Monday, August 26, 2013

Piece of my Heart

Piece of My Heart
Lynn Maddelena Menna
239 pages
Released: June 18, 2013
Publisher: Merit Press
Source: the publisher

You can read the Goodreads summary here.

Books about teens who are aspiring singers never really do it for me, but last week I noticed a few really good reviews of Piece of My Heart floating around the Internet, so I decided to pick this one up off my advanced copy shelf and give it a read.  This is one of the better books Merit Press has put out this year (I couldn't even get past the first twenty pages of Screwed) but it still fell short for me.

Marisol is still in high school, but she's harboring big dreams about being a popular singer.  She and her DJ friend work several parties where she warms the crowds up for karaoke.  Then at a party she's discovered and is soon thrown into a world of rappers and fancy parties.  Classic Cinderella story - if Cinderella was from East Harlem.

All of the characters in Piece of My Heart fell flat to me, so I won't take up your time talking about all of them, but I will talk about Marisol since she's the main character.  I'll be blunt: I don't get Marisol.  She's supposed to be from "the mean streets of East Harlem" but nothing mean seems to be happening in her neighborhood.  Also, I tend to assume that characters from "mean streets" aren't exactly well off if you know what I mean, but Marisol stated a couple times in the book that she wasn't hurting for money and she has no problem accepting expensive gifts from people who barely know her.

But what I really, really didn't about Marisol was her love for her boyfriend, Julian.  They're on again off again because he hates that her job singing at clubs keeps her from him.  I just got such a horrible, controlling vive from Julian and I wanted to slap Marisol and tell her to wake up!  Any guy who wants you with him 24/7 and doesn't want you to pursue your dreams is not worth your time.  Hello!  Their relationship was so frustrating to me, I wanted to shake something.  Marisol's relationship with the other males in the novel aren't exactly... well... let's just say she doesn't make smart choices about the opposite sex at all.  Yuck.

I had a couple issues with the writing style of the book as well.  A couple times the setting changed rapidly and without indication such that I was a little confused.  For example, the end of chapter one finds Marisol at a club after finishing her song and meeting the famous music manager, Pablo Cruz.  The beginning of chapter two finds Marisol still swooning about Pablo Cruz in a bathroom.  As the reader, I assumed she was in the bathroom of the club she just sang at, but in actuality it's a few days later and she's in the recording studio.  Some earlier indication of the scene change would have been useful.  The book also had a few continuity issues - even on the first page!  Marisol is supposed to be singing at a high school graduation party, but in the very next paragraph it's birthday party.  How did no one catch this before it went to print?

Three stars.  I rated this book three stars when I finished it five days ago, but now that I write this review I'm struggling to find something positive to say so I think it might be closer to a two star book.  Just, meh.  If you hardcore love books about teenage singer wannabes, by all means pick this up, but otherwise maybe give it a pass.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Never Let You Go

Never Let You Go
Emma Carlson Berne
229 pages
Released: December 4, 2012
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: swapped for

You can read the Goodreads summary here.

Never Let You Go would be the perfect teen suspense movie.  It's got a charming setting - beautiful summer weather on an idyllic farm where a bunch of young adults are spending their summer working and learning - topped off with suspense, deceit, and one very, very unhinged young lady.  Megan has been invited by Anna to work with her on her uncle's farm this summer.  This is a relief to Megan considering the fall out the two girls had a year ago when Megan kissed Anna's boyfriend.  She's spent the year trying to win Anna back as a friend and now things are going to be back to normal.

Or are they?  Anna's met a boy at the farm whom she's falling for.  She wants Jordan more than anything, but despite her plentiful advances, Jordan seems to have eyes for Megan and she for him.  Things around the farm start going wrong quickly, too, when a newborn foal keeps escaping the barn... and that's just the beginning.

It was clear from the beginning of the novel that Anna was a little bit unhinged.  Clearly she hadn't gotten over what happened the year before and I knew it was only a matter of time before she did something nuts.  When Anna really did start to lose it, I was completely enthralled with the book.  Turning the pages quickly, I couldn't wait to see what she would pull next.  By the end of the book, she had be shocked.  I mean, I knew she was crazy, but I didn't know she was that crazy!  And the last three words of the book really got me.  Really got me.

