Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review: ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

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I was lucky enough to win a copy of ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL by Jesse Andrews from WE SO NERDY on Twitter. Thanks so much, guys! I loved it.

Highschool sucks, and Greg Gaines knows it. Up until this year, he’s treaded just on the outside of social circles, not really making friends and not really pissing anyone off, either. He had one kind of friend, Earl, a foul-mouthed black kid from a bad suburb down the way, and his own kooky parents to irritate him.

Everything changes when his mom, again, it seems just to irritate him, forces him to talk to a girl he knew from Hebrew school because she has cancer. Specifically, Leukemia. As he rebuilds a tentative friendship with her (though he wouldn’t call them ‘friends’) he learns just how horrible of a person he might be. She’s dying of cancer, and he and her aren’t falling in love, aren’t particularly connecting, and he really only comes to visit because otherwise he feels guilty.

So when Earl comes around and offers to show her he and Greg’s super secret homemade movies, he’s more than a little pissed. But the movies delight her and she becomes their only fan.

Can Greg become a better person as he watches a tentative friend die? Will he and Earl realize their dream of making films? Or will everything just blow up in their face?

Review: I loved this book. Hands down, this is the  best book about cancer you will ever read. Greg is outright hysterical in his worldview and his own sheepish assessment of himself and how he lacks as a human being. It’s like SUPERBAD meets THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, as I told my husband. I won’t give away what happens, but I will say that Greg is an unflinching, honest creature that we all can relate to. No one ever feels good enough, and I imagine if a friend has cancer, you never feel like you are doing or saying the right thing.

Now, I’m not normally a fan of contemporary, and especially of schmalzy “sick” fiction, but goodness. This book was amazing, funny, poignant without trying too hard…it’s amazing.

You should read it. Please, go read it now. You will thank me.

Book Review: The Dark Days Club

Title: The Dark Days Club, Author: Alison Goodman

Lady Helen Wrexall is at the edge of her new life: She’s about to be formally presented to the Queen of England. After this, she’ll be ready to find a husband and marry, beginning a new life where people might forget that her mother was a traitor to the crown.

But when she meets mysterious Lord Carlston, she’s intrigued. Especially since he’s back in town after a scandalous past – and right at the same time her maid goes missing. But Lord Carlston isn’t anything like what people say. He’s charming, he’s kind, and he’s powerful. Helen begins to dig deep into the bowels of Regency London with her maid, searching for the missing girl. Her guardians, an aristocratic aunt and uncle, want her to settle down and stop seeing the infamous Lord Carlston. It’s the only way she’ll meet a suitable match. But she can’t stay away. Especially when he reveals Helen’s secret powers, and her mother’s truly heroic past. London comes alive with dark demons, powerful secret government societies, and those who fight for the world’s safety. Helen will have to make a choice: live a quiet, peaceful life with a husband and relative safety of a rich English lady, or fight the demons of the world as her mother did.

What did I think?

I absolutely LOVED this book. I’m a sucker for Regency books, and Alison Goodman is a master storyteller. Her words were beautiful, her settings perfectly realistic, and her facts spot on. You can tell she really did her research. I felt like I was there! I never wanted to leave. Plus, you get the added bonus of dark magical underworld, and it’s a match made in heaven! I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. And honestly, I’m going to go back and read Ms. Goodman’s back list. This book is that good!

Book Review: These Vicious Masks

Title: These Vicious Masks, Author: Tarun Shanker

Evelyn is tired of Victorian society and all of the strict standards she must adhere to. Her sister, Rose, has a passion for nursing, and Evelyn loves to help her. Together they both help those in need around them, and embarrass their class-conscious parents. So when Rose disappears, only Evelyn seems worried. Shocked at her parent’s lack of concern, she embarks on a mission to find her missing sister in the dirty streets of London. Aided by the help of a longtime friend, Mr. Kent, she hopes to find who kidnapped her sister. When she meets again with the mysterious and seemingly dark gentlemen named Mr. Braddock, she finally hits on a clue. Her sister had special powers, and someone wants to use her for research. Rose is not the only one – London is full of secret heroes with various abilities. Can Evelyn find her sister before she’s killed? Is the darkly handsome Mr. Braddock as  bad as he seems, and is she really falling in love with him?

What did I think?

This was a fun romp into a mysterious version of Victorian London. Yes there are petticoats and manners and lots of Lords and Ladies, but there are also superpowers! I knew I had to pick it up immediately. If anything, I thought it ended too quickly. Luckily there will be more books in the series so that we can get right back into that world again. Evelyn is a feisty herione who won’t wait around for a savior, and she’s very good at falling for the wrong guy. I really enjoyed learning about the underground society of Victorian super heroes with her.

