Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

Morning, all! I'm a stop on the TLC tour for Wiley Cash's A Land More Kind Than Home this morning.

I'm going to kick off the post with a video that I know has been making the rounds, but it's too hilarious to pass up & since it's the Top Ten Reasons Your Book Club Should Read A Land More Kind Than Home, I'm going to link to the publisher's reader's guide at the end of this post.

Now, I'm more excited than usual about this particular tour because I learned I have something pretty cool in common with Wiley Cash. He earned his PhD at my alma mater, University of Louisiana at Lafayette. How freaking awesome is that?!

Jess Hall and his brother Stump kind of make a habit of snooping around in spite of their mother's warnings. When the brothers witness something they shouldn't, Stump is singled out and suffers the consequences. In their small town of Marshall, people are used to keeping secrets. This time, though, those secrets result in a tragedy worse than anyone could imagine.

What struck me first about A Land More Kind Than Home is the fact that Cash is able to evoke such a strong sense of place with his prose. The book reads quite quickly and there's never a feeling of being bogged down by too much information, and yet the town of Marshall and the people who live there are so carefully built and well represented that it all feels real. In his blurb, Ernest Gaines called Cash's writing "... strong, clean, direct and economical...," and I honestly can't think of a better way to sum it up.

The other thing that got me about this book was the deep sense of sadness I felt in reading it. At times I was almost overwhelmed by how tragic the story is. Which is not to say that Cash spends any real time bombarding the reader with depressing detail, but that the underlying implications of this story are heart wrenching. Cash discusses the inspiration of the story in an interview with Adriana Trigiani. That inspiration -- an autistic boy who died as a result of a "healing" -- really is tough to swallow. I can easily see how Cash would feel compelled to tell that boy's story and I think it's quite impressive how he's done that with this debut.

Each of the narrators gives us a different viewpoint into the story. We begin with Adelaide Lyle who makes it clear that Pastor Chambliss is up to no good. Nine year old Jess Hall is the second narrator we meet and his point of view is sharp and clear yet believably that of a child. The third narrator is Clem Barefield, the local sheriff. Clem has a history with Jess's family, one that comes out in more detail as the story progresses. Together, their pieces make up a whole that is addictive in its readability.

From start to finish, I was amazed with this book. I'd seen previous reviews singing Cash's praises but until I dove in myself, I wasn't really sure about all the hype. Now having read it, I can admit that A Land More Kind Than Home is 100% worthy of all of the praise it's been garnering. This is the kind of book that appeals to a wide range of readers. It's a fast paced and relatively easy read, it's southern fiction featuring a small -- almost insular -- setting, it deals with compelling and thoughtful ideas, and it's extremely well written.

For more stops on the tour visit the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Cash, his work, and upcoming events, check out his official website. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

As promised, here's the link to the Reader's Guide and you can read an excerpt here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Readers, I have to say I'm always a bit worried whenever I have a string of fabulous reads. It makes me fearful there will be a string of stinkers to follow! Happily, that has so far not been the case. Today is the release date for Megan Shepherd's debut, The Madman's Daughter, a new teen twist on the 1896 H.G. Wells science fiction classic, The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Believe it or not, I have actually read The Island of Doctor Moreau. My non-required classics reading is definitely lacking in some areas but in 1996 a new film adaptation starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando was released and I did a compare/contrast paper between the book and the movie. I honestly can't recall the quality of the film (Mike says it was creepy) and while I'm sure my MTI version of the book is lurking around here somewhere, I can't lay my hands on it at the moment. My point is that I have more than a passing familiarity with the story and was super stoked about the The Madman's Daughter. 

Juliet Moreau's father was once a noted and respected surgeon. Their family was in the upper-crust of respected London society and they wanted for nothing. All of that changed when rumors of the doctor's research started surfacing. With his reputation ruined and his career in tatters, Doctor Moreau abandoned his wife and daughter. That was six years ago. Since then, Juliet's mother has passed, leaving the sixteen-year-old responsible for supporting herself. She's able to find work cleaning at the local university, but is barely scraping by. Juliet's long believed that her father must have died as well. After all, she can't imagine that he would have left them - her - to suffer so. But when some local medical students show up with Doctor Moreau's notes in hand, Juliet is no longer so certain. She tracks the notes to a local inn but instead of her father, she finds his assistant, Montgomery, who admits that Doctor Moreau is in fact alive and well. He insists that it's impossible to bring her to him, but an accident at the university leaves them no choice. Juliet finds herself aboard a ship bound for a remote island off the coast of Australia and while she's always wondered about the truth behind the rumors that ruined her father's career, she is ill prepared for what will be revealed.

Shepherd's debut is a clever and exciting take on Wells's classic and I'd be surprised if it didn't turn a few new readers onto his work.

This is another spectacular cross over for teens and adults -- and for readers who are familiar with The Island of Doctor Moreau. But you don't have to be at all. The Madman's Daughter stands on its own two feet and will still be a fabulous read for anyone who's not read Wells.

I loved the atmosphere of the book - from the dark and dreary corridors of the university to the lush and exotic but dangerous island, it all came to life in Shepherd's rich description. What's more, I really enjoyed how dark The Madman's Daughter is. In terms of subject, it's to be expected, but I wasn't really prepared for how far Shepherd would take it. It was a pleasant surprise and again makes this (in my opinion) appealing to a much broader audience. I always wanted books like this when I was a teen and appreciate it in the reads I enjoy today. I think it's a perfect realization of the story and am so glad that it didn't feel as though the author was holding anything back.

I'd not realized that this was to be the first in a trilogy. The Madman's Daughter does have and ending that can go either way and since I'd not expected any additional books until I started writing this post, I have to say that I thought the ending worked quite well as a stand alone, which makes sense considering it was originally meant to be just that. Given how much I enjoyed this one, I have to say I am definitely excited that there will be two more installments to Juliet's tale.

Shepherd has since been contracted for another trilogy and movie rights have been optioned for The Madman's Daughter as well. With this debut she's definitely made my list of must reads and I can't wait for more!

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Prey by Andrew Fukuda

Note: You should read Andrew Fukuda's The Hunt before you dive into this post!

When we left Gene, Sissy, and the other survivors, they'd made their way to a boat and were trekking up the river in hopes of eluding the ravenous vampires that were pursuing them. The Prey (releasing tomorrow) picks up right where The Hunt left off.

