One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva [thoughts]

one man guy coverOne Man Guy by Michael Barakiva  www
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Release Date: May 27th 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Series: none


Goodreads description: Funny and heartfelt, One Man Guy serves up the raucous family humor and gentle romance of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, as told with David Sedaris–style wit

Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.

Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again

I chose to read this book because it sounded cute. That’s all the reason I need!

Alek is Armenian and his family is very serious about culture and background. They’re also pretty strict and make him go to summer school to stay in honors. He has a crush on the Ethan, a bad boy type. Romance and family issues ensue.

One Man Guy was pretty cute. I loved that Alek was Armenian, it was really interesting to read about Armenian culture and Alek’s exasperation with certain things his parents thought were serious. He got annoyed with how intense they were about social things that just seemed ridiculous to him. It was fun to watch him grasp and learn, and I really enjoyed the development between Alek and his brother Nik.

The romance between Ethan and Alek was mostly cute, but for some reason Ethan rubbed me slightly the wrong way. I should have written this review right after I read it, but it’s been a while so I don’t have examples. It could have been a personal thing, it wasn’t huge or I’d be able to remember it better. I also wasn’t a huge fan of Becky. She just annoyed me, but a lot. I’m sure the friend situation represented here might be common, but it didn’t sit well with me.

3 star rating

I enjoyed One Many Guy, but I don’t think it’s a book I’d want to pick up again. I re-skimmed some of it for this review (because I read it so long ago) and I didn’t feel super connected with it. But it is cute and it has depth and diversity, and it’s definitely worth a read, and I feel like my annoyances might be personal things that other people might not feel the same way about. I plan on reading more of Michael Barikiva’s work!

Have you read this one/Do you plan to?


Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell [book review]

Fangirl coverFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
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Release Date: September 10th 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Series: none

Goodreads description: Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind

I spent a while in a pretty big fandom. I wish it had been Harry Potter, but unfortunately, it was a bit more embarrassing than that! It was after I had dropped out of college and was having a rough time. I met people from all across the country and world. I made really good friends, many of whom I still talk to all the time. I read fanfiction, but I never wrote it. So, Fangirl book seemed like it might be something I could connect with. I wasn’t really a fan of Eleanor & Park (and I’ve seen other reviews that have confirmed I’m not the only one, so please don’t gasp at me) but I still felt optimistic about this one.

Cather is the main character and narrator of the book. She’s a twin, and her sister’s name is Wren. I actually kind of liked the name thing. Like other twins I’ve read about and some I’ve known (I’ve never actually known identical twins. I’ve met some, but I’ve been friends with sets and singles of non-identical twins), the twins are pretty different. The twins are going to college for their freshman year, and they have different plans. Wren plans to party and doesn’t want to room with her sister. Cath doesn’t understand and wants things to stay the same.

Cath is quiet and shy. She’s very anxious about making new friends. She’s too nervous to go to the cafeteria. She feels weird about her roommate, Reagan and her maybe-boyfriend Levi. There were some levels that I could really identify with Cath on, but I never grew to love her. I could relate to a lot of her anxiety issues, and some of it felt painfully close to things I’ve been through.  I loved the family interactions, and how difficult it was, it felt realistic. I really liked Cath’s roommate Reagan. A lot of the college experiences seemed realistic, and some of them were fun to read about.

Cath uses fandom to cope with things that happen in real life. She writes fan fiction, and she’s hugely popular. It’s obvious that Simon Snow = Harry Potter. I can completely understand using fandom or any online community to get away from real life. I didn’t really care enough about any of her fanfic to read it in the book. Cath did have a tendency to hide from her problems, and she definitely made some mistakes. She clung pretty stubbornly to things, and I think she knew she was making a mistake. I liked that she was able to deal with her problems and she had, support, plus she was able to give support to others when it was needed. I do feel like she learned a lot and made a lot of progress.

I’m not sure how I feel about Levi. But something about him just felt weird to me. Maybe it’s the cowboy thing that a lot of people seem to love. I’m from a small town in Oklahoma, and I’ve lived on a farm and knew tons of FFA kids, ropers and other kids that grew up on farms. There isn’t anything inherently better about them. They aren’t always nice. They’re just people. Sometimes they are really nice and charming, but it isn’t a given. In books, sometimes it feels like a given and that feels weird to me. Levi seemed genuinely nice to me. He was sweet to Cath, and there were some swoony moments. I never felt very attached to him, though.

3 star rating

I liked Fangirl. It was entertaining, and there were pieces I really enjoyed. I didn’t think it was groundbreaking. I actually think I might want to read it again at some point, maybe if I read it later and it isn’t uber-hyped anymore I might be able to enjoy it more. Even though I haven’t loved either of the Rainbow Rowell books I’ve read, there’s still something about the books that draws me in, and I want to read more of her writing.

