Sunday, January 25, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (203)



It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

As I write this it is snowing outside and we have a level two snow emergency. I was joking with my family yesterday that if we were rich we could buy a house in Australia (we have relatives there and in NZ) and spend our winter months over there and then be here during our summer months. How nice it would be! Or Florida which would be a decent second option :) I am kind of hoping for a snow day tomorrow but I highly doubt it will happen.

This week I spent a lot of my free time sitting and reading and watching Hulu. My doctor prescribed a muscle relaxer for my back (he believes I strained my back muscles) but I'm not so sure it is helping. 

On the positive side things are getting back to normal at the library and I was able to get caught up on stuff. I finally booked my first program for summer reading (we really have to plan ahead because performers book up fast) and I have been busy getting ready for the winter reading program that starts tomorrow as well as our first Edible Books Festival for April. I'm really excited about it. There's also just 53 days till Spring!



Books reviewed:


All Fall Down by Ally Carter


Books read:


Shopaholic on Honeymoon by Sophie Kinsella

This is a short story set between books 3 and 4 in the Shopaholic series. It was a quick read (and free e-book) but didn't really add anything to the books in my opinion.



I'm glad I finally read this. I liked Sophie's story more than Liv's but there were times when I wanted to shake Sophie for being so naive. It was interesting to read about what life was like for the French during WWI and to learn a little about the restoring of art that was stolen during WWI and WWII.


Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I was worried that I wouldn't like Red Queen after reading reviews that said it was too much like The Hunger Games or X-Men or The Selection. While there are some similarities it was an original enough world and I mostly enjoyed the book. There are some characters that reminded me of members of House Lannister that I wanted to slap and I hope they get their comeuppance in the sequel. :)


The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

Parts of this story were strong and compelling and other parts just didn't work for me. Alice's storyline had a little too much going on and the resolution seemed rushed.


Currently reading:


A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley is one of my favorite authors so I am sure this story will not disappoint. I wish it was set in Scotland instead of France but oh, well :)


What I plan to read next:


The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

I'm really excited about this debut novel. It is a fantasy but it looks kind of like a historical fantasy which I love reading.


The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski

I thought The Winner's Curse was fantastic so I am looking forward to picking up the sequel to find out what happens next. The cover is kind of a weird pose but I suppose it matches book one...


A Sister to Honor by Lucy Ferriss

This sounds like it is going to be a powerful story and a page turner. I've read some really positive reviews on Goodreads too.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review: All Fall Down

All Fall Down
By Ally Carter
Published: January 20, 2015

Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:
 
1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.
 
As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her -- so there's no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands.
 
Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can't control Grace -- no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn't stop it, Grace isn't the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

My review:

All Fall Down is the first book in Ally Carter's new Embassy Row series. I am a big fan of the Gallagher Girls series and I also liked her Heist Society novels. Both series featured a brave and smart heroine with spunk and alongside the action and mystery there was a nice touch of humor. The first Gallagher Girls books were lighter on the suspense and heavier on the humor in fact. All Fall Down is much darker and reminded me more of Out of Sight, Out of Time with the main character's memory loss issues and how others won't believe them.

When she was 13, Grace witnessed her mom's death and while the official story is that it was an accident, Grace insists that her mother was shot by a man with a scarred face. Three years later, she is back where it all happened in the (fictional) country of Adria where her grandfather is the U.S. Ambassador. The new Grace is prickly and defensive. She expects other people to look at her like she is crazy and she feels betrayed by the people she thought she could trust, namely her grandfather. She is also trying to be "good" and toe the line to avoid starting an international incident while secretly looking into her mother's death. Being in Adria triggers traumatic flashbacks for Grace which she tries to keep hidden. This makes it hard for her to appear "normal". The flashbacks give the readers clues to what happened but can we trust Grace's memory? 

I felt sorry for Grace because she seems so alone even when she is with other people. It was frustrating at times that hardly anyone believes her. At the same time I sometimes found Grace to be irritating and immature. Where Kat Bishop (Heist Society) and Cammie Morgan (Gallagher Girls) were smart girls who sometimes made mistakes, I thought Grace could be thoughtless and she didn't really consider the consequences of her actions. She wants to solve her mom's murder and find the guy who did it but it feels like she is more motivated to vindicate herself rather than to find justice for her mom. She wants to prove to her grandfather and her former friends that she isn't crazy and she is right and they are wrong. She also didn't want to accept any help but eventually her new friends wear her down which is a good thing since she really does need their help.

