Friday, December 19, 2014

GUEST REVIEWER ELLEN’S TOP 10 READS OF 2014


You know what I love most about December, apart from Christmas, of course? I love all the top ten lists of favorite books, book disappointments, favorite tv shows, favorite movies, etc, appearing on all my favorite blogs and websites. So, in that same spirit, I asked my guest reviewer, Ellen Fritz, to send me a list of the books she enjoyed most this year. Here are her top ten reads for 2014 in no specific order.
(Click on the covers to go to Goodreads for each book’s summary and info.)








  






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Thursday, December 18, 2014

REVIEW: THE DREAM THIEVES by Maggie Stiefvater




Title: The Dream Thieves
Series: The Raven Cycle, #2
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 17, 2013
Genres: YA, Paranormal
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. 

Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. 

Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after...




REVIEW

If you’ve read The Raven Boys, you’ll know that I don’t need to go into detail about just how fabulously mindblowing Dream Thieves is. While reading The Raven Boys, I could never have imagined how Stiefvater would be able to improve on that. But oh me of little faith. She did, and she did it splendidly!

The writing, as expected, is as imaginative and whimsical as it is in the first book. Maybe even better. OK, definitely better. Then again, from this incredibly talented author I would expect nothing less. Character growth is off the charts and if you think you knew the boys quite well from the previous novel, you have a few surprises coming your way for sure. I loved how this book revolved around the three Raven boys (Gansey, Ronan, and Adam) more, and less around Blue. I’m not sure how I feel about her anymore, that’s probably why I’m happy she doesn’t feature as much in this story as in the first.

The idea of dream thieves tickled my imagination and, to be honest, I loved the concept of dreams literally coming true. Except for the night horrors, that is.

My recommendation is that (if you haven’t yet) you should read The Raven Boys first. It is, after all, the first book in this series and although I guess Dream Thieves can be read on its own, you’ll miss out on too much back story to be able to fully appreciate the extraordinariness of this sequel.
  


  



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ABOUT the AUTHOR


All of Maggie Stiefvater's life decisions have been based around her inability to be gainfully employed. Talking to yourself, staring into space, and coming to work in your pajamas are frowned upon when you're a waitress, calligraphy instructor, or technical editor (all of which she's tried), but are highly prized traits in novelists and artists. She's made her living as one or the other since she was 22. She now lives an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with her charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, two neurotic dogs, and a 1973 Camaro named Loki.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: MR. MERCEDES by Stephen King




Title: Mr. Mercedes
Series: Bill Hodges Trilogy, #1
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Genres: Horror, Thriller, Mystery
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the "perk" and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.

Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.




REVIEW

Reading Mr. Mercedes made me realize, once again, why I am such a huge fan of Stephen King's books. Unhappily retired detective Bill Hodges is still troubled by his last, as yet unsolved, case. When Mr. Mercedes seeks him out for a bit of revenge, Hodges is ready to take up the challenge, legally or not.

Absolutely captivating from the word go, Mr. Mercedes is a book that I simply couldn't put down. Though I did feel that the author took too long with plot development in some of his other books, in this book every bit of character development and back story was important and very necessary.

Stephen King is a master when it comes to getting into his characters' minds and giving the reader a look at said minds. In this book one truly feels the frustration of the dissatisfied ex-detective and the insane evil that lurks in the mind of the antagonist. I absolutely loved that the secondary characters are realistic people with their own strengths and weaknesses.  The most important of these are, Jerome, a black yard boy with a handy knowledge of computers and Holly, a psychologically disturbed middle-aged woman.

Although this is a fast-moving, suspense-laden book, the story becomes utterly nerve wracking after the half way mark. While the touch of romance in this book is realistic and poignant, it gives the story an extra layer of believability.

I would recommend this masterfully-written book as a must-read to all who love Stephen King's work.







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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: THE YEAR OF THE RAT by Clare Furniss




Title: The Year of the Rat
Author: Clare Furniss
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: April 24, 2014
Genres: YA, Contemporary
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 4/5

SUMMARY

The world can tip at any moment… a fact that fifteen-year-old Pearl is all too aware of when her mum dies after giving birth to her baby sister, Rose.

