Archive | December, 2011

Shaken- D.M. Anderson

27 Dec

Natalie, a self-centered girl, is dragged away by her family at the worst possible time.

Damien, a juvenile delinquent condemned as an accessory to murder.

Connor, an angry young man unable to get over the death of his father.

Three teenagers from different backgrounds, each suffering pain and loss, must now find strength, responsibility, and heroism they didn’t know they possessed when the worst disaster in American history, a 9.7 earthquake devastates the Pacific Northwest. Their struggle for survival will not only test their resolve; it will affect the lives of everyone around them.

Can they let go of their own personal issues and look beyond themselves before a massive tsunami destroys them all.

I LOVE disasters movies. Which really makes no sense, because I’m a pretty stressed person and if a disaster ever hit I’d probably curl up in bed with my stuffed frog and a shit-ton of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. But I’ll watch disaster movies until the cows come home. I love watching how people deal with horrific situations and how they come out on the other end, changed. For me Shaken was like a disaster movie in a book. It had all the elements that I love and then some.

I read Shaken in two sittings. It probably would have been devoured in one, except that I read it a few days before Christmas so I was a bit distracted with wrapping gifts and such. It was an intense read, what with the earthquake and all. But I just couldn’t put it down. I needed to know what happened to these three teens and others that were in the book.

The way Anderson described the earthquake, and what happens after, made me feel like I was watching it happen. I could feel the tension, the hope, the desperation as characters struggled to deal with the aftermath and trying to survive. My heart was pounding during certain scenes, breaking during others.

Now, I don’t want you to think that this was just an action book, because that’s so not the case. There was some nice character development in Shaken. I enjoyed watching the teens grow and realize who they really are. I felt for these characters and I cared what happened to them.

Shaken was just a great all around read. For fans of disaster movies, disaster books and just great YA books, I recommend Shaken.

Thanks to Echelon Press for the review copy.

Betsy Wickwire’s Dirty Secret – Vicki Grant

22 Dec

Betsy’s life is officially over: Dumped by her boyfriend, betrayed by her best friend . . . how is she ever going to show her face again?

Determined to avoid everyone and everything from her previous life, Betsy stumbles into an unusual café and an even more unusual girl. Dolores Morris—a mouthy, green-haired outsider Betsy can’t quite remember from school—talks her into starting a cleaning service. Before she knows it, Betsy is down on her knees, dressed like a dust bunny, scrubbing strangers’ toilets.

It’s a long way for the most popular girl in school to have fallen. But Betsy finds comfort in the wine bottles and prescriptions and other dirty secrets she finds hidden in her clients’ homes. She also finds love with a client’s son, friendship with Dolores and a liberated sense of herself. Her new life soon falls apart, though, when valuables begin to go missing from some of the homes she and Dolores have been cleaning. Betsy discovers the hard way that not all dirty secrets can just be swept under the rug.

Okay, it looks like I have to make room next to my Susan Juby and Susin Nielsen shines.  Cuz I have a new hilarious Canadian author to worship and her name is Vicki Grant.

I hugged this book so much as I read it that it took me a week to finish. Betsy Wickwire’s Dirty Secret is the type of book that I hope to one day write. Funny, realistic, heart-aching, heartwarming, cringe-worthy awesomeness.

I loved the message in the book that sometimes life throws us not what we want but what we need. I also loved that Betsy’s life is turned on its ass but once she adjusts, she finds out it isn’t all that bad, her new reality. I think pretty much everyone will be able to identify with that and the hope it gives.

I also loved, loved LOVED that the book was set in and around Halifax. AND, there’s a Joel Plaskett reference. How awesome is that? It was these little East Coast details that made me fall even more in love with the book and Vicki’s writings.

While I loved Betsy, I kinda wanted to be Delores. What a wonderfully off-centered, sweet and deep character. Oh, and her clothes? I want. BAD.

This was my first book by Grant (thanks to Shannon at HarperCollins Canada for sending it!) but you can bet it won’t be my last.

Now, where shall I put her shrine?

Explosive Eighteen – Janet Evanovich

19 Dec

Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum’s life is set to blow sky high when international murder hits dangerously close to home, in this dynamite novel by Janet Evanovich.
 
Before Stephanie can even step foot off Flight 127 Hawaii to Newark, she’s knee deep in trouble. Her dream vacation turned into a nightmare, and she’s flying back to New Jersey solo. Worse still, her seatmate never returned to the plane after the L.A. layover. Now he’s dead, in a garbage can, waiting for curbside pickup. His killer could be anyone. And a ragtag collection of thugs and psychos, not to mention the FBI, are all looking for a photograph the dead man was supposed to be carrying.
 
