Review and Giveaway: Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

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Book: Leverage
Author: Joshua C. Cohen
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release date: February 17, 2011
Source: ARC received from The Unread Reader

Summary: (from Goodreads) Thereâ??s an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid onâ??and offâ??the football field. And it claims its victims without mercyâ??including the most innocent bystanders.

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a schoolâ??s salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.

First impressions: Danny and Kurt are terrific narrators. Danny is sure of himself without being overly cocky. He’s small and a gymnast, and his bravado seems to cover a bit of insecurity about his stature. Kurt is lumbering and quiet, caught behind a painful stutter. He’s had a hard life, but is quick to see the good in others and is at heart a sweet kid with a terrible past. I just loved these two.

Lasting impressions: A powerful book that will challenge the way you think about bullying.

Conflicting impressions: I felt like the antagonists in this book were one-note villains juiced up on steroids and terrorizing the school with no consequences. This seemed a bit unrealistic to me, and thought the story would have been even more powerful if their brutality was a bit more subtle.

Overall impressions: Every once in a while, a book will come along and punch you in the gut. When I first read Missie’s review I knew I had to read this book. I was bracing for the inevitable throughout the entire thing, which meant a lot of clenched jaws and fists as I battled through the pages.

Joshua Cohen does not hold back here. From the first few scenes, we know that the football jocks are playing for keeps. They are mean, terrifying, and disgusting. They rule the school as well as the gym. Their coach does nothing to keep them in check. In fact, the adults in this book are pretty much nonexistent. The boys in this story know they have to fend for themselves, and sometimes at the expense of their fellow classmates. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, for sure.

Too often I think adults turn a blind eye to the concerns of kids. What can seem overdramatic or inconsequential to us can often seem truly frightening and devastating to kids. Granted, in this scenario I think anyone would have been fearful, but Cohen captures that fear in a very honest way. I understood why Danny was so on edge. My heart pounded every time he had to report for practice and step a foot into that locker room. Cohen brilliantly nailed that adolescent mix of isolation and disappointment that threatens to swallow you whole when the adults in your life ignore your fears, or worse, don’t even realize the threat to your safety exists. It just broke my heart.

Although this book has a dark stain on it from the jocks’ bullying, the true heart of the novel comes from how Kurt and Danny deal with it. Kurt, a new and gifted member of the football team, struggles with how to fit in, keep a low profile, but stand up for what is right. He was a victim of horrible child abuse growing up, and can’t stand the thought of others being hurt. He forms a friendship with Danny after seeing a spectacular performance by Danny at a gymnastics meet, and Danny welcomes Kurt as a potential shield from the rest of the football team’s bullying. Together they are able to find redemption after an intensely brutal attack by the football jocks on one of Danny’s teammates.

That attack is the defining moment for our protagonists. They are completely changed by what they witness, and they realize that how they choose to proceed after the attack will stay with them the rest of their lives. In the face of even more tragedy, and the deep shame that beckons for them to cover up their emotional wounds and just move on, our heroes must make a decision. It’s a decision none of us would ever hope to have to make, but it hangs there nonetheless. My stomach felt like a rock as I sped through the final chapters, desperate to find out whether Kurt and Danny would meet the challenge or hide from it.

This book is an important reminder that bullying exists, sometimes further under the surface than we like to admit. I highly recommend this book to everyone, and hope its poignant tale of courage and redemption speaks to your hearts as powerfully as it spoke to mine.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Are you looking for something to read for the All Male Review Challenge? This is a book with both a male protagonist and a male author! Score!

I think this is such an important book to read, so I am giving away a finished copy to one lucky winner!

This contest is open to ages 13 and up with a U.S. mailing address. To enter, leave a comment on this post, along with an email address where I can contact you. The contest will close on May 27, 2011 and the winner will be announced on the 28th. Good luck!


Missie was nice enough to send me her ARC of Leverage because I was so enamored with her review. If you are a reviewer interested in posting your own review of this book, I’d be happy to spread the love and pass along the ARC I received. Email me if you want it. *Update* Sorry folks! The ARC has been claimed!

Review: Happy Birthday to Me by Brian Rowe

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Book: Happy Birthday to Me
Author: Brian Rowe
Publisher: CreateSpace/Self-published
Release date: April 5, 2011
Source: Free ebook from author for review
Series: Birthday Trilogy #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) Seventeen-year-old Cameron Martin has a huge problem: heâ??s aging a whole year of his life with each passing day!

High school is hard enough; imagine rapidly aging from seventeen to seventy in a matter of weeks, with no logical explanation, and with prom, graduation, and the state championship basketball game all on the horizon. Thatâ??s what happens to Cameron, a popular pretty boy who’s never had to face a day looking anything but perfect.