I liked Grace's friends (with the exception of Alexei) and they kind of helped save the book from being too dark. I would have liked to get to know them better but this book is pretty action packed which didn't leave a lot of time for that. I wasn't sure what to make of Grace's grandfather though it is apparent that he cares about her. He is a little too protective perhaps and it is sad that Grace is made to feel like he doesn't support her.

The suspense kept the story going as I tried to figure out what happened to Grace's mom and who the mysterious people were who were having secret meetings all over the place. There is a surprise twist which I have mixed feelings about and there is a mystery left unresolved at the end of the book which I think will be the setup for the sequel. 

Overall I would say that I liked this book but I didn't love it like the author's previous series. I think that is because I was expecting All Fall Down to be similar. I also struggled to connect with Grace. From the start of the book she has a chip on her shoulder and while I did feel sorry for her I didn't like her at times. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I think this series and the character has room to grow and with the way this book ended I think I will like Grace more in the sequel.


Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Amazon Vine



Sunday, January 18, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (202)



It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

I had a crazy week with three days off due to a water line break at the library. One of our water pipes for our sprinkler system froze and then burst in our computer server room and also the room where the fuses are. We were very fortunate that there wasn't a fire. We were finally able to reopen on Thursday but we didn't have the Internet which made things even more hectic. Thankfully things are getting back to normal now. In the middle of that I was also dealing with some health issues with headaches and nausea and some lower back pain that may be kidney related. While the headaches have improved the nausea isn't completely gone and I keep waking up in the middle of the night with lower back pain so I am going to the doctor tomorrow. 

With all that time off I also had plenty of time to read so I finished five books this week and even wrote a book review for one of them. I still have an impressive amount of books I need to write reviews for going back to last year :)


Books reviewed:


The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag


Books read:


Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

This book definitely wasn't what I was expecting. I thought I knew what was going on and then there was a plot twist that I didn't see coming though maybe I should have. I liked it though. Very different from Delirium.


The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag

A charming story with some flaws but I liked it. I am planning to read her first book, The House at the End of Hope Street


Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Oh this book was so good. Very powerful story. Almost made me cry but I held it in. Barely. I can't wait to see the movie but I'll probably have to wait till it's out on DVD. Even if it does get a wide release I don't think I could watch it in the theater :)



I think I liked this one more than Open Road Summer and I loved that book. I really like how the author writes about friendships and family relationships. So many great characters. Dare I say that I like her books more than Sarah Dessen's?


I'm Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil

This is historical fiction with a little bit of mystery thrown in. I liked JJ and her determination and spunk. The music business and the Brill Building in the 1960s is an interesting setting. The author is a songwriter herself, like JJ, working in the Brill Building in the 60s. 

Currently reading:


The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

This one is starting off really well. I like it a lot so far though I am nervous for Sophie and her family during the German occupation. I look forward to hearing what my book group members think of it. They don't always like "war books".


What I plan to read next:


A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley


The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward


Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard


Fit Readers Weekly Check In

Geeky Bloggers Book Blog

I joined #Fitreaders this year after seeing how much my book blogger friends enjoyed it. I am hoping that participating will help me be motivated to be more active in 2015.  If you would like to join #Fitreaders or learn more about it, click on the image above.

I had an abysmally bad week in terms of fitness. I did half an hour of low impact aerobics on Monday, fully intending to take advantage of extra days off from work (we had a water line break at the library) but after Monday I had some health issues (headache, nausea, lower back pain) and just didn't get to exercise again. I am still not at 100% but hopefully I will do better this week.

I am glad that things are finally getting back to normal at the library. We had days worth of books to put away and get checked in so everyone was pitching in. I was on my feet a lot on Thursday at work helping to get caught up so I guess I could count that towards my fitness goals :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Review: The Dress Shop of Dreams

The Dress Shop of Dreams
By Menna Van Praag
Published: December 30, 2014

For fans of Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and Adriana Trigiani, The Dress Shop of Dreams is a captivating novel of enduring hopes, second chances, and the life-changing magic of true love.

