutely ridiculous things that have happened to the League, I maintain a secret hope that future installments will find the correct Prince-Princess pairings ... because there are definitely better pairings than the original tales dictate, among this posse anyway.

Book provided by my local library.

Sweetest Spell
Suzanne Selfors
Walker, 2012

Emmeline is a dirt-scratcher who escapes death. Twice. Some would consider that a blessing, but the people in Emmeline's village have always viewed her as a curse of sorts: with her deformed foot and the strange way cows follow her around. After a flood ravages her home and sends Emmeline downriver, she finds refuge in the home of a local dairyman's family. The Oaks take Emmeline in, despite her dirt-scratcher heritage, and with surprising compassion help her blossom and grow. And discover the sweetest of all surprises: Emmeline can make the mythical chocolate that once made Anglund famous. With the uncovering of this gift comes a journey that will tax every ounce of Emmeline's new-found strength and courage, rooted in the surprising foundation of Owen Oak's love.

A twisting, turning, surprising story that blends magic and love and chocolate and subterfuge and history and legend in such a complex tapestry. Emmeline is a worthy heroine, and Owen grows to become a true hero in his own right. And that cover, you've got to appreciate that cover.

Book provided by my local library.

Rainbow Rowell
St Martin's Griffin, 2013

As a late-twenties professional, I am coming to terms with the fact that I am a fangirl. Geek I've been okay with for more than a decade. Fangirl has taken some getting used to. Which is one reason I enjoyed this read so very much. Because Rainbow has presented the whole enchilada of fangirling: the good, the tough, the iffy, the mesmerizing. Cath is a college freshman -- and twin to Wren, who is the pretty, spunky, popular, outgoing one. As if one of those labels wasn't hard enough, compound the two; then add a dose of fangirl social anxiety, and Cath is a character you immediately want to give a mug of cocoa and tell her everything will be okay. She grows a lot, in what I think is not only a pretty good tale about life as a fangirl, but also a true take on the freshman experience. It's a hard year, where a lot of growing happens. Or it was for me anyway, and definitely was for Cath.

And then there's Levi! Oh, Levi. I want to pick him up and tuck him in my pocket for keeps, precious. We wants him.

Book provided by my local library.

Cassandra King
Maiden Lane Press, 2013

Ever since I met her at a scholarship luncheon, I'm always eager to pick up Cassandra's latest novel. Of course, there's usually a wait between reads, but that's okay. Writing about Southern women, in the heart of The South, her novels are normally ones that make me think. They're not fluffy, and Moonrise was actually a little intense. It has its dark shadows, its mysteries, its very real real-world-issues. The intricacies of long-standing relationships muddled and marred when one member dies and another marries in -- further complicated by the secluded realm of the Southern Elite. It was a little bit of an odd read for me, in that the characters were so much older than myself, but it's set in Highlands! Highlands!! I love that area, and I've always enjoyed reading about the people who Summer in mountain retreats I can only dream of. Not my favorite King novel, but not a complete disaster either.

Book provided by my local library.


The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion
JRR Tolkien
Houghton Mifflin, 2001 (originally published 1977)

Oh. Stars. As a Tolkien fan for literally half my life, I'd never read The Silmarillion. Friends have talked about how tough a read it is, that it took three tries (or more) to finally slog through. They cautioned me about my pre-reading enthusiasm, and hoped I wouldn't be disappointed. Readers, I fell in love. From the earliest pages, I was caught hook, line and sinker. Head over heels.

I'm not even going to try to write a "formal" review. This isn't a book to be "reviewed" -- it's a book to be read, to be absorbed, to be loved. Richly, intricately detailed The Silmarillion is the history of Middle Earth's most awesome residents: the Elves. (Okay, so there's quite a bit of basic Middle Earth history too, but let's be honest: It's all about the Elves). At the risk of sounding like a mad woman, at times I felt as if I was reading my own history; that's how deeply I connected with this book. It's a novel, but not. It's a tome of history, but not. It's a collection of short stories, but not. It's, quite simply, Tolkien. With characters to love, to honor, and to abhor. With so many minute details and complex family relations that things become muddled even as they fall into clarity. It sets up the Tolkien most of us "know" with astonishing cohesiveness.

I think, having read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings several times before, and thereby coming into this reading having some knowledge of the significance of what was happening, aided greatly in my understanding. The plan now is to reread those books again (very soon, we hope, since I read this back in August (oops)), and see what new elements I pick up on.

Book provided by my personal library.


Lying to Meet You

Lying to Meet You
Anna Garner

Is it easier to meet people if you're already in a relationship, than when you are single? It's a question Chloe and lifelong pal Ethan debate, and decide to put to test. The theory is that by pretending to be in a relationship with each other (top secret, nobody is allowed to know it's all a front!), they will each be able to meet and attract potential romantic partners. Crazy and complicated, I know, but also somewhat hilarious. Once the "relationship" starts, Chloe's already busy life gets even more packed: between dates with Ethan, cooking classes with her best friends, and filming a reality show -- not to mention designing and planning the next seasons' lines for her clothing boutique -- Chloe's life is hectic. But it's also awesome: her boutique is doing well and promising much for the future; she's having more fun hanging out with Ethan than she expected; and she's met her Mr. Maybe -- a fellow judge on the reality show. As the fall spins into the holidays, everything seems to be playing out perfectly, especially when Chloe realizes that hottie judge William Shannon appears to be very interested in her. For all intents and purposes, it appears that Chloe is about to get everything she ever wanted. Or is she?