Book Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

Title: The Wrath and the Dawn, Author: Renée Ahdieh

If you’ve ever heard the tale of A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, then you’ll be familiar with the premise of Renee Ahdieh’s beautiful new book.

Every day at dawn, the young Caliph of Khorasan, Khalid, has his new bride murdered. The last bride was Shahrzad’s best friend. So when she volunteers to be Khalid’s new bride, everyone is surprised. But when she survives the dawn, everyone is even more suspicious. How did she manage to survive, when no one else has? Khalid may not realize why mysterious and beautiful Shahrzad volunteered, but he does know one thing: she captivates him like no creature to have walked this Earth before.

As Shahrzad spins her web of intrigue, arranging to exact her revenge on Khalid, she finds that she is falling in love with the monster himself. Can she unearth the secret reason all of his brides have to die? Can she discover why this sweet, sensitive Caliph is a known murderer?

Shahrzad will have to question everything she’s been told about the wretched King, his motivations, and the magical secrets of the Kingdom.

What did I think?

This is one of the most expertly, beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time. Ahdieh is a talented writer who weaves lyrical, almost poetic prose with a smart and tense storyline. This is mainly a romantic intrigue type of book, so if you are a fan of romance this will be right up your alley. It does have the added benefit of magic, intrigue and betrayal, so that’s always nice 😉

The setting is almost a character itself. The lush Arabic setting jumps off the page. It is riveting, fascinating, and makes you want to hop on the next boat to a Kingdom surrounded by desert.

With air conditioning, of course. 😉 Let’s not get crazy.

I’m excited to read the sequel to this one! You won’t be disappointed. Go buy it today!

Book Review: NEED

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Think you’re anonymous on the internet?

Are you sure?

Kaylee has a problem. Her brother is sick, and desperately needs an organ transplant to save his life. Her Dad mysteriously ran out on the family just when times got tough – and he could be the match her brother needs.

So when a new social networking site called NEED promises to give her what she wants in exchange for a favor, she agrees. As do all of the other teens at her highschool. After all, teens always think that they need something. But when strange and dangerous accidents start happening, Kaylee begins to put it all together. NEED is behind the accidents, and eventually, the deaths at her school. Can she stop whoever is behind it all before more kids are killed? And will she get the donor for her brother before it’s all too late?

I’m such a fan of Joelle Charbonneau and her TESTING trilogy.  If you haven’t read them, you really, really should. I highly recommend them! NEED is an exciting thriller that follows several highschool kids as they follow the orders of a seemingly omnipotent social networking site that will give them everything they want. It’s really interesting how it spirals out of control so fast. Kids who started out wanting concert tickets end up doing horrible things. No one takes blame though as they are all anonymously fulfilling requests, and then finding out later what horrible deed they helped accomplish. Then, when it is revealed, the site coerces them to keep going so that they are not outed. It’s pretty brilliant. What’s scary is that I can absolutely believe people will let their actions get out of control when they feel that they are not personally responsible for them. I won’t get into it, but I think this really COULD happen, and that’s why it’s so chilling. An excellent, fast-paced read. Charbonneau is a talented writer and you won’t regret getting your copy of this one.

Also, it’s kind of nice to read a standalone novel. In this day of trilogies, NEED is a great palate cleanser between other series. Like, you know, THE TESTING. Seriously. Go read them all, and pick up NEED too.

Book Review: I’m a Dirty Dinosaur

I'm a Dirty Dinosaur

This musical, rhythmic dinosaur book is a delight for small children getting ready for bath time.

Meet this cute little dinosaur in his dirty swamp. The unique and engaging illustrations are literally painted with mud. The multi-colored sketched dinosaur romps through the mess with abandon, detailing all of his dirty parts. Start with his snout, his face and his “tum.” Then move on to feet and tail, slithering and sliding and stamping in the mud wherever he goes. Readers can singsong the words into a rhythmic melody, making “I’m a dirty dinosaur with a dirty snout,” a fun interactive dancing experience for your toddler. Kids will love to “Sniff sniff, snuff snuff, sniff and snuff about,” in time to the story.

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The Elfstones of Shannara

fpoIt’s finally here! Today is the day that the Shannara Chronicles debuts on MTV, and I can hardly wait to see it tonight. So, in celebration, I have read and reviewed the book it is based on, The Elfstones of Shannara (book 2 in the Shannara Chronicles).

FIrst, yes you can start with the second book and be fine. I’m planning on going back to read the first, but the second book stands on its own very well. If you’re a fan of Tolkien or CS Lewis, or any kind of fantasy that involves questing and heroes and monsters, this is for you.

The Ellcrys tree is dying. The magnificent tree isn’t just sacred to the elves, though. It protects the entire world from the demons who rage and fight just on the other side of the dimension for freedom. If the tree dies, the seal between the two worlds will be broken, and they will destroy the Earth. So when all of the guardians of the Ellcrys are killed by a few rebel escaped demons, all hope for the world seems lost.