Only one other person has seen the missing photo—Stephanie Plum. Now she’s the target, and she doesn’t intend to end up in a garbage can. With the help of an FBI sketch artist Stephanie re-creates the person in the photo. Unfortunately the first sketch turns out to look like Tom Cruise, and the second sketch like Ashton Kutcher. Until Stephanie can improve her descriptive skills, she’ll need to watch her back.
 
Over at the bail bonds agency things are going from bad to worse. The bonds bus serving as Vinnie’s temporary HQ goes up in smoke. Stephanie’s wheelman, Lula, falls in love with their largest skip yet. Lifetime arch nemesis Joyce Barnhardt moves into Stephanie’s apartment. And everyone wants to know what happened in Hawaii?

Morelli, Trenton’s hottest cop, isn’t talking about Hawaii. Ranger, the man of mystery, isn’t talking about Hawaii.  And all Stephanie is willing to say about her Hawaiian vacation is . . . It’s complicated.

So, I wasn’t really over the moon thrilled with the last Stephanie Plum book. But man, that was so not the case with Explosive Eighteen! Damn I LOVED this book.  I mean, I really loved it.

Ranger or Morelli. Will we EVER know?  I’m kinda hoping that Stephanie never chooses. Because it’s one of my favorite elements of the series. And with the trip to Hawaii and all that stuff, things really heated up.

Lula and Grandma were as hilarious as ever. Some people complain that there is no character growth in these books and to them I say a big “WHO THE F_ CARES?” These books are fun, cozy mysteries. I don’t mind one fig that we have no idea how old Stephanie is or how much time has passed from the first book. In fact, in Explosive Eighteen Evanovich mentions some things like Twitter and I found it a bit startling. She’s usually kinda careful about not dating the books.

This was a fun read and I had no idea what was going on with the mobster and the missing picture and I loved that. This is definitely a series that I will continue reading with much glee.

How to Save a Life – Sara Zarr

15 Dec

Jill MacSweeney just wants everything to go back to normal. But ever since her dad died, she’s been isolating herself from her boyfriend, her best friends–everyone who wants to support her. You can’t lose one family member and simply replace him with a new one, and when her mom decides to adopt a baby, that’s exactly what it feels like she’s trying to do. And that’s decidedly not normal. With her world crumbling around her, can Jill come to embrace a new member of the family?

Mandy Kalinowski knows what it’s like to grow up unwanted–to be raised by a mother who never intended to have a child. So when Mandy becomes pregnant, she knows she wants a better life for her baby. But can giving up a child be as easy as it seems? And will she ever be able to find someone to care for her, too?”

Okay, sometimes a book just breaks your heart. I mean, rips it out of your body and stomps on it. Hard. But then the same book can pick up the pieces of your heart, glue them back together, give it a big hug and return it to you, better for what it went through. That’s how I feel about How to Save a Life. This book killed me, but in a good way, you know?

Both girls are so different, in their upbringing and personalities, but I felt so strongly for both that sometimes it hurt. I mean, they are both going through so much. And the complexity of the situation was written beautifully. And because the author switched back and forth from Jill to Mandy, it was heartbreaking to see the near misses and misunderstandings between the two girls.

I’m trying to write a thoughtful review without gushing or giving anything away. But this was such a beautifully, wonderfully wounded story that I’m having a hard time putting my thoughts and feelings into anything solid, so bear with me. For some reason How to Save a Life hit me pretty hard, emotionally. I think in part because of the way Zarr wrote it. Both girls were very matter of fact about the shit in their lives, Mandy in particular. The lack of overly “poor me” vibe throughout the book only made things more emotional for me.

The ending took me a bit by surprise and could have been turned into an overly sweet Hallmark card moment, but Zarr`s writing kept it in check.

This was just an unbelievable book where every word rang true and hit the mark. One of the best contemp I’ve read not just this year, but EVER. I really can’t recommend this one enough, guys.

The Water Wars – Cameron Stracher

13 Dec

Vera and her brother, Will, live in the shadow of the Great Panic, in a country that has collapsed from environmental catastrophe. Water is hoarded by governments, rivers are dammed, and clouds are sucked from the sky. But then Vera befriends Kai, who seems to have limitless access to fresh water. When Kai suddenly disappears, Vera and Will set off on a dangerous journey in search of him-pursued by pirates, a paramilitary group, and greedy corporations. Timely and eerily familiar, acclaimed author Cameron Stracher makes a stunning YA debut that’s impossible to forget. 

