March 9, 2017

Book Mail: According to a Source & Hubble Bubble

Book Mail

Book mail! I've been missing in action because life has been crazy busy lately, but today I received book mail (the best kind of mail, except for cash mail if that exists) thanks to both St. Martin's Press and Candlewick Press. Both are advanced copies I won through Goodreads giveaways. Below are details on each.

According to a Source

By Abby Stern
Publication Date: May 23, 2017 (available for pre-order)
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press)
Genre: Chick-lit, Fiction
Page Count: 304

Official Summary:

We live in a society obsessed with celebrity, but have you ever wondered who is on the inside gathering the best celebrity gossip and how do they get access? According to a Source: A Novel by Abby Stern dishes on this behind the scenes world in a way that only a Hollywood insider could.

Ella Warren works for celebrity news website, The Life, as a club reporter. She’s assigned to stake out Hollywood’s hottest clubs and spy on the celebrities inside. When Ella is pressured by her Devil Wears Prada-type boss to find an exclusive story to keep her job, she has to decide if being in Hollywood’s elite inner circle is worth jeopardizing her friendship with actress Holiday Hall, her budding romance with Holiday’s agent, and her family.

A juicy, big-hearted novel about a young woman who loses herself in a fast-paced, glamorous world where finding your authentic self isn’t easy.

The Great Granny Cake Contest!: Hubble Bubble #1

By Tracey Corderoy, Illustrated by Joe Berger
Publication Date: June 13, 2017 (available for pre-order)
Publisher: Nosy Crow (Candlewick Press)
Genre: Children's Fantasy Fiction (ages 6-9)
Page Count: 128

Official Summary:

Can you keep a secret? Pandora's granny is a witch! She causes magical mayhem wherever she goes. In these stories, she brings comic chaos to a televised baking competition, delightful disaster to a school fair, and tons of trouble to a stately home! But she makes everything right in the end, with a bit of help from Pandora. Everyone loves Granny, especially her long-suffering granddaughter!

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March 1, 2017

Comfort in Reading

Comfort in Reading

Today I've been thinking about these lines from Roald Dahl's Matilda:

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea.

These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

This morning a friend reminded me to take time for self-care. For me, reading has always been a safe space. I remembered this quote and smiled thinking about the message Dahl wanted to give to his child readers. Matilda is such a lovely character and I hope recalling this passage brings someone else comfort today.

How do you practice self-care?

[Illustration by Quentin Blake.] 


February 2, 2017

Red Queen and Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard

The third and final installment in Victoria Aveyard's dark young adult series, King's Cage, comes out on February 7th. Though I thought the series fell in quality in book two, I'm still interested in checking out King's Cage to see what happens. If you haven't read the series, it's not to late to check it out. In addition to the three major works, Aveyard also wrote a short novella titled Cruel Crown which functions as the series' prequel. I haven't had a chance to read it yet. Have any of you? What did you think?

Red Queen (#1) 

Official Summary: 

This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.

My Review:

[3.5 stars] An interesting start to a book series. It's best described as sci-fi Hunger Games meets YA Game of Thrones (meaning, there will be blood, a lot of red and silver blood). I liked the concept and find myself drawn to stories of class conflict. This premise makes the need for rebellion make more sense, but I had mixed feelings about the main character. At times, Mare is a likable powerhouse, but at other times I didn't understand her way of thinking. I also kept stumbling on her name. Did anyone repeatedly think "bone marrow" every time they read "Mare Barrow"?

Glass Sword (#2)

Official Summary: 

Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control.

The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors.

But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.

Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they’ve always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.

My Review:

[2 stars] A big disappointment when compared to Red Queen. Though the first book certainly sets up the battle that will begin raging in book two, Glass Sword is hugely--and unnecessarily--violent in the extreme. Remember when I said the series was like a sci-fi blend of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones? This is where the GoT bloodshed really kicks in, which I do not enjoy. While Maven's evil side is startling, Mare seems equally cold-hearted which is confusing: the series no longer seems to have a hero and a villain, just two villains representing opposing groups.

