Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Also Known As

Also Known As
By Robin Benway
Published: February 26, 2013

Being a 16-year-old safecracker and active-duty daughter of international spies has its moments, good and bad. Pros: Seeing the world one crime-solving adventure at a time. Having parents with super cool jobs. Cons: Never staying in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend. But for Maggie Silver, the biggest perk of all has been avoiding high school and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple locker combinations.

Then Maggie and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, and all of that changes. She'll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school's security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the essential information she needs to crack the case . . . all while trying not to blow her cover.

My review:

I wanted to read this book because the teen spy premise reminded me of The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter, which I love. In a way, this book is similar to I'd Tell You I Love You, But then I'd Have to Kill You because of the romance and the idea of a girl who has been raised in a very different way from most teens trying to act like an ordinary teen. Also Known As has the same kind of humor but it isn't quite the same in content. It is a little edgier with a secondary character who drinks like a fish and the romance is a little more heated. I also thought the main character, Maggie, didn't quite pull off her spy persona very convincingly. Of course in this book, the story doesn't just focus on Maggie's mission. It is also about her desire for a normal teenage life so we spend time reading about her experiences at school, her first real party, etc.

Since this book is not at its strongest where the espionage elements are concerned, what really makes this story work is the development of Maggie's friendship with Roux, her first friend, and her relationship with Jesse and the complications involved because of her assignment. Maggie may not be believable as a spy but she is absolutely convincing as a new student trying to make a friend and all the uncertainties that she faces as she attempts to fit in. Roux is a great secondary character. Looking back, I think I liked her more than Maggie because she has more depth and personality. Roux has her problems but she becomes a good friend to Maggie. The romance between Maggie and Jesse is sweet. Jesse is a nice guy and Maggie has a hard time deceiving him about her life. While I was glad that Jesse was portrayed as a decent love interest, I wish there was more to his character.

Overall I'd say this is a fun and entertaining story that would be a good pick for fans of The Gallagher Girls series. It doesn't live up to Ally Carter's books in terms of the espionage but it does offer a great heroine, sweet romance, and a zany sidekick.

Note: I received an e-ARC for review courtesy of NetGalley

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (138)

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 am so glad that February is almost over because it means winter is almost over too. Of course we've been lucky where I live but still I will breathe a sigh of relief when I know the snow and ice are gone for good!

The one good thing about winter is that it usually means more time to read. I had a pretty good reading week and am feeling less stressed out especially since I finished one of my book group books. Now I just have to finish Unwind before Tuesday and I'm all set!

Books read:

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

I definitely liked this one more than When She Woke and I look forward to hearing what the members of my afternoon book group thought of it later this week at our meeting.

Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman

I enjoyed this book though it has some flaws like an overly melodramatic ending. Still I think it was mostly good and will have to look for the author's other work.

Books reviewed:

Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

Currently reading:

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I was expecting to be wowed by this book but so far it is good but not amazing. I should finish it up by tomorrow. 

What I plan to read next:

Poison by Bridget Zinn

I am looking forward to starting this book. I am sad that the author passed away of cancer a couple of years ago.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

I have heard mostly good things about this book and I'm interested in it because of the travel aspect of the story. We'll see if I like it or not...

What have you been reading lately?
Are you ready for spring too?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review: Star Wars: Scoundrels

Star Wars: Scoundrels
By Timothy Zahn
Published: January 1, 2013

To make his biggest score, Han’s ready to take even bigger risks.
But even he can’t do this job solo.

Han Solo should be basking in his moment of glory. After all, the cocky smuggler and captain of the Millennium Falcon just played a key role in the daring raid that destroyed the Death Star and landed the first serious blow to the Empire in its war against the Rebel Alliance. But after losing the reward his heroics earned him, Han’s got nothing to celebrate. Especially since he’s deep in debt to the ruthless crime lord Jabba the Hutt. There’s a bounty on Han’s head—and if he can’t cough up the credits, he’ll surely pay with his hide. The only thing that can save him is a king’s ransom. Or maybe a gangster’s fortune? That’s what a mysterious stranger is offering in exchange for Han’s less-than-legal help with a riskier-than-usual caper. The payoff will be more than enough for Han to settle up with Jabba—and ensure he never has to haggle with the Hutts again.

