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An editor and avid reader gives her frank thoughts about everything she reads. More reviews and book blather on fefferbooks.com!

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If I Should Die
Amy Plum
Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1)
Marissa Meyer

A Death-Struck Year

A Death-Struck Year - Makiia Lucier

Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

A Death-Struck Year is Makiia Lucier's debut novel and I hate to say it, but it shows. I didn't dislike this book--far from it. I thought the plot was interesting, the characters were mostly well-done, and the setting was great. I just wanted a little...more.

Firstly: the characters. Cleo, the heroine, is lovely. She's brave, thoughtful, and compassionate, and stronger than she's aware. Hannah and Kate are particular high points, and I also enjoyed Jack and Lucy. Edmund, the romantic lead, had some nice moments, but this is one place where I felt like there was something lacking--I wanted more opportunity to get to know Edmund. I felt like our chance to get to know him was rushed, and I never really knew that much about him.

Which brings me to my second point: there's some insta-love happening here. Cleo and Edmund seem to fall for each other really quickly, without really any explanation why, and having only bumped into one another about twice. Once the relationship starts, it does have some nice developing scenes, but then it kind of gets abandoned when Lucier decides to finish the book. The whole romantic subplot just needed a little more fleshing out.

The ending of the book, on the whole, was really kind of abrupt. Lucier spends a great deal of time on atmosphere; the book takes place in Portland, Oregon in 1918, and there's a war on, in addition to the Spanish flu epidemic. The story centers around Cleo's decision to volunteer with the Red Cross, helping people who fall ill in a city that's caught off-guard by sweeping illness. Lucier paints an elaborate, colorful picture of the city in that time, and the people who fill it, and it's the book's strength. It's hard not to be swept up, a bit, in the story, despite the niggling plot holes and distractions. When things suddenly, anticlimactically wrap up, then, it's all sort of odd and empty-feeling, and certainly devoid of all the depth and color Lucier spent so much time on in the previous 250 pages. It's kind of a let down.

Finally, and this is extremely nit-picky, but: I've gotten to be accepting of the choppy, incomplete-sentence writing style so many writers tend to use nowadays as long as the story's being told from first person point-of-view, and it's a contemporary novel. It's conversational, so I get it. In fact, I get it so well, that it's started creeping into my own blog writing here and there. However, when the book is written from the point-of-view of an educated older teen in the very early 20th century, it just doesn't work. For as well-researched as everything else in this novel was, Cleo's incomplete speech patterns were completely anachronistic. That said, these instances were only occasional.

Overall, I did enjoy the story, here. A Death-Struck Year was an entertaining read, despite my gripes, and I think Makiia Lucier is a writer with promise. Historical fiction can be difficult to write, particularly for the YA market, and I think she captured the voice nicely. I'll be interested to see what Lucier comes up with next.

Completely clean in every way. Interesting historical premise. 3 stars.

A Death-Struck Year was released Tuesday and is on shelves now. Thanks to HMH Books and Edelweiss for the advanced review copy.

Don't Even Think About It

Don't Even Think About It - Sarah Mlynowski

It's entertaining enough. I the character development suffers a good deal because of the narrative style. I came away feeling I really didn't know much about Amy of them, except maybe Olivia. It was kind of a fun concept, but I wanted more from it.

Dangerous

Dangerous - Shannon Hale

Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com

Hey, you know what you’ve never seen from Shannon Hale before? Sci-fi.

I have to fess up: this is the first Hale I’ve ever read. She’s been recommended to me by no fewer than four different friends whose reading taste I trust, and I still hadn’t gotten around to picking up one of her books. Don’t ask me why; Hale is well-known for her Princess Academy and Books of Bayern (The Goose Girl) series. Oh, and then there’s Austenland, a movie version of which was just released on DVD/streaming and I totally have on my queue. She’s clearly an author who knows her audience and how to write.

It was Dangerous that piqued my interest, though. The synopsis reads:

Maisie Danger Brown just wanted to get away from home for a bit, see something new. She never intended to fall in love. And she never imagined stumbling into a frightening plot that kills her friends and just might kill her, too. A plot that is already changing life on Earth as we know it. There’s no going back. She is the only thing standing between danger and annihilation.

From NY Times bestselling author Shannon Hale comes a novel that asks, How far would you go to save the ones you love? And how far would you go to save everyone else?

What’s not to like? There’s so much awesome missing from this little blurb, though: a heroine who’s “nerdy,” into science, half-latina, and missing half of her right arm, for starters. A trip to science camp, and some pretty mind-blowing stuff that happens when that trip goes sideways. Oh, and the alien superpowers. (Really! Just trust me.)

Hale’s writing style is entirely enveloping. I was entirely charmed by Dangerous after just a few pages–Hale’s voice is so fresh and bright that it’s impossible not to be drawn in to Maisie’s world. The way Hale writes teenagers and their relationships with friends and family feels so much more authentic to my own experience than a lot of the angst-ridden stuff I sometimes read (I liked my parents, most of the time. Is that so weird?), and I particularly loved the scenes between Maisie and Luther.

The characters, themselves, are all fascinatingly different–there are a few of them I would really have liked to get to know better. I felt like Luther and Maisie’s mom both were fabulous, and I didn’t get quite enough time, there and Dragon fits in that category, too, for different reasons. Wilder was a complicated, emotional high point. Maisie’s dad is just plain lovable. Maisie herself is an optimistic, but no-nonsense kind of girl, and she tells us (cheerily) right up front who she is and what she’s all about. She’s clearly comfortable with who she is, though, and is able to laugh at herself. She’s a fantastic role model.