King's Cage (#3)

Finally, here's Harper Teen's preview for book three:  

In this breathless third installment to Victoria Aveyard’s bestselling Red Queen series, allegiances are tested on every side. And when the Lightning Girl's spark is gone, who will light the way for the rebellion?

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother's web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare's heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down. 

What are your thoughts about the series?

January 31, 2017

The Precious Stone Trilogy by Kerstin Gier

The Precious Stone Trilogy by Kerstin Gier

The Precious Stone trilogy by Kerstin Gier was originally published in German in 2009. The young adult, fantasy series was so popular, two years later it was translated and published in English, along with further worldwide publication. I confess that I was in part drawn to the lovely book covers as well as how many of my friends had read the series. The story centers on a London-based teenager named Gwyneth who learns that she comes from a line of time travelers and is lucky enough to also possess this gift, though her cousin does not. Her first time hop happens accidentally one day while she's not feeling well. She tells her best friend and is able to time travel a couple of more times before she tells her mother, in part because she's so startled by seeing her own doppelganger during the time leap. It is then that she learns the true circumstances of her birth, meets the members of The Lodge who act as guardians of time, and learns of what duties and adventures await her.

Ruby Red (#1) 

Official Summary: 

Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!

Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon--the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust. 

My Review:

[2 stars] When I started this book, it was a solid three or four stars: interesting premise, cool setting, curious problem. It felt, however, that the story lost its footing and trajectory when the protagonist's journey actually begins. Gwyneth is clumsy and has a rather funny personality.

Sapphire Blue (#2) 

Official Summary:

Gwen’s life has been a rollercoaster since she discovered she was the Ruby, the final member of the secret time-traveling Circle of Twelve. In between searching through history for the other time-travelers and asking for a bit of their blood (gross!), she’s been trying to figure out what all the mysteries and prophecies surrounding the Circle really mean.

At least Gwen has plenty of help. Her best friend Lesley follows every lead diligently on the Internet. James the ghost teaches Gwen how to fit in at an eighteenth century party. And Xemerius, the gargoyle demon who has been following Gwen since he caught her kissing Gideon in a church, offers advice on everything. Oh, yes. And of course there is Gideon, the Diamond. One minute he’s very warm indeed; the next he’s freezing cold. Gwen’s not sure what’s going on there, but she’s pretty much destined to find out.

My Review:

[3 stars] Funnier than the first. The novel includes a Cats-reenactment scene that is beyond ridiculous. That sounds weird out of context--and it is--but when you're reading it, it's funny but equally strange.

Emerald Green (#3) 

Official Summary:

Gwen has a destiny to fulfill, but no one will tell her what it is. She’s only recently learned that she is the Ruby, the final member of the time-traveling Circle of Twelve, and since then nothing has been going right. She suspects the founder of the Circle, Count Saint-German, is up to something nefarious, but nobody will believe her. And she’s just learned that her charming time-traveling partner, Gideon, has probably been using her all along. Emerald Green is the stunning conclusion to Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red Trilogy, picking up where Sapphire Blue left off, reaching new heights of intrigue and romance as Gwen finally uncovers the secrets of the time-traveling society and learns her fate.

My Review:

[2 stars] Witty dialogue throughout the series, but the second installment is my favorite.

Have you read The Precious Stone Trilogy? 

January 26, 2017

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass:

Last year I read Kiera Cass's best-selling series, The Selection. Wanting to catch up on recent popular young adult novels, these titles quickly joined the list when I checked my Goodreads account and saw I had nearly 30 friends who'd read book one. Along with Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series (which I posted about here) this was the first time I'd ever read companion stories to a series that follow numbering methods to suggest where additional tales fit into larger contexts. For example, you might not only have novels 1, 2, and 3, but short stories or novellas numbered 0.5, 2.3, and 3.6. This was entirely weird to me. While I can appreciate how die-hard fans would love these supplemental peeks inside characters lives, isn't it also a cheap money-making scheme taking advantage of YA readers? Have you read books like this before?