All Cameron wants to do is go back to normal, but no one, not even the best doctors, can diagnose his condition. When he finds love with a mysterious young woman, however, he realizes his only hope for survival might be with the one person who started his condition in the first place.

First impressions: Cameron is really engaging with a powerful voice. I felt like I knew him right away. The book opens with Cameron on death’s door, rapidly aging on the outside despite being only 17 on the inside. I just had to know more!

Lasting impressions: Not enough conflict for my tastes and the supporting characters seemed not to serve much purpose. But I loved Cameron’s voice and I thought the prose was well written.

Conflicting impressions: I wanted there to be some kind of external conflict. This book was all about Cameron’s struggle with this aging process, and for too long we don’t have any idea how he can overcome it. I ended up just assuming he couldn’t, so there wasn’t a whole lot driving me through the pages. We don’t find out what’s going on until the very end of the book, which ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied.

Overall impressions: The beginning and end of this book really pulled me in. Cameron is a cocky athlete with a pretty girlfriend who doesn’t seem to care about him all that much. His best friend, Wesley, is a wannabe film auteur – he reminded me of a hippie grunge Dawson, but in a good way. Cameron is a basketball star, and the son of a successful plastic surgeon. He’s got pretty much everything going for him.

Then Cameron starts to age rapidly, and the stage is set for this ticking time bomb of a deadline. Cameron is aging one whole year per day, and soon his time will be up. As he gets older, his friends and family go through various stages of shock, and life gets pretty lonely. His mom is weepy, his dad is horrified and distant, his sister keeps bugging him to come to her music recital, and his friend Wesley wants to make a film about him. His girlfriend flakes, the weird girl from the pizza parlor keeps showing up, and the librarian incessantly harasses him. Oh, and the basketball team wants him to quit pretending his aging body can keep up.

Somewhere in the jumble of all of these extraneous characters, the story got lost for me. I didn’t know what Cameron was supposed to be learning. Cameron has no idea what’s happening, there’s no medical explanation, and so ultimately he just keeps living his life, one miserable day after another. I was dying for him to figure out who was holding all of the secrets, and wished that had happened way before it did. My focus was too scattered between the relationship with his dad, the upcoming state basketball championship, the film Wesley is directing, the girlfriend who leaves him, and the librarian who ends up in the most bizarre scenario with him that really left me confused.

I think the main reason I didn’t enjoy this as much as I could have is that the motivations of the characters seemed off somehow, and the story didn’t seem to go anywhere for long chunks of time. Still, I have to say again that Cameron has a really great voice and it’s fun to be in his head. The story is unique and interesting, and I think Brian Rowe is a gifted writer. I found this book to be a breath of fresh air in a market flooded with paranormal romances; I just wish it had kept my interest a little better.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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Are you looking for something to read for the All Male Review Challenge? This is a book with both a male protagonist and a male author! Score!

Review: Angel Burn by L. A. Weatherly

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Book: Angel Burn
Author: L. A. Weatherly
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release date: May 24, 2011
Source: Banned Book Tours
Series: Angel Trilogy #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) Willow knows sheâ??s different from other girls, and not just because she loves tinkering with cars. Willow has a gift. She can look into the future and know peopleâ??s dreams and hopes, their sorrows and regrets, just by touching them. She has no idea where this power comes from. But the assassin, Alex, does. Gorgeous, mysterious Alex knows more about Willow than Willow herself. He knows that her powers link to dark and dangerous forces, and that heâ??s one of the few humans left who can fight them. When Alex finds himself falling in love with his sworn enemy, he discovers that nothing is as it seems, least of all good and evil. In the first book in an action-packed, romantic trilogy, L.A. Weatherly sends readers on a thrill-ride of a road trip â?? and depicts the human race at the brink of a future as catastrophic as it is deceptively beautiful.

First impressions: I love tough girls, and this one opens with our young heroine working on her friend’s car. Yes! Hooray for female empowerment. Girls can be car mechanics too! Willow is immediately likable as a smart and bold psychic who wears and does what she likes, as long as it makes her happy. I’m ready for her to be my best friend now.

Lasting impressions: The angels as soul-sucking fiends who want to take over our world and usurp our resources? I’m totally on board with that.

Conflicting impressions: While I understand that Willow needed to struggle with her identity, the number of times she questioned Alex’s feelings for her was a bit eyeroll-inducing. Willow. He likes you. Enough already.

Overall impressions: There were times I absolutely could not put this book down. Willow is a unique girl with a gift for seeing the future, and when during a reading she discovers the existence of angels on Earth, she winds up running for her life with a mysterious assassin named Alex.

Who happens to be gorgeous, of course. I mean, really. Why wouldn’t he be?

I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to divulge that Willow learns she is a half-angel hybrid, since this is learned early on. This causes a lot of tension with Alex, who has been trained to hunt and kill angels since he was a child. We get a lot of sexual tension and frustrated/awkward fights between these two as they flee Willow’s hometown, which I found to be a lot of fun.

