White Cat by Holly Black

I know I’ve been gone for a while, but I loved this next book SO MUCH that I HAD to write something about it.

From Goodreads.com

Cover of White Cat by Holly BlackCassel comes from a shady, magical family of con artists and grifters. He doesn’t fit in at home or at school, so he’s used to feeling like an outsider. He’s also used to feeling guilty–he killed his best friend, Lila, years ago.

But when Cassel begins to have strange dreams about a white cat, and people around him are losing their memories, he starts to wonder what really happened to Lila. In his search for answers, he discovers a wicked plot for power that seems certain to succeed. But Cassel has other ideas–and a plan to con the conmen.

I first became acquainted with Holly Black’s work in the anthologies Geektastic and Zombies vs Unicorns. I enjoyed her contributions enough that I decided to check out some of her full-length work. I put White Cat–the first book in the Curse Workers series–on my “to-read” list with the intent to check it out soon. Instead, the book occupied a space on my “to-read” shelf for almost two years. My lack of interest in the cover lead me to skip over this book repeatedly when looking for a new read. It did not help that this book was also part of an incomplete trilogy. Luckily, Twitter convinced me it was time to finally purchase this book.

Last week I noticed several tweets on my timeline mentioning that the eBook of White Cat by Holly Black was now $2.99. I remembered previously wanting to read this book, so I followed the link to the Amazon page. I noticed the great new cover right away. That combined with the low price were enough to convince me to finally check out the sample of this story.

I started reading the sample while on an hour-and-a-half car ride. By the time I got to my destination, I had purchased the whole novel and had a serious case of queasy stomach from reading in the car. I was officially hooked.

The major reason I enjoyed White Cat was it was so different from most of the stories I have read recently. For starters, it was an alternate universe “AU” novel. This is a nice change from the dystopian novel trend that YA has recently experienced. As I was familiar with the overall setting of the story, the author did not have to waste time creating it for me. She was able to jump into the narration while still carefully interweaving details of the alternate universe.

Another difference is how the characters were defined in the story. In most stories, it is easy to figure out who is “good” or “bad.” The distinction is not as apparent in this case. Characters have their own intentions which don’t always align with the protagonist, creating a conflict that is representative of relationships. This grabbed my interest and kept me reading.

Review: Black was able to tell a complex story that left me satisfied with the end of the first book, while leaving plenty of questions for the following two stories in the trilogy. Upon completing White Cat I had to resist purchasing the follow-up story–Red Glove–immediately. I highly recommend this book.

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E-Readers Revisited

Last September I posted my thoughts on the topic of E-Readers. I summarized that I would love such a device but cannot justify the cost. I concluded that it was not something I needed at the time.

Recently I have found myself with some quiet time holding my daughter while she sleeps. This has been a great opportunity to get some reading done. Unfortunately the fact I am holding a sleeping baby makes it hard to turn the pages of the book. It crossed my mind that an E-Reader would easily allow for one-handed reading. My wonderful husband suggested that perhaps this would be a good Mother’s Day gift. This seemed like the perfect idea.

Nook E-ReaderThe question then became “Which E-Reader should I buy?” I narrowed my choices down to two; the Nook and Kindle. I compared them to determine which was the right one for me.

One feature I considered a “must have” was a 3G connection. This would allow me to purchase a book at any time. Both options include this feature. The Nook–like my iPhone–takes the internet connection one step further and allows you to browse the web. I did not want to pay extra for this feature since I would not use it. Another feature the Nook had was that it displayed in color. I could not justify getting a device with color–again it is not something I would ever use.

Kindle E-readerIn comparison the Kindle was filled with features I would use. The fact it was not back-lit meant I could easily use it in direct sunlight. The Kindle mobile app allows me to read my books on my Macbook, iPhone, or iPad. The syncing feature allows me to pick up exactly where I left off no matter the device. My Amazon.com addiction–90% of my books have been purchased from the site–was another plus for this device. Purchasing the E-Reader from Amazon meant I could continue on with my shopping habits.

In the end the thing that finally made my decision had nothing to do with the features of either product. As a Mother’s Day special, Amazon offered a free $25 gift card with the purchase of a Kindle. This was the perfect thing to start my collection of E-Books. With my husband’s credit card in hand, I ordered the device and eagerly awaited its arrival.

