All tagged Highly Recommended

A Unique Historical Novel - The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford

As I mentioned when I wrote about Jennifer Donnelly’s wonderful A Northern Light, I love the idea of historical novels, but I often struggle to enjoy them. I’m incredibly picky about historical fiction, so I was thrilled to discover Natalie Standiford’s The Boy on the Bridge. 

Set in 1982 Leningrad (St. Petersburg to you kids) in what was then known as the USSR (Russia to you kids), The Boy on the Bridge chronicles main character Laura’s semester abroad (she’s a Russian major at Brown). She lives in a horrible barracks-style dormitory known as Dorm 6, and takes classes in Russian language and literature.

They’re constantly monitored, eat horrible food and live a fairly sparse life, though it’s far beyond the standards of most Russians. When they first arrived in Leningrad, Laura and the rest of the students are warned to avoid relationships with the locals, as they are seen as targets for young people wanting to get out of the USSR. Marriage to a foreigner is the easiest, most accessible, way out of the Soviet Union, so college students like Laura, looking for adventure are good prospects for a ticket out. 

Through what seems like a chance meeting on a bridge near her dorm, Laura meets Alyosha (he’s named Alexei, but doesn’t use that name), a 22-year old artist employed in a “make-work” job painting scenes from movies on posters at theaters. He suggests that the two spend time together so that they can practice each other’s languages, and Laura and Alyosha quickly become embroiled in a whirlwind romance—a romance with an end-date, since Laura is only in Leningrad for the semester. As Laura becomes immersed in Alyosha’s world, she begins to wonder if there’s a way they can have a future, if she can give him a better life in America. 

The Boy on the Bridge is beautifully historical and rooted in the time.

Review: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

The cover of Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers asks,

"What If The World's Most Notorious Serial Killer . . . Was Your Dad?"

Told from from the mind of the son of said notorious killer, this book's creepy question hooked me from the first page and held me until the end.

Lyga created a complex character, Jasper known as Jazz by family and friends, whom most of us can relate to. Not because he's the son of a serial killer, but because he struggles with memories of his growing up years.

He tries to understand them and to sort through his memories to know himself for who he is, rather than what others may think he is or who his father tried to craft him into becoming.

A haunting question is seared into his mind by his experiences: Are memories dreams or are they real?

A river of images and thoughts and feeling, dirtied and polluted so that no one could drink from it without gagging... Jazz knew killers. Billy [ Jazz's father] had studied the serial killers of the past the way a painter studies the Renaissance masters. He learned from their mistakes. He obsessed over them. And he passed his knowledge down to his son. Lucky Jazz--those were the things he remembered from his childhood.

Jazz wonders about his lineage. Perhaps, he muses, caring for his grandmother whose mind flits randomly from one thought to another in a crazy zig-zag that often coalesced into cruelty causes Jazz to wonder about his relationship with her.

Review: Moonshifted by Cassie Alexander

Review: Moonshifted by Cassie Alexander - On Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

Cassie Alexander’s debut novel, Nightshifted, was one of the more memorable and creative urban fantasies I’ve read in a long time. Needless to say, I was thrilled to get my hands on an early copy of Moonshifted, Nightshifted’s fast-paced and riveting sequel.

[Note: I have made every attempt to avoid spoilers for Nightshifted. Read my review of that book here.]

Moonshifted picks up shortly after the events of Nightshifted, in which nurse Edie Spence finds herself embroiled in a terrifying battle with supernatural creatures, barely escaping with her life. Edie is still a nurse on Y4, the secret ward for paranormal beings of all sorts, as part of a deal to save her brother from addiction. She’s still broke, she’s still lonely and she’s still self-destructive. The only thing that’s changed is that she’s started to form connections with her follow Y4 indentured health care workers, all of whom have a story about why they’re trapped in a dead end job caring for the paranormal.

Floor Y4 catered to the supernatural creatures that no one else knew about: werecreatures in their mortal phases, the daytime servants of the vampires, the sanctioned donors of the vampires, and shapeshifters that occasionally went insane. And sometimes zombies, whom nurses occasionally dated, with poor outcomes. At the thought of my now twice-dead love life, my urge to make small talk chilled.

While on her lunch break with one of those co-workers, Edie witnesses a man being struck by a hit and run driver. Except the man isn’t actually a human—he’s a werewolf. Edie and her coworker save the werewolf, but it lands her in the position of caring for the werewolf who’s in a coma on Y4. Meanwhile, in the midst of this, Edie’s also roped into further involvement with Anna, the teenager vampire she saved in the previous novel. 

It’s not long before the injured man’s werewolf pack descends on the ward and Edie finds herself entangled in an internal conflict within the pack, and with her interesting piqued by Lucas, who is in line to becoem pack leader, should Edie’s patient die.

