Monday, December 31, 2012

Talisman of El (Talisman of El #1), by Alecia Stone

Barnes & Noble


One Planet.

Two Worlds.

Population: Human ... 7 billion.

Others ... unknown.

When 14-year-old Charlie Blake wakes up sweating and gasping for air in the middle of the night, he knows it is happening again. This time he witnesses a brutal murder. He's afraid to tell any one. No one would believe him ... because it was a dream. Just like the one he had four years ago - the day before his dad died.

Charlie doesn't know why this is happening. He would give any thing to have an ordinary life. The problem: he doesn't belong in the world he knows as home. He belongs with the others.

I really, really, really wanted to like this book. The premise is awesome, and I was so excited when NetGalley approved my request!

Unfortunately, the story falls flat. I was completely engaged for the first quarter of the book, and my attention waned from there. I struggled through the rest of it and would not have finished were it not an ARC for review.

What I liked:
  • The description of Charlie's gym teacher had me laughing. When I was in sixth grade, my big, burly male P.E. teacher also wore short red shorts and tight shirts.
  • The premise. I love the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and this had a similar feel.

What I didn't like:
  • One of the biggest problems throughout the book was a lack of transition from one scene to another. Charlie goes from having a sleepless night to pacing back and forth in front of his house. It's a minor transgression, but it's quite confusing for the reader. A page break -- or some sort of symbol denoting a transition -- would have helped immensely.
  • Metric versus English. Since this book is set in the UK and the author is British, I expected all units to be measured in the metric system. So it was terribly confusing when I read about both yards & meters and miles & kilometers.
  • Adding to any confusion, there were a number of Britishisms that I had to figure out. I even had to google "naughts and crosses" (tic tac toe).
  • Characters portrayed one way, then the complete opposite for no discernible reason other than "revealing their true selves." * (Spoilers after the jump)

The book is stylistically and grammatically correct. If it were fleshed out more -- especially in terms of showing, rather than telling the story -- I think this would be a four-star read.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Flesh Cartel #1: Capture (The Flesh Cartel #1), by Rachel Haimowitz and Heidi Belleau

Amazon - removed from site due to "content violation"
Barnes & Noble

In this first installment of the exciting new psychosexual thriller, The Flesh Cartel, orphaned brothers Mat and Dougie Carmichael are stolen in the night from their own home. Taken to a horrifying processing facility, they are assessed, microchipped, and subjected to unspeakable brutality—all in preparation for sale to the highest bidder.

In a world where every person has a price, the beautiful and subduable PhD student Dougie is highly prized. His brother, a rough-edged MMA fighter, is less desirable—and potentially too dangerous—but he still has his own appeal.

Abused and locked up under round the clock surveillance, with no idea where they are or even why they’ve been taken, escape seems impossible, which leaves staying together their only hope. And after being separated once by the foster system, they'll do anything to keep it from happening again. Anything at all.

(Publisher's note: This title contains material some may find objectionable or trigger-inducing, including explicit violence, non-consent, and forced incest.)

I shouldn't like this book. AT ALL. It's horrifying and the two protagonists -- brothers Matt and Dougie -- are degraded and humiliated over and over. The subject matter is so hard to read, but I just couldn't put it down.

The writing is excellent: I really connected to the characters and felt their pain.

This serial novel is NOT for the faint of heart. It includes themes of kidnapping, human trafficking, rape, forced incest, and brutal BDSM.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

And All the Stars, by Andrea K. Höst

Barnes & Noble

Come for the apocalypse.
Stay for cupcakes.
Die for love.

Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings.

None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind.

Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.

A solid 3.5 stars.   

The first thing I liked about the book was the addition of the description prior to the start of the story.  I am someone who reads the jacket cover at several points while I'm reading a book.  With a Kindle, it's impossible to view metadata, so this was a really nice touch.  

Some of the language ventured into the purple prose and I had to re-read a few passages in order to understand what was going on:
The TV showed a van crammed full of people and personal belongings driving toward a roadblock.  The thin hum of the engine dropped, then picked up again.  Then a tinkle, breaking glass, and the van screeched to a stop.  Little chopped-off noises followed as it hastily reversed, turned, and accelerated away, one headlight punched out.
I appreciate that the author is showing rather than telling what happened, but it's not always necessary.