Kindle App IconI have had my Kindle for two months now, and I am very happy with the decision I made. I find myself frequently enjoying how I can easily download several sample selections to my Kindle to peruse. I can determine if I’m interested in a book before spending money on it. I love being able to easily read books with one hand. Since I can purchase a new book at any time, means I always have something to read. I could go on and on about all the reasons I love my Kindle.

Now that I have an E-reader, I eagerly endorse them to anyone who asks. I initially thought I would miss having paper books, but that hasn’t been the case. I think this purchase has been instrumental in me meeting my reading goal in record time. These devices may not be for everyone, but I am really glad I finally got one.

Abandon by Meg Cabot

I mentioned Meg Cabot’s latest release Abandon in my “Most Anticipated Books of 2011” post. In that post I discussed how I felt a bit apprehensive about this release. Here are my thoughts on the story.

From Goodreads.com

Book cover of Abandon by Meg CabotNew from #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot, a dark, fantastical story about this world . . . and the underworld.

Though she tries returning to the life she knew before the accident, Pierce can’t help but feel at once a part of this world, and apart from it. Yet she’s never alone . . . because someone is always watching her. Escape from the realm of the dead is impossible when someone there wants you back.

But now she’s moved to a new town. Maybe at her new school, she can start fresh. Maybe she can stop feeling so afraid.

Only she can’t. Because even here, he finds her. That’s how desperately he wants her back. She knows he’s no guardian angel, and his dark world isn’t exactly heaven, yet she can’t stay away . . . especially since he always appears when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most.

But if she lets herself fall any further, she may just find herself back in the one place she most fears: the Underworld.

This book confused the crap out of me. The way in which Cabot wrote this book had me often wondering what was going on. I had to read it twice in order to follow the plot–this has never happened before! There were two reasons for this befuddlement: 1) There have been three times in Pierce’s life when this “mysterious figure” has made an appearance. The author doesn’t explain all three of them until the second half of the book. 2) The encounters are only vaguely referenced before they are detailed. This made me confused about which encounter Pierce was talking about at times.

The perplexed feeling was made worse by the author’s mixing of flashbacks into the story. The fact she frequently went from present to past with little warning left me lost. I often found myself several paragraphs into a memory before realizing I had gone into the past. I would then have to reread the last page or so to catch back up.

I did feel that the plot was a bit “Twilight-esque”. [Spoiler Alert] The novel centers around a dead young man in love with a young woman who can not get keep out of trouble. [/Spoiler Alert] I could not help notice the similarities between the main characters of this book and of Stephanie Meyer’s novels. That being said, Cabot tells a story around these characters that is entertaining, and I found her use of the underworld to be original. In the end found myself enjoying the story–once I understood it–despite being reminded of Meyer’s characters.

Review: After finishing my first read of this novel, I felt disoriented, thus making me feel disappointed with the book. It’s unfortunate as there was much to like about this story. After my second reread I found the plot was quite entertaining. Cabot created great suspense leaving me wondering what will happen in the next book in the series Underworld. I wished that I could have enjoyed these things the first time.

Rapid Reviews

I thought that the birth of my daughter would mean a decrease in time available for reading. The opposite has proven to be true. My evenings–which used to be full of me running around the house getting things done–are now filled with me sitting on the couch holding my sleeping daughter. I have found this is the perfect opportunity to clear my shelves of some books that have been sitting in my “to-read” pile for ages.

Unfortunately I have found little time to write reviews for these books. My free time usually comes with a baby on my lap, leaving no free space for a laptop. The result is a lack of book posts up on my blog. I have decided to rectify this by doing a sort of “rapid review” post discussing some of my recent reads.

Book cover of Thin, Rich, Pretty by Beth Harbison The first book I want to review is Thin, Rich, Pretty by Beth Harbison. The story is told from three alternating points of view that rotate between the present and past as the story unfolds. By using this technique each narrator only divulges small pieces of the story. The reader is able to use all of these tidbits to create the full plot. This approach helped the tale develop slowly until everything was revealed at the end and left room for interesting twists and turns. The resulting story was quite enjoyable.

The book cover for "Fly Away Home" by Jennifer WeinerJennifer Weiner uses also uses flashbacks and multiple narrators in Fly Away Home. I found this to be much less successful. The author’s use of flashbacks was less structured and sometimes left me feeling confused. I often wondered if I was in the past or present. Another disappointment was the fact that I found one of the women narrators to be boring. Her story lacked anything that would make it interesting to me. My final issue with the story was that the conclusion of the book left me with no resolution. I had high hopes for this book when I purchased it, but was left feeling disappointed.