The middle section is where things really slowed down. When Willow and Alex go into hiding, there are extended scenes where they do a whole lot of nothing, when I really just wanted them to go out and fight instead of hide. It was at this point that I started to get annoyed with the shifts between first-person Willow and third-person Alex. I’m not sure why a lot of books are approaching things like this, with dual perspectives but different points of view. There were times the switch wasn’t clear enough and I would forget which one we were following at that moment.

Once they approached the climax of the story, however, things picked back up. I felt the big confrontation could have used a bit more explanation as to what had happened, or even if the plan had worked, because when it was all over I felt like I was missing something. I definitely liked where the story ended up despite any flaws with the ending scenes, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one to YA paranormal fans.

I can’t say enough about how much I loved the angels-as-enemies plot. They were scary without being brutal and dark without being evil. When they came to Earth, they quickly started taking over, starting up a new church and setting up cult-like compounds across the country. Weatherly does a nice job of creating this believable progression in American culture without it coming across as critical of fundamentalism or religion in general. In fact, religion is left out of it entirely.

If you like strong girls, cute boys, fast cars, and gunfights, you’ll want to give this one a try!

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Review: No Place Like Holmes by Jason Lethcoe

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Book: No Place Like Holmes
Author: Jason Lethcoe
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Release date: May 10, 2011
Source: ARC from NetGalley

Summary: (from Goodreads) When Griffin is sent to stay with his detective uncle at 221B Baker Street for the summer, he is certain that his uncle must be the great Sherlock Holmes! But Griffin is disappointed to discover that Holmes lives at 221A Baker Street and his uncle lives in unit 221B. His uncle is a detective, just not a very good one. But when Griffin meets a woman with a case that Holmes has turned away for being too ridiculous, he and his uncle team up to help her. Along the way, Griffin shows his uncle just what it means to have true faith in God, even when the case challenges that. The woman claims that her husband was eaten by the Loch Ness Monster, but monsters aren’t real – or are they?

First impressions: Griffin is super cute and likable, probably because of his (intended) resemblance to Sherlock Holmes. I loved his quick mind, and the story starts off by displaying his deductive reasoning powers while interacting with the train staff on his way into London. It’s so nice to spend time with a brilliant kid!

Lasting impressions: A fun middle grade detective book for the young Christian reader. It had humor, heart, and even a little steampunk thrown in for good measure. I particularly loved the extras at the end – a quiz and mini cases for readers to solve themselves!

Conflicting impressions: At times, the Christianity emphasis was heavy-handed, which ultimately made me like the book less. I don’t mind God references if they are true to character, which here they were, but I do mind when they don’t flow well with the rest of the narrative. It seemed like they were shoved in just to make a point, and I think most readers, even (perhaps especially) the young ones, are smart enough to pick up on that.

Overall impressions: This was a quickly paced story about a young American boy sent to London for the summer to visit an uncle he’d never met. He is a miniature genius with exceptional deductive reasoning skills and idolizes Sherlock Holmes. He soon discovers his uncle, Rupert Snodgrass, is Holmes’ neighbor and also a detective, though not a very successful one. Rupert is crass, obsessed with beating Holmes at the detective trade, and at times even bitter and mean.

When a woman in need of help crosses paths with our young hero, Griffin, he takes her to his uncle and they set out trying to solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearance. Though Griffin’s relationship with his uncle starts out rather strained, by showing off his skills Griffin ultimately wins him over. It’s a nice little subplot of family redemption and acceptance.

The Christian elements pop up a lot during Griffin’s interactions with his uncle, as Griffin tries to force love and faith upon Rupert. I believed that Griffin was genuinely concerned for his uncle’s well being, and that Griffin’s faith was a huge part of his life. I just wasn’t sure Griffin would push Rupert’s buttons about it repeatedly if he was still trying to get Rupert to warm up to him. Something about it didn’t gel with me.

Rupert is a sad, miserable man who ultimately transforms and gains some self-love by the end of the book. He has lots of fun inventions that carry them through the story, providing Griffin with the opportunity to look up to something in his poor uncle. It was cool to watch them bond over the case and start to work together. Though the case was fairly straightforward, it had plenty of exciting sequences to keep my interest.

If you like Holmes’ style of detective work, you’ll like this one, as long as you don’t mind a little Christian love thrown in for good measure.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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Are you looking for something to read for the All Male Review Challenge? This is a book with both a male protagonist and a male author! Score!

Review: The Cellar by A. J. Whitten

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Book: The Cellar
Author: A. J. Whitten
Publisher: Graphia Books
Release date: May 2, 2011
Source: ARC from NetGalley

Summary: (from Goodreads) Meredith Willis is suspicious of Adrien, the new guy next door. When she dares to sneak a look into the windows of his house, she sees something in the cellar that makes her believe that Adrien might be more than just a creep – he may be an actual monster.