Check out Rainbow Rowell’s website and twitter!

Just One Year by Gayle Forman [book review]

justoneyearJust One Year by Gayle Forman
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Release Date: October 10th 2013
Publisher: Dutton Children’s
Series: Just One Day #2

Goodreads description: When he opens his eyes, Willem doesn’t know where in the world he is—Prague or Dubrovnik or back in Amsterdam. All he knows is that he is once again alone, and that he needs to find a girl named Lulu. They shared one magical day in Paris, and something about that day—that girl—makes Willem wonder if they aren’t fated to be together. He travels all over the world, from Mexico to India, hoping to reconnect with her. But as months go by and Lulu remains elusive, Willem starts to question if the hand of fate is as strong as he’d thought. . . .

The romantic, emotional companion to Just One Day, this is a story of the choices we make and the accidents that happen—and the happiness we can find when the two intersect.

Just One Year was high up on my Fall TBR. I am a huge Gayle Forman fan. I liked Just One Day a lot, but If I Stay and Where She Went are two of my favorite books. I had so much hope for Just One Year and reserved it at the library before it came out, then they didn’t get copies in so I luckily got it on Overdrive!

Just One Day is Allyson’s story of how she does something unexpected and makes a connection, then is left feeling lost and confused when it’s severed without warning. She spends a year in a funk and learns a lot about herself. She is determined to at least try to reconnect with Willem, the boy she spent a day with. She also learns a lot about herself and what she wants from life. Just One Year is Willem’s story and begins shortly after they were separated. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the book, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

This story follows Willem throughout the year and shows how the events in Just One Day affected him. He met a great girl that he connected with but knew nothing about, and they were separated. He tries to find her, but he also has other things to deal with. He has a lot going on with his family and friends. Plus, like everyone, he’s trying to learn who he is and what he wants to do. His travels were interesting and his time in India was fun to read about. There were friends we met, his mom, and his uncle that were interesting and brought a lot to the story and to Willem’s character. There were a few things I was kind of apathetic about, but I can probably chop that up to my general grumpy/picky feelings.

The thing about this book is, I actually liked it. I like Willem, he is a cool guy. He has an interesting perspective. I liked seeing what he thought and how he felt about Allyson, or Lulu to him. I liked that he didn’t think he was in love, and he wasn’t obsessed. He just knew she made an impression, and it was a feeling he couldn’t shake. It was important. He grows, he learns. But through this whole book, I was waiting for what I wanted. I was hoping. I was so incredibly invested. At about 80% in the book, I finally had to accept that I was not going to get the story I wanted. It wasn’t a total bust, and I’m glad I read it. If you’ve read Just One Day and haven’t read this book yet, I’m not telling you to forget about it. It’s not bad book at all, and I understand it was the story that needed to be told. However, I was sad and I’m still sad thinking about what it could have been. I’m greedy. I think a lot of people were more content with the journey, and I think a lot of readers won’t necessarily be looking for the same things I was.

3 star rating

Just One Year was a good book, but it was probably the most disappointing book of the year for me. That being said, it still got 3 whole stars!! Isn’t that saying a lot for Gayle Forman’s work? I like the characters, I like the growth, but I wanted so much more. Even one more chapter could have made a huge difference for me. I think I might try to read this again, after a while, to see if I can appreciate it more when I’m not expecting everything from it, but I don’t think I’ll ever love it. I will still faithfully read Gayle Forman’s work. You might like Just One Year if you like traveling stories, hope, and charming Dutch narrators!

Check out Gayle Forman’s website and twitter!

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova [book review]

The Historian coverThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
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Release Date: September 1st 2009
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Series: n/a

Goodreads description: For centuries, the story of Dracula has captured the imagination of readers and storytellers alike. Kostova’s breathtaking first novel, ten years in the writing, is an accomplished retelling of this ancient tale. “The story that follows is one I never intended to commit to paper.. As an historian, I have learned that, in fact, not everyone who reaches back into history can survive it.” With these words, a nameless narrator unfolds a story that began 30 years earlier.

Late one night in 1972, as a 16-year-old girl, she discovers a mysterious book and a sheaf of letters in her father’s library — a discovery that will have dreadful and far-reaching consequences, and will send her on a journey of mind-boggling danger. While seeking clues to the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s puzzling disappearance, she follows a trail from London to Istanbul to Budapest and beyond, and learns that the letters in her possession provide a link to one of the world’s darkest and most intoxicating figures. Generation after generation, the legend of Dracula has enticed and eluded both historians and opportunists alike. Now a young girl undertakes the same search that ended in the death and defilement of so many others — in an attempt to save her father from an unspeakable fate.