Madeleine is a very real teenage girl: she skips school; lies to her mother about where she is; crushes over a cute boy; and is outwardly shy, though thankfully not in a Bella Swan there-is-nothing-special-about-me way.  I really related to her and I loved her friendship with Noi, a girl who considers all strangers as friends she just hasn't met yet.  She has her own insecurities, but covers them with a great snarky streak:
[Madeleine to Noi]
"Half the world is dead, we just robbed four stores, and you're worried about liking a guy two years younger than you?

"Priorities, I have them."

Oh, yeah.  I would totally be friends with Noi.  And while temporarily staying in a random apartment -- unoccupied since the arrival of the Spires -- she chooses to sleep in the Wonder Woman room.  Dude!  I want a Wonder Woman room!

The cast of characters is rounded out nicely: differing nationalities and social classes; a mix of GLBT and straight teens; and personalities that work well together.  Personality traits aren't restricted to a single character, so there's enough snark for everyone!  When Madeleine comments that it's not a good idea to drink, Min -- a secondary character and part of the group that sticks together -- takes the opposing view:
"Alien invasions aren't exactly the time to get drunk."
"If there was ever a time to get drunk, alien invasions are it."
A statement I can guarantee I will use sometime in the future:
"I give you fair warning that I am going to fangasm over you at some point when we're not saving the planet."
Totally a group I'd want to hang out with.

The love story part of the book was a great twist on the traditional YA triangle.  I didn't see that one coming AT ALL.

I will definitely be reading more of Andrea Höst's work, which isn't something I say about a lot of Indie authors.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Little Brother (Little Brother #1), by Cory Doctorow

Barnes & Noble

Marcus--aka “w1n5t0n”--is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, his injured best friend Darryl does not come out. The city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: "M1k3y" will take down the DHS himself.

Present day or near-future. Another terrorist attack, this time in San Francisco. Four friends are skipping school to take part in an on- and off-line game when they are rounded up by DHS officials and detained. After several days of questioning, they are (mostly) released. Being branded a terrorist--even though it was just a case of wrong place, wrong time--has changed something in Marcus. No longer content to ignore how easy it is for the government to track it's citizens' activities via modern technology, he embarks on a mission to take back his--and others'--privacy. And to take down the Department of Homeland Security while he does it.

I really liked this novel. I'm a techie by trade, so I enjoyed the snippets of IT jargon (don't worry; Doctorow makes it part of the story and gives clear descriptions). There were a handful of times that the book felt a bit pretentious, if only because I have encountered *a lot* of big egos in my job. And it's impossible not to think of Anonymous and 4chan when it comes to underground movements.

Teenage boys will love this: not only is the hero a 17-year-old, he's not the typical "hot guy" and uses his smarts to fight back. And he gets the girl!

If you liked Ready Player One, I recommend giving this book a try.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Entangled (Spellbound #1), by Nikki Jefford

Barnes & Noble

Two months after dying, seventeen-year-old witch Graylee Perez wakes up in her twin sister Charlene’s body.

Until Gray finds a way back inside her own body, she’s stuck being Charlene every twenty-hour hours. Her sister has left precise instructions on how Gray should dress and behave. Looking like a prep isn’t half as bad as hanging out with Charlene’s snotty friends and gropey boyfriend.

The “normals” of McKinley High might be quick to write her behavior off as post-traumatic stress, but warlock Raj McKenna is the only person who suspects Gray has returned from the dead.

Now Gray has to solve the mystery of her death and resurrection and disentangle herself from Charlene’s body before she disappears for good.

I stumbled across this book on NetGalley and was thrilled when I saw that it was available to read & review. Talk about an awesome premise! Unfortunately, the book was lacking in many ways and I had trouble finishing it. Had I purchased it or borrowed it from the library, I would have stopped reading after the first chapter. It took me three days to get through the whole book; I dreaded turning my Kindle back on.

But first, the good:
  • I swooned when I first saw the cover. Yeah, yeah: don't-judge-a-book-by-its-cover and all that, but I admit to being a cover snob. The cover art is gorgeous!
  • The concept is original. In a market that is flooded with paranormally-inclined teenagers, it's refreshing to find a new twist.