But her sister, Heather, doesn’t share Meredith’s repulsion. Heather believes Adrien is the only guy who really understands her. In fact, she may be falling in love with him. When Adrien and Heather are cast as the leads in the school production of Romeo and Juliet, to Heather, it feels like fate. To Meredith, it feels like a bad omen. But if she tries to tear the couple apart, she could end up in the last place she’d ever want to be: the cellar. Can Meredith convince her sister that she’s dating the living dead before it’s too late for both of them?

First impressions: The book opens with a tense scene where Meredith’s sister, Heather, blurts that she wishes she had died instead of their father. This family is falling apart after a car accident that killed their patriarch, and this bombshell of a statement sets up a very complicated relationship between the sisters that really sucked me in.

Lasting impressions: Unfortunately, there were not enough likable elements in this book for me to recommend it.

Conflicting impressions: For me, the book was overly graphic with characters I didn’t like or didn’t care about. I didn’t understand who I was supposed to be rooting for or against, particularly in light of the misleading tag line from the cover.

Overall impressions: Okay, deep breath. This is the first one star review I’ve given out on the blog. Usually if I dislike a book enough to give it one star, I’ve stopped reading, at which point I consider it a DNF, delete it from Goodreads, and don’t write a review. So what makes this book different?

For one, I actually wanted to finish it. As stated above, the opening has a good hook, and by the time I got to the midpoint I decided I just had to see how it was all going to tie up. I can’t say I regret reading the book, but I would certainly not recommend it to others – thus the one star.

Let me try to break down my feelings. First and foremost, I was really excited about this book because A) it’s a horror tale, which I love, and B) it’s based on Romeo and Juliet. Or so the cover, and to a lesser degree, the blurb, would have you think. I quickly discovered that the R & J link is not really there, other than the fact that Heather and Adrien take part in the school’s production.

The first point of confusion for me was whether I was supposed to be focused on Meredith or Heather. The story alternates between their perspectives, as well as Adrien’s. Meredith is told in first person, Heather and Adrien in a close third person. Adrien is the boy who moves in next door, and is some kind of zombie looking for eternal love. His primary motivation to find love is his loneliness, and so he can get rid of his fellow zombie/maternal figure, Marie. He decides he wants Heather, so he starts using his magical effects to make her fall in love with him.

The only problem is Heather’s sister, Meredith. She sees right through his charms. They don’t have an effect on her. This isn’t really discussed, just mentioned. Meredith spends most of the book getting more and more suspicious of the creepy guy who never takes off his sunglasses, seems to be brainwashing her entire family as well as the town, and who she sees burying things in the back yard.

It felt like that old Tom Hanks movie, The Burbs. In that way, I kind of liked it. However, while that movie was scary and suspenseful and creepy, this book quickly became just plain gross. Chapter 7 takes us inside Adrien’s house, where we witness him and Marie torturing a man they kidnapped for food. It’s very graphic, very disturbing, and almost made me physically ill while reading it on the train to work. I ended up skimming those pages because I couldn’t get through them.

The thing is, I’m not against violence or disturbing imagery in books. I read and have read a lot of crime and horror books. I like things scary and dark and eerie and yes, even sometimes gory. Here there was a lot of violence that seemed to pop up out of nowhere, and then beat you over the head with it. There was a lot of flesh-eating, a LOT of bugs, and most of it was truly grotesque. This book is not for the faint-hearted, I promise you. That said, it seems like the kind of gross-out material that would be really popular with adolescent boys.

Once we become aware that Adrien is a Bad Man, the story focuses on his quest to steal away Heather, and Meredith’s half-assed attempts to stop him. Heather refuses to think this guy could be bad and thinks that Meredith just doesn’t want her to be happy, so bats away Meredith’s attempts to reason with her. Meredith, despite being convinced Heather is in real danger, never does anything other than try to talk her out of it. I found this ingenuine, as I can guarantee that if my sister were hanging around with a suspected serial killer, I’d physically restrain her if need be. On top of everything, the horrifying things Meredith sees (that spellbound Heather can’t) are explained away by an eye disease. Silly old Meredith, just seeing things again. It didn’t quite work for me.

At times it felt like we were supposed to think Adrien was really in love with Heather, whether because he was truly lonely or used to be a good person/zombie, I don’t know. He never seemed motivated by love until the last few chapters, but his insistence on being with her throughout most of the book wasn’t written as purely psychotic or obsessed. Adrien, more than anyone, could really have benefited by some fleshing out. In my mind, you can’t have it both ways. Adrien is either a good guy who wants to find love and happiness, or he’s really as awful as he is depicted here, in which case he shouldn’t care at all about Heather’s fate. When he pulled a complete 180 in the final scenes, it felt contrived and contrary to his character.