Book cover for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium #1) by Stieg LarssonThere was no disappointment when I finished The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I found all three of Larsson’s novels–Hornet’s Nest plus The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–to be interesting and entertaining. All three novels in the trilogy started slowly, but soon were impossible to put down. This was a series that had sat on my shelf for several months. I ended up blowing through all the books in a week in a half. The characters were complex; the story was original. I’m glad I finally read this series.

Book cover of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen I have no idea how Water for Elephants ended up on my bookshelf. It has probably been there for two years waiting for me to read it. It finally got picked up this weekend as a result of being the only book left unread on my shelf. I had very few expectations when I started reading this book. I ended up discovering a book that I would pick up again for a re-read. Recently I have found myself reading mostly YA stores and tales of women in their early 30’s. This story, told by a male narrator alternating between life in his 90’s and early 20’s, was a refreshing change. I loved how the plot focused on the life of a member of the traveling circus. I had never before wondered about such a life, but now feel inspired to know more. I don’t know how this book ended up in my life, but am glad it did!

Book cover of Hook Line and Sink Him by Jackie Pilossoph Like Water for Elephants, Hook Line and Sink Him has a male narrator. In Water for Elephants the author captures a man speech and thought in a way that I felt was realistic. The author of Hook Line and Sink Him creates a man who comes off as a stereotype. I hope that the men around me think of things other than constantly bedding women and the local sports teams. My inability to believe in the main character meant that I could never really get into the storyline. It was entertaining but not enthralling. The result was a book that I will probably forget about in a month or so.

Book cover of Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch Girls in Trucks is a book I can’t wait to forget. I picked it up at Target after reading the book’s description. I found the book to be disappointing. Starting with a seventh-grade girl named Sarah, the novel jumps unpredictably through her life. These jumps were not executed well, often leaving me feeling jarred. Characters came and went with no rhyme or reason, making me feel as if I had missed something. There was no resolution to one story before being thrown into the next. The only constant was the main character’s habit of smoking pot, which just irritated me. Upon finishing this book I felt like I had wasted a lot of time. Very disappointing.

So now I find myself looking for book recommendations. I need suggestions! My shelves which were once full of “to read” piles are now in need of a refresh. I’ve given many book suggestions over the past year, and now am asking for you to return the favor. What books should I check out?

The Bake-off by Beth Kendrick

Thanks to the “First Reads” program on Goodreads.com I was given an Advanced Readers Copy of The Bake-off by Beth Kendrick. This book is the subject of my next review.

The Bake-off book coverSuburban soccer mom Amy has always wanted to stand out from the crowd. Former child prodigy Linnie just wants to fit in. The two sisters have been estranged for years, but thanks to a series of personal crises and their wily grandmother, they’ve teamed up to enter a national bake-off in the hopes of winning some serious cash. Armed with the top-secret recipe for Grammy’s apple pie, they should be unstoppable. Sure, neither one of them has ever baked anything more complicated than brownie mix, but it’s just pie-how hard could it be?

I previously won and reviewed Second Time Around by this author, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. When I saw that The Bake-off was being given away on Goodreads.com, I made sure to enter. I was thrilled to find out a won a free copy of the book to review. My previous experience with the author meant I started the book with high expectations.

My first reaction to the book was to the cover. I appreciated how the cover image is very different and original. In my opinion this helps it really stand out amongst other books. In a row of new releases, I would pick up this book for a second look–I loved that!

I enjoyed the relationships that the author depicted in Second Time Around. I found myself loving those in The Bake-off even more. Like Amy and Linnie, I have a sister who is close in age. This enables me to relate to the different feelings that exist between siblings. Kendrick captures these emotions on the page, creating a story that I found myself easily identifying with.

The story told in this novel supports the great characters. The main theme of the plot–sisters competing in a bake-off–is as original as the cover. The situations they encounter made me want to continue reading. I couldn’t wait to see how the sisters worked their way out of some of the trouble they ended up in. The creative story kept my interest throughout. I was almost sorry to get to the last page!

Review: Great book!!! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Kendrick’s great storytelling created a page-turner that I hated to put down. I found the characters interesting and real. The story was funny and entertaining. I can’t wait until this book is released so others can enjoy it!

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Commercials for the tv show Pretty Little Liars on ABC Family recently caught my eye. They inspireded me to check out the book series on which the show was based. I read the first four books; Pretty Little Liars, Flawless, Perfect, Unbelievable.