That is, until it is realized on of the Chosen still lives. Amberle lives in shame far away from the tree and her life as a Chosen. When Wil comes to take her back so that she can help save the dying tree, she denies him. She left the tree, and her duties as a Chosen, for a reason. But the salvation of Earth and all of its races is too much to ignore, and she sets off on a dangerous quest to revive the tree.

Filled with daring escapes, lots of battles and more than a few pretty heroes and heroines, Shannara is a classic example of the fantasy genre. I highly recommend it! Thanks, Dad, for getting me started on it! It’s like a clean version of Game of Thrones, which means you can share it with most ages and most of your friends.

So go out and get a copy today. And tune in tonight! I will be :)

 

Book Review: Modern Faerie Tales (Tithe, Valiant and Ironside)

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Welcome to Holly Black’s world of modern Fae, set amidst grungy New York and the burbs. Kaye is a misfit teen who follows her musician mother from gig to gig. She hasn’t been in highschool for a long time, and hasn’t lived in one place for more than a few months since she was a kid. So when she returns to her grandmother’s home, she’s surprised to find that all of her old fantasies have sprung back to life. Her imaginary friends are no longer imaginary, and she’s in touch with the alluring, dark world of the local Fae. She meets Roiben, a silver-haired Faerie knight, who enchants her. Thus begins her adventure into the dark and unseemly world of the sometimes cruel Fae, and eventually leads to the truth of her own beginnings.

Valiant, a companion novel, features Val, a teen whose mother is dysfunctional with a capital “D.” When she runs away after a fight, she finds herself deep into the underbelly of New York City, where exiled Fae still roam.

Finally, in Ironside, we see the culmination of Roiben and Kaye’s fight against the tortuously beautiful and dangerous Bright Court Faerie Queen. Will their love survive the war?

REVIEW:

I absolutely loved this series. It’s very dark, the Faeries are sometimes cruel and bloody, and the human characters are flawed and believable. This is not your Disney fairytale fantasy, folks. There’s definitely some language, some drug abuse (faerie drugs, but still) and some more questionable parent-child relationships. BUT I think any teen, especially an older teen, will not be shocked or surprised at what they find, nor offended. Adults will find the series a perfect fit.

The juxtaposition of grimy and murderous dark faeries against what we normally view faeries as (sweet, buttercup TinkerBells) is refreshing and really more true to folklore. The writing is fantastic, and Black sweeps us into this dark world easily and with great deft. She’s a fabulous writer (see my review of THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST). I really appreciate that she doesn’t pull any punches. This is as real and as gritty as you can get. I absolutely loved it! Thanks Maggie for recommending it!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – Buy it for yourself for exciting holiday reading! And, lucky you, they are already out so you don’t have to wait, and can devour them in several glorious days.

The Monsterland Blog Tour is Here!

Monsterland Blog Tour Header ImageThe time for the Monsterland Blog tour has arrived! Today I’m joined by Michael Phillip Cash, author of Monsterland and a host of other books. Be sure to check out the giveaway at the end of the post for your chance to win a free prize pack, including a book, mug and more!

But first, let’s learn about the book itself:

Welcome to Monsterland – the scariest place on Earth. All guests can interact with real vampires in Vampire Village, be chased by an actual werewolf on the River Run, and walk among the dead in Zombieville. Wyatt Baldwin, a high school student and life-long movie buff is staring bleakly at a future of flipping burgers. Due to a fortuitous circumstance, Wyatt and his friends are invited to the star-studded opening of Monsterland. In a theme park full of real vampires, werewolves and zombies, what could possibly go wrong?

Monsterland contains solid ingredients for a horror feast: stupid teens, smart teens, a little challenged romance, family dynamics, action, blood and gore. Will civilization ever be normal again? You’ll have to read it to find out. We dare you!”—The Children’s Book Review

And now for the author interview!

Hi, Michael!

Michael-Phillip-Cash

What inspired you to write Monsterland? Was it a movie, books, concept or current social movement? 

I was searching for a new idea on the classic monster-in-the-house story. My son and I were watching Jurassic Park and I wondered why there hasn’t been a movie or book about werewolves, vampires and zombies in a theme park.  I started writing that night.  A couple months later, Monsterland is a best seller on Amazon.

When writing, are you a pantster or outliner, or a mixture of both? You’re a prolific author, between books and screenplays. Tell us about your writing process and your secret to being so productive!

