Friday, March 29, 2013

A Stolen Life, by Jaycee Lee Dugard

Barnes & Noble

In the summer of 1991 I was a normal kid. I did normal things. I had friends and a mother who loved me. I was just like you. Until the day my life was stolen. For eighteen years I was a prisoner. I was an object for someone to use and abuse.

For eighteen years I was not allowed to speak my own name. I became a mother and was forced to be a sister. For eighteen years I survived an impossible situation.

On August 26, 2009, I took my name back. My name is Jaycee Lee Dugard. I don’t think of myself as a victim. I survived.
A Stolen Life is my story—in my own words, in my own way, exactly as I remember it.

This was really hard to listen to. I am deathly afraid that something will happen to one of my kids, and this did nothing to assuage my fears.  

Throughout the book, my one overriding, eloquent thought was "holy shit."  

Initially, I couldn't believe that Dugard was narrating the audiobook version; it must have been painful enough to write it all down.  But really, who else could have done it justice?  A professional voice artist wouldn't have captured her "voice," nor would she have been able to evoke the same sense of horror.

I can't even begin to imagine how terrifying Dugard's life was.  It scares the ever-loving daylights out of me to think of my children in her situation.  Excuse me while I hide them away from the rest of the world.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bitter is the New Black, by Jen Lancaster

Barnes & Noble

This is the story of how a haughty former sorority girl went from having a household income of almost a quarter-million dollars to being evicted from a ghetto apartment... It's a modern Greek tragedy, as defined by Roger Dunkle in The Classical Origins of Western Culture: a story in which "the central character, called a tragic protagonist or hero, suffers some serious misfortune which is not accidental and therefore meaningless, but is significant in that the misfortune is logically connected."

In other words? The bitch had it coming.

I'm really glad that this wasn't my first Jen Lancaster book, as I doubt I would have read any of her other works.  I loved Such a Pretty Fat, so I purchased this, her first book.

It was just too over-the-top for me.

I will, however, continue to read her books; she's generally pretty funny.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Barnes & Noble

The mysterious Jay Gatsby embodies the American notion that it is possible to redefine oneself and persuade the world to accept that definition. 

Gatsby's youthful neighbor, Nick Carraway, fascinated with the display of enormous wealth in which Gatsby revels, finds himself swept up in the lavish lifestyle of Long Island society during the Jazz Age. 

Considered Fitzgerald's best work, The Great Gatsby is a mystical, timeless story of integrity and cruelty, vision and despair.

I was completely underwhelmed by this book; thank goodness it was short. The best part was listening to Anthony Heald narrate in this audiobook version.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Agent 6 (Leo Demidov #3), by Tom Rob Smith

Barnes & Noble

How far would you go to solve a crime against your family?

It is 1965. Leo Demidov, a former secret police agent, is forbidden to travel with his wife and daughters from Moscow to New York. They are part of a "Peace Tour," meant to foster closer relations between the two Cold War enemies. On the tour, Leo's family is caught up in a conspiracy and betrayal that ends in tragedy. In the horrible aftermath, Leo demands one thing: that he be allowed to investigate and find the attacker that struck at the heart of his family on foreign soil. From the highest levels of the Soviet government, he is told
No, that is impossible. Leo is haunted by the question: what happened in New York?

In a surprising, epic story that spans decades and continents—from 1950s Moscow to 1960s America to the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s—Leo's long pursuit of justice will force him to confront everything he ever thought he knew about his country, his family, and himself.

Damn you, Tom Rob Smith!  I can't believe you did that.  I mean, COME ON.  Was that really necessary?  You had me sobbing like a baby.

An excellent, fitting end to the Leo Demidov series.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Sea of Tranquility, by Katja Millay

Barnes & Noble

"I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk."

Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.

OMG, you guys.

Add this to my list of Top Ten Books EVER.  I wanted to know everything that happened, but I didn't want it to end!  I'm pretty sure that I went through every possible emotion while I was reading this book.

Fear, longing, love, lust, hate, pity.  You name it; I felt it.  I was a sobbing mess during many chapters.  Especially closer to the end when you find out what really happened to Nastya.

Nastya.  My heart hurts for her.