The Historian was on my Top Ten Summer TBR. I found it randomly at Barnes and Noble a few years ago. It was on sale for about $5 and I didn’t even see that it was about vampires and Dracula. I just like history and I think I saw something about a young woman and her family’s secrets. When I looked at it again, I knew it was about Dracula but was really interested because a lot of bloggers seem to like this book!

I read this in July and I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts because I don’t know how to explain how I feel about this book. It’s difficult because there’s just so much to it. It’s long and it felt longer. Obviously, all long books have a lot to them, but this one has a lot of facts and information and stories along with the plot. There was so much to absorb. It took me longer to read than I expected. I enjoyed reading it, but it was a lot more work than I expected. 

The main character of this book isn’t named. Somewhere it’s explained that she’s named after her grandmother, but I don’t think her name is shared either. I tried to Google this to check my facts, but I didn’t have much luck. Expect the word “she” to be used a lot! The story is told in the daughter’s POV. Her father is always gone because he travels for work and her mother is dead. She goes to school and lives with the housekeeper when her father is away. She is very smart and works hard, but she wants to know about her mother and wants to spend time with her father. She discovers a strange book and some notes in her father’s study and when she asks him about it, things begin to change. He starts to tell her a story, a long and complex story that he tells in pieces. He only tells her a piece of the story when they go on trips.

The story is about how he came to the book, a book with a dragon, blank pages, and the word Drakulya. It was given to him randomly. It began an investigation into Dracula and the person the myth was based on, Vlad the Impaler. He mentions it to a mentor and discovers the mentor received the same book and also investigated the origins of Dracula, Vlad, and vampires. He believes that Vlad is still alive today. He used to research to try prove it, but people started dying or getting injured so he stopped.

The story is long and Paul (her father) includes some kind of weird details sometimes considering it was going to his daughter. The way he tells the story is kind of weird because he skirts around details, and it works for the story and how things are revealed, but I’m not completely sure it works for a father telling a daughter a story. Maybe it’s just the type of person he is, but I think if I were the daughter, it would have been extremely frustrating to me. The story is a mystery and he explains their investigation but the book is filled with many stories. There’s Paul’s story which intersects so many stories, Helen’s story, his mentor Rossi’s story, Dracula’s story, the narrator’s own story, and many others. There’s a lot of story going on.

The stories withing stories are all engaging and interesting. I definitely felt emotionally involved with the characters. There are three romances and I liked them all. There were family aspects that were heartbreaking and frustrating. There were tons of side characters that had important roles and a lot of them were really entertaining.

I really enjoyed that the setting, the story takes place all over Europe during the Cold War. There was a lot of traveling in Europe and trouble with governments and talks of effects of WWII. It was all fascinating. There’s a map of Cold War Europe in the front and it was immensely helpful to follow the journeys on the it. I liked reading about all the places they visited and all the different cultures. There’s a lot of actual history and some obviously fake history, too. It was all really interesting to me. Real and fake, Vlad was creepy and it’s easy to be horrified and fascinated by things he did. When it turns into a vampire story, things got a little weird for me. The vampire aspect of this story wasn’t very satisfying for me. Vlad’s motivations as a vampire seemed off.

For there to be so much explanation and setup, I felt like the end was very rushed. I was a bit disappointed. The storytelling is engaging and thick, so I expected more from the action filled ending. For everything that happens in this book, and like I said a LOT happens, it seemed really easy. Really easy. I don’t exactly know how else it could have ended but it just felt weak to me.

3 star rating

I enjoyed so much about this book and was extremely interested and invested in the story. I did think it was a bit bogged down by information, but I loved the relationships, the traveling and descriptions of countries and cultures, and the history both real and fake. I seriously doubt I would ever want to read it again, even though I enjoyed a lot about it. I would recommend The Historian if you’re interested in complex stories with some surprises, heavy information, enjoyable characters, and a vampire story that almost doesn’t feel like a vampire story.

Check out Elizabeth Kostova‘s website!

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield [book review]

The Thirteenth Tale coverThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
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Release Date: September 12th 2006
Publisher: Atria
Series: n/a

Goodreads description: Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story.

Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets… and the ghosts that haunt them still

I went into The Thirteenth Tale completely blind. I’ve heard the title and knew that people loved it, but I had absolutely no idea what it was about. I was at the library and had already picked out some books and I wanted five. I saw this one, recognized the title, and picked it up.

