Friday, September 19, 2014

Uncommon Criminals

Book: Uncommon Criminals
Series: Heist Society #2
Author: Ally Carter

Katarina Bishop has worn a lot of labels in her short life. Friend. Niece. Daughter. Thief. But for the last two months she’s simply been known as the girl who ran the crew that robbed the greatest museum in the world. That’s why Kat isn’t surprised when she’s asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald so it can be returned to its rightful owners.

There are only three problems. First, the gem hasn’t been seen in public in thirty years. Second, since the fall of the Egyptian empire and the suicide of Cleopatra, no one who holds the emerald keeps it for long, and in Kat’s world, history almost always repeats itself. But it’s the third problem that makes Kat’s crew the most nervous and that is simply… the emerald is cursed.

Kat might be in way over her head, but she’s not going down without a fight. After all she has her best friend—the gorgeous Hale—and the rest of her crew with her as they chase the Cleopatra around the globe, dodging curses, realizing that the same tricks and cons her family has used for centuries are useless this time.

Which means, this time, Katarina Bishop is making up her own rules.-Goodreads

Review: Heist Society was fabulous and I was expecting to love this book, sadly I was disappointed. All the ingredients were there for an exciting caper and it was well-written but most of the characters fell completely flat. The exceptions were Kat, the 15 yr old mastermind behind a large art heist the year before and Maggie, her nemesis in this book. I liked Kat's character development in this installment (and her desire to prove herself after making some major lapses in judgement) and Maggie was just a great foe. Unfortunately, the other characters, including Kat's cousins Gabriella and twins (the twins do not seem capable of stealing a pack of gum, let alone assist in a major heist) as well as Hale were almost devoid of personality. Readers looking for major developments between Kat and Hale in a romantic sense (I was hoping for something...more) will be disappointed. 

Overall, not as good as HS but still enjoyable. 

Grade: 2.5/5

Defending Jacob

Book: Defending Jacob
Author: William Landay

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.-Goodreads

Review: What would you do if your child was accused of murder? Defend them at all costs or seek the truth? Andy finds himself in this situation when his 14 year old son is arrested for murdering a classmate.  I thought this would be a thriller in the sense of a murder mystery but this is more of a psychological thriller. The most interesting part is how Andy and his wife Laurie react to the situation as well as how the accusation impacts their lives, from both a professional and personal standpoint. There were several twists at the end (I guessed one of them, not the others) and this was an engrossing read. I also enjoyed the writing style, where a transcript of Andy testifying in front of a grand jury is weaved into the story. However, the best part of the book (or most frustrating for some people) was how this book ended. If you only like books that end with perfect red bows, don't read this. Otherwise, dive in!

Grade: 4.5/5


Book: Unspoken
Series: The Lynburn Legacy #1
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan

Kami Glass loves someone she’s never met . . . a boy she’s talked to in her head ever since she was born. She wasn’t silent about her imaginary friend during her childhood, and is thus a bit of an outsider in her sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Still, Kami hasn’t suffered too much from not fitting in. She has a best friend, runs the school newspaper, and is only occasionally caught talking to herself. Her life is in order, just the way she likes it, despite the voice in her head.

But all that changes when the Lynburns return.

The Lynburn family has owned the spectacular and sinister manor that overlooks Sorry-in-the-Vale for centuries. The mysterious twin sisters who abandoned their ancestral home a generation ago are back, along with their teenage sons, Jared and Ash, one of whom is eerily familiar to Kami. Kami is not one to shy away from the unknown—in fact, she’s determined to find answers for all the questions Sorry-in-the-Vale is suddenly posing. Who is responsible for the bloody deeds in the depths of the woods? What is her own mother hiding? And now that her imaginary friend has become a real boy, does she still love him? Does she hate him? Can she trust him?-Goodreads

Review: Wow-what a fabulous surprise! I read this for book club a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. This book has all the ingredients for a good tale-interesting characters, creep/isolated town, secrets galore as well as some mystical elements. Our heroine, Kami Glass, has a strong personality (readers will either love her or hate her) and I found her very amusing (I actually chuckled out loud several times). The book lost a little steam in the final chapters but ended on a strong note. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series. Super fun!