Sure, she's melodramatic, but what teenager isn't?  (And really, if you're reading an angsty Young Adult novel, it's to be expected.)  She makes some bad choices, even when she thinks she's making the right ones.  Especially when she thinks she's making the right ones.  Piece by piece, we learn what happened to Nastya to make her act the way she does.

Katja Millay gives enough information to satisfy your curiosity and leaves you begging for more.

And speaking of begging...

Josh Bennett.

Josh.  Freaking.  Bennett.


He's had a rough life, too (naturally!).  No family.  No friends, with the exception of the affable Drew.  No hope...

Until the day that Nastya walks into his garage.

They don't fall in love immediately, which is a nice change of pace from your usual YA romances.  But their relationship is so sweet, so snarky, and so surreal that it's okay; half the fun is the tension and uncertainty between the two.

When I finished this book, I cried and cried.  Happy tears.  Sad tears.  Why-isn't-there-a-sequel tears.  I want more, Katja Millay!

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

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Secret Speech (Leo Demidov #2), by Tom Rob Smith

The Soviet Union 1956: after Stalin's death, a violent regime is beginning to fracture. It leaves behind a society where the police are the criminals, and the criminals are innocent. Stalin's successor Khrushchev pledges reform. But there are forces at work that are unable to forgive or forget the past.

Leo Demidov, former MGB officer, is facing his own turmoil. The two young girls he and his wife Raisa adopted have yet to forgive him for his part in the brutal murder of their parents. 

They are not alone. 

Leo, Raisa, and their family are in grave danger from someone with a grudge against Leo. Someone transformed beyond recognition into the perfect model of vengeance. Leo's desperate, personal mission to save his family will take him from the harsh Siberian Gulags, to the depths of the criminal underworld, to the center of the Hungarian uprising—and into a hell where redemption is as brittle as glass.

Well, thank you Tom Rob Smith for not being afraid of killing off your characters.  Though I was aghast at first, I have to give you props: it made the book that much more authentic.

Leo is such a kick-ass hero, and I want to be friends with Raisa.  Their adopted daughters need some serious (tough) love.  I wanted to smack Zoya for her attitude and actions.  And poor Elena.  She just needed love, in general. 

I can't wait to get started on book #3; hopefully I'll make it through without pulling out my hair.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pushing the Limits (Pushing the Limits #1), by Katie McGarry

Barnes & Noble

No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal.

But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.

Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.

Swoon, my friends. Total swoonfest.
 A huge fan of Teen Angst, I crave the tortured pasts, self-flagellation, and heartfail.
I am completely in love with Echo and Noah.
Um, mostly Noah.
Sorry you had to find out this way, Husband. 

Poor Echo. She's the victim of a horrible night she can't remember, her father is a total asshat who married her former nanny, and her "friends" mostly ignore her, thanks to ugly scars covering her arms.

Noah also has a tragic story (of course!).  His parents are dead and he's been separated from his younger brothers--placed in separate foster homes.

He has a Bad Boy reputation, which--naturally--contrasts nicely with our virginal heroine. 

Now, dear reader, which character hates him/herself the most?  Who has the worst life?

But alas!  They are thrown together under unusual circumstances and fall in love.

And then...
The inevitable mid-story conflict that tears our young lovers apart. Yes!  Bring back the angst!

Don't worry, though: book magic being what it is, everything works out for them in the end. 

So why am I so in love with this book?  Why am I giving it five stars when it's just your standard overly melodramatic Young Adult novel?

Because the characters are real. I couldn't help but root for them and I was sucked into their lives. 

And, of course...


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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Child 44 (Leo Demidov #1), by Tom Rob Smith

Barnes & Noble

Set in Soviet Russia in the early 1930's to the mid 1950's, Child 44 is a compelling look at the communist political infrastructure seen through the eyes of the primary character, Leo Demidov, an MGB officer. Stalin's Soviet Union strives to be a paradise for its workers, providing for all of their needs. One of the fundamental pillars is that its citizens live free from the fear of ordinary crime and criminals. However, this is all about to change for our protagonist.

Leo, a war hero, and his beautiful wife live in luxury in Moscow, even providing a decent apartment for his parents. His only ambition is to serve his country. For this greater good, he is arrested and interrogated.