One part of the plot I wish had been developed more was Anna's relationship with her aunt and uncle.  She despises her aunt, but is overly friendly towards her uncle.  I kept thinking there was something salacious going on behind the scenes, but nothing ever came of it.  But that's okay, the ending of the novel completely threw me for a loop and shocked me, so how could I not love this book?  I may or may not have hugged it when I finished.  (Hint: I did.)

Five stars!  If you take a look at the ratings on Goodreads you'll notice not a lot of people have read this book, let alone given it five stars (19 out of 165 as of this post going live) but I cannot understand why!  This book was a quick, easy read that takes place during the summer, campfire and barn dance included - so to me it's the perfect read for this time of year, but on top of that it was utterly suspenseful and captivating.  I was on the edge of my seat just waiting for Anna to become completely unhinged.  I really do recommend this one, go check it out!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Quarantine: The Loners

Quarantine: The Loners
Lex Thomas
404 pages
Released: July 10, 2012
Publisher: Egmont
Source: purchased

You can read the Goodreads summary here.

It's supposed to be a normal day in David's life when he and his younger brother head off for the first day of school in their brand new high school building.  But things go dramatically wrong when the east wing of the school explodes and the remaining parts of the school are welded shut and blocked off by troops.  Thanks to biological warfare, a virus had attacked the school, infected all the students.  All the adults perished immediately, leaving a high school full of students to their own devices, closed off from the world save the occasional supply drop via helicopter.

Quarantine has been described in so many ways.  The blurb on the book says "A Modern-Day Lord of the Flies," a quote on the back cover compares to Divergent, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear people comparing it to the Hunger Games, either.  I mean, if you had to pick I'd go with Lord of the Flies, but let's skip the comparisons.  Quarantine simply is Quarantine - a kickass, edge of your seat, "holy crap did that really just happen!?" thriller.

Going into the book I knew some sort of adult-less society would be forming in the high school, but I imagined it completely different than it played out.  I thought the kids would get together and form some sort of democratic society and sure, I expected violence to ensue as well as some other teenaged antics, but what I got was a lot different.  No government formed, instead social groups started banding together to form gangs - you had your jocks, your cheerleader types, the nerds, the artsy kids, and so on.  And while I'd love to say, that's so stereotypical, let's give teenagers these days some credit, I can't. My high school was like that, and I'm sure yours was too to some extent.

The dynamics of these gangs really intrigued me, though.  They had each others backs and did want anyone messing with their groups.  So when supply drops happened, they had plans and fought for food.  A rudimentary trading a monetary system developed in the school.  It was a bit like a society, but certainly a lawless one.  As I mentioned before, I expected violence in this book, but certainly not to the extent I witnessed.  I'm not going to lie, I was a little shocked at some of the things I read!  Shocked in a good way, I don't want to give away specifics, but I think you too will be in awe of what these gangs were capable of.

Four stars!  Quarantine was just as good as I was hoping it would be, even if it was a completely unexpected experience.  I loved every minute and the book only loses one star from me based on the arbitrary nature of the disease, which we don't really learn about as much as I would have liked.  Still, I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book in the series!  If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic craziness, Quarantine is a book for you!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Rebel Spirits

Rebel Spirits
Lois Ruby
300 pages
Released: June 1, 2013
Publisher: Point
Source: purchased

You can read the Goodreads summary here.

So here's what happened - I was at Barnes & Noble the other night with the rest of my Christmas giftcards itching in my pocket.  Wait, let's all take a minute and be impressed that I was able to stretch my book buying giftcards to August - oooh, ahhh.  Anyway, I was browsing the YA aisle when this cover caught my eye.  What a dapper young gentleman in uniform.  What a catchy tag line.  I read the blurb and what - it takes place in Gettysburg?  I knew I had to buy it.  Here's the thing - I've been to Gettysburg more times than I can count.  As a child, almost every single summer road trip started with an overnight in Gettysburg since we were usually always headed South and it was a reasonable stopping distance from our home in Buffalo.  I will admit, part of the thrill of reading Rebel Sprits was recognizing all the places the author mentioned.