Grade: 4/5

The Line

Book: The Line
Series: Witching Savannah #1
Author: JD Horn

Mercy Taylor, the youngest member of Savannah’s preeminent witching family, was born without the gift of magic. She is accustomed to coming in a distant second to the minutes older, exquisite and gifted twin she adores. Hopelessly in love with her sister’s boyfriend, she goes to a Hoodoo root doctor for a love spell. A spell that will turn her heart to another man, the best friend who has loved her since childhood.

Aunt Ginny, the family’s matriarch, would not approve. But Mercy has more to worry about than a love triangle when Aunt Ginny is brutally murdered. Ginny was the Taylor family’s high commander in the defense of the bewitched line that separates humankind from the demons who once ruled our realm.

A demon invasion looms now that the line is compromised. Worse yet, some within the witching world stand to gain from a demon takeover. Mercy, entangled in the dark magic of her love spell, fighting for her sister’s trust, and hopelessly without magic, must tap the strength born from being an outcast to protect the line she doesn’t feel a part of...

In this riveting contemporary fantasy, Horn delivers the full betrayal, blood, and familial discord of the best of Southern gothic.-Goodreads

Review: There is a lot going on in this book. 

The Good: great world building and I love the focus on witches. Mercy has a lot of potential for the series based on how this book ended.

The Not So Good: The book read like a YA novel and I'm hoping this changes in the next installment. There was almost no character development for Mercy's twin sister or Jackson (Mercy's sister's fiance who she is secretly in love with). There were a lot of twists at the end..I'll avoid spoilers but Mercy should re-evaluate some of her familial relationships. 

Overall-enjoyed this and I'll read the next one. 

Grade: 3/5

Chasing Darkness

Book: Chasing Darkness
Author: Jill Falter

Muriel Chase is like any other young woman who's 17th birthday is just weeks away. Her life is simple: she likes going to the beach, she enjoys working out, she loves to go shopping with her mom . . . and she hunts demons.

As part of a secret group, she is sent around the world to face the demons that are so dangerous that even the Vatican can't handle them.

Along the way to learning the secrets of the fight against true evil, she meets Michael - her protector, sworn to keep her safe. As they start to fall for each other, their world is turned upside down by monsters and evil creatures lurking in the darkness. But Muriel has a very dark secret, and if discovered, it could threaten more than just her relationship with Michael . . . but all of humanity.-Goodreads

Review: There were a lot of good ideas in this book but overall, it was just 'okay' for me.  I couldn't get past the idea that Muriel's mother was okay with her going on last minute 'church retreats' and coming back repeatedly injured. I also wasn't convinced the Muriel was this bad-ass demon hunter, her 'technique' seemed lacking.  The 'big reveal' at the end surrounding Muriel's heritage has potential for the next book in the series. 

Grade: 2/5

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Book: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.-Goodreads

Review: Love. If I had one word to describe this book, it's love. I loved it. It's a short, feel good story with quirky characters and so many wonderful quotes. If you are someone who loves to read, try this one. It's a short, sweet book with adorable quirky characters. I

Some of my favorite quotes:

“You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?”

“We are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.”

“The words you can't find, you borrow.
We read to know we're not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone.”

“We aren't the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are, only love. The things we lived. The people we loved. And these, I think really do live on.”

Grade: 5/5


Book: Hidden
Author: Catherine McKenzie

While walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. Two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son as well as contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members, and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother, who was her ex-boyfriend. Tish volunteers to attend the funeral on her company’s behalf, but only she knows the true risk of inserting herself into the wreckage of Jeff’s life.

Told through the three voices of Jeff, Tish, and Claire, Hidden explores the complexity of relationships, the repercussions of our personal choices, and the responsibilities we have to the ones we love.-Goodreads

Review: What leads a person to be unfaithful? McKenzie does a good job showing how strains on Jeff and Claire's relationship result in Jeff's "friendship" with Tish. Readers looking for a dramatic reason for Jeff and Tish's behavior will be disappointed because neither of them had 'big' reasons for straying. Tish, especially, seems to live a charmed life and has no reason to be unhappy. But just because someone has it all doesn't mean they are fulfilled. I think this is exactly why this is so realistic and it's uncomfortable to read at times because the characters are so selfish. The "mystery" of the book is whether Jeff and Tish graduated from an emotional affair to a physical affair. While I thought the ending was fairly obvious, I did like the way it was addressed. 

While the overall story was good and the multiple narratives were necessary to see the characters motivations, reading the narratives was challenging. Specifically, the 'voices' of Tish and Claire were almost identical. It was very frustrating. 

Grade: 3/5