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

My review:

The Dress Shop of Dreams combines magic, mystery, and romance into a charming if slightly flawed story. While the novel has been compared to the works of Sarah Addison Allen I would say that the magical element may be similar but there is a lack of the description that makes the Southern setting a living breathing character in Allen's novels. We may get plenty of clothing descriptions and the shop's walls may change color according to season but the setting never gripped me the way the Waverley house (and garden) does in Garden Spells and First Frost. This book is set in Cambridge and Oxford but I missed that in the description and it took me awhile to even realize I was reading a book set in England. That's how little the setting made an impact on me.

The setting may not be as detailed as I wished but the characters were definitely memorable. Etta has her magical gift and a prescience given by the dresses of how to help women. Walt has an almost magical voice when he reads aloud that touches listeners, bringing memories alive. Henry, a minor character, can always tell when people are lying. Cora is scientific and almost cold emotionally except where her grandmother is concerned. She seems to have shut down after the tragic death of her parents, only caring about her research and her desire to "save the world" and realize her parents' dream. 

I had a hard time relating to Cora. Even after Etta unlocks or awaken's Cora's heart with her magic thread and Cora begins to feel again I just never warmed up to her. Walt's feelings for her felt real but her eventual realization of her love for Walt didn't seem believable. I still enjoyed the journey that both characters went on and I was definitely hoping Walt would get a happy ending.  Walt, Etta, Millie and Dylan all provided a nice contrast to Cora with their ways of seeing the world and their feelings about love. I do think that Cora changed by the end of the story and seeing things in a less scientific way.

The mystery in the novel concerns the death of Cora's parents. Was the fire an accident or like Etta believes was there another cause? When Cora starts to remember the fire, Etta voices her concerns and Cora begins to investigate. I think it was important to Cora's growth that she dealt with her emotions about her parents' loss but this storyline felt a little too much. It also brought an extra set of characters from outside of Cambridge with their own baggage and issues. I love mystery usually but it didn't quite work here. It would have been nice to just focus on character development and the various romances already introduced.

Overall I liked this book. It wasn't as good as Sarah Addison Allen's books but there were definitely some enjoyable moments and I cared about even the minor characters like Millie and Dylan (and Henry though he is part of that extraneous mystery plot). I also loved the way the author included literature throughout the book and the references to Jane Austen. I think readers who like Sarah Addison Allen's books would like The Dress Shop of Dreams. Fans of Sarah Jio may also appreciate the romantic themes, especially the second chance love story.


Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley



Monday, January 12, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (201)



It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

It's been an interesting week with some bad weather (nothing too bad but enough to have a "delay" at work) and really cold days which meant more time for reading. Unfortunately I got stuck for awhile trying to find a book to hold my attention after reading Before I Go so I spent more time watching reruns of Friends on Netflix instead of reading. I also decided to give up on Bitter Greens for now. It is an interesting book but I think I'd prefer to read it on my Kindle. The hardcover is too big to lug around in my bag!

I have the day off from the library today since a water line broke and affected our server. I guess we will find out what exactly is damaged tomorrow. Hopefully it isn't too bad and not too expensive to fix. Late last year we had a roofing leak and some of our books got wet. In the meantime I plan to relax and I'm relieved I don't have to drive on icy roads today. I do plan to get some exercise in today since I didn't work out over the weekend.


Books reviewed:


This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner


Books read:


Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

I thought this was a cute story but the end was a little too much. I loved how the works of Margaret Wise Brown and the importance of children's books and bookstores were incorporated into the story.


Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

You may want to keep tissues at hand if you read this one but honestly I felt more angry than sad until the end. I think the author thoughtfully explores the emotions of someone who is dying and what their loved ones go through as well but there were definitely some characters I wanted to slap at times.


Love, Lucy by April Lindner

I haven't read A Room With a View though I did watch a film adaptation of it. This book is very loosely based on the classic novel. Lucy can act like a spoiled brat at times but I also felt sorry for her because of her difficult relationship with her father who doesn't support her dreams. 


