Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman







Cancel the Wedding
Carolyn T. Dingman


Genre: Contemporary
Hardback: 240 Pages
Publication: July 8, 2014
by HarperTeen




Synopsis

On the surface, Olivia has it all: a high-powered career, a loving family, and a handsome fiancé. She even seems to be coming to terms with her mother Jane’s premature death from cancer. But when Jane’s final wish is revealed, Olivia and her elder sister Georgia are mystified. Their mother rarely spoke of her rural Southern hometown, and never went back to visit—so why does she want them to return to Huntley, Georgia, to scatter her ashes?

Jane’s request offers Olivia a temporary escape from the reality she’s long been denying: she hates her “dream” job, and she’s not really sure she wants to marry her groom-to-be. With her 14-year-old niece, Logan, riding shotgun, she heads South on a summer road trip looking for answers about her mother.

As Olivia gets to know the town’s inhabitants, she begins to peel back the secrets of her mother’s early life—truths that force her to finally question her own future. But when Olivia is confronted with a tragedy and finds an opportunity to right a terrible wrong, will it give her the courage to accept her mother’s past—and say yes to her own desire to start over?


Review
◆ A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review ◆

When Olivia's fiancé takes action to initiate wedding preparations, Olivia gets scared and uses the excuse of scattering her mother's cremains in order to postpone plans. Nobody else can understand the feelings going through her, as Leo is a wealthy, hardworking man and everyone's dream husband. However, despite having a dream job and dream fiancé, Olivia isn't happy with her life. She doesn't know if she wants to continue her life on the path she's on and hopes that connecting with her mother's past will help her figure out what to do with her life.

Joining Olivia on the road trip is her fourteen-year-old niece Logan. Though Olivia isn't sure whether the road trip is driven by the need to find out about her mother's past or becasue she simply needs a convenient excuse to get out of her unhappy life, Logan is the first to understand her aunt's feelings and seems to understand Olivia better than Olivia herself. Thus, there is a role reversal in their relationship were Olivia acts like the teenager and Logan is the mature one.

Along the way, Olivia and Logan meet Elliott, the owner of the local newspaper in Huntley, Georgia. The two make a connection with each other, and with his help, she begins digging into her mother’s past and the history of the Southern town where she grew up. In the process, Olivia begins to answer the questions and self-doubts she has about her life, helping her better understand herself and what she truly wants.

Cancel the Wedding deals with themes of death, life, and self-identity. Not only does Olivia come to terms with her mother's history, she confronts who she is and who she wants to be. This is a great summer read. I recommend this to readers looking for a contemporary book that explores relationships and self-discovery.




Additional Information
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • Language (cussing)
  • Drinking
  • Kissing, sex

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud




The Screaming Staircase
Jonathan Stroud


Series: Lockwood & Co. #1
Genre: Fantasy Crime
Hardback: 390 Pages
Publication: September 17, 2014
by Disney-Hyperion




Synopsis

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.


Review

After a disastrous accident, fifteen-year-old psychic investigator Lucy Carlyle leaves her small hometown and heads to the city of London to start her life over. However, without any references, no agencies are willing to hire her. Only the small outfit of Lockwood & Co., after seeing her unusually strong psychic abilities, offers Lucy a job, no questions asked.

Lucy works well as the main character. She’s talented, bright, and a little hot headed. Most importantly though, she isn’t shoehorned into some insipid, intrusive romantic subplot. Thus, the reader isn't lured into thinking of Lucy as “the girl” in the group. She’s a well-developed and interesting charcter that can stand on her own. With this new addition, the number of employees at Lockwood & Co. comes to a grand total of three. This includes the founder, Anthony Lockwood, a boy not too much older than Lucy and whose foolish swashbuckling demeanor disguises his great experience. The other member, George Cubbins, is a crabby character obviously intended to be a source of comic relief but one whose intelligence makes a great addition to the team. Combined, these three make a formidable team. Their personalities are well developed and work together to make their interactions interesting.

As the story follows the adventures of this ragtag group of ghost hunters, the reader slowly learns how the world has been affected by the sudden increase in paranormal activity. Staying out at night can be deadly, and profiteers have built massive corporate empires that supply the nervous masses with all of their ghost busting needs. Business slowly starts picking up as the employees of Lockwood & Co. begin to make names for themselves. As they start to take on higher profile cases, they begin to face more serious threats and uncover more dangerous information that may attract the wrong kind of attention. Just as I’ve come to expect of him, Johnathan Stroud does an excellent job giving every one of his characters their own unique personality and building a fantasy world perfect for them to inhabit. Fans of the Bartimaeus series will enjoy the way Stroud compliments the dark and dangerous settings Lockwood & Co. face with a bit of witty humor.

The Screaming Staircase is an enjoyable read full of mystery and suspense that constantly had me excitedly wondering which direction the story would take next. It hints at something big looming behind the scenes and ends with the promise of something interesting coming just around the corner. It’s clear that Stroud has something greater in store. Whatever that may be, you can be sure that I’ll be reading the sequel The Whispering Skull when it comes out this coming September.