In the end, it seemed like the point of the book was for Meredith to stop Heather and Adrien, but the climax of the book involves intervention by a third party that, while leading to some resolution for the girls, ultimately deprives our heroine of the chance to tie up the story for herself. It confused the plot more than enhanced it, and it disappointed me as a reader.

Thank you to NetGalley and Graphia/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, but this just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 1/5 stars

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Want a different perspective? Check out this four star review by Palm Books Journal.

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

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Book: Bumped
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: April 26, 2011
Source: NetGalley ARC
Series: Bumped #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents are forced to pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and had never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melodyâ??s doorstep. Until now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in religious Goodside, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to bring Melody back to Goodside and convince her that “pregging” for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girlsâ?? lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

First impressions: I love the language in this book. Right away, Megan McCafferty sets us up in a new time with new slang. Personally, I tend to say “for serious” a LOT in real life, so it tickled me every time I saw it here. McCafferty does a great job of grounding us in this alternate time so we feel comfortable right away.

Lasting impressions: That’s it? It’s just going to stop there? I kept looking for the rest of the story. Needless to say, there’s a cliffhanger at the end, and it’s quite abrupt.

Conflicting impressions: I found Harmony to be quite grating. I didn’t really care for her, so found it really hard to care about what was happening to her.

Overall impressions: I don’t like it when things go awry, especially when the characters seem so content with the status quo. I need to be shown, fairly explicitly, how a character comes to accept his or her change in circumstance, otherwise I get a bit cranky.

Here’s an example. Have you seen the movie Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon? I wanted her to end up with Patrick Dempsey. She had a good, full life with him. Why should she give that up to be with Josh Lucas? Apparently, for love, but I couldn’t for the life of me find the reasons as to why she didn’t love Patrick Dempsey enough. It irked me that she gave up a good man and a life she worked so hard to build just to throw it all away for an old love she hadn’t seen in years.

This book similarly irritated me. Melody has spent her entire life doing everything she can to make a good match. She is a good student, a star athlete, active in school clubs, and an all-around good person. Because of this, she signed a lucrative contract that will fund her future, which she seems incredibly happy with.

When her secret twin sister shows up on her doorstep, having run away from a strict Christian cult, everything gets all messy. Harmony is mistaken for Melody and ends up running off with Melody’s match, Jondoe. He’s the prize bull everyone has been waiting for to “bump” (impregnate) Melody, and over the course of one day Harmony manages to screw everything up.

What most bothered me was the ease with which both characters seemed to completely flip-flop their views. Harmony starts out as a repressed Christian and Melody is this pro-pregg, pro-bump leader of her school. Somehow over the course of a day or two, they wind up miles from where they started. They not only don’t seem to care that their views have changed, but they also seem happy about it. Neither of them seem to fully think through anything and when the tides turn they just sort of go with it in this hard to believe, impulsive manner. McCafferty does give us hints that these girls aren’t all that comfortable with the things they were taught to believe, but the climax of the story doesn’t do enough to justify how easily they leave behind their world views.

I did very much like the world McCafferty created, however, and the story itself is fascinating. I would have liked some more conflict between the sisters after the dust settles on Harmony’s mis-steps, but the build between best friend Zen and Melody is perfectly done. Melody is believably clueless about Zen’s feelings for her, and yet it’s easy to see why she could fall in love with him without even realizing it.

Although we don’t get a lot of background on this virus that prevents reproductivity after age 18, I felt like the scenario seemed valid for that circumstance. If women couldn’t have babies, wouldn’t the free market lead to teens selling their babies? Harmony’s cult/faith represents the opposite view, where people are rejecting this practice and instead opting to marry and have children at an early age. I’m not sure if I’m more comfortable with teen mother-wives or with teen baby-sellers. I wish we’d had a view of the middle ground in this debate.

This book is certainly a conversation starter. Although for me the characters were frustratingly nonsensical with their choices at times, it was still an interesting story. I would recommend it to dystopian lovers or anyone who wants a thought-provoking perspective on teen pregnancy.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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Want a different perspective? Check out this rave review by girl loves books.

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

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Book: The Goddess Test
Author: Aimee Carter
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: April 19, 2011
Source: NetGalley ARC
Series: Goddess Test #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) It’s always been just Kate and her mom â?? and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate’s going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won’t live past the fall.

Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld â?? and if she accepts his bargain, he’ll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.

Kate is sure he’s crazy â?? until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she’ll become Henry’s future bride, and a goddess.

First impressions: I loved the relationship between Kate and her mom. The book opens with Kate driving her mom from their home in New York to the mom’s childhood home in Eden, Michigan. Her mom is dying from cancer and wants nothing more but to be at peace. Kate is really struggling with this, and it broke my heart. I liked Kate instantly.