Currently reading:


Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

I like this one so far. We haven't really gotten to the mystery yet though there has been mention of the missing young girl. I like Nick (Nicole) but I am not a fan of her younger sister Dara. 


What I might read next:


The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag


Still Alice by Lisa Genova

This is my evening book group's selection for January. We wanted to read it before watching the movie but it looks like it won't be coming to a theater near us so we'll have to wait till it's on DVD. I've heard that the movie is excellent and with Julianne Moore winning a Golden Globe I'm even more excited to see it.



This is my afternoon book group's January pick. I started reading it last year but couldn't get into it. Hopefully I will like it better this time around. I've loved the other two books I read by the author (Me Before You and One Plus One).



I loved Emery Lord's debut novel, Open Road Summer so I am excited about this one and even though the release isn't till the end of March (I like to read ARCs near the release date) I may read it now anyway.


A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

I can't wait to read this book. I was so happy to be approved for an ARC and I love her writing. This one doesn't come out till April so if I can I will hold off on reading it a little while longer.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fit Readers Weekly Check In

Geeky Bloggers Book Blog

This is my first weekly check in as I just joined the challenge last Sunday. I am not tracking my steps as I don't have a Fitbit or other pedometer (yet). I had hoped to work out three days a week but I only managed two because on the third day I planned to work out my muscles were too sore and I couldn't finish. I am really out of shape so I am taking it slow. I guess a 1/2 hour low impact aerobics workout two days this week was better than nothing :)

Next week I am going to try to exercise more often and maybe I can fit in a workout midweek. This spring and summer I will hopefully be able to take a walk on my lunch break at work which will also help. I am also researching FitBit and other pedometers to see if there is something that would work for me. I would like something that takes other exercise (besides walking/running) into account since I can't exactly go on long walks any time soon (unless I pace inside my apartment or go visit my parents and walk on their treadmill). 

Do you use a FitBit? What do you recommend?




Thursday, January 8, 2015

Review: This Shattered World

This Shattered World
By Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Published: December 23, 2014

The second installment in the epic Starbound trilogy introduces a new pair of star-crossed lovers on two sides of a bloody war.

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet's rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

My review:

I loved These Broken Stars so I was really looking forward to picking up This Shattered World. While the central characters are Jubilee and Flynn there are also cameo appearances by Tarver and Lilac. 

This Shattered World is a dark and thought provoking book.  It is much darker than These Broken Stars with its themes of war, death, and PTSD. The book is set on the planet Avon which is a difficult place to live because of the land and because of troubles with the Fianna, rebels living in the swampland. Jubilee (Lee) is known for being tough and she has never broken down like other soldiers on Avon who succumb to madness after being there so long. There is a lot of mystery on Avon beyond just the fighting between the rebels and the base. Strange things have been happening and both Flynn and Lee are trying to find answers while averting outright war.

I thought there was more romance in These Broken Stars but I think it wouldn't fit as well here. Parts of Lilac and Tarver's story reminded me of Titanic as well as adventure movies like Indiana Jones or Star Wars. Their romance was in that vein of the spoiled princess (at first glance) and the rough around the edges soldier/adventurer who can't stand each other until they fall in love on their adventure. The relationship between Lee and Flynn is very different and has a lot of complications for them to overcome. It also isn't the major focus of the story.  They have been broken by life's circumstances and they are on opposing sides of a conflict so the development of their relationship reflects that.

Something that I didn't care for was the structure of the storytelling. In between each chapter there is a dream sequence from Jubilee's perspective involving things from her past and other things that didn't happen. I found that to be very confusing and I could have done without it. That is a minor complaint and it is explained at the end of the book.

Overall I thought this was a good sequel and I enjoyed the world building and liked the characters. The action never got in the way of character development and I thought it was a good page turner too with some unexpected twists. I can't wait to read the next book in the Starbound series. This book could be read as a standalone but there is some overlap between the stories that I think would make more sense if the books were read in order.

Although this is science fiction, I think this series would appeal to readers who enjoy fantasy and adventure stories. I would recommend it to fans of Beth Revis, Marie Lu, Sherry Thomas (The Burning Sky), Marie Rutkoski (The Winner's Curse) and Diana Peterfreund (For Darkness Shows the Stars). 


Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley