Thursday, December 31, 2015

Shopaholic to the Stars

Book: Shopaholic to the Stars
Series: Shopaholic #7
Author: Sophie Kinsella

Sophie Kinsella returns to her beloved Shopaholic series with Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) newly arrived in Hollywood and starry-eyed. She and her two-year-old daughter, Minnie, have relocated to L.A. to join Becky’s husband, Luke, who is there to handle PR for famous actress Sage Seymour. Becky can’t wait to start living the A-list lifestyle, complete with celebrity sightings, yoga retreats, and shopping trips to Rodeo Drive. But she really hopes to become a personal stylist—Sage’s personal stylist—if only Luke would set up an introduction. Then, unexpectedly, Becky is offered the chance to dress Sage’s archrival, and though things become a bit more complicated, it’s a dream come true!

Red carpet premieres, velvet ropes, paparazzi clamoring for attention—suddenly Becky has everything she’s ever wanted.

Or does she?-Goodreads

Review: This was a light, funny read. Yes, Becky is a shallow, selfish character and this series probably should have ended several books ago, but sometimes you crave a light read and this hit the spot. 

Grade: 3/5


Book: Break
Series: Songs of Perdition #3
Author: CD Reiss

Everything about Fiona Drazen is forbidden. She’s a party girl with dark desires. She’s beautiful, irresponsible, irresistible. She’s my patient. I’m her therapist. I’m past past wanting her. Past possessing her. Past bedding her or protecting her. I’m willing to be self-destructive, negligent, brave, audacious, and stronger than I ever believed possible. She’s blunt force trauma to the heart. And she calls another man Master.-Goodreads

Review: I love this series, I love CD Reiss and Fiona is without question, the best Drazen. I just didn't love this book. Fiona is, without question, the most messed up heroine I've encountered. I wasn't sure how I envisioned the series ending but I didn't see her getting a HEA with Elliot or Deacon. This is a character with serious demons and I feel like she needed serious rehab or counseling for an extended period of time (with a real counselor, not someone who fell for her after a few sessions) to heal herself. 

I could see her ending up with Elliot several years down the road, I just didn't buy that she becomes a Suzie Homemaker in a monogamous relationship so quickly. No way. 

Overall-great series.  

Grade: 2.5/5

November 9

Book: November 9
Author: Colleen Hoover

Fallon meets Ben, an aspiring novelist, the day before her scheduled cross-country move. Their untimely attraction leads them to spend Fallon’s last day in L.A. together, and her eventful life becomes the creative inspiration Ben has always sought for his novel. Over time and amidst the various relationships and tribulations of their own separate lives, they continue to meet on the same date every year. Until one day Fallon becomes unsure if Ben has been telling her the truth or fabricating a perfect reality for the sake of the ultimate plot twist.-Goodreads

Review: Fallon (I kept wondering if Hoover is a huge fan of Jimmy Fallon), was once a rising actor until half her body was burned in a house fire at age 16. While having a challenging meal with her father, Ben, a stranger, pops into the booth and pretends he's her boyfriend. The two hit it off and decide to meet up with each other every year on November 9th, with no contact in between. No emails, no exchanging of cell phone numbers, nada. Ben's an aspiring writer and wants to write about their story. Okay, I admit I like this concept. It's very 'You've Got Mail' and could be quite romantic. 

Unfortunately, Fallon had almost no personality and Ben was beyond cheesy/creepy. For example he spews these lines:

"Baby," he says, his lips forming a smile. "You have already made this the best I've ever had, and I'm not even inside you yet." ==> GROSS!

"Fallon," he whispers, dragging his lips slowly across mine. "Thank you for this beautiful gift." ==> of course, this is when he finds out he's taking her V card

The dialogue was just so over the top and ridiculous, I could not stop rolling my eyes. I did like that that one point Fallon's roommate pointed out that after 3 years she had literally spent a total of 3 days with Ben. Ben's 'secret' was obvious and while very sad, I felt like this was a poor version of 'Ten Tiny Breaths' (heart wrenching book, I recommend if you haven't read it). 