Lasting impressions: It’s a fun take on the Greek gods and goddesses. It’s hard to say if I would have gotten some deeper meaning from it if I was more familiar with the gods (since the last time I studied them was in 8th grade), but overall my lack of knowledge didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the book. I was really caught up in the story and flew through this book.

Conflicting impressions: It was kind of a bummer that Kate didn’t know what the 7 tests are until the end, because it meant that we didn’t know either. This wasn’t a deal breaker for me, but kind of made me wonder when the end was coming. We had no frame of reference for when the final tests would take place, so I ended up not really caring about them since I also knew we wouldn’t get clues as to what the tests were.

Overall impressions: Kate is kind of a pushover, which made some of the scenes ring a little false. As soon as she gets to Eden, she is forced to accept an invitation to a bonfire party by the head cheerleader, Ava. Kate doesn’t want to go, because she wants to spend as much time with her mother as possible, but ultimately accepts.

Ava ends up trying to teach Kate a lesson about who exactly is Top Dog in Eden, but the plan goes sour. When Kate is given the opportunity to rectify the situation by striking an odd deal with Henry, she jumps at the chance. I didn’t really have a problem with Kate trying to save Ava. Just because someone is a bitch to you doesn’t mean you want to see them suffer, even if they are a stranger. I thought this spoke volumes about Kate’s compassion and desire to do the right thing.

Meeting Henry, however, is when things get weird. Good weird, but still weird. This mysterious guy asks her to devote 6 months of the year to live with him at his secluded estate and she agrees? Okay, suspension of disbelief, blah blah blah. When push comes to shove, though, Kate backs out and Henry flexes his karmic muscle and then she really has to agree or things are going to get scary weird.

The only thing that ends up spurring Kate through this twisted reality is the thought that Henry could save her mother. Since I found this relationship so believable, I also believed that she would do anything for her mom. I decided to just go with the flow and accept that Kate would do all of these things she didn’t want to do, just for her mom. Sure there are lots of lingering questions – Why would her friends let her go? Why wouldn’t anyone in Eden wonder what happened to her? – but mostly I could forget my doubts.

After Kate moves in to Henry’s house, however, things slowed down. There’s no real timeline pushing the story forward. There is a vague threat on Kate’s life that I found a bit unclear, so it didn’t suffice for me in creating much tension. Mostly I just wanted to know more about the tests.

When the end finally happens, though, the resolution worked for me. I found myself quite satisfied with how they chose to reveal the tests and how Kate had done on each of them, though it could have been expanded just a bit more. I liked how everything wrapped up at the end, and overall I found the story sweet and kind of magical. I think Small Review nailed it with her comparison to Beauty and the Beast because it definitely had the same elements. Girl sacrifices own freedom to save a parent, girl likes overbearing freedom denier despite herself, girl ends up with Stockholm Syndrome.

No? That’s not it?

I still found the book to be fun, exciting, interesting, and quite a page-turner. I gobbled this book up in two sittings because I liked Kate and wanted to know what would happen to her. If you like fantastical tales or even fairy tale retellings, I think this book will appeal to you. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Want a different perspective? Check out this review by Rabid Reads.

Book & TV Show Review: A Game of Thrones

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Book: A Game of Thrones
Author: George R. R. Martin
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Release date: August 6, 1996
Source: Bought for Kindle
Series: A Song of Ice and Fire #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

First impressions: I love a good prologue – it sets the stage, gets you interested, and dives right into the action. Believe me, Martin gives good prologue here. It gave me important information about the northern area of the country, was full of suspense, and made me want to learn more. What else could you ask for?

Lasting impressions: This is undoubtedly an epic story. It covers lots of characters over a long period of time in a vast world. At times this was overwhelming, particularly to someone who doesn’t read a lot of epic fantasy, but ultimately the story was powerful and satisfying.

Conflicting impressions: Having spent so much time lately reading first person intimate narratives, the switch to a more distant third person point of view was a big change up. I was frustrated at times by how Martin seemed to power through difficult moments and present them so matter of factly. Where was all the angst and hand wringing I love? Oh, right. Not that kind of book, so no real points off from me.

Overall impressions: I have to emphasize again that I am not normally an epic fantasy reader. That, in and of itself, is a huge reason I did not rate this book higher. It’s just not my preferred genre. I love fantasy stories, I love swords and action and betrayal and lots of other fantasy elements, it’s just that slogging through 850 pages is not my idea of a good time. It takes me months to get through one of Diana Gabaldon’s behemoths, and I love them, but the process itself is a struggle. I have a short attention span.

That said, I struggled to get through this one. If it weren’t for the HBO premiere, I don’t think I would have had the motivation to finish. As much as I liked the characters and the story, it didn’t quite move fast enough to keep me engaged. It took me three weeks to read the first half of the book, and the second half I simply forced myself to sit down and read in a marathon 4 hour reading session on Friday night.