But let's get on with the actual story.  Lorelei (aka Lori) has been uprooted by her parents as they move from Philadelphia to Gettysburg so they can run their own Bed & Breakfast.  When they get there they find a mysterious staff already there, but Lori finds something more mysterious in her bedroom - a ghost.  They're immediately attracted to each other and fall madly in love and...

Oh gawd, inter-paranomral-instalove.

The fact that Lori had a bout of instalove with a ghost kind of threw me off.  I believe in ghosts and it just doesn't seem very plausible to me, but I'm willing to overlook that for the sake of the story, especially since this guy was evidently pretty handsome and had a mystery that needed to be solved.  Yes, he died at Gettysburg but he didn't die from a war related injury - someone murdered him.  Dun dun dun! But who?  In order for him to rest peacefully, Lori need to solve that mystery.  Oh, and she only has a few days left to do it.

To further complicate things, the gardener has the hots for Lori, too.  Oh gawd, inter-paranormal-love triangle.  But that's okay with me, because when you have an option between ghost or real human flesh, there's only one clear option to me.  That option wasn't as clear to Lori, though.  So she carries on her murder investigation with the help of the gardener and a ragtag group of locals/B&B guests.  Meanwhile, there's also a fancy dress ball - fun!  And why is the staff acting so weird - ou, mysteriousness continues.

Three stars!  I don't think Rebel Spirits is a book the average reader would exclaim over, but if you're a nerdy history buff like me who also likes a touch of the paranormal in their reading, this is definitely a book to check out.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Rules for Disappearing

The Rules for Disappearing
Ashely Elston
312 pages
Released: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Hyperion
Source: library

You can read the Goodreads summary here.

Everything is about to change again - uprooted from yet another life by the Witness Protection Program, Meg is on her way to Louisiana with her parents and little sister.  This is the sixth time they're moving and it's not getting any easier, especially since with every move she feels her original identity slipping further away.  Her father won't tell her why they're in the Witness Protection Program.  Now, plagued with nightmares, Meg is determined to find out the truth.

This book blew me away.  I loved every minute, from the moment we're thrown into the story as Meg is forced to change her appearance for the upcoming move, to the moment the book ends on a "OMGWTF" moment, but I'll get to that later.  The Rules for Disappearing is a completely unique plot line.  I have to give the author props for coming up with that and her plot twists.  It's obvious from the start that there's something fishy going on with this family, but it's hard to know what, especially since Meg has no idea why they're even in the program.  But I had a couple suspicions.

Meg made all sorts of rules for herself for this move (hence the title of the book) like don't make any friends, don't join any clubs, don't stand out... but human nature goes against her as she starts developing feelings for a boy at her new school.  What's great about Ethan is that he's completely supportive of Meg.  Obviously something's up with her, but he doesn't push her and he let's her do her thing for the most part.  They had a sweet little romance that wasn't dipped in insta-love.  It seemed pretty realistic aside from the fact that I'm not aware of too many teenage guys who are as understanding and sweet as Ethan.

But ah, those plot twists!  I half guessed at the first one and was mostly right, although I had no idea how dramatic it would be when the truth came out.  When we finally found out why Meg and her family was in the program, I was a little surprised at how in-depth the problem was.  From that point on the book became all about how to fix it so Meg didn't have to be in the program anymore.  More than anything, she just wanted to live a normal life - and who could blame her as the program was tearing her family apart.

The second plot twist came in the second last chapter of the book.  I'll just say I was right about one of the characters, but I still have no idea what their motivation was.  This was me as I finished the book:  "Whaaaa?"  *Turns the page... there's nothing left but the acknowledgments.  Shakes the book furiously to see if another chapter will appear.  It doesn't.*   It wasn't an earth-shattering cliffhanger, but it was definitely left open ended.  Thank goodness I discovered there's going to be a sequel!  I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for it.

Five stars!  The Rules for Disappearing was a fantastic novel I did not want to put down, resulting in my being rather sluggish at work Wednesday after a Tuesday night readathon.  I've read a couple luke-warm reviews of this book but I don't understand - this book was unique and full of drama.  Quite simply, it was amazing.  If you're a contemporary fan, this is a must read!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mini Reviews: The Riley Bloom Series

Alyson Noel's books about Riley Bloom are a spin-off from her popular Immortals series.  Riley is Ever's younger sister and she and her dog Buttercup died in the same car crash that changed Ever's life forever.  To read about Ever, check out the Immortals series, but if you're looking for a sweet middle grade series, Riley Bloom comes highly recommended.