Review: Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

You leaned back onto your elbows. As the sun set farther, the colors became vivid. A red washed over everything, brightening the darker sections in the painting. Shafts of light lit up the floor, illuminating the millions of pained dots and flower petals there. Red and orange and pinks intensified all around us, until it felt like we were sitting in the middle of a burning pit of fire … or in the middle of the sunset itself.

Review - Stolen: A Letter to My Captor on Clear Eyes, Full ShelvesI tried to settle in to sleep one evening but could not bring myself to float into dreamland, so I reached for my usual curative: a good book. The first pages of Stolen: A Letter to My Captor did nothing to bring me into restfulness. 

Lucy Christopher’s novel in the form of a letter is written by the captive Gemma to her abductor. In her letter she describes a painting created by her captor on fire with life, separating him somewhat from his foul actions. Flowing from the memories Gemma holds, her experience becomes more than a story of abduction. In most books of this type, an abductor comes clothed in shades of black with little room for anything other than evil intentions, while the abducted is swathed in innocence all white and airy.

However, Stolen offers layer upon layer of complexity.

Review: Live Through This by Mindi Scott

There’s something thrilling and even a bit nerve-wracking about reading the second novel by an author whose debut landed squarely on my True Book Love shelf.

It’s thrilling because of the anticipation of hoping that book magic will happen all over again. 

Mindi Scott’s 2010 debut, Freefall, is a book I love dearly (Laura’s review pretty much nails it) so I have been eagerly anticipating Live Through This. It received a starred review on Kirkus, and the pre-publication buzz has been extremely positive. When I saw it on the shelf at Barnes & Noble and noble—a whole week early—I squealed far too loudly and sprinted to the register, breathlessly explaining to the BN employee who rang me about about how much I’ve been looking forward to this book, and how it’s not actually out until October 2nd, and how I’ve got to know Mindi after I read Freefall and how it got a Kirkus star—and isn’t it all just so exciting! Needless to say, the poor guy thought I was a nutjob. 

{Review} Shadow Bound by Rachel Vincent


Note: I have made every attempt to write this review free from spoilage about the first book in the series. 

It was with both trepidation and excitement that I cracked open* Shadow Bound, the second book in Rachel Vincent’s Unbound urban fantasy series.

Excitement because I adored Blood Bound, the first book in the series.

Trepidation because, well, I adored Blood Bound, the first book in the series. 

You know how it goes: When a series starts out strong, it sets the bar high. This was doubly the case with Shadow Bound because the main characters in the second book differ from those in the first. I loved Liv and Cam in Blood Bound, their story was incredibly compelling, and Kori (one of Shadow Bound’s main characters) did not impress me in the first novel. She was and unlikeable. 

However, I enjoyed Shadow Bound even more than the first book in the compelling and creative Unbound series.

Taking place in world in which some humans are (un)lucky enough to possess highly-valued abilities and mob-like syndicates rule, Shadow Bound finds Kori Daniels, a shadow walker (basically, she can transport herself and people she’s touching via darkness), suffering the consequences of her role in the events of Blood Bound. Jake Tower, leader of one of the major synidcates, has deprived Kori of the darkness she craves and subjected her to terrible torture (it’s quite painful to read, even though nothing is described in detail—it’s just so harrowing).

Summoning the Night by Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett’s debut, Kindling the Moon, was one of my favorite urban fantasy releases of 2011. Her protagonist Arcadia Bell’s world of magic, good humor, family and community are what I’ve dubbed, “Urban fantasy with heart.”

Whenever I love the first entrant into a series as much as I did Kindling the Moon, reading the sequel is rather stress-inducing. What if it doesn’t live up to the first in the series? What if it’s a one-hit wonder?

I’m thrilled to say all my worries were needless—Summoning the Night exceeded all of my expectations and firmly cemented the Arcadia Bell series as one of my favorites.  

(Note: the rest of this review contains mild, but inevitable, spoilers for the previous book in this series, Kindling the Moon. Read my review of Kindling here.)

A DOg's Purpose by W. Bruce CameronBefore reviewing W.Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose A Novel for Humans, I went to my trusty Thesaurus in search of replacement words for sentimental:  

Dewy-eyed, corny, gushing, idealistic, inane, insipid, maudlin, moonstruck and mushy. 

Okay, I’m all of those and then some when it comes to my love of dogs, especially my own little basset hound, Nico.

I picked up Cameron’s book one afternoon, curled into my most comfortable reading position on the couch, snuggled my dog at my side and began reading. I finished hours later at 12:30 AM with tears flowing down my face, gulping back sobs and my own dog looking at me with grave concern in his brown eyes.