And now, the rest:
  • As much as I love the cover, it has absolutely nothing to do with the story. Except that the book starts in February. So...maybe?
  • Within the first few pages, the reader is introduced to several characters at the same time. It was very confusing. Not a good sign of things to come.
  • Graylee, the heroine of the novel, complains about the clothes she's wearing almost immediately. Assuming that a 17-year-old girl is able to dress herself, this is just silly. And I don't understand why her standard "uniform" consists of tights under shorts in the middle of winter.
  • One of the characters has a "pear-shaped head". I have two problems with this: 1) I had to Google it to know what that means and how to picture it in my head; and 2) this poor guy is described as such no less than a half-dozen times.
  • The timeline is hard to follow. Graylee will be at school doing whatever and the next paragraph describes a completely different scene. No transitions. This happens throughout the book and is incredibly frustrating.
  • Flat, stereotypical characters: good/bad twins; simpering, neglectful, or too-strict parents; the studious girl with glasses who dresses like a staid matron; the bad boy who's just misunderstood; etc. I didn't connect with any of the characters. In fact, I disliked ALL of them.
  • Slut shaming. Newsflash! A girl who has sex with a boy, or who makes out with a string of boys over a period of time, OR who *gasp* has sex with more than one guy IS. NOT. A. SLUT! NOR is she a slut for wearing skimpy clothes. I absolutely hate it when female authors slut shame their characters.
  • Unbelievable love interest. Graylee and Raj go from trying to kill each other (really! attempted murder!) to lusting after each other for no discernible reason.
  • Unbelievable love triangle.
  • Forced drama where none existed.
  • Unclear motivation for any of the characters.
  • Magic spells for everything! 
  • Raj's mother: 1) after Raj burned down the house, why didn't she ask her son what happened that night?; 2) is "...tall, slim, dark skinned with with straight silky hair that flowed past her shoulders...She was no blond next door and certainly hadn't adopted the friendly American smile. Because all Americans are blond and smile all the time? Awful--and incorrect--stereotype.
  • When a boy breaks up with a girl and starts dating someone new, IT IS NOT THE NEW GIRLFRIEND'S FAULT. 
  • Attempted murder (and not just between Raj and Graylee) is no big deal.
  • Graylee is found to have died of...death. Yep, Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome.
  • After finding out that she's been dead for two months, Graylee barely reacts. I'd like to think that I'd freak out about it.
  • Graylee's mom: 1) said to Graylee "My life could never go on without you." Um, except that it did, as she was still alive; 2) is not on a first-name basis with the parents of Charlene's long-time boyfriend; 3) blowing off threats of suicide. Suicide is not a joke. If you have a character who is actually trying to harm herself, don't have her mother say "she just needs some time alone." I about threw my Kindle across the room; 4) a girl is allowed to date/get to know more than one boy at a time. She does not, in fact, have to make a decision and choose between them when she barely knows either one.
  • A teacher who seduces a 15-year-old and has "a thing for adolescent[s]" is a pedophile. The student is a victim. It is inappropriate to joke about a female teacher sleeping with her "I.e.:[sic] horny" young male students. (And that should be e.g., no uppercase letter, and no colon.)
  • Speaking of grammar, I cringed over and over and over.
  • Boys have feelings and need support. To state otherwise does a disservice to the male sex. We are long past the Me-Tarzan-You-Jane era.
  • Does anyone actually think that laryngitis is contagious?

So, yeah. I really do think that the premise is great. But the story needs A LOT of work: peer reviews; writing groups; editors; etc.

I will definitely not be continuing with the series.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What a Boy Wants, by Nyrae Dawn

Barnes & Noble (unavailable)

Courtesy of watching his mom’s relationships, Sebastian Hawkins knows what girls need to do to get a guy. He has what he considers a PHD in hooking up. When he needs extra cash for a car, Sebastian starts up an online venture as The Hook-up Doctor, to anonymously help girls land the guy of their dreams. Of course, his services don’t offer a happily-ever-after guarantee. He’s seen firsthand getting together never means staying together.

And then he falls in love…

With the last girl he would expect…

Totally not in his game plan.

Suddenly, Sebastian finds himself muddled in the game he’s always prided himself on. He can’t even pick up girls at parties anymore! Why would anyone want to be in love when it turns you into a stuttering, screwed-up, mess with really lame stalker tendencies? Stalking? Totally not his gig.

But the Hook-up Doctor won’t let himself go down easily. He’s always known how to give a girl what she wants and now it’s time to figure out what a boy wants… and he definitely plans on getting it.

Ohmygosh, I'm in love!  This was such a sweet book and I gobbled it up. 