Margaret Lea grew up in her father’s bookstore. She always knew an intense love of books. She reads a certain type of book, so when a popular fiction author contacts her and asks her to write a biography, she’s surprised. She’s never read any of Vida Winter’s wildly popular novels. She finds a rare copy of Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, a book of stories with the last one left out, and she devours it. She joins the ranks of Vida’s fans, wondering about the thirteenth tale. She’s intrigued by the missing stories: the thirteenth tale and Vida’s own story. Vida gives fake interviews to reporters and never shares details of her life.

This book is going to be so difficult for me to review because I am still not even sure how I feel about it. I don’t even feel equipped to discuss it. It was engaging and entertaining. I was definitely involved in the story. I did not find this story predictable in the least.

Margaret Lea is a vulnerable character. She is missing something and it defines her whole life. It defines her relationship with her parents and how she views books and the world at large. It definitely affects how she looks at Vida Winter and the story Vida shares. Vida Winter is gruff and combative. She’s got a story and she’s got a sickness. She has been in charge for so long that she isn’t used to anyone questioning her. Margaret’s spine and refusal to rollover surprises and impresses Vida. It was entertaining to see them clash, I think it was good for Vida to face opposition. Vida is also vulnerable in a lot of ways, but she has spent so long keeping that part of herself buried, along with the truth. I think she views the telling of her story to be a release. She needs to empty her soul.

I’m not really sure how to discuss the story Vida tells. It’s tragic and strange. There are bizarre siblings, Charlie and Isabelle and Isabelle’s twins, Adeline and Emmeline. There are so many psychological issues that are just frightening and they’re all things that seem sadly realistic. No wonder Vida would want to create a new life for herself and many other worlds if her past was so wretched. I think most people have things in their past they might not want to share with everyone.

Vida isn’t exactly straightforward in her tale of the twins. You learn early in her story that the story is leading to a certain point. The March family has a lot of issues and they don’t like to actually spend time raising children. The March twins have twin issues: they get lost in each other but they also fight and one is dominant while the other lets the dominant twin do whatever she wants. People around them try to help the family in different ways, but a lot of weird things happen. At the end of it all, there’s a surprise and you see the story in a different way. 

a photo of a quote from the book

Sorry, this is not a great picture but I was in a hurry! This is actually from the letter Vida sends Margaret asking her to write the biography. It caught my eye when I read it and after reading her story, it makes even more sense why she found solace in stories.

I think I expected a paranormal twin ability with this book, but it was something incredibly different from I expected. To be surprised was nice, but the wrap-up was still troubling. There was also the end of the story with Margaret, which was kind of ridiculous to me. However, I was extremely engaged with The Thirteenth Tale. My emotions during the story were all over the place, sometimes I didn’t enjoy what was happening but the story was still interesting. I like the idea of Vida’s strength and her weakness. She kept a lot hidden and buried and had to create a lot of different worlds and lives to cope with that. She turned her life around, but she still had a story of her own that followed and haunted her.

3 star rating

I liked this book and I think I’m still a bit perplexed and just sad about it. It definitely made me think and feel, which is what a book is supposed to do. I think I would like to read it again sometime and see the things I missed the first time. Reading a book with all the knowledge of the ending really puts it in a different light and can add a lot to the story. I don’t think this one will ever be a favorite, but I am glad I read it. I would recommend The Thirteenth Tale if you like sad, puzzling stories. Also, I don’t think it’s a ghost story but I definitely think it’s a haunted story, if that makes sense.

I know a lot of people love this one, so if you’ve read it, did you love it? Did you know they’re making a miniseries of it? My girl Sophie Turner who plays Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones and is a fellow Sansa stan is going to play Adeline. I’m not sure how they’re working out the twin thing and…other things, but Sophie is awesome so hopefully it will all be okay. If you’ve read it are you excited about the adapttion?

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig [book review]

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation coverThe Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig 
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Release Date: December 27th 2006
Publisher: New American Library
Series: Pink Carnation #1

Goodreads description: Deciding that true romantic heroes are a thing of the past, Eloise Kelly, an intelligent American who always manages to wear her Jimmy Choo suede boots on the day it rains, leaves Harvard’s Widener Library bound for England to finish her dissertation on the dashing pair of spies the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. What she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: a secret history that begins with a letter dated 1803. Eloise has found the secret history of the Pink Carnation the most elusive spy of all time, the spy who single-handedly saved England from Napoleon’s invasion.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, a wildly imaginative and highly adventurous debut, opens with the story of a modern-day heroine but soon becomes a book within a book. Eloise Kelly settles in to read the secret history hoping to unmask the Pink Carnation’s identity, but before she can make this discovery, she uncovers a passionate romance within the pages of the secret history that almost threw off the course of world events. How did the Pink Carnation save England? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly find a hero of her own?