I wonder how long until I’m allowed to be happy again.

That is the essence of Jennifer Wolf Shaw’s unique debut novel, Breaking Beautiful: Is there a point at which we can no longer heal?

Allie is the only survivor of a car accident that killed her boyfriend, town football star and golden boy, Trip. She has no memory of the accident, but is left with scar on her head and memories of the side of her relationship with Trip that no one else saw—or chose to ignore, in some cases. See, while Trip wore #33, he was no Tim Riggins. Allie suffered from Trip’s physical and mental abuse to the point where she has lost herself.

With Trip around, I was isolated from the rest of the school, but I was isolated with him for company. Now I’m just alone. 

Following Trip’s death, Allie slowly rekindles a friendship with her childhood friend, Blake. As their friendship slowly moves toward being something more, the mystery surrounding Trip’s death grows as well. While the town memorializes Trip and vilifies Allie for trying to move on with her life, local police begin to investigate, and Allie begins to question what really happened the night her boyfriend died.

Breaking Beautiful fills a niche that’s largely missing in YA—it’s a dark, mature, contemporary mystery.

Some books etch themselves into my mind, become part of me, my experience, my emotions.

The ones that do that best are those that sneak up on me, ingraining themselves without my even realizing it. Antonia Michaelis’ The Storyteller is one of those—it didn’t seize me, it gently corralled me before I knew I was lost to its power.

Embroiled in the fairy-tale woven into reality with magical words giving beauty to a dark and haunting edged world, Michaelis’ writing lulled me like a melody until the harsh reality clambered to wake me to the sorrow, the pain behind the beauty of The Storyteller’s reality.

I love this book, which combines Shakespearean tragedy laced with the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  

Tomorrow Land by Mari Mancusi hit my sweet spot for book brain candy.

And, yes, that’s a compliment—good book brain candy is hard to come by. However, I want to say from the outset that Tomorrow Land is campy. It’s cheesy. It’s over-the-top. But, I love action movies and comic book-inspired movies, so I’m always up for a bit of ridiculousness in my entertainment. If you don’t enjoy those things too, Tomorrow Land is not at all for you. 

Previously published in paperback as Razor Girl by now-defunct Dorchester (Goodreads, Amazon), Tomorrow Land is available only as an ebook (I believe it’s self-published, but it’s obviously professionally edited and formatted) at the moment. It is my understanding that Tomorrow Land was retooled as a YA novel while Razor Girl was an adult novel (I am curious as to the differences—Google hasn’t helped in determining this). 

The premise is a bit… wild.

{Review} Raised By Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

You can decide who you want to be, who you want to be tied to. Who you can trust.

I never thought I’d be such a fan of werewolf and shapeshifter novels—but they’ve recently become some of my favorites. 

Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series (Amazon, Goodreads) is one to which I am hopelessly addicted, I enjoyed Maggie Stiefvater’s Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy (Amazon, Goodreads) and consumed Rachel Vincent’s Shifters series (Amazon, Goodreads). There’s something captivating about stories of people who are not entirely people, that are connected to the animal world in a different way. And, when these novels are done well, the dynamics of “the pack” are absolutely compelling—typical family drama amplified. 

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ Raised by Wolves is the first in her young adult werewolf series focusing on a human girl adopted by the Alpha of a werewolf pack after a rogue wolf killed her parents. At 15, Bronwyn Alessia St. Vincent Clare has only experienced the rigid life of the pack.

Bryn has emblazoned in her mind a bloodbath of loss that not even the Alpha can erase: She hid while a rabid werewolf bit and killed her parents before searching desperately for his true query. Bryn herself. Later, Callum finds her hiding like a mouse curled under the sink. He adopts, saves and schools her in the ways of wolves.

Rule one. No rational werewolf would bite a human. The ramifications are horrific.

So… domestic violence

We are all peripherally aware of its unfortunate existence.     

Especially when we read truly horrifying news reports like this.

Then we smile and celebrate the triumphs of stories like this.

But when it comes to repeated, cyclical abuse, we tend to,

  1. Educate ourselves for two hours via the latest Lifetime Original Movie; or 
  2. Be cynical and blame the victim with thoughts such as, “Sure, the abuser is wrong for abusing and all, but the victim should have just left after the first time it happened, right? At least after the second time, for goodness sakes! Just follow the directions here!”

The realities of this ongoing societal plague are oh-so-much-more complex than either of the above sheltered attitudes, which author Swati Avasthi demonstrates in her absorbing debut novel, Split.

{Review} Truth by Julia Karr

On the day before I started reading Truth, the sequel to the excellent 2011 release XVI, I tweeted the following:

I kind of feel like I just need to quit dystopians cold turkey. At this point, they’re just aggravating me. Hopefully ninjas or something will be the next big thing, because I need something new.