While it's a predictable storyline -- boy and girl are friends; boy and girl hook up; boy and girl break up; boy and girl get back together -- the characters are so compelling that you don't care that you already know how it's going to play out.  They are real and vivid and I can totally picture them as kids who live in my neighborhood.

Sebastian.  Oh, dear lord.  A cocky 17-year-old kid who thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread.  He. Is. Hilarious.  I loved it when he came to realizations and had "aha!" moments.  Serious people-looking-at-me-like-I'm-crazy snorts of laughter.

If you're looking for a quick, fun read, I *highly* recommend this book. 

I can't wait to read the next book in the series; I'm going to buy it now!

The Hook-Up Doctor's Guide (What a Boy Wants 0.5), by Nyrae Dawn

Barnes & Noble

Sebastian Hawkins, known online as “The Hook up Doctor” is taking his advice column one step further with “The Hook-up Doctor Guide”. In this manual he’s revisiting some of his hardest cases along with dishing out brand new advice, too. Sebastian isn’t stopping with just these six specific cases either. He’s throw in some of Sebastian’s Rules to give girls extra advice on grabbing the guy of their dreams.

So if you've ever been a little lost on how to move out of the "friend territory" or make your BFF's brother see you as more than his little sister's friend, than this guide is for you.

Sometimes advice is much easier to give, than to put into action...

Disclaimer: The Hook up Doctor Guide is a work of FICTION and not meant to apply in real life. Sebastian and all of the situations in this book are fictional and for entertainment purposes only. This should not be used as a real “self-help” book. This advice is not meant for readers use, but for a fun, fictional read.

Cute little companion novella to What a Boy Wants, filled with the Hook-Up Doctor's advice to teens in love and lust. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Time to Sleep, My Love, by Nancy Tillman

Barnes & Noble

It's time to sleep, it's time to sleep,

the fishes croon in waters deep.

The songbirds sing in trees above,

"It's time to sleep, my love, my love."

As children prepare for bed, the world around them is also settling down for the night. Animals who live in the jungle, the forest, the sea—all whisper to their babies a soft refrain: It’s time to sleep, my love.

As comforting as a soft blanket and warm as a goodnight hug, Eric Metaxas's lullaby is lovingly brought to life by bestselling artist Nancy Tillman  (On the Night You Were Born) , whose illustrations celebrate the wonders of the natural world, and the bonds of family.

I love love love this book. It's the perfect cadence for just-before-bed story time. It's soft and sweet and perfect for winding down from a busy day.

I will often sneak this book into the evening's reading pile, even when the kids don't want it. I tell them it's a freebie because they made good choices that day, but it's really for me. :)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Columbine, by Dave Cullen


Barnes & Noble

Ten years in the making and a masterpiece of reportage, "Columbine" is an award-winning journalist's definitive account of one of the most shocking massacres in American history.

It is driven by two questions: what drove these killers, and what did they do to this town?


"On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school, Oklahoma City-style, and to leave a lasting impression on the world. Their bombs failed, but the ensuing shooting defined a new era of school violence--irrevocably branding every subsequent shooting 'another Columbine.

"When we think of Columbine, we think of the Trench Coat Mafia; we think of Cassie Bernall, the girl we thought professed her faith before she was shot; and we think of the boy pulling himself out of a school window--the whole world was watching him. Now, in a riveting piece of journalism nearly ten years in the making, comes the story none of us knew. In this revelatory book, Dave Cullen has delivered a profile of teenage killers that goes to the heart of psychopathology. He lays bare the callous brutality of mastermind Eric Harris and the quavering, suicidal Dylan Klebold, who went to the prom three days earlier and obsessed about love in his journal.

"The result is an astonishing account of two good students with lots of friends, who were secretly stockpiling a basement cache of weapons, recording their raging hatred, and manipulating every adult who got in their way. They left signs everywhere, described by Cullen with a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, FBI psychologists, and the boys' tapes and diaries, he gives the best complete account of the Columbine tragedy.

"In the tradition of
Helter Skelter and In Cold Blood, COLUMBINE is destined to be a classic. A close-up portrait of violence, a community rendered helpless, and police blunders and cover-ups, it is a compelling and utterly human portrait of two killers--an unforgettable cautionary tale for our time." (From inside cover)

Excellent information about the Columbine shooting, but the writing leaves a lot to be desired.