I’ve been wanting to read The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and the series for a few years and it’s been an off and on interest that I never got to. I saw it at the library when I was picking out books for Bout of Books and immediately picked it up! I had forgotten/confused the premise a little, I knew it had to do with secrets (ha), spies, and history but I think I merged it with something else, too.

Eloise is a Harvard grad student in London researching spies in wars between England and France around and after the French Revolution. The Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian are well-known examples but the Pink Carnation is still a mystery. The former two were exposed and written about at length, but nobody ever named the Pink Carnation. In Eloise’s eyes, the Pink Carnation was the best of them all and the most romantic. She seeks the mystery behind the mask and hopes to share it with the world.

I love history and I think it has a lot to do with how nosy I am. I like knowing people’s business and history is all about the lives of others. There were people in the past that did important things that affect us today and they had friends and loves and pets and houses and I need to know about them all! Didn’t they know people in the future would need to know about their life? I mean, seriously! Eloise’s interest in a specific figure in history wasn’t an exact situation I’ve been through but I could definitely understand her drive. She’s been through a lame break up and there’s a dashing masked man she can get to know. The only problem (besides him not being alive) is that nobody knows his true identity. She names her paper something more vague and pretends to research all of the spies at the time and begins inquiring with the descendants of known spies families. She hits some blocks and then finds the break she needs and reads the letters about Amy, a young woman who left France before the Revolution and Richard, the Purple Gentian.

I liked that all the information Eloise read in the letters were interpreted into a story instead of the story being epistolary. I don’t mind letters in books but I’m not a huge fan of books that are written only in letter form. There were some things that made me wonder how it was put together and what must have been included in letters. The history part of the story is in third person so you get to see inside their heads and it’s usually Richard or Amy. There are some things, like love scenes, that I wasn’t sure how they would have been written about in detail but maybe they didn’t mind sharing things like that, I don’t know. I’m sure people did write about physical happenings sometimes, so perhaps it all fits but I’m not completely sold. I enjoyed the way it was written, but there were some things that didn’t seem like they would have been easily translated from letters.

I enjoyed that the story incorporates Eloise and the modern-day story of her discovery and feelings along with the actual accounts of the Pink Carnation. I wasn’t sure going in how it would work out, but Willig did it well. It wasn’t exactly balanced, the story is more about Eloise’s discovery of the Pink Carnation so there’s more about that story than Eloise’s own story. Eloise’s part is told in first person and it was nice to get into her personal and quirky thoughts. It was a little weird to flip between first and third sometimes, but it doesn’t change often enough to be a huge problem. I liked both stories and every time it switched to one I was reluctant to let go of the story I was currently reading!

The story of the Pink Carnation isn’t exactly thrilling but I did find it enjoyable. The romance is similar to most others, which doesn’t make it bad. Amy and Richard start out bickering and there are obstacles but it is a pretty basic situation. There were some amusing side characters like Richard’s mother and some of his colleagues in masked business. The mystery aspect was not exciting for me. There are a few twists, but nothing is surprising. Some things in the story are more shocking to Eloise because of her preconceived views of the story as a whole, and her reaction to the story was entertaining.

I did like Eloise and enjoyed her story more than I expected to. It seemed funny to me that I like the modern part of the story so much. Eloise was enthusiastic and really cared about her subject of study. I enjoyed her interactions with Colin, the surly descendant of the Purple Gentian and Arabella, his aunt. There is definitely chemistry between Eloise and Colin along with antagonism, which is great. I’ve already read the second book so I know Eloise’s story and interactions with Colin continue in the next book but I’m guessing the modern story is strung out to keep you interested. I am, and I’m impatient!

3 star rating

I enjoyed The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, but I don’t think it was amazing. The premise is interesting and characters are okay, but the mystery and plot fails to wow. I’m glad I read it and do plan to continue the series. Thankfully my library has e-copies of most of them (or maybe all, I’m not even sure how many there are!). I have already read the second book in the series and I actually think I enjoyed it more. I’ll read the rest of the series for as long as I’m interested. I probably won’t review each book in the series, but I might do a series/wrap-up sort of post at some point. I would recommend The Secret History of the Pink Carnation if you like: romance, spies, and silliness. 

Check out Lauren Willig‘s website!

Review: Shiloh by Helena Sorenson

Shiloh coverShiloh by Helena Sorenson
Goodreads | Amazon
Release Date: April 16th 2013
Series: I think it’s the first book in a series.

Goodreads description: In a world of perpetual darkness, a boy is born who wields remarkable power over fire. Amos is no more than seven when he kills a Shadow Wolf and becomes a legend in Shiloh. He would be destined for great things were it not for the stories his father tells about a world beyond the Shadow and a time before the Shadow. Only madmen hold to such tales, and in Shiloh, they have always come to bad ends.