Overall-not my favorite read. I think new adult romance is just not for me.  

Grade: 2/5

Making Faces

Book: Making Faces
Author: Amy Harmon

Ambrose Young was beautiful. He was tall and muscular, with hair that touched his shoulders and eyes that burned right through you. The kind of beautiful that graced the covers of romance novels, and Fern Taylor would know. She'd been reading them since she was thirteen. But maybe because he was so beautiful he was never someone Fern thought she could have...until he wasn't beautiful anymore.

Making Faces is the story of a small town where five young men go off to war, and only one comes back. It is the story of loss. Collective loss, individual loss, loss of beauty, loss of life, loss of identity. It is the tale of one girl's love for a broken boy, and a wounded warrior's love for an unremarkable girl. This is a story of friendship that overcomes heartache, heroism that defies the common definitions, and a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast where we discover that there is little beauty and a little beast in all of us.-Goodreads

Review: 'Making Faces' is a sweet (extremely chaste) romance with strong Christian themes (there is a lot of bible quoting as the main character is a preacher's daughter). Set in a small town in Pennsylvania, Fern (ugly duckling with a heart of gold) has always been in love with Ambrose (good looking, high school wrestling star). After graduation, Ambrose and his friends go off to war and he is the only one who makes it back, severely disfigured. Not surprisingly, Fern is now beautiful (she's shed her braces and glasses and grown out her red hair) and Ambrose forge a friendship. 

I felt like the characters were a little too cookie cutter (ugly duckling but smart and sweet? check. pretty but not that smart best friend? check. Ugly duckling in love with high school jock who is actually a sensitive guy? check. Disabled but funny friend? check). I found it odd that few of the main characters had college prospects outside of Ambrose (and that was because of a sports scholarship) and Fern (she couldn't leave her cousin Bailey and weirdly had no conflicting feelings about this). I thought the beginning sections written of the towers going down were well done. Ambrose's reason for wanting his friends to join the military with him were thin (hey, let's all delay life a little and join the army so we can hang out longer!) and how he convinced them SO EASILY to join up wasn't believable. The character who suffered the most was Fern's best friend, Rita. She's dating a guy who no one likes and gets pregnant by him. She tells Fern that she was about to break up with him before she found out she was pregnant. There is no discussion about abortion or adoption-it's just, hey, marry him (even though Fern thinks he's dangerous!?!). Not surprisingly this doesn't end well. The only other female character (Ambrose's friend's girlfriend) we really hear about also gets pregnant as a teen. Literally, 2 of the 3 female teens become pregnant. I realize teen pregnancy is an issue but this takes place in 2001 and Pennsylvania, they should have had some sort of sex ed (birth control is not even mentioned in the book). 

Fern, the main character is very sweet. She stays sweet throughout the book, there is little character growth or development. Ambrose comes back from war and suffers PTSD as well as disfigurement. The book focuses more on the disfigurement (beauty/beast, Christian style) than the PTSD but he was a likable character. Their friendship/romance is very sweet (I know I keep using that word, but they aren't that exciting of a couple. They reminded me of 15 year olds instead of 20 year olds). My favorite character was Bailey, Fern's cousin and best friend who suffers from muscular dystrophy (although he even made me mad with the whole Rita situation-at one point he says he's glad she's married to the abusive dude). Anyway, he was a great character and absolutely saved this book for me. 

Overall-not my favorite read but I absolutely BALLED at the end so I did enjoy it. 

Grade: 3/5

Those Who Save Us

Book: Those Who Save Us
Author: Jenna Blum

For fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy's sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.

Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life.-Goodreads

Review:  'Those Who Save Us' is a very interesting book. It's a WWII story told in alternating narratives. In present day we follow Trudy, a professor in her mid-50s who believes she is the daughter of an SS officer. Her mother has refused to discuss the war in any capacity. In the other timeline, we follow Anna during WWII. There are no quotation marks (takes a few chapters to get used to this) and there are graphic scenes involving violence and sex. This may not appeal to some readers. 

Like many books with different timelines, I found Anna's storyline stronger and more compelling. Anna, a beautiful, naive German girl, lives at home with her demanding father. She falls in love with a Jewish doctor and eventually hides him in their house. I'm not sure if that author's intent was to write Anna/Max as a 'true love' type of thing, but I didn't read it that way. I know Anna didn't view her relations with Max as rape, but it seemed (at least their first encounter) like rape. I also couldn't believe Max wouldn't suggest some sort of birth control, he knew she lived with her crazy Nazi father and he was a doctor. Max is eventually found and turned into authorities, while Anna, finding herself pregnant, flees her house and lives with a local baker. Anna eventually becomes involved in a resistance movement of sorts and finds herself as a mistress to the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald. 

Now, the Obersturmfuhrer. I initially thought this character would be someone to root for. A man who hates what the Nazi's are doing and does what he can to help the prisoners in secret. Nope-he's one bad dude. He has very few redeeming qualities although he does bring Anna and her daughter food and other misc items. Their twisted relationship is the longest Anna has with any male (other than her father) and she finds that she hates him and is ashamed of the way her body responds to him. Their scenes are graphic and disturbing. Anna relies on him and loves him in twisted sense-she is a definite victim of Stockholm Syndrome. Her story is heartbreaking. 

In present day, Trudy is interviewing non-Jewish Germans who lived in Germany during WWII. Her story wasn't as compelling as Anna's, but it was nice that she finally discovers her heritage at the end of the book. 

This is one of those books that stays with you and you can't stop thinking about. If you are a fan of WWII stories, you might like this one. 

Grade: 4/5

Career of Evil

Book: Career of Evil
Series: Cormoran Strike #3
Author: Robert Galbraith

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

Career of Evil is the third in the series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A mystery and also a story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.-Goodreads

Review: This is a difficult review. I love JK Rowling. I love her writing. I love her attention to detail. I love the first two books in this series. I love how she constructed interesting mysteries surrounding celebrities (book 1) and the publishing world (book 2). I loved the focus on the 'case at hand' while the personal lives of Strike and Robin were part of the story but didn't overshadow anything. I fully expected to love this book but was ultimately disappointed. 

The good? I love her writing style. We finally learn why Robin dropped out of university and why she is still with Matthew. The bad? Robin's personal issues with Matthew seemed to be the main focus in this book. Also, I felt like Galbraith is trying to set up a future relationship between Robin and Strike and it doesn't feel organic. Look, it's clear Robin and Matthew shouldn't be together but I don't see Robin and Strike as end game. It doesn't help that Strike is written as a total slob-he's overweight, smokes, drinks and has a poor diet. I understand he has the 'war veteran' thing going for him, but he didn't even come across as that intelligent in this book. (as a side note-I fully expect him to develop heart disease or diabetes at some point in the series unless he makes some lifestyle changes).

Now, onto the mystery itself. Robin receives a severed leg by a courier-sounds interesting, right? We are told immediately who the four suspects are. Once Strike reviews the backgrounds of the different men, it's clear who the killer is (only one of them is a sexual sadist). I actually enjoy the hunt of the other suspects, it was still interesting. The biggest issue I had with the mystery element of the book were the gaping plot holes. GAPING! The reader is expected to believe that the British Police didn't interrogate a suspect thoroughly. This suspect had a direct link to one of the victims. Okay, we'll let that pass. Then we are to believe that Strike (who personally knows the four potential suspects from years past) seeing the person, talks to the person and sees a picture but doesn't recognize him. We're told Strike is tired, focused on someone else, the guys hair was different, etc. I don't buy it. I'm sorry-he's a seasoned detective and there are four suspects. He should be looking more closely. Especially considering that Robin recognizes the dude and she's never even met him. When Strike finally figures out who the killer's pretty anticlimactic.