Then the impossible happens. Leo discovers that a serial killer has brutally murdered more than 40 children and is still on the loose. At the same time, Leo, who has subsequently been demoted and denounced by his enemies, must uncover the criminal and in turn, save his life and that of his family.

This?  Was a freaking fantastic book.  I was on the edge of my seat nearly the entire time.

To paraphrase Crush, first I was all like

And then I was all like

And finally I was like

I've already started listening to the next book in the series.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Entwined, by Heather Dixon

Barnes & Noble

Azalea and her younger sisters dance in the mysterious silver forest every night, escaping from the sadness of the palace and their father’s grief. 

What they don’t understand—although as time passes they begin to get an inkling of the danger they are in—is that the mysterious and dashing Keeper is tightening his snare with deadly purpose. Luckily, Azalea is brave and steadfast. Luckily, a handsome young army captain also has his eye on Azalea. . . . 

Lush, romantic, and compelling, this debut novel by Heather Dixon will thrill fans of Shannon Hale, Robin McKinley, and Edith Pattou.

This was a cute rendition of the fairytale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. As I am not a dancer, I found it somewhat silly to be so obsessed with dancing, but that is not the fault of the book.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Defending Jacob, by William Landay

Barnes & Noble

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. 

But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father.

But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.


Oh.  Wow.  I certainly didn't see THAT one coming. 

At. All.

Well played, William Landay.  You had me second-guessing my assumptions throughout the book, but I never ever would have pictured you going there.

I can't even fathom it.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Geek Girl, by Holly Smale

Barnes & Noble (unavailable)

Harriet Manners knows a lot of things.

She knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a "jiffy" lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. What she isn't quite so sure about is why nobody at school seems to like her very much. So when she's spotted by a top model agent, Harriet grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her Best Friend's dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of the impossibly handsome supermodel Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.

As Harriet veers from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, she begins to realise that the world of fashion doesn't seem to like her any more than the real world did.

And as her old life starts to fall apart, the question is: will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?

This was a cute book. Not terribly realistic, but I was able to suspend belief for a little while. It was mostly stereotypical and formulaic, like the total opposite best friends -- the average-looking geek who hates shopping and the knock-out gorgeous BFF who thinks of nothing else. Real life people aren't pigeonholed into one interest; geeks, for example, enjoy activities other than academic pursuits. And have more than one friend.

I do love how Harriet needs to be in control of events at all times. Like her, I love my plans and my lists.

The first thing any good metamorphosis needs is a plan. A nice, well thought out, structured, considered and firm plan.

There were a couple of grammatical errors, most notably "amount of arguments" instead of "number of arguments." I see this one A LOT, so it wasn't terribly surprising, but it still got on my nerves. A good editor really should have caught that, especially since the character goes on to say that she corrects others' grammar just a few paragraphs later.

I didn't like the constant use of italics. It messed up the flow of the story, as I tried to read it in the author's voice, rather than the character's. 

I would recommend this book for middle grade readers.

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

Friday, March 1, 2013

February Recap

Nearly all of the books I read in February were four or more stars.  Interestingly, the only three-star reads were both NetGalleys.

Five stars
Hate List, by Jennifer Brown
The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win, by Gene Kim

Four Stars
But I Love Him, by Amanda Grace
Chime, by Franny Billingsley
Dead to You, by Lisa McMann
The Eleventh Plague, by Jeff Hirsch
Nefertiti, by Michelle Moran
Notes from Ghost Town, by Kate Ellison
Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
When Love Comes to Town, by Tom Lennon

Three Stars
Exposure: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare's Macbeth (Twisted Lit #2), by Kim Askew
Geek Girl, by Holly Smale

Did Not Finish
The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje
Love, Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
What We Saw At Night, by Jacquelyn Mitchard

Fun Stats
Number of books attempted: 15
Number of books read: 12
Number of pages: 2,680
Number of audiobooks: 3
Number of NetGalleys: 5
Number for winter book challenge: 6

Longest book: Nefertiti (482 pages)
Shortest book: When Love Comes to Town (192 pages)

Favorite book: Chime