Actually, yes, ninjas would be excellent.

Then I picked up the sequel to my favorite 2011 dystopian release* and remembered that the subgenre isn’t quite on life-support yet. 

Truth picks up shortly after XVI left off—if you have not read XVI or need a refresher, here’s a quick rundown of the premise and what I appreciated about it (my Goodreads review is here): 

  • Nina Oberon lives in a future version of the United States ruled by a misogynist Governing Council with the aid of a corrupt version of the media;
  • One of the main keys to the government’s control over the population is their control over the sexual availability of girls once they are 16—each girl gets a tattoo of “XVI” on their wrist and is therefore deemed available to any man who wants them, it is a culture that encourages rape and sexual control, and it is extremely disturbing;
  • The role the media plays in pushing teen and tween girls to act and behave in a way that encourages this culture is even more disturbing because it is not all that different from modern Western society;
  • Nina’s family has a history of involvement in the resistance movement and she becomes increasingly involved in it herself as she approaches her sixteenth birthday. (This is one of the things I most appreciated about XVI—there was context for her fighting the powers that be. In so many YA dystopians, the lead is just  a special snowflake and we’re just supposed to accept that’s why she’s fighing the bad guys.); 
  • Karr’s writing is tight and makes the Nina’s hyper-commercial, disturbing world come to life; and
  • I read XVI as a standalone, not knowing it was a planned trilogy and it actually worked as a single book!

If you have not read XVI, and don’t want to be spoiled for that book, I strongly recommend you do not continue reading my review of Truth! Do not pass Go!, instead, read XVI, and come back and read my review of Truth.

Chopsticks is probably best described as a graphic novel… sort of… about forbidden teenage love and mental illness.

But that’s not a particularly descriptive description.

Part scrapbook, part narrative, Chopsticks in an innovative approach to storytelling. This contemporary YA tells the story of Glory and Frank, next door neighbors that fall in love and are rapidly split apart by both distance and Glory’s father. Glory is a piano prodigy slowly descending into a dark world, where she’s only able to play Chopsticks on the piano and obsesses over Frank’s drawings. Frank is a gifted artist who’s failing out of his prestigious prep school. Chopsticks takes the reader through the couple’s tale in photo, snippets of IMs, YouTube video links, drawings and mementos from their relationship. 

Beyond the IMs and occasional scraps of paper with notes and lists, there are no words in Chopsticks. 

Editor’s Note: This is a special guest review from my mom. Sandra is a retired high school English teacher with a lot of opinions and a newfound love of YA literature and urban fantasy—she’s a longtime fan of horror, campy mysteries and police procedurals. As a kid, her goal was to grow up to be Nancy Drew, so much so that she carried around a notebook to report on her neighbors’ potenital criminal activities. We’re hoping that she’ll start every review like this one—with an f-bomb.

Evisceration is so fucking cool!

Kit and Fancy, the Cordelle sisters, take you through a portal into another world that’s bizarre and fascinating.

It’s a world where evisceration’s cool, where a crowd of gorgeous people born to carry their heads in their hands have star status, where imps pass from one person to another through kisses and buried bodies grow into trees sprouting the fruit of their inhumanity.

Portero, Kit and Fancy’s hometown, is a place unlike, yet like, those we know.

FNL Character Rating: Luke Cafferty/Landry Clarke*!!!!

(* I tend to be biased against Landry because he looks a lot like one of my ex-boyfriends, BUT his nerd-to-football player persona works for this rating. And I didn’t even necessarily like the main character of the book, so that works too. And I ADORE Luke, and his cute, sensitive persona works for this rating too.)

On to the Actual Review…

So, I’m at this point in my life where puberty is far enough in my past that I find teenagers bewildering. I find myself too old to relate to them anymore. When I see them hanging out at the bus stop in front of where I work, I think to myself old people thoughts like, “Why are those kids yelling while having a conversation when they’re standing right next to each other?!” Or, “Why are they texting each other when they’re standing right next to each other?!” Or, “What’s with those pants? Are they pants? Their parents paid for those pant-things AND let them wear them in PUBLIC?!” 

{Review} Kindling the Moon by Jenn Bennett

Whoo, boy, this one was fun!

I enjoyed the hell out of Jenn Bennett’s debut urban fantasy novel. I’ve tried so many new UF series the last few months as I tried to fill the void until the next Mercy Thompson installment comes out in 2013 (arg!) and so many have been “meh” to me—but this (along with Rachel Vincent’s new Blood Bound series and Rachel Caine’s new Working Stiff series) is an exception. I would almost give Kindling the Moon five stars, but the resolution came very quickly, and it felt jarring to me as a result.