Amos is fearless. He walks with easy confidence, certain that the Shadow cannot touch him. Even his family is in awe of him. His father marvels at his skill with the bow, his mother thanks the gods that he has all the courage she lacks, and his sister, Phebe, worships him for saving her from an attack of the Shadow Cats.

On a trip to the village of Emmerich, Amos rescues the Magistrate’s son, Simeon, from the village bullies. Simeon, fair-skinned and pale-eyed like other Dreamers in Shiloh’s history, becomes Amos’s constant companion and dearest friend. Simeon becomes a part of Amos’s family, listening to fireside stories told in a way he’s never heard them before and learning to wield a bow and arrow.

The year the boys turn twelve, they are itching to prove themselves. An impetuous plan to steal a beautiful lantern goes miserably awry, and the lantern’s owner prophecies that Amos will be devoured by the Shadow. For the first time, a seed of fear is planted in Amos’s mind, and when his father is killed by a Shadow Wolf on the last day of the Great Hunt, the fear takes hold. If so great and brave a man as his father could fall to the Shadow, what hope has he?

Buy your copy of Shiloh today to find out more …

I received a finished eBook for review from the publisher.

Shiloh is a world of darkness, of the Shadow. There are stories of light beyond the Shadow: a lantern in the sky, or stars at night. To most, these stories are foolish and inconceivable. The people of Shiloh have only known darkness.

In Shiloh, Amos is a legend for killing a Shadow Wolf when he was only seven. However, as amazing and fearless as young Amos is, his family is still different. His father Abner has strange beliefs in old tales of lights. Wynn is his worried mother, and his sister Phebe is scarred from a Shadow Cat attack. Amos befriends another outsider named Simeon from cruel village children. They become fast friends and Simeon sort of becomes part of the family. Simeon grows to believe the stories Abner tells. He is meek and in awe of how fearless Amos is.

When Amos and Simeon are twelve, they are excited to finally get to go on the Great Hunt. Unfortunately, Abner is killed by a Shadow Wolf and it changes everything (note: this is in the description so I’m not really spoiling here). Amos changes completely and becomes afraid for the first time in his life. He’s approached by a dark man who leads him down a dark path.

I think of this story as having three parts: when the boys are young and they meet, when they’re twelve and the hunt happens, and after the hunt. A lot of the story feels like setup for the rest of the story. Important information is given, but it seems like a lot of telling until Abner dies. It was interesting but it also felt slow. A lot happened, but it also felt like I was waiting for something to happen. There were a few times I had to push to keep reading, but I’m glad I did. There’s a lot more actions after the hunt.

Amos is frustrating and I wasn’t a fan. After his father dies, he’s in turmoil and lets everything he knows fall into darkness. He gives up hope and leaves his home and family. He’s gone for over five years and when he comes back, he isn’t pleasant. He hurts someone emotionally which leads to something awful. Then he just snaps out of it and feels bad. It was strange how easy his remorse came after spending so much time in anger.

There’s also Isolde, from another clan. She’s heard stories of Amos and the old stories. She’s unhappy and wants more for life, so she goes out on her own. She sort of roams and adventures looking for Valour’s Glass, an important lost relic. She also shows up right at the opportune moment to go on a quest with Amos and Simeon. It was kind of random that she just showed up. I think it would have made more sense if she’d been there earlier and met them before. She was a strong character and she was frustrated with men being in charge of her life, so she was likable.

Simeon and Phebe were my favorite of the four main characters. Simeon is so timid when he’s small but he works hard and grows up strong. He also seems very kind and determined. Phebe is disfigured and lonely, but she still sings on. She still has hope.

My favorite part of the story was the lore. The creation story was unique and I loved it: “Whenever one of the Immortals (for so they came to be called) saw in another Immortal an image that matched something in his own mind, that image came to life.” The Night Weavers were creepy things that came when one was feeling extremely depressed and vulnerable. Shadow Wolves and Shadow Cats are fierce animals hunting the people of the world. Darkness is a common theme, but for everything to be darkness? The world is dark, how do they see? How do they function? It was difficult to grasp but I liked it. I liked the hope that some of the people had. I loved that they were light themselves.

I feel like the people are complacent to the darkness, but they also seem to be waiting for something else. They’re skeptical of the stories but maybe they are reluctant to hope for something better. Their lives are difficult and I think they want something more but the thought of any change is frightening. Perhaps hope is crushing because of how unlikely it seems. They have so much to fear and it seems like it would be easy to ridicule people who are brave enough to believe in a completely better life.