All he has to do is infiltrate the ultra-fortified stronghold of a Black Sun crime syndicate underboss and crack the galaxy’s most notoriously impregnable safe. It sounds like a job for miracle workers . . . or madmen. So Han assembles a gallery of rogues who are a little of both—including his indispensable sidekick Chewbacca and the cunning Lando Calrissian. If anyone can dodge, deceive, and defeat heavily armed thugs, killer droids, and Imperial agents alike—and pull off the heist of the century—it’s Solo’s scoundrels. But will their crime really pay, or will it cost them the ultimate price?

My review:

I loved Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy (Heir to the Empire, etc.) for its creativity and epic storytelling that was so similar to the original movies. I was really excited when I found out about this new book even though the premise is so different. There have been a lot of comparisons between this book and the film Ocean's Eleven and I would have to say that I agree. The feel of this book is definitely more like a heist movie rather than the epic good vs. evil kind of story that we had with the Thrawn trilogy. There is a large cast of characters with only four familiar faces (Han, Chewie, Lando, and Winter, a character from the Thrawn books). Thankfully Zahn gives us a list of characters at the beginning of the book to help us remember who's who.

I thought the pacing started out kind of slow because we are introduced to all the different characters and we get the background story to set up the action. It did pick up once that was in place and the book captured my attention in the latter half. I enjoyed the familiar humor too though I really did miss the presence of Luke and Leia and the droids. While this was a fun book, I do prefer the Thrawn Trilogy because it is more like the movies (the originals and not the "prequels) and I love the struggle between good and evil and the complex characters. With this book, the story doesn't focus on what is going on between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance and we don't get to know the new characters (good or bad) all that well with such a large cast.  

Overall, this is an entertaining book set in the Star Wars universe with some familiar characters and it offers some surprising plot twists and action even if the character development and pacing are not at their best. I think this book would appeal to a variety of Star Wars fans if they are patient with the pacing of the first part of the story and if they don't expect epic storytelling. If you like Ocean's Eleven and Star Wars, then strongly consider giving this book a try! If however you prefer the kind of good vs. evil story of Star Wars and haven't read the Thrawn Trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command) then definitely add that series to your TBR list.

Check out the book trailer here:

Note: While I did receive an ARC from Amazon Vine, I read the finished (published) version which I checked out from the library

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday (117)

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly meme to discuss upcoming books we can't wait to get our hands on. Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.   

This week, I'm waiting on:

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax
Release date: April 2, 2013

Description from Goodreads:

When the concierge of The Alexander, a historic Atlanta apartment building, invites his fellow residents to join him for weekly screenings ofDownton Abbey, four very different people find themselves connecting with the addictive drama, and—even more unexpectedly—with each other…

Samantha Davis married young and for the wrong reason: the security of old Atlanta money—for herself and for her orphaned brother and sister. She never expected her marriage to be complicated by love and compromised by a shattering family betrayal.

Claire Walker is now an empty nester and struggling author who left her home in the suburbs for the old world charm of The Alexander, and for a new and productive life. But she soon wonders if clinging to old dreams can be more destructive than having no dreams at all.

And then there’s Brooke MacKenzie, a woman in constant battle with her faithless ex-husband. She’s just starting to realize that it’s time to take a deep breath and come to terms with the fact that her life is not the fairy tale she thought it would be.

For Samantha, Claire, Brooke—and Edward, who arranges the weekly gatherings—it will be a season of surprises as they forge a bond that will sustain them through some of life’s hardest moments—all of it reflected in the unfolding drama, comedy, and convergent lives of Downton Abbey. 

I think this sounds like the perfect book for those of us still reeling from the ending of Season 3! Instead of a book group, it is a Downton Abbey group :)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (137)

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 missed posting last week and pretty much took a break from blogging due to some stress and writer's block. Hopefully I can get caught up this week and maybe things will be calmer. At least I made time to read!

Books read:

Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

I enjoyed this very different Star Wars story. I thought it was definitely similar to Ocean's Eleven-but scruffier ;)

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

A good sequel to Cinder and I am glad the story shows us what is going on with Cinder as well as introducing the new characters.

Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

I was kind of disappointed with this one. I think I was expecting the story to focus on one thing but it focused on another plot point instead. Plus the main character drove me nuts. 

The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead

I love this series and pretty much read this book in a day. It is going to be a long wait for book four!

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

I was lucky to get an e-ARC of this book. However I was disappointed with this compared to her last book. Usually I love Sophie Kinsella's books but this one could have been better. One plus is that it did make me laugh when I really needed it.

No, this isn't a new Bridgerton book! I got to read an e-ARC of this collection of the 2nd Epilogues that have previously only been available as e-books along with a new short story about Lady Bridgerton meeting her husband. There were a few gems (like the new one, Violet in Bloom) but mostly disappointing compared to the full length novels.

Books reviewed:

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Currently reading:

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

I am now at the part where Jean Valjean is at the bishop's house and getting a detailed description of his past and state of mind. I had hoped the pacing would pick up...

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

It is once again book group reading time and this is the February pick of my afternoon book group. I've only read a little bit but already I am intrigued by the characters. 

What I plan to read next:

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I'm looking forward to this book. It is the February pick for my evening book group and one of my friends absolutely loves it and highly recommends it. I think we should have a lively discussion with Unwind.

Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman

This is an e-ARC and I've already started it. So far it is really good. I like the dual narratives between the two modern sisters and the historical character of Isabella. A shipwreck, mystery, grief and family relationships, the Australian setting-what's not to like?

Here is something else that made me laugh during this stressful week (Thanks to my coworker Michele for sharing this! Laughter really is the best medicine!):

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review: Etiquette and Espionage

Etiquette and Espionage
by Gail Carriger
Published February 5, 2013

It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners--and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's, young ladies learn to finish...everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but the also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage--in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education.

Set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, this YA series debut is filled with all the saucy adventure and droll humor Gail's legions of fans have come to adore. 

My review:

Etiquette and Espionage is a fun read but I think the best audience for this story are those teens and adults who are already fans of the Parasol Protectorate books. The content of this book is definitely appropriate for younger teens compared to Soulless but I think that the Parasol Protectorate series does a better job of introducing readers to the Victorian steampunk world. That said, it does not mean that newcomers will not like this book. The author does use Sophronia's lack of experience with supernaturals to inform the reader too.

What I like about Carriger's writing is the dry wit as well as the more approachable version of steampunk. I never felt overwhelmed with the details and could imagine what she describes. I thought with this book in particular that she vividly portrays the setting of the school and its mechanics as Sophronia goes exploring on her adventures. I especially loved Bumbersnoot and want my own mechanimal pet!

I liked Sophronia as a character. She is smart (like Alexia Tarabotti), adventurous, and a good friend though she sometimes makes mistakes. I also liked Sophronia's new best friend Dimity as well as Sidheag  and Vieve (who are characters from the Parasol Protectorate series). The other characters were not quite as well drawn but I look forward to getting to know them better as the series goes along. 

There is a mystery introduced towards the beginning of the book that kept the narrative going but I thought it was resolved kind of quickly in the end (and not entirely to my satisfaction). Hopefully things will be explained more in the sequel. 

All in all, I was pleased with this first book in the Finishing School series. It was nice to be back in the world of the Parasol Protectorate, albeit 20-some years earlier. I hope that teens will enjoy this book though the writing style may appeal more to adults. Fans of Kady Cross's steampunk books might be interested in this one though there is not much in the way of romance on offer (yet anyway). The spunky teen heroine should be a draw and teen readers who appreciate British humor may enjoy it too.

Note: I received an e-ARC of this title for review courtesy of the publishers and Edelweiss

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Top Ten Bookish Memories

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There is a new subject each week and this week's topic is "Top Ten Bookish Memories"

1. Meeting Ally Carter at a book signing

I had the chance to hear Ally Carter speak at PLA last year and then she signed my copy of Out of Sight, Out of Time. I am a huge fan of her books and of course I was tongue tied when I met her but she was really nice about it. She is a big supporter of libraries and librarians and hopefully if I ever meet her again, I will be able to speak more coherently!