If you’re looking for a young adult dystopia that’s one Hell of an adventurous ride, The Water Wars is the book for you. But a warning: make sure you have a glass of water when reading. I was so thirsty as I read that I’m sure I drank a gallon of water. And that’s a testament to Stracher’s writing. He described the lack of water, the continual thirst in such a way that I felt it myself.  Now that’s kick-ass writing.

This book was chock-full of action and adventure and pirates and evil companies and my God! I loved that from chapter to chapter, page to page I was unsure who the bad guys were. Actually, now that I’ve finished the book, I’m still not 100% sure. 🙂

Okay, this may sound weird, but I felt that, despite the fact that the main character was a girl, The Water Wars was geared towards guys. The pacing, the amount of action and the fact that there wasn’t a huge amount of character development just made it seem like a good fit for boys. Not that girls won’t like it, either. It just seemed like more of a boy book to me. I guess what I’m saying is that, if you’re a boy, don’t dismiss this because the main character is a girl. You’ll love it. Trust me.

Thanks to Sourcebooks for the review copy. 🙂

Harbour View – Binnie Brennan

12 Dec

Harbour View is the story of six people whose lives intersect in a nursing home overlooking Halifax Harbour. Memories draw the residents, staff, and family members from rich and diverse pasts to a present filled with grace and poignancy. Threaded with music and connected by themes of dislocation, family legend, and longing, Harbour View offers a glimpse of the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.

Know what’s awesome? When you meet someone, discover they’re an author, pick up their book and absolutely fall in love with it. This is what happened with me and Binnie Brennan’s beautiful collection of short stories, Harbour View. I met Binnie back in September over in Halifax on my bookish weekend and bought Harbour View. Man, am I glad I did.

This was just a wonderfully flowing, beautifully written collection. I loved how each story was connected, but at the same time they were stand alone tales. So you can pick up the book and start with any story and not be lost. I sometimes like to do this with my short story collections, so I appreciate it.

Harbour View takes place in a nursing home and the fact that I read it shortly after a visit to my grandmother at her senior’s residence really made the stories hit home for me. Each story touched on a different aspect of life, of growing old and living so it was quite an emotional read, but in a good way. I love the fact that even though I am far from future days in a nursing home I could still identify and empathize with the characters in the book.

I loved Harbour View and it will take a prized place on my reread book shelf. And I wait impatiently for more from Binnie.

Dark Song – Gail Giles

9 Dec

Ames Ford has a perfect life–that is, she had a perfect life, until her father is fired and her family has to move from their mansion in Colorado to a slum in Texas. Now her mother won’t stop yelling, her father won’t stop drinking, and her little sister hides with a pillow over her head to drown out the fighting.

But then Ames meets Marc: Mysterious. Experienced. Rebellious. Gun-obsessed. He loves her more than anything, and he won’t let anyone stand in his way where Ames is concerned–especially her parents. And when was the last time they did anything but ignore, dismiss, or hurt her? Ames must now decide just how far she’s willing to go for loyalty, for revenge, and for love and if she’s willing to commit the ultimate betrayal against her family.

*This review is a wee bit spoilerish. Not a lot, just a bit.*

This book reminded me a lot of the movie Fear, where Marky Mark – sorry Mark Wahlberg – was a bit of a psycho douche who got into good girl gone kinda bad Reese Witherspoon’s pants.

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. And, part of this has nothing to do with the book as much as it has to do with the book blurb. I assumed that the book would basically be starting when the family moves, but this wasn’t the case. Almost half the book is about Ames father losing his job. The second half of the book deals with them moving and Ames meeting Marc, and I felt like this part of the book moved a bit too fast for me. Since I already knew they were moving, I was way more interested in knowing what happened once they moved.

Okay, with that being said, this was a solid YA contemp read, one that I actually finished in one sitting. I found the characters were believable and I had a lot of empathy for Ames and what she was going through. But I could also empathize with her family, which left me feeling torn about the path Ames was taking. But this was good. It added to my emotional involvement in the book and what happened to everyone.

Despite my issue with the pacing of the book, I really enjoyed it and I think fans of darker YA contemp will also like it.

Thanks so much to the folks at Little Brown Books for the review copy.