3 star rating

I enjoyed this book. There were issues but there was a lot to enjoy about the story. It kept drawing my thoughts back to it when I was doing other things. I’m pretty sure Sorenson has more books planned in this world, and I am very interested in reading them. I recommend this if you’re looking to take a chance on something different; it’s not for everyone but it might be for you!

Check out Helena Sorenson‘s website and twitter!

The Book of Broken Hearts cover

Review: The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

The Book of Broken Hearts coverThe Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Release Date: May 21st 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Series: n/a

Goodreads description:When all signs point to heartbreak, can love still be a rule of the road? A poignant and romantic novel from the author of Bittersweet and Twenty Boy Summer.

Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.

Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?

Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong?

Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking

A few years ago I read Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer. I went into it thinking it sounded sweet or cute but it ended up wrecking me. I don’t remember a lot about it, but I don’t remember not being fond of it. I went into The Book of Broken Hearts expecting sadness and while I don’t feel as negative about it as I did TBS, I still didn’t love it.

Jude would ideally be spending her time rehearsing for a play and hanging out with friends. Unfortunately, her life has drastically changed because her father has early onset Alzheimer’s. She spends her days helping him and hoping he doesn’t get worse or have an outburst. He forgets more all the time, but he remembers his youth and riding his motorcycle through South America. It’s means a lot to him, so Jude wants to help him get the bike fixed.

They seek help and are directed to one Emilio Vargas. Emilio is a few years older than Jude, knows about bikes, and he’s very charming. But the Vargas family is off limits to Jude, she swore an oath with her three older sisters never to be involved with a Vargas because of the pain two of them caused two of her older sisters. She needs Emilio to help with the bike, but she doesn’t know if she can keep the oath and stay away.

The Alzheimer’s part of the story is intense and sad. Jude loves her father and it hurts her to know that he’s drifting away. Papi also knows what’s happening, he knows memories are slipping away and it’s frustrating and scary. Jude has to handle so many negative effects of the disease by herself while her mom is at work. It’s difficult to deal with a ranting man digging through the trash and making scenes in public, but there’s also such an emotional toll. Her father and her world is falling apart. She’s at a turning point in her own life but she needs to be so strong for Papi and the whole family. Things like the post-it notes to help him remember and Papi referring to the disease as “El Demonio” (or the Demon) and seeing glimpses of how he is normally against what he’s becoming is gripping and heartbreaking. I loved Papi and I think his story and the effects of the disease are written very well. This is the part of the story that will stick with me.

“How could someone so whole and alive be shriveling up inside? My brain hurt to contemplate it, and I forced myself to stop, lest the demon sense my thoughts and try to prove its mettle.”

Family is important in this story. I loved reading about Jude’s relationship with her father and her mom is very food oriented, she kinda cooks her love into dishes and wants to feed anyone and everyone. I liked that Jude has a big family and wants to be close to everyone in it. However, I wasn’t fond of her sisters or the obligation she felt to an oath she took when she was twelve. Jude even refers to her sisters as “The Holy Trinity” which annoys me to no end. The sisters don’t seem to understand the toll the disease is taking on Jude. They’re letting her be responsible and take care of him but they still treat her like a child. It’s obvious that they all care for each other and all families are annoying in ways, but for some reason the sisters bugged me.

Jude seemed kind of immature to me. I’m not sure if it i magnified by the difficulty of handling her father and his illness, maybe she just seemed smaller because of everything she had to handle. She is incredibly strong and admirable in helping her father, and not doing it because she has to but because she loves him. What I didn’t like were things like the angel vs. devil thing in her thoughts: “Devil-Jude was totally giving me the thumbs-up, her smile glinting mischievously. She had a gold tooth, that’s why,” cue so much eye rolling.  It also annoyed me how much she “thinks” for her dog, I’m not sure how many “BUNNY” moments there were but it was too many for me. She is also so obsessed with what her sisters thought and what her sisters would do if they found out about Emilio. There was development, but by the time it happened I wasn’t as invested. I liked her relationship with her father but I didn’t connect with her.

Emilio is straightforward with Jude and very understanding about her father’s illness. He is flirty but he is also supportive. He is also honest, even in situations where it would be easier to just agree with Jude. He is definitely attracted to her, but he listens to her and is there for her in ways her friends (don’t get me started on her friends) weren’t. I enjoyed him and there was swooning! It was kind of weird to me that he is a mechanic but couldn’t drive a stick, but I guess that could happen? 

Some things I liked:

  • Jude’s family is Argentinean and Emilo’s family is Puerto Rican. Diversity!
  • Papi’s love of Westerns and how he quotes them.
  • A baking scene with Emilio’s mom
  • Mari, one of Jude’s sister, is in publishing and they talk about reading manuscripts.