2. Hearing Deanna Raybourn and other romance authors speak at PLA

I got to sit in on a romance author panel that was really entertaining and interesting and as I love the Lady Julia mysteries it was an added bonus to see Deanna Raybourn and find out more about her writing and research.

3. Standing in line at Borders to pick up the last Harry Potter book and talking to people about what we thought was going to happen and how much we love the books

It was kind of surreal to be standing in a long queue to pick up my preordered book and just talk to random strangers while waiting in line. Everyone was really nice and talking about how much the books meant to them, etc. It was kind of cool to be part of that.

4.  The Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince book release party at my library

We had a program for kids and teens and it was so much fun! We had copies of the book to give away and a trivia contest and the kids and teens dressed up as Harry Potter characters. I think that is one of my favorite library programs I've ever been a part of. People of all ages were just so excited about the book.

5. Watching J.K. Rowling read the first chapter of Deathly Hallows

I remember just sitting at my computer in awe as she read that scene where Snape and Yaxley meet outside Malfoy Manor. I am so glad they did a webcast so those of us in the States could see it too.

6. My intense weekend of reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I was in grad school at the time for a summer session and I didn't get any studying done that weekend. I also didn't go anywhere or go online or listen to the radio because I was afraid that there would be spoilers for the book!

7.  Being part of the Barnes and Noble Book Discussion of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince led by John Granger

I had a lot of fun participating in this online book discussion group. One person even guessed correctly what would happen in the end (the Snape/Lily relationship, Harry as Horcrux, etc.). It was really strange when I read the final book to see how many of the predictions happened. 

8.  When my fourth grade teacher read books out loud to our class

Mrs. Pratt is the one who introduced me to Judy Blume when she read the Fudge books to us. It was so much fun for us to listen to the stories that way and I'm glad she did it. Those are some of my favorite memories of middle school.

9. Reading on my summer vacations

As a kid and teen, I had a lot of fun when my family went to Canada every year to visit relatives and part of the time was always spent reading the books I lugged with me (one year it was the Jane Austen anthology and another year it was Shakespeare or Greek mythology) or reading my cousins' old books. One of my favorites was discovering an old novelization of Star Wars

10. Buying books for the first time

Growing up, I always wanted books as gifts but rarely every got what I wanted! It was something special to finally be able to buy my own books. The earliest books I remember buying: little $2 or $3 Nancy Drew novels!

Honorable mention:

Staying up till two in the morning on a school night to finish a book because I just had to know what happened (and getting busted by my parents)
Reading Ramona the Pest and deciding that I wanted a new shiny pair of rain boots too
Reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time
Any time I discover a new favorite author

Sunday, February 3, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading (136)

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 is always a relief to me when I've moved past book group week and the hurried reading of my book group books. This week, I will be reading in a more relaxed way and reading books I want to read just for fun.

It looks like a week for reading about thieves and scoundrels. Even Wolf, the love interest from Scarlet is a scoundrel. And no one can beat the ultimate nice guy/scoundrel, Han Solo ;)

Books read:

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

While there were some parts that dragged, I thought this was a fantastic book in the end and so did most of my book group members.

Also Known As by Robin Benway

I thought this was a fun take on the teen spy trope though it wasn't as good as my personal favorites, the Gallagher Girls books by Ally Carter.

Currently reading:

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

I made a little progress with Les Miserables this week and am now finally at the part where Jean Valjean is introduced. Hopefully the story will pick up its pace now...but I doubt it...\

Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

While I prefer the suspense and writing from Zahn's Thrawn trilogy (plus I miss Luke and Leia and the droids) this is still a fun book and very reminiscent of Ocean's Eleven and other heist stories but with the Star Wars treatment.

What I plan to read next:

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

I have a gift card that I've been saving for this book (as well as The Indigo Spell and Perfect Scoundrels). I loved Cinder and can't wait to read Scarlet as everyone seems to think it is even better than the first book.

Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter

While it isn't as good as the Gallagher Girls series, I also really enjoy these books and reading the new novella just made me want to read Perfect Scoundrels more.