Additional Information
Series
  1. The Screaming Staircase
  2. The Whispering Skull
Content
  • Ghosts
  • Minor violence

Guest reviewed by Kris's boyfriend,

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Imagine Weekly: Stacking the Shelves 7/20

Imagine Weekly is a weekly feature where we share a summary of what has taken place on the blog the previous week and show off books that we got.


Mailbox

Kris
I received for review:

Lailah by Nikki Kelly (Goodreads | Amazon)


Fire Wish by Amber Lough (Goodreads | Amazon)
The Year of Chasing Dreams by Lurlene McDaniel (Goodreads | Amazon)


Alice
I received for review:

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman (Goodreads | Amazon)

Gwen
I received for review:

Phobic by Cortney Pearson (Goodreads)
Queen & Commander by Janine A. Southard (Goodreads | Amazon)

Thanks to Cortney Pearson, Janine A. Southard, Harper Collins, Macmillan, and Random House
* Check out more book hauls through Stacking the Shelves at Tynga's Reviews *


Previous Week

Reviews



Giveaways



What did you get this week? Leave a link in the comments section, and we'll check out your week's haul!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll






Alice's Adventures
in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


Genre: FantasyLiterary nonsense
Hardcover: 208 Pages
Publication: May 19, 1992 (originally 1865)
by HarperCollins




Synopsis

On a golden afternoon, young Alice follows a White Rabbit, who disappears down a nearby rabbit hole. Quickly following him, she tumbles into the burrow - and enters the merry, topsy-turvy world of Wonderland. A series of whimsical escapades and nonsensical obstacles dictate Alice's journey, which culminates in a madcap encounter with the Queen of Hearts - and her army of playing cards! Is it all a dream, or just an alternate reality...?

Review

So, I think we all know the basic story, especially if you saw the Disney film growing up. A little girl follows a White Rabbit down a rabbit hole and has this strange adventure in a place called Wonderland, all for her to wake up at the end and find out it was just a dream. However, there’s more to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland than that.

One of the best things about this story is the imagery. The various creatures Alice encounters in Wonderland, though seen briefly, are fun to meet and you are often left wondering who Alice will run into next. Since the chapter titles usually feature the names of whichever characters Alice meets, this gives the chapters the feel of being interconnected short stories, Alice being the thread that brings these stories all together.

What I really admire about Carroll’s storytelling is his ability to blur when reality ends and the dream of Wonderland starts. In the opening pages of the book, Alice is feeling sleepy when she sees the White Rabbit; it really seems as if she is following an actual rabbit, granted that it’s a rabbit wearing a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch. At the end when she wakes from the dream, the transition from Wonderland to reality is done so seamlessly that you can’t exactly pinpoint when it is that Alice wakes up.

Something that leaves me feeling a touch divided about the book are the characterizations. The residents of Wonderland were all either very rude or easily offended. While we don’t get thorough descriptions of each character, their interactions with Alice are the most memorable. As bland as she may be at some points, Alice is perhaps the best character. While she mainly serves as an anchor in an unusual world, she is rather level-headed considering her situation. She is pretty proper for a child of her age and tries to apply the lessons she has learned to what she goes through in Wonderland, but finds that the logic from the real world doesn’t work there. Additionally, she stands up against threats in Wonderland instead of just running away from them as she does in the movie.

I can’t talk about a plot with this book because there isn’t exactly one. The closest thing we could label as a plot is Alice’s desire to get through a tiny door and into the beautiful garden she sees through the keyhole, which turns out to be the realm of the cards, ruled over by the King and Queen of Hearts. Ultimately, though, there is a moral in the story, which comes out in the final chapter as a realization made by Alice’s older sister. Because of this incredibly vivid dream, Alice is revealed to have an incredible sense of wonder and imagination, something her sister wishes she still had herself.

If you haven't done so in a while, I recommend you check out the film adaptation, preferably the Disney version. While the idea about maintaining your imagination and sense of wonder isn't presented as strongly as it is in the book, the film is absolute eye candy and features great songs. Additionally, it incorporates elements of the following Alice story, Through the Looking Glass, pretty successfully (For this review, I actually read an edition of Wonderland that had both stories. If you would like to check it out, click here). Check out the film more for the visuals and music, though the ending isn't quite as satisfying as the one in the book.




Additional Information
Series
  • N/A
Similar Books
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
Content
  • N/A

Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: Linked by Imogen Howson




Linked
Imogen Howson

Series: Linked #1
Genre: Science Fiction
Paperback: 362 Pages
Publication: August 1, 2013
by Quercus Books




Synopsis

For years, Elissa has suffered nightmarish visions and unexplained bruises. Finally, she's promised a cure, and an operation is scheduled. But on the eve of the procedure, Elissa discovers the truth: she's seeing the world through another girl's eyes. A world filled with wires, machines and pain. Elissa follows her visions, only to find a battered, broken girl. A girl who looks exactly like her. A twin she never knew existed. Elissa and her twin Lin go on the run, but even after changing their looks and clothes, they're barely a step ahead of the government agents who are ruthlessly tracking them down. For Lin and Elissa are too valuable to let go, and the dark truth at the heart of it all is too shocking to risk exposing...