This was a fun, fast read. Chloe is a character you want to cheer for, and Ethan is the perfect best bud. Chemistry sparks, tension builds, characters surprise you -- it's got everything! The only "eh" moment for me was how fast everything ended. It felt like things almost got wrapped up too fast, but maybe that's just me. Regardless, it's a fun chick lit read.

eARC provided by author for review.



Jessica Grey
Tall House Books, 2013

I'm going to try very, very hard not to have this review be Exhibit A of Fangirl vs. Sensible Thought. But I can't make any promises. Every time I read this story (I had the extreme honor of being a beta reader), I fall a little harder in love with it ... with the characters, with the setting, with the very story itself. What is Atone, you ask? It's the sorta-sequel to Awake, in that it picks up several years later and features many of the same issues and people. But it's Becca's time to sparkle, and her story is a reimagining of "Beauty and the Beast" -- set in Grey's beloved [contemporary] Los Angeles. There's so much more to this retelling though ... In fact, there's so much of Atone that you've simply got to experience for yourself, that maybe I will indulge in a little fangirling after all.

If you read Awake, you're familiar with both the magical connection existing between Becca, Alex and Lilia, and the ... "interest" that former supervisor Nicholas Hunt has in that magic. You also know that there is no love lost between Nicholas and Becca. At all. So you're probably going to be as surprised as Becca was to find out she's his emergency contact; and then to realize she actually does care about his fate once she discovers him. As I said, it's "Beauty and the Beast," so you know in your head what's going to happen. But that doesn't take away from the reading -- Becca and Nicholas have so much animosity: extreme passions, just waiting to shift from one bent to another. As a beast, Nicholas is ... well, in a word: amazing. (I may or may not have left a lot of "wolf whistle" comments while beta reading). He's fierce and conflicted, and he develops so much as a character. As does Becca, who has to deal with not only the Becca-Nicholas/Fae-Beast dynamic, but also recognize and address her own issues. She's kickass, but she's a teensy bit flawed. Which is why we love her.

The way things play out, in terms of pacing, is quick. But with such powerful magic at work, you expect quick. Quick makes sense. Plus, you really want to get to the ending. Oh man, the ending. It is incredible. And there's just a lingering sense of what is to come in the next novel, which will be Lilia's story. Good times, people. Good times. And definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.

eARC provided by author for review.


Blog Tour: Over It


Today I'm happy to be a tour stop for Sarah Billington's latest release: Over It. You may remember The Kiss Off, which was a lot of fun to read -- well, this is the story of what happens next. And whew, is it a crazy ride! Don't forget to click on the banner and see the whole tour schedule! And there's a giveaway too, because we all know those are awesome.

First, here's the official synopsis (and purchase links), to whet your appetite ...

Warning: Sexual References, occasional coarse language.
Teen Youtube song writing sensation Poppy Douglas's lead singer boyfriend Ty's been criss-crossing the country and living it up on tour for months while Poppy has been stuck in the boring suburbs, finishing out the school year.
But it's Summer now, and the best thing just happened: Poppy's royalties for writing the hit song The Kiss Off just came in. She's minted, and she knows just what she's going to blow it on.
Ty's band Academy of Lies are headlining a summer music festival, and Poppy is taking her girlfriends along for the best weekend of their lives. It's all organized: the weekend is going to be full of camping under the stars, backstage passes, VIP rooms and partying like rock stars, not to mention some long awaited one-on-one time with America's favorite front man.
Except, when someone drops out of the trip and Poppy takes the opportunity to mend a broken friendship, it doesn't quite go according to plan. And when she meets her boyfriend's BFF from another band, the paparazzi form their own totally wrong conclusions. There's also the matter of Ty's 'super fan' stalker, but the less said about her the better.
The biggest test of all comes in the form of an opportunity too good to pass up. But will insecurities and jealousy stand in Poppy's way? Can Poppy and Ty's relationship even survive it?
Life is about to get much more complicated for Poppy Douglas, but what can you expect when your boyfriend is a rock star?

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Over It
Sarah Billington

This is a whirlwind of a story, mostly taking place over the course of one crazy weekend: a musical festival at the beach, where Academy of Lies are getting their first really major show. Poppy manages to convince her parents to let her go, under the chaperone-age of nerdy cousin Hamish (who isn't so nerdy anymore), and takes Nikki and Maddie along too - hoping to force a friendship (not so smart). With high hopes for music and quality time with Ty, Poppy has no idea what's in store for her and her posse ... Like the attention she herself receives as Poppy Douglas, the YouTube songwriting sensation and girlfriend of hott musician. And a songwriting offer entirely out of the blue, that makes her reevaluate everything. She definitely did not prepare to deal with a "super fan" stalking Ty, or the intensity of their reunion. Suddenly everything isn't a happy-go-lucky daydream, and once again Poppy finds herself dealing with serious issues.

Over It is a fun read, a great weekend-at-the-beach read (literally), but it has its very serious moments too, much like The Kiss Off. Mature moments, where Poppy & Co. must deal with very real world issues. As such, it's like a PG-13 movie: great, but a little edgy. Not in a bad way, just edgy. I mean, these are rock stars we're talking about after all - teenage rock stars, to boot. I feel like Poppy is growing in this novel, and look forward to seeing where she goes next.

eARC provided by author for review.

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