Book cover of Pretty Little Liars by Sara ShepardThe basis of the book is that four girls–Emily, Aria, Hanna, and Spencer–lost contact with each other after their childhood friend disappeared. They start receiving messages from a mysterious “A” years later. These messages reveal secrets that only their missing friend–Alison–knew. “A” then starts sending texts and e-mails about the four girls’ current scandalous activities. The quartet must now discover what happened to their friend in order to stop their stalker.

Shepard left many hints that had me guessing A’s identity throughout, which made the four novels addicting.This was particularly surprising as I found every other aspect of the stories to be terrible. My need to find out A’s identity kept me reading. It was the reason I could not put the books down.

Book cover of Flawless by Sara ShepardThe ridiculous plot points had me rolling my eyes as I read. The main story line involves A’s ability to follow the girls at all times, which isn’t realistic. I did exercise some “willing suspension of disbelief” to go along with the point. I did feel that since this one aspect was over the top the rest of the action should be a bit more believable. This was not the case. The pages were full of crazy scenarios: A seventh grade student kissed her 17-year-old sister’s boyfriend; a high school junior hooks up with her teacher; a mother sleeps with a cop in an attempt to get charges dropped against her daughter. Do these things happen in real life? Yes. Do these things–and more–usually happen to a small group of friends? I find that hard to believe. All of these situations create a framework for a story that was just to much for me to handle. It’s not good when the “mysterious stalker who knows all your missing friends secrets” is the most believable plot point in your book.

Book cover of Perfect by Sara ShepardThe crazy plot lines were not the only thing I disliked about the books. I was not a fan of the frequent depiction of underage drinking, often with little consequences. The reaction of the parents to various situations their daughters were in was also quite disturbing. These reactions were sometimes more irrational than the circumstances their daughters found themselves in. I must admit that it has been many years since I was a teenager. It is also true that my experience as a parent is limited to a newborn. These two facts lead to me having little knowledge in the areas of teenage behavior these days, and their parents reactions. It may be possible that the behavior depicted in this story is accurate. My experiences with the many other YA novels I have read leads me to believe this is not the case. These factors contributed to my lack of enjoyment of the series.

The Pretty Little Liars series is currently made up of three sets of four books. The last series is due to be published later this year. I will not be reading this series, or the second set of four books. The annoyance I felt with the plot points made me reluctant to start with the second set of stories. I felt satisfied enough with the answers I had in the fourth book to not continue.

Book cover of Unbelievable by Sara ShepardIt should not be a surprise that I do not recommend this series. The author is successful in creating suspense, a factor that could not save the rest of the story. It was only due to my determination to get my questions answered that I survived through the first four books. A look at the Wikipedia entries detailing the plot points of the next four novels convinced me this was the right move. Shepard was able to top herself with outrageous plot points in these next novels. I’m glad I didn’t waste my time on the stories.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I started this year off by reading Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. This book was perfect for my first review of 2011.

From Goodreads.com

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie PerkinsAnna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris—until she meets Étienne St. Claire: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he’s taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near-misses end with the French kiss Anna—and readers—have long awaited?

I first heard of this book through a Goodreads.com giveaway. Neither the cover nor description grabbed my attention, so I didn’t enter the giveaway. A month or so ago I started noticing a lot of people mentioning the book; John Green even acknowledged it on his YouTube channel. Friends and other authors discussed it on Twitter, and they all had positive things to say. I got caught up in the word-of-mouth buzz and ended up giving the book a second look.

I have previously discussed I enjoyed the way Emilly Giffin conveys relationships in her stories. I found the same to be true with the author of this story. Perkins artfully depicts the intricate ups and downs of a growing teenage relationship throughout this book. She is able to build the friendship between Anna and Étienne naturally. The pacing is never rushed or fake. I felt myself getting more involved in the story as their feelings for each other grew. When they encountered the awkward stumbling blocks caused by their growing feelings for each other, I felt the tension that developed. The moments of joy and happiness they experience affected me as if they were my own.

The other relationships depicted in the story demonstrate the same depth. You understood Anna’s anger when she and a friend got in a fight. I felt the sadness she experienced when she missed her family back home. The many emotions were depicted so truthfully that it made the book feel like more than just a story. This realism made a tale that was impossible to put down.

Review: I am so glad that I was persuaded to give this story a second another look. Anna and the French Kiss turned out to be a fantastic book that I couldn’t wait to finish. I can not wait to read the companion novel–Lola and the Boy Next Door–in September.