Overall-weakest of the series but I'll definitely keep reading.  

Grade: 2/5 

Magic Shifts

Book: Magic Shifts
Series: Kate Daniels #8
Author: Ilona Andrews

After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Curran misses the constant challenges of leading the shapeshifters.

So when the Pack offers him its stake in the Mercenary Guild, Curran seizes the opportunity—too bad the Guild wants nothing to do with him and Kate. Luckily, as a veteran merc, Kate can take over any of the Guild’s unfinished jobs in order to bring in money and build their reputation. But what Kate and Curran don’t realize is that the odd jobs they’ve been working are all connected.

An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece…-Goodreads

Review: It's book 8 in a series-one would think it's hard to keep a series fun, fresh and interesting at this point but the writing duo that make up Ilona Andrews has no problems. I loved this! It was action packed and funny. Cannot wait for the next book!

Grade: 5/5

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Hit

Book: The Hit
Series: Will Robie #2
Author:  David Baldacci

Will Robie is a master of killing.

A highly skilled assassin, Robie is the man the U.S. government calls on to eliminate the worst of the worst-enemies of the state, monsters committed to harming untold numbers of innocent victims.

No one else can match Robie's talents as a one, except Jessica Reel. A fellow assassin, equally professional and dangerous, Reel is every bit as lethal as Robie. And now, she's gone rogue, turning her gun sights on other members of their agency.

To stop one of their own, the government looks again to Will Robie. His mission: bring in Reel, dead or alive. Only a killer can catch another killer, they tell him.

But as Robie pursues Reel, he quickly finds that there is more to her betrayal than meets the eye. Her attacks on the agency conceal a larger threat, a threat that could send shockwaves through the U.S. government and around the world.-Goodreads

Review: It's been years since I read a Baldacci book and I forgot how fun they can be. This was fun, fast-paced and kept me on the edge of my seat. A great quick read about Will Robie, best assassin the CIA has, tracking Jessical Reel, a fellow assassin who has gone rogue. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this. 

Grade: 4/5

Little Black Lies

Book: Little Black Lies
Author: Sharon Bolton

In such a small community as the Falkland Islands, a missing child is unheard of. In such a dangerous landscape it can only be a terrible tragedy, surely...

When another child goes missing, and then a third, it’s no longer possible to believe that their deaths were accidental, and the villagers must admit that there is a murderer among them. Even Catrin Quinn, a damaged woman living a reclusive life after the accidental deaths of her own two sons a few years ago, gets involved in the searches and the speculation.

And suddenly, in this wild and beautiful place that generations have called home, no one feels safe and the hysteria begins to rise.

But three islanders—Catrin, her childhood best friend, Rachel, and her ex-lover Callum—are hiding terrible secrets. And they have two things in common: all three of them are grieving, and none of them trust anyone, not even themselves.-Goodreads

Review: This book has an interesting format. There are three sections narrated by three different people. It started out incredible and I couldn't put it down. Catrin is bitter and grieving. Her best friend was babysitting her two young children and her negligence lead to their deaths. Catrin lost her children, her marriage broke up and she has been channeling all her anger and resentment at her former best friend. Catrin has a plan to make Rachel pay for her crime but a missing child on the island is getting in the way. When another child goes missing, the story shifts to Callum, an outsider living on the island. He and Catrin have a history and he wants to believe the old Catrin is in there somewhere. When she is suspected of killing the children, he comes to her defense. But he has a lot of issues of his own. This section for me was a big let down after Catrin. Callum came across kind of stalker-ish and frankly, not that intelligent. The last section is narrated by Rachel, who hates herself for what happened to Catrin's children. Even though Rachel's children are still alive, she cannot undo what happened years ago and she feels like a pariah in town. She cannot bring herself to love her youngest son. I enjoyed Rachel's section although it wasn't as strong as Catrin. The ending was very frustrating as we find out Rachel knows who the killer is and takes no action. 

Overall-I did enjoy this. The Falkland setting was eerie and perfect for a murder mystery. Catrin's narrative was undoubtedly the best and while the others weren't as strong, I'm definitely planning to read more from this author. 

Grade: 3/5

After You

Book: After You
Series: Me Before You #2
Author: JoJo Moyes

11 hours, 6 minutes

How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .

For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.-Goodreads

Review: I loved Me Before You for multiple reasons-it made me think about assisted suicide, I fell in love with Louisa and Will's story, and it caused such a visceral emotional reaction that I could barley talk about the book for days without crying. It's hard to top that and unfortunately After You was...well, it was okay. I didn't hate it, but instead of focusing on Louisa's life I felt like Will was still front and center. We are introduced to a new character, Lily, who was incredibly annoying. There were explanations for her behavior but I really despised her and her awful behavior. Lou does find love again-he's nice and they are very nice together. Nothing extraordinary. 

Overall-there's just nothing special or exciting about this sequel. 

Grade: 2.5/5

Children to a Degree - Growing Up Under the Third Reich

Book: Children to a Degree - Growing Up Under the Third Reich
Author: Horst Christian

Based on a true story about a young boy growing up under the Third Reich.

Karl Veth, the oldest of three children, was born in Berlin, Germany in 1930. By the time he was old enough to start school and begin his education, Hitler had already established a firm death-grip on the country. Children were fed a steady diet of Nazi propaganda and were often encouraged to turn on their family and friends but contrary to popular belief, not all of them bought into it.

Karl is an intelligent young boy who strives to excel in his studies, but he questions everything. Dangerous questions during a time when people are closely monitored. Karl’s father and grandfather are not blind followers and they have their own opinions about Hitler and his regime. The lessons they teach Karl often contradict what he is taught in school, yet they also inspire him to think on his own and form his own opinions.

German law mandates that all children must become members of the Hitler Youth and at the age of 10, Karl enters the Jungvolk, the junior branch of the Hitler Youth. He must wade through the propaganda and everything he is taught to decide for himself what is right and what it wrong. Little does he know at the time, but many of his grandfather’s predictions about the future of the Third Reich will eventually come to pass. The lessons he learns now and the opinions he forms will determine his fate in dangerous times ahead. -Goodreads

Review: This was a very interesting story about a boy growing up in Nazi Germany. It provides good insight into the indoctrination methods used at the time and how families were impacted. I was afraid for Karl's grandfather throughout the book (he was not a Nazi supporter) and while the writing stuff wasn't that great (it was written like an old grandpa telling you a story) I overall liked this. 

Grade: 3/5


Book: You
Series: You #1
Author: Caroline Kepnes

When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.-Goodreads

Review:  'You' is a great book about horrible people. Seriously, every character is pretty awful. Beck is the object of Joe's obsession and although you can clearly see where this story is heading, it's a fun, twisty, creepy ride. Kepnes is such a talented writer she made me forget Joe is a sociopath/murderer and I found myself actually agreeing with some of his inner thoughts (especially about IKEA). Great job! (very graphic)

Grade: 4.4/5

Queen of Shadows

Book: Queen of Shadows
Series: Throne of Glass #4
Author: Sarah J. Maas

The queen has returned.

Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she’s at last returned to the empire—for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past…

She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight.

She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die for her. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen’s triumphant return.-Goodreads

Review: This series is back on track, yes! The first book was good, second was really good, third was a huge disappointment (my 2 star rating was generous) and this was great. This was action packed from the first to last page. Aelin was kick ass and I loved Manon's storyline. I cannot wait for the next book. 

Grade: 5/5