Am I glad I did? Absolutely. Like I said, it’s a great book. The characters were fantastic, and with the revolving POVs, you really get a chance to get to know them individually. My favorites by far were Arya, the 10 year old (I think) daughter of House Stark, and Tyrion Lannister, dwarf brother to the Queen. Arya is a tomboy who only wants to fight and be outside, though custom dictates she must learn sewing and act a lady. Tyrion is called “the Imp” by his countrymen, a nickname he despises, and because of his perceived deformity, is looked down upon by nearly everyone he encounters.

The beauty of the story is that all of the characters are deeply flawed, so as events quickly get out of their control, these flaws dictate devastating consequences. Martin is truly not afraid to show the darkest sides of people, nor is he afraid to take things from the characters we love so dearly. This book was frustrating often because I just wanted things to get better instead of get worse, and that is not usually the plan.

I highly recommend the book to fantasy fans, although most of them have probably already read it. Although it’s not my particular cup of tea, I still enjoyed the story and am glad it is getting a well deserved boost in publicity thanks to the HBO series. For my thoughts on the show, read on.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

First, I just have to say how much I love the posters and publicity materials circulating for the series. The production design of the entire show is exquisite, and the posters are equally amazing.

I was quickly swept up into the TV show hooplah around this premiere. After seeing a pre-movie ad for it months ago, I vowed to read the book. I followed the show’s Twitter feed, scoured the Wikipedia pages, and dove into the novel with a few weeks to spare.

Last night, it finally arrived.

I was impressed with the level of fidelity to the source material. Of course, having Martin as a consultant probably helped, but HBO really pulled out all the stops. The world was richly designed, down to the smallest details. The opening credit sequence was beautifully done, with House sigils next to the actors’ names designating their characters’ alliance, and an overview of the map of the world, giving us an idea of where we were. My husband, who hadn’t read the book, felt this was really helpful.

The casting was superb as well. I thought all of the characters looked the way I had pictured them, as if they had walked right off the page and onto the screen. The acting is great so far, and likely to only get better as the plot thickens. There are some opportunities to do some incredible work with this material, and I have no doubt that every actor on board is capable of really going there. I imagine they are all very excited to have the chance to dive into a story of this scale and depth.

In a way, knowing the story takes some of the fun out of the big reveals of treachery. The cliffhangers will likely be a bit muted, but that hasn’t taken away from my enjoyment so far. This series is definitely living up to the hype and I cannot wait to see all of the book’s incredible scenes come to fruition on my television.

I’ve already said it to one friend, but it bears repeating: the HBO subscription price for the duration of the show is definitely worth it.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

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Book: Wicked Lovely
Author: Melissa Marr
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: June 12, 2007
Source: Purchased for Kindle (still only $0.99!)
Series: Wicked Lovely #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) All teenagers have problems, but few of them can match those of Aislinn, who has the power to see faeries. Quite understandably, she wishes that she could share her friends’ obliviousness and tries hard to avoid these invisible intruders. But one faery in particular refuses to leave her alone. Keenan the Summer King is convinced beyond all reasoning that Aislinn is the queen he has been seeking for nine centuries. What’s a 21st-century girl to do when she’s stalked by a suitor nobody else can see? A debut fantasy romance for the ages; superlative summer read.

First impressions: Man, this book is DARK. Way darker than I anticipated. Perhaps the gorgeous cover should have clued me in, since it is kind of spooky beautiful, but I wasn’t really prepared for how awful the fairies were going to be in this story, particularly right off the bat.

Lasting impressions: I can’t tell if I should be frustrated with Melissa Marr or celebrating her genius. The only reason I didn’t like this book was because I didn’t want Aislinn to have to make the choices she did. She was put in an impossibly unfair predicament, and I didn’t want her to be in it, so I got really angry with the book. Frustrating to read? Yes, but it also provoked some strong emotions and I obviously connected with the characters, so well done Ms. Marr. Well played.

Conflicting impressions: Though I didn’t have as strong feelings about Keenan as did Aylee, I definitely agree that he is a pompous ass who would never deserve Aislinn in a million years. Many of the characters in this book were not likable, which contributed to the dark aspects I enjoyed, but it sure made it hard to read sometimes.

Overall impressions: I agonized over whether to give this book 2, 3, or 4 stars. I really liked Aislinn (Ash), even though I don’t know how to pronounce her name, and absolutely adored Seth. Sure he’s a bit of a man slut, but he’s hopelessly devoted to Ash and I want to steal him away and have all of his babies. And I hate babies.

Besides Seth, I also really liked Donia, the Winter Girl who must help Keenan find his Summer Queen. As much as Seth loves Ash, so does Donia love Keenan. And just as Ash is put in a hopeless position, so is Donia. She loves Keenan, but must help him find his queen so he can resume the throne. That queen was supposed to be her, but it’s not, and that’s a tough pill to swallow.