3 star rating

While I didn’t love The Book of Broken Hearts, I know a lot of people did and a lot of people will enjoy it. I think most people that love contemps with strong families and a good romance will probably enjoy it. I don’t plan on rereading it but I am glad I read it, mainly for Jude’s relationship with her father but also EMILIOOOOOOO (okay sorry, had to).  I might have to tell myself to stay away from any other Sarah Ockler books. Nothing personal, I just don’t think they are for me!

Check out Sarah Ockler’s website and twitter!

Review: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg

rggp coverRevenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon
Release Date: March 1st 2013
Publisher: Point
Series: none
Rating: 3 star rating

Goodreads description:Don’t mess with a girl with a great personality!

Everybody loves Lexi. She’s popular, smart, funny…but she’s never been one of those girls, the pretty ones who get all the attention from guys. And on top of that, her seven-year-old sister, Mackenzie, is a terror in a tiara, and part of a pageant scene where she gets praised for her beauty (with the help of fake hair and tons of makeup).

Lexi’s sick of it. She’s sick of being the girl who hears about kisses instead of getting them. She’s sick of being ignored by her longtime crush, Logan. She’s sick of being taken for granted by her pageant-obsessed mom. And she’s sick of having all her family’s money wasted on a phony pursuit of perfection.

The time has come for Lexi to step out from the sidelines. Girls without great personalities aren’t going to know what hit them. Because Lexi’s going to play the beauty game – and she’s in it to win it

First off, I’m not sure what “revenge” the title speaks of, because aside from some tell-offs, there isn’t an act of revenge. Unless living well is the best revenge? Anyway, Lexi is the older sister but she plays second fiddle to pageant girl Mackenzie. Mac is seven, nine years younger than Lexi. Mac is in the spotlight and their mother is obsessed with pageants. I’ve never watched Toddlers & Tiaras, but I have seen enough commercials to relate the book to the show. Her mom likes the attention she gets, not realizing that a lot of it isn’t positive. She spends money they don’t have on things they don’t need and takes advantage of Lexi along the way.

Lexi doesn’t mind helping but is tired of being in the background and feeling second best. She has a job, dreams of being a fashion designer, and works hard. But she’d also like to be known for more than her personality, she’d like to be pretty and special. Not only does she feels like she fades compared to Mac, but her crush Logan’s girlfriend is also a pageant girl. She decides to make a change in her life and with the support and dares/bets/challenges of her friends, starts dressing differently.

Continue reading

Book Review: Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Insignia CoverInsignia by S.J. Kincaid
Release Date: July 10th 2012
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Series: Insignia #1

Goodreads description:More than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.

So Tom is a bit of a loser. His dad is a paranoid gambler who moves Tom around from casino to casino. Tom hustles money through virtual games. He’s so good at virtual games that he’s recruited to go the elite training academy. He gets to train to be a part of a popular virtual fighting army that he’s always watched on TV and possibly become a hero. Tom lives to be important and with the new school and training comes a validation he’s never experienced. He also makes connections and friendships. This opportunity completely changes his life but there are downsides (dun dun dun).

I liked seeing the kids interact with each other in the school setting and that there were still typical stereotypes in this unique situation of superhuman improvements. There were still popular kids and nerdy outcasts despite how much technology changed them. Tom is believable as a teenage male–he’s arrogant but self-conscious. He has friends, crushes, and enemies. Sometimes I really liked him and thought he was funny: his antics with Vik and their arguing felt real and made me chuckle. But I also got annoyed with him and felt like he needed smacked, which is probably par for the course with a 14-year-old guy. Sadly, while I enjoyed some characters the only one I really connected with was Wyatt, the geeky girl genius. I wanted to know more about her!

The virtual gaming parts of the book were entertaining. I liked reading about them in virtual past and training with simulated historical figures. The technology along with the abuse of it was alarming but thought-provoking. The control and the risk of being controlled were intense. The dystopian aspects of the government, with the corporations and their alliances and food and water control were interesting but something about it felt strange to me.

I didn’t quite get the point of the World War III, which is being fought in space by teenagers in virtual reality. Nobody dies or loses anything but equipment, so it all seems a little pointless to me. Not that I would rather people die, but it felt like the whole thing was a big chess game, which kind of made me wonder why they bothered at all. If it was all equipment handled by teenagers, why not just actually battle through games? They could just play a game to see who would win and then there’d be no loss at all.

I liked this book but towards the end I got impatient and kind of just wanted it to be over. I don’t really have anything negative to say about it but I think it just didn’t clicked for me. I think it was a personal issue and I can see why other readers would enjoy it. At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll read the next book in the series. I am interested to see how the world and characters develop but I think I’ll have to wait and see what the next one is about. I might read it just to see more of Wyatt!

Check out the author’s blog and twitter!