Review
◆ A copy was provided by Quercus Books for review ◆

Linked is a well-written sci-fi novel about Elissa, a girl who discovers that she has a psychic link to a twin she never knew she had. Her twin has been used for experiments by the government and, for years now, has been sending Elissa images of her life. After discovering each other, they go on the run together in search of a place where they can be safe.

Elissa is a relatively boring character in comparison to the other characters, especially Lin. For the most part, it feels like she's there as a foil and conscience for Lin. Other than that, her presence mostly serves to tell the story. Lin really grows over the course of the novel. At first, she would best be described as a psychopath, most likely due to being cut off from society and treated like a lab rat. Over the course of the book, she begins to develop empathy and kindness with the help of Elissa and the other characters, and eventually she becomes the kind of person Elissa can be proud to call sister.

A general theme that jumped out to me is the debate over whether Lin may be considered human. The diversity in opinion in the story is interesting. Since the government doesn't want to consider her human, a lot of the characters refuse to consider her a real person, even after meeting and getting to know her. Even her own mother doesn't consider her human. It may be my own opinions projecting onto the page, but it seemed to me that the pro-human message is stronger in the book though with Elissa and several other characters supporting this stance.

The world building is done well. It contains a lot of different sci-fi elements, including a dystopian society, futuristic technology, and interplanetary travel. The author clearly puts in a lot of effort into creating this futuristic world—even the sidewalks were described in detail. With the knowledge that other planets exist in this world, I see great opportunity to expand and explore the world even more.

The ending did feel a little rushed, especially the romance. Elissa and her love interest spend the entire first half of the book thinking badly of the other person. Then suddenly, they see each other's true colors, and it is revealed that the characters actually secretly had crushes on each other when they were younger. Personally, I would have preferred it if it had been developed a bit more gradually. 

That said, I did still enjoy the book overall. It has interesting characters and a world that fits the story well. I would definitely recommend this book if you are interested in sci-fi.




Additional Information
Series
  1. Linked
  2. Unravel
Similar Books
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
Content
  • Kissing
  • Suicide attempt

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory




The House of the
Four Winds

Mercedes Lackey, James Mallory


Series: One Dozen Daughters #1
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Hardback: 304 Pages
Publication: August 5, 2014
by Tor Books




Synopsis

The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of the Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.


Review
◆ An ARC was provided by Macmillan for review ◆

The House of the Four Winds is a book that I can see easily crossing between the lines of young adult and adult fantasy. The writing falls a little more on the descriptive side than the typical young adult book, but it's also lighter than one would typically expect to find in the fantasy section of a bookstore. Furthermore, the protagonist Princess Clarice is eighteen and leaving home for the first time in order to make her own fortune.

I do believe that the synopsis is a bit misleading. While these events do come to pass, much of it doesn't happen until in the middle of the book, and as much as I enjoyed reading about Clarice's adventures, I felt like I was just waiting for things to happen. Even after events unfold and the plot really starts moving, however, not much time is really spent developing the intrigue surrounding the The House of the Four Winds or the dangers facing the crew aboard the Asesino.

From the synopsis, I was expecting to see more of the pirates and the sorceress Shamal. However, it feels like the point of the first half of the novel (sailing on the Asesino under the cruel captain) is to bring us to the second half of the novel (landing in the midst of pirates), which unfortunately didn't deliver the swashbuckling adventure that I was expecting. The novel may have benefited from being split into two or putting a larger focus on the events that transpire after the mutiny. As it is, I would argue that the point of all the story is to follow Clarice and Dominick through their misadventures to their happily ever after.

Nevertheless, while I feel like there is intrigue and danger missing, setting sail with Clarice and the Asesino was an adventure of itself. It's been a while since I read a book that takes place offshore, and I very much enjoyed following Clarice on her adventures. The writing is gorgeous and easy to follow, and I appreciate how the language feels appropriate for the setting / time period without being so archaic that it's difficult to process. In fact, the dialogue is a lot of fun to read, especially with the memorable cast we've been given. My favorites though definitely have to be the banter between Clarice and Dominick.

Clarice is a wonderful protagonist. She's so self-assured and confident in herself, clever in the ways of the world, and also kind and generous. At the same time, she has her own insecurities, such as her confusion over her feelings for Dominick and what to do with them... after all, he thinks she's a boy! Dominick is the perfect counterpart to Clarice. Whereas she understands people and politics, he has a hard time seeing the bad in people, which just makes you want to shelter him from harm. The scenes between these two are so adorable; you can just about see stars in Clarice's eyes. The supporting cast is fantastic as well and filled with characters with memorable personalities, such that I didn't find myself questioning who is who.

Overall, The House of the Four Winds is an enjoyable high fantasy on the lighter side with a good dose of romance in it.




Additional Information
Series
  1. The House of the Four Winds
Similar Books
  • Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica
Content
  • Kissing
  • Violence