That being said, the series is essentially a teen version of The Bachelor, royal style. Girls fight to date and marry a future king and companion stories follow the preceding and subsequent generations.

If you're going to read a series like this that comes with companion pieces, I suggest reading the major novels first and then going back and adding in the supplemental stories. I've listed them chronologically below, but I read numbers one through five before going back and reading 0.4, 0.5, 2.5, and 2.6.

Here's HarperTeen's official summary for book one, The Selection:

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself—and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

See, I told you it's like The Bachelor. While my ratings on various installments ranged from 1 star to 3.5 stars, on the whole I fell somewhere between thinking it was okay (2 stars) and I liked it (3 stars). [All of this obviously very scientific.] It's light, easy, guilty-pleasure reading. YA romance meets reality TV with crowns and fancy dresses thrown in.

A warning that there are spoilers posted throughout my mini-reviews, so if you're just looking to check out book one, read no further down than that. Let me know in the comments what you think about The Selection series and what other YA series you think I should check out.

The Queen (#0.4)

[1 star] This story is included within the Happily Ever After collection and details the life of Prince Maxon's mother prior to book one. My response? No, no, no. If the author has to preface the book by claiming she's not condoning an abusive relationship, then warning, danger Will Robinson, danger! 

The Prince (#0.5)

[2 stars] This story is also included within Happily Ever After and tells readers about Prince Maxon's love life prior to ever beginning the selection process in which he meets America. POV-switch novels always seem like a lazy way to make money and take advantage of young, loyal fans. Meh. 

The Selection (#1)

[3 stars] Boys and girls, start your flirting engines. I've never seen a full episode of The Bachelor, but now I feel as if I have. This book was pure cotton candy and I admit I totally wanted to read what happened next.

The Elite (#2)

[2 stars] *eye-roll* Picking up where The Selection left off, Prince Maxon has narrowed down his group of contenders from thirty-five to six. A lot of catty fighting ensues. I was told the third book was better, so I carried on, but I would also image that to true reality TV fans, this book may be their favorite.

The Guard (#2.5)

[3 stars] This story is included within Happily Ever After and gives a peek into the life of the boy America ditched to pursue Prince Maxon. Aspen Leger is now stationed as a guard in the castle--enter awkwardness and drama--but the point-of-view in this short story was very likable and overall it was my favorite supplemental installment.

The Favorite (#2.6)

[2 stars] This is the last story included within Happily Ever After. Apparently I don't yet understand how these in-between stories work. One would think you could read "2.6" before "3" and be fine, but this included many spoilers. It's the story of Marlee, one of America's maids, and Carter, the guard she loves. The class difference between them and some other contributing factors complicate their relationship until Maxon steps in to save them.

The One (#3)

[2 stars] In this novel, the winner of the selection process is chosen (obviously, it's America). The author tries to complicate the situation by adding in a new level of political uprisings within the kingdom, but they didn't feel well thought-out and there are too many damsel in distress moments. At this point, undoubtedly Aspen is a more likable character than Maxon and America combined, but sadly the book is not about him.

The Heir (#4)

[3.5 stars] Definitely the best installment in the Selection series. The novel still features the silly bachelor/bachelorette framework, but now with the next royal generation. Princess Eadlyn's character (flaws and all) are more believable, the writing is better, and the political uprising is more compelling than it was previously.

The Crown (#5)

[2.5 stars] The conclusion to the series was a bit of a let down. It's time for Princess Eadlyn to choose a husband, but of course she feels conflicted. There are some interesting contenders, but everything happened too easily and there wasn't enough political drama given the seeds planted within the last two books.

FYI, if you're a big fan, they've released a coloring book based on The Selection series. Given all of the fancy dresses, this might be fun for audiences. I've also read Kiera Cass's YA novel The Siren (review forthcoming).