After their narrow escape from the Heper Institute, Gene, Sissy, and the others now fight for survival on the river. It's their only hope in remaining safe from the vampires that hunt them. With just a few notes from the Scientist to guide them, they believe the river will take them to safety. What they find at the end is beyond their wildest dreams. A solitary settlement located within the mountains seems almost too good to be true. Food is plentiful and the people within the fortress walls have no fear of the vampires outside. But Sissy and Gene quickly realize that there's something very strange in this little village: there are almost no men or boys and the women live by a strict set of rules set by the Elders in charge. And what of Gene's father, the Scientist? For Gene and Sissy, this longed for salvation may be just as dangerous as the life they've just escaped.

The Hunt was one of the most original twists on the vampire trend that I've seen in ages. The blend of post apocalyptic/dystopian setting and the last of humanity fighting to survive - with Gene passing himself off as a vampire - made the book a tense and unique read. It's hard to imagine that Fukuda could top that, but he almost does with The Prey.

The tension and suspense that made The Hunt such a quickly paced read, is still there in The Prey. Plus there are so many new questions: what's Gene's dad up to? What's up with the settlement? What awaits Gene and the others beyond this newfound village? What's up with Ashley June (who you may recall was left behind at the Institute)? And so much more!

Some of the issues that come up in The Prey are really dark. It's common in an end of the world setting to see this sort of pessimistic downfall of humanity theme, so I wasn't surprised, but Fukuda's presentation of these issues is still shocking and thoughtful. It's a pretty emotional read, to be totally honest - one that left me breathless with anticipation (cheesy as that sounds) and fearful of the fate of the characters. There is a slight tinge of hopefulness in spite of all that seems so hopeless by the time you get to the end of the book. Overall, The Prey is an incredible follow up to The Hunt.

I have to say I am really loving this series. It's a perfect cross over for both teen and adult readers. Beware, readers, there's also a cliffhanger ending here in The Prey. I think Fukuda must be laughing somewhere imagining all of us ansty as hell to get our hands on the next book!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

New Releases 1/27/13

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Ambassador's Daughter by Pam Jenoff

The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston

She Returns From War by Lee Collins

Tuf Voyaging by George R. R. Martin (reissue)

Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd

The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler

The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society by Darien Gee

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

Into the Dark by Alison Gaylin

Insane City by Dave Barry

Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster

Prodigy by Marie Lu

Asunder by Jodi Meadows

The Prey by Andrew Fukuda

Stolen Nights by Rebecca Maizel

The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

A Shimmer of Angels by Lisa M. Basso

Blaze by Laurie Boyle Crompton

New on DVD:
The Awakening
Seven Psychopaths
The Gold Light of Day
Hotel Transylvania

Friday, January 25, 2013

33 Minutes by Todd Hasak-Lowy

Sam Lewis and Morgan Sturtz used to be best friends. But now, Morgan's going to kick Sam's butt! Sam has until recess to prepare -- just 33 minutes from now. But why is Morgan out to get Sam? You'll find out soon enough. 

So the first mini-challenge as part of the Debut Author Challenge being hosted over at Hobbitsies was to read a book outside of our comfort zone. To be honest, there's not a whole lot outside of my comfort zone. It may seem as though I took the easy way out in choosing Todd Hasak-Lowy's juvie debut, 33 Minutes, but middle grade definitely falls outside of my usual purview. And middle grade that doesn't concern magic or fairy tales... yeah.

I thought 33 Minutes was fun. I wouldn't have read it if not for this challenge, though I'm admittedly a fan of the Wimpy Kid movies (btw, 33 Minutes would be a fun Wimpy-like adaptation!). It's about a 7th grade boy who gets in an argument with his best friend and it turns into the threat of a recess fight.

I remember those days -- the days of kids chanting "Fight! Fight! Fight!" and pushing their way over to see the blood fly. Though there was rarely blood involved at my school. Or maybe it could be that I wasn't interested in seeing the fights and usually headed off in the opposite direction any time there was threat of one.

But I do remember the days of schoolyard arguments and fights with best friends that seemed like the end of the world. I also am not too old to recall the lunchroom funk and the time when you realize that you and your friends seem to suddenly have nothing in common anymore. (It doesn't last forever!)

So yeah, while I wouldn't normally have picked up this book, I had no trouble getting back to the twelve-year-old mindset for a couple of hours and enjoying Hasak-Lowy's message. It was a cute read - and (like Wimpy) it has lots of fun illustrations, too!

While this is Hasak-Lowy's first kids' release, it is not his first book. He is the author of Captives and a short story collection entitled The Task of This Translator.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Nothing much happens in the village of Altenhain -- it's the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else's secrets -- but in 1997 two teenage girls disappeared. Circumstantial evidence led to a local man being convicted of the girls' murders. Ten years later, Tobias Sartorius returns to Altenhain and the villagers are none too pleased. Though Tobi always claimed he had no memory of what occurred the night of the so called murders, very few people believed him. In fact, most of the townspeople were glad to see Tobias behind bars and would prefer that he'd stayed there. In the years that he'd been imprisoned, Tobi's family took the brunt of the villagers' frustrations leaving the family business in a shambles and the couple separated. The same day Tobi is released, two things happen: a body is discovered at an abandoned airfield and Tobi's mother is attacked. Pia Kirchhoff and her boss Oliver von Bodenstein become involved in both cases. When the body is identified as that of one of the long missing girls, Pia begins digging into the old case files and soon finds a number of questionable discrepancies. It also becomes clear that the folks in Altenhain are hiding things, not least of which is the identity of Tobi's mother's attacker. When another Altenhain girl is reported missing suspicion immediately turns once again to Tobias. But Pia has her doubts.

Already a bestseller in her native Germany as well as internationally, Snow White Must Die is Nele Neuhaus's first release here in the States. The title is, however, the fourth in the series featuring Kirschhoff and Bodenstein. Fortunately, though it's clear there is plenty of backstory between the two investigators and some mention of previous cases, this particular title does fare pretty well as an introduction to the series.

I really enjoyed the build and the tension in Altenhain. Tobias himself is not certain of his innocence, but as a reader it's easy to be sympathetic with him. I wanted more than anything for him to be innocent (but I won't reveal whether he is or not). And Amelie -- she could carry a book all on her own in my opinion. She does more in the way of investigation through the beginning of the book than the actual police do. But then they're not actually supposed to be investigating Tobias. In fact, Pia is warned off of digging into that old case even after Laura Wagner's body is identified.

It was a bit harder to connect with Pia and Oliver. Much of the first 2/3 of the book is devoted almost completely to Tobias and Altenhain as a whole. There's friction in the investigative department that's briefly touched on and issues with Oliver and his wife, but with the exception of the glimpses we get into Oliver's relationship issues, it felt as though Pia was the only one to get a bit more face time throughout the book. Even she is relegated to reading files and interviewing Altenhain locals and not much is introduced in the way of her personal life.

I'm not sure of the motivation behind releasing this fourth book as an introduction to the series, but it's possible that what I've mentioned above is actually what lends Snow White Must Die well to being an introduction to Neuhaus's work. And fortunately the publisher has plans to release at least one more title in the series here in the US as well. As there are currently seven titles in the series as a whole, I'd hope that these first two do well enough for us to get more English translations of Neuhaus's work in the future. Initial reaction to the release seems positive and the publisher noted that their ad in Shelf Awareness for SWMD was the most clicked through in SA history!

Snow White Must Die was translated by Steven T. Murray and I thought in terms of translation this was very good. In fact, as a whole the translation read very smoothly and there was nothing obviously missing from the story in the way of narrative, style, or emotion.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Expats by Chris Pavone

Morning, all. I'm part of the TLC tour for Chris Pavone's debut, The Expats, this morning!

When Kate's husband, Dexter, is offered a lucrative position in Luxembourg, there's no reason not to accept. Not only does it mean more money and a more comfortable living for the family, but it also means that Kate can leave her job and start fresh. And for Kate that means more than you might think. Kate was recruited to the CIA in college and has led the secretive life of a covert agent for years. Even her husband has no idea what she does for a living. But now that's all behind her. Until Kate and Dexter meet another expat couple living in Luxembourg. Kate is sure that they are not who they claim to be, but is she right? Or is she simply bored living the life of an average housewife? As she digs into the identities of their new friends, Kate becomes convinced that not only are they lying, but that they may be after Kate... or Dexter.

Expats is great fun and I'm not the only one who thinks so. Pavone's debut recently earned him an Edgar Nomination for the Best First Novel category.

The book is broken up into alternating sections, beginning with present day Paris when Kate runs into an old friend. One she's not too happy to see and one that's not revealed immediately to the reader. It's clear, though, that Kate suspects she and her family are in danger. Flash back to two years ago when Dexter is offered the position in Luxembourg and the couple decides to relocate. The third set of pieces concerns Kate's time with the CIA -- beginning, end, and throughout her career. So what you get is a series of alternating chapters with cliffhanger endings: Kate discovering something present day, flashing back to Luxembourg, switching gears to her exploits as an agent. The pacing of the story is quick and borders on dizzying with all of the storylines, but Pavone pulls it off.

It would be easy to chalk Kate's fear up to boredom as she investigates Julia, Bill, and even Dexter, but those present day chapters manage to appear each time confidence in Kate's instincts begins to wane.

The Expats is perfect for readers looking for a cleverly plotted and thrilling sort of light espionage read (and by that I mean one that isn't heavy into the political parts of the espionage game).

For more stops on the tour, visit the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Pavone, Expats, and what comes next, visit the author's website here.

All That I Am by Anna Funder

Two TLC posts today! First up is Anna Funder's All That I Am.

Here's the synopsis from the back of the book:

When Hitler seizes power in 1933, a tight-knit group of friends and lovers suddenly becomes hunted outlaws overnight. Dora, liberated and fearless; her lover, the great playwright Ernst Toller; Ruth; and Ruth's journalist husband, Hans, find refuge in London. There, using secret contacts deep inside the Nazi regime, they take breathtaking risks to warn the world of Hitler's plans for war. But England is not  the safe haven they think it will be, and a single, chilling act of betrayal will tear them apart...

Based on true events, All That I Am, is testament to some of the earliest -- now forgotten -- heroes of the resistance to Hitler.

Readers, my husband has caught a bug. While I'm not exactly sick, I am the world's lightest sleeper and when you pair that with wonderful insomnia you get someone who normally runs on fumes, now attempting to run on E. Throw Anna Funder's fiction debut in the mix and you have a recipe for confusion. This is not by any means a light read and Funder's particular style makes it less so. In better circumstances, I would have been able to devote more concentration to the book and I'm sure that I would have gotten more out of it. It really sucks because I've been anxious to read Funder's fiction debut for quite some time. The tour gave me a chance to finally do that.

Funder's writing is very lyrical and poetic -- she has a beautiful way of turning a phrase. But what I found this week was that it was a style that left my exhausted brain desperately trying to connect the pieces and figure out what she was talking about. In fact, it seemed like she talked around what was happening more than giving a straightforward narrative.

Another issue that threw me was the narrative split. The story is told through two viewpoints of sorts: Ruth in 2001 -- mostly kicked off by the discovery of Ernst Toller's manuscript in a hotel safe -- and Toller in 1939 as he is working on the revisions to his memoir. This is by no means a normal issue for me. I love multiple viewpoints and timelines. This time, however, I just couldn't switch gears between narratives. Nor could I keep the timeline straight. Both characters are telling a story that takes place prior to their appearances. Obviously, Ruth is much beyond the years that the story focuses on and Toller is telling his story to an outsider helping rework his manuscript just a few years after the events in question. Not all that complicated and yet I somehow managed to make it so.

What's interesting about this book is that it's based on real events and the people in the book existed. What's more, the time period the story focuses on is actually before the war begins, which is an interesting setting that's often left out of much of the WWII fiction I've read. The new PS edition includes some great information on the events that make up the story as well as an interview with the author.

All of these things should have combined to create an immersive read for me. Instead, my poor sleep deprived self struggled and fought with the story. It was a rather unfortunate combination truth be told. I really wish I'd been able to give All That I Am a fair shot. Take it from me, if you happen to have caught what's going around -- flu or otherwise -- save this book for after you get better.

To see more stops on the tour, visit the official tour page here.

For more on Funder and her work, check out her website. You can also like her on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reached by Ally Condie

Readers, if you've not delved into Ally Condie's trilogy by now you should know that the below has MAJOR SPOILERS. It can't be helped. This is the third in the trilogy. You have been warned.

Cassia, Ky, and their friends have been through a lot. After making their way through the canyons they finally connected with the Rising. Now, Cassia has been sent back to Society and Ky has become a pilot. Both Cassia and Ky know that the Rising's plans are coming to a head, but surprisingly it's Xander who has the inside track. Xander's part in the Rising has been kept secret until now but before he can reveal the truth to Cassia, an outbreak of massive proportions hits Society. All three once again find themselves cut off from one another and trying to reconnect as Society falls to the Rising. The resistance group reveals the truth to the citizens, offering up their own alternative and promising a cure to the outbreak, until things take an unexpected turn. Now, Cassia, Ky, and Xander might prove to be the only hope for fixing things. 

The Plague driving Reached appealed to the medical thriller fan in me while the story moved along more of the dystopian basis of the overall plot and the dangers in allowing those in charge too much power with too little oversight. Both Society and the Rising are manipulative and untrustworthy in spite of their reassurances that they have the interests of the people in mind.

I have to admit that Ally Condie's wrap up to the trilogy was one of my most anticipated titles of 2012. Why has it taken me so long to review it, then? I'm honestly not sure. I can say that while Reached did tie up many of the loose ends, it also left more questions for me in the end. In fact, some of the barely touched upon portions of Reached were the parts that I desperately wanted more of!

The introduction of the Otherlands and more of the history of Society seemed a little unfair at this point considering the trilogy is at an end. Cassia, Ky, and Xander's stories all tie up fairly neatly but I admit I'm not ready to leave this world behind as a reader. Which is unfortunate.

That aside, Reached hit all the right notes and was an exciting end to the trilogy. I felt like Condie introduced a lot of thoughtful ideas and made each installment in the trilogy completely unique in terms of setting and story. And the world building, as I've mentioned before, is really fantastic throughout the series! I've not seen anything about what Condie might be working on next, but I'll certainly be awaiting whatever it is with great anticipation.

Just for fun, here's a link to Condie's Reached playlist on her blog.

Monday, January 21, 2013

2013 Edgar Award Nominations

This year's Edgar nominations were recently announced and I'm curious who's read what so far. Here's the list:

Best Novel:
The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman
Sunset by Al Lamande
Live By Night by Dennis Lehane
All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosely

Of this category, I've only read Flynn's title. I have heard wonderful things about The Gods of Gotham, however, and have that as well as the Kellerman title in my TBR.

Best First Novel:
The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay
Don't Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman
Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
The Expats by Chris Pavone
The 500 by Matthew Quirk
Black Fridays by Michael Sears

Again, I've only read one -- The Expats, which will be up on Wed as part of the TLC tour. I'm curious about Kim Fay's debut. I've not heard much about that one but am interested in reading it.

Best Paperback Original:
Complication by Isaac Adamson
Whiplash River by Lou Berney
Bloodland by Alan Glynn
Blessed are the Dead by Malla Nunn
The Last Policemand: A Novel by Ben H. Winters

Wow, my stats are horrible this year (as far as noms read are concerned). I've read Lou Berney's latest here and I loved it. I've heard great things about Ben H. Winters's title as well.

Young Adult:
Emily's Dress and other Missing Things by Kathryn Burak
The Edge of Nowhere by Elizabeth George
Crusher by Niall Leonard
Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kate Rosenfield
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

And I've read none of these so far. I did recently procure a copy of Elizabeth George's book but haven't had a chance to read it.

Mary Higgins Clark:
Dead Scared by S.J. Bolton
A City of Broken Glass by Rebecca Cantrell
The Reckoning by Jane Casey
The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Sleepwalker by Wendy Corsi Staub

I've been listening to The Other Woman on audio and am about to switch to physical here -- it's too cold for walking!

Overall, even though I've read a paltry number, the noms this year are pretty great. I've heard lots of buzz on many of these titles and have had my eye on a lot of them for the TBR. The banquet is May 2, so I've still got a few months to catch up before we see who will win.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

New Releases 1/22/13

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Ever After by Kim Harrison

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

The Sixth Station by Linda Stasi

Truth in Advertising by John Kenney

Suspect by Robert Crais

The Six Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister

Jill Kismet: The Complete Series by Lilith Saintcrow

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Everbound by Brodi Ashton

How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller

Boundless by Cynthia Hand

New on DVD:
End of Watch
For a Good Time, Call
The Paperboy

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd
The Expats by Chris Pavone

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013 Challenges

So I've gone ahead and decided to sign on for two challenges this year, in addition to my 2013 reading goal of 150 books.

The first challenge is the 2013 Debut Author Challenge hosted this year by Hobbitsies. The goal is simple: read and post reviews of a minimum of 12 debut YA or Middle Grade titles published in 2013. Easy peasy. Hobbitsies is also hosting little mini challenges to go along with the main challenge. Since I've been reading an increasing number of YA titles (and LOTS of them are debuts) this should be a no brainer for me. I don't know why I didn't sign on last year!

The second challenge I've signed on for is the 2013 Translation Challenge hosted by Curiosity Killed the Bookworm. For this challenge, the goal is to read at least one translated work a month -- translated into English, that is, and it can be a book, novella, poem, short story, etc. Again, should be another really easy one for me considering how much I do enjoy translated works. My typical fare is from the Scandinavian countries but I'm by no means limiting myself.

Anywho, I figure these are a few more interesting ways to open up my reading a bit more and maybe get a few more books in the TBR bumped up to the top throughout the year! Plus it's a fun way to network and poach more additions for the growing must read list (I love to see what everyone else is reading!).

What about the rest of you? Are any of you participating in any 2013 challenges?

I'm Over at Preternatura Today

Morning, all! I've reviewed Felix Gilman's The Rise of Ransom City for Suzanne over at Preternatura as part of her Reader's Write series today. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd

Morning, everyone! I'm part of the TLC blog tour for Charles Todd's An Unmarked Grave, the fourth title in the Bess Crawford series.

While working as a nurse at a field hospital in France, a startling discovery is brought to Bess's attention: an orderly has found a suspicious body amongst the dead. He's certain that it doesn't belong and a second check of his counts confirms. What's more, the body is unmarked with the exception of an obviously broken neck, leaving both Bess and the orderly concerned. It would seem the dead man was slipped in amongst the other bodies in the hopes that someone could cover it up. What makes it more shocking is that Bess recognizes the dead man as a member of her father's old unit. Before she can inquire or raise any alarms, Bess becomes the latest victim of Spanish Influenza. When she recovers, she fears it was all a dream. That is until the soldier's wife receives notification of his death. But the letter claims the man died on the front, which means his body would never have been at the field hospital at all. Furthermore, it claims he was hit by shrapnel with no mention of a broken neck. Unfortunately, while Bess was ill the orderly died under suspicious circumstances. Now Bess is the only one with any knowledge of the misplaced body. 

Here's the book trailer to pique your interest further:

It was fortunate that this book fell between my finishing Phillip Rock's The Passing Bells and the arrival of the second book in the trilogy. I've been left anxious to begin Circle of Time and, considering it also takes place during WWI, this latest Bess Crawford was just the thing to tide me over!

Though this was my first Bess Crawford (and my first Charles Todd), I had no trouble at all diving in mid-series. The story seems to fare well on its own and I didn't feel as though I was missing any information pertinent to this particular installment. I was aware that I was missing a lot of backstory but if I didn't know this was the fourth in the series, I doubt I would have noticed in the least.

Bess is a truly engaging character. In my opinion she comes across both as a believable heroine of her time but also, considering her sensibilities, appealing to a modern reader. She's clever and determined as well as being a formidable young lady. In spite of being knocked over by the flu and the apparent danger of her knowledge of a murder, she's unwilling to forgo her responsibilities as a nurse and wait for danger to pass. Instead, she returns to France as soon as she has the opportunity -- thereby giving herself the opportunity to investigate in spite of the knowledge that she's put herself right in the crosshairs of a dangerous and ruthless killer.

Charles Todd is the pseudonym for mother and son writing team, Charles and Caroline Todd. This is one of two series the team writes together and, based on this particular installment, it seems they're the perfect union of skills. The story is seamless in both style and pacing. Their research and knowledge of the setting also comes across fantastically. Obviously I have no first hand knowledge of the period, but I found all of the details to be completely convincing.

I'm looking forward not only to starting this series from the beginning, but also in jumping into Todd's Ian Rutledge series next month with Proof of Guilt.

For more stops on the tour visit the official TLC tour page here.

To learn more about the authors and their work, visit their official website here. You can also like them on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Uninvited by Liz Jensen

I'm whiling away my weekend reading -- inside where it's warm! And pre posting blog posts.

As with many book addicts, my TBR stack grows exponentially. It's the nature of the business so to speak. Every time I come across an author whose work I enjoy, that author inevitably ends up on the list of future watch fors. And so when I first heard that Liz Jensen had a new book due out, I immediately added it to my "Must Read" list. I truly enjoyed The Rapture when I read it back in 2009 and even though it's been a while, Jensen has never fallen off of my radar.

It begins with the investigation of an act of corporate sabotage. That's Hesketh Lock's job. He has a knack for recognizing patterns and the job is quite simply perfect for a man of his talents, or quirks as they may be. Hesketh has Aspberger's. But wait, that's not really where the story begins. It begins with a murder. A little girl wearing butterfly pajamas who kills her grandmother with a nail gun before turning it on her father and blinding him. Hesketh is intrigued by reports of the case and has just returned from China where he was sent to investigate a case involving illegal wood cutting and trading. A case that was revealed to authorities by an employee of the company behind the act. When Hesketh discovers who's responsible for the sabotage, the explanation is bizarre to say the least. Soon there's another similar instance, this time in Sweden. Hesketh's investigation leads him to believe that not only are the cases connected but that the increasing instances of child violence are part of the same phenomenon. 

As with The RaptureThe Uninvited pulled me in from the very first page. Some readers might find the story a bit slow to begin, but I found Hesketh to be an excellent narrator. His analyzing nature makes the narrative compelling and fascinating. The Uninvited is eerie and chilling and the pacing was perfect for my particular reading mood that day. In fact, I read The Uninvited in just one sitting.

The message behind The Uninvited is hard to miss. The way the tale unfolds and the reveal behind what's really going on aren't in any way awkward or forced, however. Overall it's a very easy and smooth read.

The Uninvited is a thriller with an apocalyptic twist. And one of the most creepy covers ever! An excellent read.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Earthseed by Pamela Sargent

One of the blogs I follow did a quick review post on some teen titles last November and Pamela Sargent's Earthseed was one of the three titles mentioned -- and it was the first I'd really heard of this book. It intrigued me and I immediately added it to my wishlist, having pretty much put a ban on purchasing books for myself for the remainder of 2012. Surprisingly, or not if you know my family, Earthseed ended up under the Christmas tree and was my first official read of 2013 -- perfect timing considering Tor has just rereleased book two, Farseed.

Zoheret and her fellow shipmates were born and raised on Ship, a massive spacecraft built into an asteroid, traveling through the universes in search of a system capable of supporting human life. The teens on board have been preparing for their mission all of their lives. They know that they will be leaving Ship's protection soon and this means they will have to relocate to the wilds of the Hollow -- an Earthlike portion of Ship that will be their final chance to learn to fend for themselves before settling on their new planet. But first, Ship has a challenge for the teens: they will be divided into teams to race across the Hollow. The winning team will be the first to cross in its entirety in the shortest length of time. And there are no rules. 

Of course violence breaks out amongst the teens, first thanks to competition and then thanks to another surprise.

The book promises to be a mix of Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies, which it undeniably is. Originally published in 1983, the folks at Tor brilliantly decided to repackage and rerelease Earthseed in 2011. It was also reported that Paramount was interested in producing a film adaptation. Not sure what the progress on that has been so far, but it is listed on IMDB as "In Development" for 2014.

I thought Earthseed was pretty fantastic. It holds up well and fits in easily with the current teen releases especially those like Hunger Games and Beth Revis's Across the Universe trilogy. The story moves quickly and Sargent does delve adequately into the science and psychology of the plot, providing satisfying explanations for what happens on board Ship.

Plus, the premise of a bunch of teens living on a spaceship is a little too fun for me to pass up as I seemingly have a habit of being drawn to that kind of story setting. The conflicts the teens face are particularly intriguing and somewhat shocking, which adds an excellent intensity to the story.

Ages ago (1997), Syfy channel aired one season of a show called Mission Genesis in which six teens on a spaceship are supposed to save the human race. Anywho, I kind of loved the show and Earthseed sounded a little similar in some ways. Honestly, Earthseed would have piqued my interest anyway, but I've missed that show and this was a major deciding factor in so quickly adding the book to my must read list.

As an aside, my addled brain has never been able to remember the name of the show. I was on the brink of digging out old VHS tapes to see if maybe I had captured a commercial until I found Phoebe North's post from December 2010 with the first 8 minutes of the first episode! And now Ms. North's upcoming release from Simon and Schuster is on my wishlist for 2013 'cause anyone who watched Mission Genesis has to be good people :) And yes, amazingly I still have a VCR and I still have a VHS with a recording of this movie from Syfy's 1997 lineup. I am a total geek and I know it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

New releases 1/15/13

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Drowning House by Elizabeth Black

Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

The Boy by Lara Santoro

Seven Kings by John R. Fultz

Snow White Must Die by Nele Froetschel

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

The Fifth Assassin by Brad Meltzer

Fear of Beauty by Susan Froetschel

Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin

The Good House by Ann Leary

Shades of Earth by Beth Revis

Vortex by Julie Cross

Gates of Paradise by Melissa de la Cruz

Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

New on DVD:
Taken 2
The Possession

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock
The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon
What We Saw At Night by Jacquelyn Mitchard

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Passing Bells by Phillip Rock

Morning, readers! Two posts in one day -- crazy, I know. Today I'm a stop on the TLC tour for Phillip Rock's Passing Bells, the first installment in the Greville Family trilogy.

I have to give big props to the minds responsible for resurrecting this series. Thanks to the popularity of Downton Abbey, everyone seems to be looking for something Downton-esque these days, which is fortunate for readers and for Rock's trilogy. Originally published back in the 70s, the trilogy has been repackaged and rereleased for all of us Downton fans! (No, there's no connection between the series and Downton except the whole people-who-like-this-will-also-like... deal, which is totally fine with me!)

This first in the trilogy begins in the summer of 1914 just before the beginning of WWI. For the Greville family of Abingdon Pryory, the season begins with plans of daughter Alexandra's introduction as an eligible bachelorette in London and concern over son Charles's infatuation with Lydia Foxe - a match his father, Lord Stanmore, would never approve. Hanna Greville's American nephew has arrived for a visit and talk is centered around home rule concerns. But when war breaks out in Europe, even the Grevilles are not immune to the dangers it presents.

When I first learned of this release, I have to admit I was pretty anxious to get to it. I am a pretty big Downton fan and was very much looking forward to diving into Passing Bells. I found myself completely engrossed from the very beginning. What was surprising, and I've seen others mention this very thing, was that the book took a completely unexpected turn. I definitely thought it be more of the Downton/Upstairs, Downstairs drama, so when part two launched into WWI as heavily as it did, I was a little unprepared. It was a pleasant (if reading about war can be described as pleasant) surprise.

Much of the focus of the book is on the characters and through them we see how people are affected by the war. Each character in turn offers a slightly different way of seeing events. For example, Fenton Wood-Lacy, a friend of the Grevilles, is at the forefront of the battle from the very early stages. Martin, Hanna's nephew, is also in the thick of it as a journalist representing a Chicago paper. Alexandra volunteers as a nurse while her father is reeling not only from the violence in Europe but the massive changes Abingdon is experiencing as a result.

In spite of its size, I found that The Passing Bells moved along at a wonderful pace. I never felt as though the book was hung up or slowed at any point even though it did take me longer to read than many I've delved into of late. This was also a pleasant surprise since it forced me to slow down and savor the read. And it is definitely a book to be savored.

To read an excerpt, visit the publisher's browse inside page here.

For more stops on the tour visit the official TLC tour page here.

What We Saw at Night by Jacquelyn Mitchard & a Guest Post

SOHO launched their new teen line this week with the release of Jacquelyn Mitchard's latest, What We Saw At Night.

Allie, Rob, and Juliet are best friends. They grew up together in their small town of Iron Harbor, home to the renowned Tabor Clinic, and a facility dedicated to the study of Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a rare genetic disorder that results in a deadly sun allergy. All three teens suffer from the disorder leaving their activity confined to the dark. With XP also comes a relatively short life expectancy, but the three of them have embraced their situations and their lives, vowing to live to the fullest. And so it seems natural that they take up parkour, a potentially dangerous sport that involves skill, dedication, and concentration using the environment around them as a means to get around. But their new sport turns dangerous in ways they couldn't imagine when they witness something they never should have seen. Allie knows that they're all in danger but no one believes her. Now it's up to her to prove what they saw and hopefully keep all three of them safe. 

Mitchard is no stranger to the YA world. In fact, she's the author of a number of titles for all ages. For the tour, I asked her about the difference between writing for adults and writing for teens. Here's what she had to say:

The only distinction for me between writing a book for adults and a book "for" teens is that the main characters are teenagers. But that's true in so many great books -- old ones like NATIONAL VELVET and new ones like EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE . I write about different events, because a teen's personal geography is so different from an adults (like, you usually don't see "This takes place in three countries and over a period of twenty years …") In that sense, it's smaller. In the emotional sense, it's steeper. For a kid, every day is a month; every month is a year; every year is an era. Their lives are emotionally epic, and stories have to reflect that. As for standards, vocabulary, writing … oh! I would never write down to a teen audience. They are discriminating and fierce in their judgments.

With What We Saw At Night, I can say that Mitchard definitely succeeds in creating a suspenseful and serious teen mystery. Each of the characters is believable as teens -- never once coming across as teens from an adult perspective. Their issues are mostly typical of teens but the addition of XP makes the story even more interesting. What's more, the mystery is well plotted and leads directly into a follow up title readers will no doubt be clamoring for. I know I'm looking forward to continuing Allie's story in What We Lost in the Dark.

What We Saw At Night is an exciting way to start the new SOHO Teen imprint and is just the first of many titles to come. Feb sees the release of Who Done It? a collection of shorts edited by Jon Scieszka. In March comes Margaux Froley's Escape Theory, April is Michelle Gagnong's Strangelets, May is Joy Preble's The Sweet Dead Life, and June sees the release of Helen FitzGerald's Deviant. For excerpts on each title and more, visit the SOHO Teen page (linked at the top).

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon

Morning, all! Today I'm a stop on the TLC tour for Jennifer McMahon's latest, The One I Left Behind.

In 1985, Reggie's mother disappeared. She was assumed to be the final victim of Neptune, a killer whose MO included cutting off his victim's right hand and leaving the hand, packaged in a milk carton, for police to find. Each victim was kept alive for four days after and then left in a public place to be found. Only the body of Reggie's mother was never found. Just her dismembered hand. Now Reggie's all grown up and her mother has been found, alive. What, if anything, Reggie's mother remembers about Neptune or the past twenty-five years is yet to be figured out. She's sick and seemingly out of her mind. Reggie left her home years ago without looking back, but she'll return now to care for her dying mother, finding herself once again drawn into the painful secrets of the past and facing those that have built for the past two decades. Then Neptune strikes again, this time taking another victim that was once close to Reggie.

Jennifer McMahon is a master at drawing out a story, teasing the reader and revealing things at a carefully plotted pace. It's truly engrossing! As The One I Left Behind plays out, there are tiny clues as to the identity of Neptune and the various information characters are hiding, but it's always just enough to increase the tension and suspense without giving too much away. Every time I thought I'd figured it out, McMahon threw me for another loop, so the big reveal at the end was truly a surprise to me. Excellent in all regards yet again!

I've been a fan of McMahon's work since the release of Promise Not to Tell, a book that had already begun generating buzz in the industry when it hit shelves. I'd read so much praise about the book that I had to get my grubby little book junkie hands on it as soon as possible. Once I was able to track down a copy (and I was not pleased when I didn't immediately find it in stores) I dove in and have never looked back. Each new release from McMahon is on my "Must Have" list as soon as it's announced. I jumped at the opportunity to participate in this tour and have to admit that I did a really dorky happy dance as soon as I received a copy of The One I Left Behind :)

To see more stops on the tour, visit the official TLC tour page here.

For more on McMahon and her other work, visit her official website. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. And as a fun extra, check out this great little interview from Publishers Weekly.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi

Aria and Perry are reunited after their months apart. Now, Aria has struck a deal with the same man who banished her from Reverie, promising to find the legendary Still Blue -- a portion of Earth that remains untouched by the violent Aether storms that have become the norm since the solar flare that devestated the atmosphere so many generations ago. The Pods are now plagued by Degenerative Limbic Syndrome, an illness Aria's own mother was studying before dying in the destruction of Bliss. What's more, the Pods are no longer safe from the Aether either. But Aria's presence amongst the Tides brings discord to the already troubled tribe and threatens Perry's position as Blood Lord.

This follow up to Under the Never Sky definitely delivered as far as moving the story ahead. It can be problematic finding a balance between world building, character development, and story progression -- especially, it seems, in a shorter YA title. After spending 2/3 of the first book traveling with Aria and Perry, I definitely wanted to see more in the action department and Through the Ever Night did not disappoint.

We also get more of other character's stories here as well. Aria and Perry still get center spotlight, but Roar is a huge part of this installment and we finally meet Liv as well. What's more, the story travels to yet another tribe, giving us another glimpse of more of the world around Aria and Perry.

The ending in Through the Ever Night is pretty killer. It's definitely one that leaves readers on the edge of their seats, which is another reason I found this installment a bit more exciting and overall satisfying than Under the Never Sky. Now I desperately want more!

Through the Ever Night hits shelves today!

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

Let me first say that if you haven't read any of the Dark Tower series... well, I can only hope you decide to dive in soon. That said, you could probably read The Wind Through the Keyhole you've yet to read the seven core titles but note there will be a few spoilers (the biggest one sadly had slipped my mind entirely! My husband had read them more recently and I had to ask him to refresh my memory.).

If you're a fan, though, then you're sure to enjoy this brief and welcome return visit with Roland and his ka-tet. It should be understood, though, that this book doesn't move the Dark Tower story forward at all. It's simply a return trip in which Roland shares two stories of his youth.

After the events of Wizard and Glass and while traveling to what will come in Wolves of the Calla, Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy find themselves waylaid by a starkblast -- a massive and dangerous storm front. They take refuge in an abandoned city hall to wait out the storm. Here, Roland entertains the group with two stories - one true and one that his mother shared with him as a child. The first is the story of Roland's first assignment as a gunslinger. A skin changer has been terrorizing the town of Debaria and Roland is sent to handle the matter. The other story is a tale called "The Wind Through the Keyhole." In this story, a young boy goes on a quest to find a cure for his mother and experiences wonderful and terrible things (much like The Talisman). 

I adored this book. While it is just a taste of the Dark Tower and it definitely did leave me longing for me, it was, as I said above, a very welcome return to the world and the characters of the series.

The created world here is one that I could return to again and again and again. I do hope that we'll get more in the future, though the series is very clearly wrapped up in the seven DT installments. I just love it, though. All of the parallels and the unique differences between our world and Roland's and the possibilities of the different worlds along the beam.

Roland's story again combines the unique western, fantasy, and horror aspects that I love about this series, while "The Wind Through the Keyhole" is very much a fairy tale. And wouldn't that be fabulous? A book of unique fairy tales from Stephen King?! That would be amazing. Ah well. We get what we get.

I'm a bit of a Stephen King addict and The Wind Through the Keyhole definitely made my favorites list of 2012. In fact, it was one of the last books I read of the year.  I can see it's going to be time for a Dark Tower reread on my part very, very soon thanks to Wind. I've already tortured myself with the excerpt of Dr. Sleep that was included as part of the estory In the Tall Grass and that one's not due out until September (although Joe Hill's NOS4A2 will be coming out much sooner and I've downloaded his short Thumbprint just recently as well).

Do yourself a favor, readers. Give the Dark Tower series a chance if you've not as of yet. In fact, start with The Talisman and let yourself get roped into the series that way! It's a fabulous dark fantasy tale that links to the Dark Tower and hooked me when I was in college. From there you dive into The Gunslinger, very weird western and the shortest of the series. Then move ahead into The Drawing of the Three and The Wastelands (my FAVORITE of the series). If you're not hooked by then, there may not be any hope for you.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Releases 1/8/12

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Tell by Hester Kaplan

The Kassa Gambit by M.C. Planck

The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

Blood Gospel by James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell

Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson

Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon

1356 by Bernard Cornwell

Merciless by Lori Armstrong

Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin

The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas

The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller & Bill Pronzini

The History of Us by Leah Stewart

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Footprints in the Sand by Mary Jane Clark

A Study in Revenge by Kieran Shields

Collateral Damage by Stuart Woods

The Beggar King by Oliver Potsch

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

Blood Money by James Grippando

The Lawyer's Lawyer by James Sheehan

Jungleland by Christopher S. Stewart

Kinsey & Me by Sue Grafton

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

What We Saw At Night by Jacquelyn Mitchard

Doomed by Tracy Deebs

Revolution 19 by Gregg Rosemblum

Farseed by Pamela Sargent (reissue)

Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi

Broken by A. E. Rought

Timekeeper by Alexandra Monir

Rise by Andrea Cremer

Crash by Lisa McMann

New on DVD:
House at the End of the Street
Hit & Run

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
Through the Ever Night
The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King
Earthseed by Pamela Sargent
Vanity Fare by Megan Caldwell

Friday, January 4, 2013

Edge of Black by J.T. Ellison

So, readers. I did actually read both installments of J.T. Ellison's new Samantha Owens series pretty much back to back but I'm only now getting around to doing my write up for Edge of Black here for the blog (though I did review it for Bookbitch.com this week).

And of course I HAD to get to Edge of Black as soon as I possibly could after finishing A Deeper Darkness. I just couldn't get enough!

Sam is starting over -- new city, new job, and even a new boyfriend. Convinced she needs a break from her job as a Medical Examiner, she's taken on a teaching position at Georgetown University. When a student falls ill as a result of what's clearly a biological attack on the capitol, Sam finds her skills as an ME are called upon once more. The attack has been contained and so far the number of deaths is limited to just three, one of whom happens to be a senator who's made more than a few enemies with his stance on policies. But why these three victims? And why did the senator receive an ominous text just moments before his own death? Sam is determined to find out. Meanwhile, her new boyfriend, Xander Whitfield, has heard through the grapevine that the attack could be the work of a local rather than some overseas terrorist group. Using his own connections, he sets off to see if he can find the killer before it's too late.

Ah! This one is crazy good! I think I liked it even more than A Deeper Darkness, which I wouldn't have thought possible until now. I love, love, loved the bio warfare/outbreak aspect here! The science seems spot on (I'd never know the difference but even if it's not, Ellison makes it believable).

I love the relationships and the interplay between the characters in Ellison's work. Sam and Xander, of course, and Detective Darren Fletcher as well. But then there are the other smaller characters, too: Nocek, Xander's parents, and all of the others that inhabit the book. I've mentioned it before, but Ellison's character development is some of the best I've come across.

Really another fine outing from Ellison! She's such an exciting author and I'm always looking forward to what she'll do next.

As an aside, I just bought these two for my friend as a Christmas gift as well (hopefully I haven't included any spoilers if she's reading these posts!).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Reverie is the only home Aria has ever known, and it's just one of many Pods created after a solar flare destroyed Earth's atmosphere. Here the Chosen and their descendants have lived a charmed and protected life, never wanting for anything and safe from the dangerous Aether storms outside. Aria and her friends only meant to have a little fun when they broke into the defunct agriculture dome but their night of adventure ends in tragedy and Aria finds herself banished to the outside world -- a punishment that means almost certain death. Perry saved Aria once before, on that fateful night. Now he is her only chance of survival. But Perry isn't gung ho to buddy up with a Dweller. Especially not after they stole his nephew. If he wants to save the boy, Aria might prove to be his only hope.

I read through the majority of Veronica Rossi's debut on the plane home for Christmas. It was a super quick read and definitely engrossing enough to keep me distracted during the flight. I found that the promise of reading both this first and the follow up title back to back was much more satisfying than if I'd had to wait, however. Under the Never Sky spends a lot of time setting up the world. It's not something that normally bothers me but with a book a short as this one, it meant that the story didn't move forward very much. The plus is that Rossi also uses this time to build her characters quite well.

The premise is pretty standard post apocalyptic, utopian/dystopian fare: Destruction of the atmosphere leaves Earth all but uninhabitable so a series of domed cities is created for the chosen few. Power in the domes rests in the hands of a select few but all is not as great as it seems. But the setting is a bit unique. The tribes and the roving bands of Croven as well as the Aether storms are different as is the explanation for the mutations exhibited amongst the outsiders -- Audiles, those with excellent hearing ability; Scires, those whose sense of smell is greatly enhanced; and Seers, those with exception sight.

I will say the Scire ability gave me a bit of the creeps, though, especially when Perry starts spending an excessive amount of time talking about Aria's scent... um, ew.

While I have to admit that I much preferred book two (review coming soon), I did quite enjoy this series opener. My suggestion would be to pick up both and read them back to back -- and then suffer alongside me as we all wait for book three to come out after the great ending of book two!

Under the Never Sky is now out in paperback and the sequel, Through the Ever Night, hits shelves in hardcover on Jan 8. HarperCollins also has a new prequel e novella out, Roar and Live: Under the Never Sky.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Vanity Fare by Megan Caldwell

Morning, readers! I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Megan Caldwell's Vanity Fare: A Novel of Lattes, Literature and Love this morning.

Molly Hagan's husband has left her and she needs to get a job -- quick. Said husband has just informed her that he's lost his job and can no longer provide child support and Molly's insurance is running out. Fortunately a friend comes through with some temporary contract work that involves copywriting for an up and coming bakery in the city. The chef behind the concept is a hot (literally and figuratively) Englishman hoping their location near the New York Library will draw crowds. Molly's well read and has an English major so the job seems just about perfect. With just one exception, the chef's business partner is a bit of a cold fish. But when Molly begins to connect with both men, things start to get very interesting. Little does she know, they're both hiding things from her.

Vanity Fare is super cute! Molly is addicted to coffee and romance novels, spends much of her time worrying about how best to provide for her son, and is funny to boot. This combination makes her the kind of heroine I can really get behind!

The progression of the story is pretty great. I don't know that I'd have invited Nick into my life as quickly as Molly did with this story -- that was the only thing I had a little tough time swallowing. Other than that, I was laughing out loud and drooling over the descriptions of the pastries inside.

The book does include a few recipes for some of the mentioned baked goods. Unfortunately, baking at high altitude comes with many challenges and temper tantrums on my part so I didn't try any of them. I'd be interested to hear how they come out if other readers are inspired to try them though.

If you're in the mood for a light read that's both filling and funny, I'd highly recommend checking this one out (sorry, I'm not as good at puns as Molly is!). Just be prepared and have some cookies handy :)

To see what others on the tour thought, visit the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Megan and her work (she also writes romance as Megan Frampton) visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.