Rose, who looks exactly like a baby rat, all pink, wrinkled, and writhing. This little Rat has destroyed everything, even ruined the wonderful relationship that Pearl had with her stepfather, the Rat’s biological father.

Mum, though… Mum’s dead but she can’t seem to leave. She keeps visiting Pearl. Smoking, cursing, guiding.

Told across the year following her mother’s death, Pearl’s story is full of bittersweet humour and heartbreaking honesty about how you deal with grief that cuts you to the bone, as she tries not only to come to terms with losing her mother, but also the fact that her sister — The Rat — is a constant reminder of why her mum is no longer around.




REVIEW

Although The Year of the Rat is not the kind of book that would normally make it onto my reading menu, it turned out to be a relaxing, often-humorous book with lots of depth. When Pearl's mother dies, leaving a newborn baby behind, Pearl is devastated. She decides to hate her sister, Rose, aka The Rat, as well as her step-father, and blame both of them for her mother's death. The only thing that gets her through that first year after her mother's death seems to be her mother's ghost.

A tale of loss, jealousy and self-discovery, The Year of the Rat is a comfortably paced, medium length read. The focus of this book is Pearl's journey through grief and severe hatred to finding herself, and ultimately, healing.

Although Pearl's character is well crafted and fleshed out, I couldn't really identify with her. I understood her grief as well as her natural feelings of blame towards her sister and even her step-father. However, I couldn't understand how she could disintegrate to the degree where she dragged her stepdad as well as her grandmother down with her, and alienated her best friend into the bargain.

Fortunately she has Finn and his grandmother who seem to be able to look past her problems and give her the support and friendship she needs. Finn's character isn't very pronounced in this book, yet, he seems to be the kind of quiet, supportive person a troubled girl like Pearl might need.

Filled with touches of typically British humor, The Year of the Rat is a pleasant, relaxing read with a couple of life lessons and a wealth of depth.







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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Furniss grew up in London, and moved to Birmingham in her teens. After brief stints as a waitress, a shop assistant, and working at the Shakespeare Centre Library in Stratford-upon-Avon, she studied at Cambridge and Aberdeen. She went on to work in media relations for the homelessness charity Shelter and spent several years as a press officer for the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. She now lives in Bath.


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Monday, December 15, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: LOCK IN by John Scalzi




Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Genres: Sci-fi, Mystery, Thriller
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 5/5

SUMMARY

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.

This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....




REVIEW

Set in a future in which the result of a terrible disease has called for extremely advanced technology, Lock In is a gripping and suspense-laden novel. Chris Shane's first week as an FBI agent is unusually busy. Several murders, a research facility that is blown up, and a difficult, self-destructive partner are just the start of what he has to deal with.

Although this book has a wonderfully twisted and clever plot, the highly imaginative technological world in which it is set, truly elevates it above your average murder mystery. At first the technology seems almost incomprehensibly elaborate. Just a few chapters in, however, the author skillfully explains his world in the actions of the characters and the detail of the murder investigation.

The characters are realistic and fleshed out. Chris Shane, the main character, is your typical good guy. Not only is he determined to be an excellent FBI agent, he also cares about those he is supposed to protect.

Vann, Chris's drinking, smoking, sex-loving partner, has a troubled back story and, thus, a slightly twisted personality. Her strict work ethic combined with Chris's sense of duty, as well as his tolerance of her bad habits, makes for a good partnership. That both of them have a quirky sense of humor helps a great deal.

The bad guys in this equation are those who want to exploit a market that is supposed to help disabled people.

For a book that will appeal to readers of science fiction as well as to those who love a good, unpredictable, and suspense-laden murder mystery, I recommend Lock In as a must read.







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ABOUT the AUTHOR


John Scalzi is best known for writing science fiction, including the New York Times bestseller "Redshirts," which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. He also writes non-fiction, on subjects ranging from personal finance to astronomy to film, was the Creative Consultant for the Stargate: Universe television series. He enjoys pie, as should all right thinking people. You can get to his blog by typing the word "Whatever" into Google. No, seriously, try it.


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Friday, December 12, 2014

REVIEW: SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo




Title: Shadow and Bone
Series: The Grisha, #1
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Genres: YA, Fantasy
Reviewed by: Angie Edwards
My rating: 4/5

SUMMARY

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.




REVIEW

I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a very long time. I’ve only heard good things about it through the many book blogs I follow, and I was more than eager to read it. For some reason I kept putting it off, because I figured I had to be in the right frame of mind for it seeing as it is a fantasy read. Then recently, I saw a top ten list featuring the Darkling as a “favorite villain”. This got me curious. I wanted to know what this Darkling is all about. If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s charismatic villains.

So two things happened. I didn’t love this book as much as I had hoped I would, or rather, as much as the hype made me believe I would. I did, however, find the Darkling all kinds of appealing and revolting. He turned out to be a character I simultaneously loved and hated. Very confusing, I know. But don’t you just luuuuve characters that draw you in and pushes you away again; leaving you with that feeling of wanting to delve deeper and discover more about them, even though you feel appalled by everything they stand for? Maybe it’s just me, but I have a weakness for complex villains.

The one thing that brought my rating down from five stars to four is the dreaded love-triangle. Hated it. I was fully on-board with Alina and the Darkling, but not so much with her and Mal. Alina also is a character I had a hard time warming up to. Sometimes I liked her, but many times I didn’t because often she was sulky, helpless, angry and/or lashing out at someone. The only two characters who really made an impression on me were the Darkling and Genya.

If it wasn’t for the splendid world building and the stunning originality of the plot, I probably would’ve rated Shadow and Bone three stars. But it wouldn’t be fair. I absolutely adored the eeriness and horror of the Shadow Fold. Now there’s a place I’d never want to find myself alone.  Honestly, this book is worth reading just to experience the terror invoked by the volcra. Also, the Grisha, with all their different powers, really makes this a terrific read. A lot of imagination went into this story and apart from my aforementioned irks, I finished this book in no time since I completely lost myself in its pages once I got started.

Even though I wouldn’t be recommending Shadow and Bone as highly as other fantasy novels as say, The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkoski, or The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen, it still makes my list of must-read fantasy novels purely for its incredible distinctiveness, breathtaking setting, and the magical Grisha.







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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, raised in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. She indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as a makeup artist in Hollywood, and she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

  
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Thursday, December 11, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: ALL FALL DOWN by Jennifer Weiner




Title: All Fall Down
Author: Jennifer Weiner
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
Genre: Contemporary Women’s Fiction
Reviewed by: Ellen Fritz
Ellen’s rating: 4/5

SUMMARY

Allison Weiss got her happy ending: a handsome husband, an adorable daughter, a job she loves, and the big house in the suburbs. But while waiting in the pediatrician's office, she opens a magazine to a quiz about addiction and starts to wonder: Is a Percocet at the end of the day really different from a glass of wine? Is it such a bad thing to pop a Vicodin after a brutal Jump & Pump class, or if your husband ignores you? She tells herself that the pills help her make it through her days; but what if her increasing drug use, a habit that's becoming expensive and hard to hide, is turning into her biggest problem of all?




REVIEW

It took a while for All Fall Down to draw me in, yet, about fifty percent along, I simply could not put this book down. For Allison Weiss it starts with one prescription painkiller a day to make her cope better. One painkiller that escalates to more as the normal pressures of living seems to spiral. That is, until the pressure is no longer about coping with daily life, but about getting more pills.

I really thought this book would bore me to tears. Fortunately, the lively, witty prose and Allison's sense of humor kept me reading.

At first this seems to be the account of a neurotic woman who takes painkillers to put her on a high in order to cope with, what appears to be, a perfectly ordinary, even perfect, life. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that it is the little things; the oversensitive child, the husband's casual female acquaintance, the marriage that has lost its romantic edge, the father with Alzheimer’s, and the pressures of work on social media that is driving Allison to self medicate. In the end, the reader gets a look into the mind of a true addict, experiences the main character's fear and despair when the pills run out, and witnesses the long, often frustrating, healing process.

A comfortably paced, sensitively written novel, All Fall Down is a worthwhile read for those who have dealt with addiction as well as those who have friends or family who are going down this dark path. It is a tale of fear and despair but, ultimately, of hope and healing.

  

  



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ABOUT the AUTHOR


Jennifer Weiner is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of eleven books, includingGood in Bed, and In Her Shoes, which was made into a major motion picture, as well as The Next Best Thing. A graduate of Princeton University, she lives with her family in Philadelphia. 


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