On the sidelines is Beira, the Winter Queen, and Keenan’s mother. She’s pretty much pure evil, and tries to convince Donia to save her own life and betray Keenan in the process. Seriously, everyone in this book is stuck between a rock and a hard place. I so wanted to throw this book across the room, except in my case that would also mean throwing my Kindle around, and I’ve really been trying to avoid that.

Needless to say, the tension is amazing. Marr really knows how to build the plot, piece by piece, in such a way that you can’t help but finish it off. Her characters are likewise carefully constructed and fully developed. I found everything about the book compelling, and my only reservations are based on my gut reactions to the people and actions involved.

While the characters had to make tough choices, it also rang true to life. We don’t always get what we want, and when things change it’s usually impossible to get them back to the way they used to be. I loved that Marr didn’t hand anything over easily and made the characters work to find their own solutions. Even though the process frustrated me as a reader, it made a great story, and for that reason I look forward to reading the next books.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Want a different perspective? Check out this fabulous and funny four star review by Aylee at Recovering Potter Addict.

Dark Lover by J. R. Ward

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Book: Dark Lover
Author: J. R. Ward
Publisher: Signet
Release date: September 6, 2005
Source: Purchased on Kindle
Series: Black Dagger Brotherhood #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there’s a deadly turf war going war going on between vampires and their slayers. There exists a secret band of brothers like no other-six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Yet none of them relishes killing their enemies more than Wrath, the leader of the Black Dagger Brotherhood…

The only purebred vampire left on the planet, Wrath has a score to settle with the slayers who murdered his parents centuries ago. But when one of his most trusted fighters is killed – orphaning a half-breed daughter unaware of her heritage or her fate – Wrath must usher the beautiful female into the world of the undead…

Racked by a restlessness in her body that wasn’t there, Beth Randall is helpless against the dangerously sexy man who comes at night with shadows in his eyes. His tales of brotherhood and blood frighten her. But his touch ignites a dawning hunger that threatens to consume them both.

First impressions: I was really excited to read this book because so many people love this series, but the first few chapters were not the most attention-getting. Wrath is really what kept me reading because he’s so well developed. I love that he has a visual impairment but is still totally badass.

Lasting impressions: I will definitely stick with this series. The story started to pick up about a quarter of the way through and kept me turning pages until I’d gobbled the whole thing.

Conflicting impressions: There are some cheesy moments (Does every vampire have to hang out in a dark, bass-thumping club?), and Beth got on my nerves quite frequently, but these are easily overlooked.

Overall impressions: Here’s the thing. Did you see that cover? I suffer from cover shyness, and for that reason I have long avoided reading romance novels in public. This is another in a long list of reasons I love my Kindle. And because of said Kindle, I finally gave myself the chance to read this book.

I was really surprised by how funny and unique it turned out to be. Ward has obviously spent a lot of time crafting this world, so it’s easy to get immersed in it. That’s one of my favorite qualities in a book.

Beth is kind of a blah main character for most of the book. She’s a gorgeous woman with no interest in men, which she comes to learn is because she’s turning into a vampire. I loved how Ward played around with female character tropes and made them work for her instead of against her. Beautiful, unattainable woman who can’t get a date? Got a perfectly good explanation. Later in the book, she jokes about how she wishes her name was something shorter than Elizabeth, “like Mary. Or Sue.” Mary Sue! I had a good chuckle over that one. Ward is playing us like a fiddle.

Despite their cheesy names (Wrath, Rhage, Tohrment, etc.), the BDB boys are pretty cool. I struggled a bit to keep them all straight, since we don’t have a lot of opportunity to learn their individual traits in the midst of what is primarily Wrath’s story, but they are still enjoyable and interesting, and sometimes downright scary.

The romance element here does not disappoint, either. Again, because Ward is a genius at twisting tired devices in her favor, she’s written a world where maturing vampires are at their sexual peak, so when Beth starts to turn, things heat up pretty quickly with Wrath. I felt like they genuinely cared for each other, though, and the love story that follows their initial, erm, encounter is believable and sweet.

In fact, I felt the love story was far and away more interesting than the conflict with the bad guys. The Lessers are militant counterparts to the Brotherhood, and both groups want to destroy each other. It does seem a bit exhausting as a reader since these battles have raged on for centuries and there doesn’t appear to be a clear favorite for the win. With 8 more books in the series, I have to assume this thing is going to drag out, and that may be a big part of why I felt so much more attached to the Beth/Wrath storyline.

This was a fun book with a great balance of mystery, surprise, steamy romance and hot boys fighting. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, where each book allows us to get to know another BDB member in more detail.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Want to get in on the discussion? Check out the Dark Lover BDB book club post at Bookaholic Does Blogging.

Steampunkery & Book Reviews