I read the first book in the series, Radiance, about two years ago.  You can read my review of that book here, which I gave four stars.  I really enjoyed it and over the past two years (has it really been that long?) I acquired the other three novels in the series.  When Whisper arrived at my doorstep last week, I decided it was time to read on so over the past three days I read the three final books in the series.

The second book in the series, Shimmer, drew me in right away.  I quickly recalled how much I loved Riley's spunky personality and I was able to pick up on the plot lines easily after a two year break.  Shimmer may very well be my most favorite book in the series.  In it, Riley is on vacation with guide, Bodhi, when she comes across a ghost named Rebecca and her terrifying dog.  Even though Riley isn't supposed to be helping ghosts on vacation, she can't help herself.  Rebecca is so angry that she died in a slave revolt in 1733 that she shares her anger by making others relive humiliating moments from their past.  Riley was a true hero in this book.  I loved the way she looked at both sides of the story, both the way Rebecca was killed, but also what led the slaves who killed her to do so.  Because of that she was able to help several lost souls and showed a great amount of compassion.  Shimmer gets four stars from me!

The third book, Dreamland, was probably the most nail-biting and exciting book in the series.  Riley is starting to get lonely in the Here & Now and decides to find a way to contact her sister for advice.  Seemingly eternally stuck at the age of twelve, Riley wants nothing more to be thirteen and experience teenage things.  She decides to try dream jumping to contact Ever in her dreams, but things go seriously awry when she finds herself dream weaving instead.  The boy Riley finds herself dream weaving with is absolutely terrifying - he creates nightmares that gave me the chills and I wanted so badly to help Riley out of that situation, though Riley found a way to be compassionate towards him, as well.  This book gets three stars from me, but I really did enjoy it and the brief glimpse we get of Ever, as well.

Finally we have Whisper, the fourth and final book in the series.  The council has given Riley a more challenging case - The Pillar of Doom, a fierce Roman fighter who is stuck reliving his last fight over and over.  Several others have come before her, but all have failed.  Can Riley help this gladiator move on?  I really enjoyed the residual haunting aspect of this book, it really took Riley's talents to a new level and showed off how much she's grown since the first book.  I loved the way this book ended, but overall the ancient Roman setting didn't really do it for me, so the book gets three stars.  I'm a little sad this appears to be the end of the series.

Overall, I highly recommend this series for middle-grade lovers, but also for YA lovers who enjoyed Ever's story in The Immortals series.  The books are quick reads and you can easily digest one or two in a day.  Riley is a spunky yet compassionate young woman whom I loved to read about, and I think you will, too.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Elana K. Arnold
309 pages
Released: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte
Source: won!

You can read the Goodreads summary here.

Ben's hometown of Gypsum, NV is essentially shutting down since the mines have closed.  Everyone is moving and Ben's friends and family are leaving within the week, except that Ben's won a scholarship to a California school so he's headed out that way.  Meanwhile, Lala and her family are traveling gypsies who are in town for a festival.  When Ben and Lala meet, there's instant attraction and their lives are about to change.

If you could only pick one theme from Burning, it would definitely be change.  Everyone in the novel is either experiencing change or yearning for it.  Ben's whole town is about to be abandoned since the gypsum market crashed and the town's mine - and livelihood - shut down for good.  But even if the town was staying, Ben's life would be changing since he won a full scholarship to a California university and is about to head further west for higher education while his friends stay behind.  That's something that Ben really struggles with in the novel and it was refreshing to see that even after he falls for Lala it still weighs heavily on his mind.

Lala, on the other hand, is yearning for change.  She's been traveling with her fellow gypsies from place to place telling uncanny fortunes and earning good money for it.  But she's been betrothed to another gypsy and she's not sure she wants to get married.  I don't know much about gypsies in real life, I'm sure the ones we see on reality television aren't exactly accurate portrayals, but I can't imagine being trapped in a life with such strict gender roles and having no choice in your marriage.  It's no wonder Lala is yearning for change and that she sees that opportunity in Ben, whom she meets when his friends bring him for a tarot card reading.