I am a crazy outliner.  I always write a screenplay first for several reasons.  One, screenplays allow me to beat out my story and set up a tight structure.  I have to hit certain beats by certain pages, so it creates a nice even flow when writing.  Once I have my blueprint—which is really what a screenplay is—I can then add the meat and spices to my novel.  From 9am to 4pm, my day consists of research and development.  I dive into the world of my subject and read anything I can get my hands on so I can familiarize myself with that world.  Google and Amazon … love ‘em.  Then I take a break and cook my family dinner.  Give the kids the baths, spend time with my wife, and when everyone goes to sleep (between 8pm and 8:30pm) I begin to write. I write until my eyes go, which is around midnight.

What was the most interesting or exciting part of the book for you?

I loved the first time the teens go on the werewolf river run.  I felt like a Disney imagineer!  I was able to write the ride and attraction any way I wanted.  Reading it over again, makes me want to be chased on the Werewolf River Run!

Which character do you identify with most, and why? (In this book or any other of your books or screenplays.)

That’s a great question. I identified most with Wyatt, Melvin and Howard Drucker. In a sense, they are a part of me. I wanted to reflect how I felt growing up, lost and insecure in high school. Wyatt wants to date the unattainable Jade. I, just like many movie geeks in high school, could never imagine dating a cheerleader—who was dating the football quarterback nonetheless.  Melvin was an outcast, interested in the things that are not “cool” by today’s standards.  Again, I felt the same way.  What interested me in high school was not the norm.  I played this up with Melvin and really made him into a freaky kid, with his love of werewolves and 50s horror movies.  Howard Drucker is simply uncomfortable in his own skin. He has this wonderful girl named Keisha who is clearly attracted to him, but he can’t see the cues.  I’ve been there, dozens of times.

Was there anything in this book that was based on your own life experiences?

One movie I tried emulating over and over again as a kid was The Goonies. I wanted to direct that movie.  I once invited a group of kids over to my house and made a home video of Mikey and the Goonies.  Writing Monsterland was my outtake on that movie.  It was my fantasy to go on an adventure, with my friends, and end up being the hero and saving the day (and the world).

What is the toughest criticism and best compliment you’ve received as a writer?

There was one really nasty critic on Goodreads who completely slaughtered one of my books.  I was elated they hated it so much because it gave me another direction to take with my writing.  Best compliment I ever received was from the head of a major studio production company. She said I am the new Stephen King, and my writing will be the next big thing. That was really cool to hear.

Can you tell us your favorite book or series that is not your own? What’s in your TBR pile?

My favorite book is not from the fiction aisle, but from the nonfiction section. “Save the Cat,” by Blake Snyder, was the one book that changed the way I tell stories.  Every writer should pick it up.  I actually just went to the bookstore on Saturday with my wife and kids.  I picked up “Joss Whedon – the Autobiography”, “How to Tame a Wild Elephant”, “The Shawshank Redemption: The Final Shooting Script” and a Star Wars book that my son and I are going to read together.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

The best moments in writing are the ones you can barely remember. It’s like they happened in a dream. But the only way to earn them is to write every single day.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

My wife and kids are at the center of my life—as well as my niece and nephew.  I play with them all the time. My son and I have a special love for video games and we’re currently in the middle of playing the original Legend of Zelda on Nintendo. I also love to cook.

What is your favorite writing or inspirational quote?

“The Coen brothers, Charlie Kaufman, Quentin Tarantino never tried to guess what Hollywood would make. They wrote their obsessions and so should you.” – Brian Koppelman

 That was an awesome interview! Thanks Michael! We really appreciate it. Now, be sure to enter below for your chance to win this exciting prize pack!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a rip-roaring, hilarious good time wrapped in a unique package. Told through emails, letters, faxes (!), FBI reports and more, this book unfolds in a truly original way.

Follow the story of Bernadette, a secluded and anxiety-riddled mom of near-genius Bee. Bee’s getting ready to leave for Chaote, a premier boarding school, in the Fall. In the meantime, she and Bernadette must contend with the waspish “Gnat” moms of Bee’s private school. They gossip. They lie. They accuse Bernadette of running over a woman’s foot in the school pickup line with her fancy SUV. And when Bee asks for a trip to Antarctica for the whole family for Christmas, even her overscheduled Microsoftie Dad must comply. Bernadette throws herself into preparations, asking her remote personal assistant from India to handle every single detail.

But a fiasco triggers a huge life change for Bernadette – against her will – and she runs. As in, completely disappears. Can Bee unlock the mysteries of her mother’s past, and the truth of her present?

Bee is a whip-smart narrator, pulling together pages of documents and emails to pull readers on her mother’s journey toward escape. I found myself literally laughing out loud over and again as Bernadette describes bothersome Mom’s from school, Seattle traffic and her hatred for all things Canadian. Then, partway through, I got all the feels. This book is deep, taking readers on an emotional, and yes, comical, journey of what is means to not fit in, to feel like a failure, to love someone with all of your heart and yet still not be able to make it work.

I HIGHLY recommend this book. One of the best I’ve read in years.