There's a definite chemistry between Ben and Lala from the get-go.  I think what I loved most about Ben and Lala's relationship though was that even though they were attracted to each other and experienced that YA version of insta-love, it wasn't an all-encompasing love.  Ben still pined for the friends he was about to lose and Lana still had a love for her family, despite her frustrations with them.  I loved the way Ben and Lala handled their time together while still balancing their real lives.  It made their story that much more believable and realistic.  I don't want to give away the ending, but I thought it suited both of them well and was the perfect ending to Burning.

Four stars!  I really, really enjoyed this quick read.  I don't think I've read a contemporary novel about gypsies before, but it was definitely interesting and had me turning the pages.  Contemporary fans will love this one and it's perfect for those shortening summer days we have left.  Pick up a copy today!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Cinders & Sapphires

Cinders & Sapphires
Leila Rasheed
389 pages
Released: January 22, 2013
Publisher: Hyperion
Source: swapped for

You can read the Goodreads summary here.

The Averlys are returning to their home in Somerton after a decade abroad in India, just in time for the social season to begin and for Lady Ada to come out to society.  Ada's father is about to start a new marriage, which means step-siblings for Ada and her sister, Georgiana.  But amist all these changes is a secret in Somerton that has the potential to be the biggest change of all, should it come out.

It's been too long since I read a good historical fiction novel and what better time period to read about than the early twentieth century in England, filled with wealth and properness... and sometimes a little improperness.  I will admit, it took me a couple chapters to get acclimated to this book.  The author's voice is pretty unique and it took me awhile to get used to all the characters, thank goodness for the family tree printed on the inside cover!  But once I got used to all that, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.  The storyline in Cinders & Sapphires was completely engrossing.

I adored the characters in this book.  It's obvious the author spent a lot of time making them unique, just like a real family.  I loved the way their stories interweaved together to create the plot of Cinders & Sapphires; it had multiple, engrossing levels that made me want to read on to find out what would happen next.  The story and relationship between Lady Ada and her ladies' maid Rose was particularly interesting.  When Lady Ada was a child she and Rose played together, not realizing the differences in their stations, but with Lady Ada returns to her childhood home with her family, Rose must act as a servant rather than a friend.  Yet both young women secretly think of each other as friends.  I loved reading about their relationship, particularly towards the end when the plot twist of the book, which I admittedly saw coming, was revealed.

The most interesting part of the book for me, though, was the treating of the gay characters.  This time period in history made it difficult for anyone to be openly gay, so it was interesting to see how the gay characters hid their relationships and what lengths they would to through to keep it that way.

Five stars!  I adored Cinders & Sapphires and I can't wait to get my hands on the next book, even if that means having to wait until 2014.  Historical fiction fans should start this series ASAP!

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguie
383 pages
Released: November 22, 2011
Publisher: Delacorte
Source: swapped for

You can read the Goodreads summary here.

When Katelyn's mother is killed in an earthquake, Katelyn is sent to live with her Grandfather in Arkansas - a long way from her California home.  Things are so different - Kat isn't allowed outdoors after dark because a mysterious creature has been mauling girls in the woods.  But the town of Wolf Springs has secrets Kat knows nothing about - but it's a world she'll soon be dragged into... literally.

The first chapter or so of Unleashed intrigued me, but it didn't take long for me to start noticing some distinct parallels between Kat's world and a certain vampiric world in Forks.  A teenage girl uprooted from the home she loves to a new and very different place to be raised by a guardian who doesn't know much about teenage girls.  A new school, a mysterious boy, a friend with a big paranormal family, something suspicious prowling the woods, awkward school projects... yep Unleashed is Twilight rewritten but with werewolves instead of vampire.  Straight up.

Here's the thing - I probably would have enjoyed this book a lot more had I read it right when it was released in 2011.  I was still pretty excited by the Twilight franchise at that point and the similarities between the two stories would have made me giddy with reading glee.  However, I've moved on from Twilight and the similarities in the books didn't make me happy.  Instead, there were so many parallels I felt like the authors of Unleashed were just trying to ride Stephenie Meyer's coattails.  It was super annoying.

Two stars.  There's not much more I can say here.  If you're no sick of Twilight by now, by all means pick up this book and enjoy it.  But as for me, I'm moving on and won't be continuing on with this series.