As for the plot, it’s crazy. C-R-A-Z-Y. There were a couple of times when I had to read in another room so no one would interrupt me. My heart was pounding and I could pretty much feel my eyes bugging out several times–particularly near the end of the book. There is one climactic scene that draws out the dramatic tension for so long and in a way that is so realistic to the situation that there is no way not to just freak the heck out with Maisie. It’s insane, and it’s awesome!

I really don’t know how else to describe the book without giving too much away, and Hale put too much thought and effort into unrolling the story in just the right way for me to ruin it for you. Let me just say that there were a couple of places in the book when I felt like things had shifted, and I wasn’t really sure what was going on. Roll with it. It’ll allll come together in the end, I promise!

4.5 stars. Completely clean, and crazy fun.

Dangerous releases today! Go pick up your copy. Thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for the opportunity to read the galley.

Beauty: A Novel

Beauty: A Novel - Frederick G. Dillen Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

I was, initially, really interested in reading Beauty: A Novel. It’s a tale about a female executive who goes to shut down a dying fish processing plant, only to discover she wants to buy it. She falls in love with the town and the people. It sounded like exactly my kind of book! Instead, this one kind of felt like a chore.

Frederick Dillen’s writing is mostly ponderous, to the point of being tedious. I don’t mind a slow book–I rather enjoy taking my time savoring a well-written literary novel. This is just circular and distracting. Dillen spends a great deal of time telling us what he’s going to tell us next, describing what people are doing and thinking using obscure terms and references, and basically taking ages to get on with the story. It’s just plain frustrating.

Dillen’s setting and characters are the redeeming points of the novel. The tiny seaside town is comforting in its claustrophobia, charming in its smelly fishiness. The characters–the secondaries, in particular–are round, colorful, and infused with emotion. These are earthy people–you may know a few of them. Easy, the love interest, is quiet, sweet, and still. He’s deeply human, though we don’t get nearly enough of him. Even Baxter, the “villain,” if you will, is infused with charm.

The one exception is Dillen’s heroine, Carol. Alternately nicknamed “Beast” by her boss for her business prowess (a name that hurts her feelings on a personal level), and, awkwardly, “Beauty” by the man who falls in (insta-) love with her, Carol is difficult to relate to. Dillen spends a great deal of time explaining Carol’s thoughts and feelings, but he uses such a jarring style for his flashbacks, such odd leaps in intuition, and so many completely unrelatable descriptions (“he sat back down as if his desk were a jacked Fairlane….” A Ford Fairlane? What? How does that make him sit, exactly, Carol? I don’t…?) that it’s almost impossible to feel we know anything about Carol through anything but her actions. For me, that just doesn’t work–if I can’t relate to or understand the one person in the novel with whom I’m supposed to sympathize the most, I just can’t enjoy the book.

The portions spent outside the characters’ heads are the best parts of the book, and the impetus that kept me reading. I did want to know what would happen with the fish business, and between Carol and Easy. When those parts were rolling, I felt like we were finally getting somewhere. It was hard, then, not to be irritated by the distraction of another belabored inner monologue. Ultimately, I found the business story rewarding, but the romance a little trite and underdeveloped.

As always, these are just my opinions–you might love this book completely! Dillen is an award-winning author. But, for me, it means that awards and recognition don’t always mean a great read.

Two stars. A bit of very mild language a couple of times.

Beauty: A Novel will be released on March 4th. Thanks to Simon & Schuster & Edelweiss for the opportunity to read it for review.

Wintergirls

Wintergirls - Laurie Halse Anderson Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

“I swear to be the skinniest girl in school.”


There is no way to discuss Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls without using words like haunting. Disturbing. Painful. There is no beating around the bush: this novel made me uncomfortable.

Lia, Halse’s protagonist, is suffering from an eating disorder, which begins to spiral completely out of control (again) after her best friend dies. Her journey is cruel. The messages she repeats to herself are harsh and unforgiving. She deals with her emotional pain in ways that most of us would find completely appalling. And yet….

There are, distressingly, portions of this novel–lines, paragraphs, emotions–with which I could connect. There is no part of me which has ever even considered going to the extremes Lia does. And yet….

I walked away from this novel feeling a little disturbed by my own relationship with my body, with food, and with my need to control things. I had to think about it for a long, long time before I could put my finger on just why it was so disturbing. The conclusions I came to had to do with teenaged years spent dieting (oh, to have that body back!) and being raised in a society in which uses food as both a reward and a punishment. I’ll be honest: now that I’ve come to these realizations, I’m still a little upset by some of them. I have a little work to do.

There were parts of this novel that made me wince, wanting to look away from the absolute horrors Lia inflicts upon herself. But are those horrors really so different from the kinds of messages we inflict upon ourselves every day?

“I’m fat.”
“I don’t deserve this cookie.”
“If I can just fit into those jeans, then I’ll be happy.”

At Lia’s lowest, most absolutely devastating point, the words in her head are, “I win. I won.” And she’s lost everything.

At some point, friends, we have to learn to love ourselves for the people we are inside. We have to stop trying to win, and just be grateful for the amazing machines we have been given. There is no trophy for the skinniest or most beautiful or most svelte woman. There is no finish line. There is only us.

Wintergirls is, maybe, the most horribly uncomfortable book I’ve read in the last year. But, for these and so many more messages, that’s what makes it so worth reading.

4.5 stars. Tiny deduction for a fair amount of PG-13 language. A couple of distressing scenes, but I wouldn’t keep them from my older teens–I think they’re highly worth reading, both for educational and sympathetic reasons.

Bright Before Sunrise

Bright Before Sunrise - Tiffany Schmidt

Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com

I figured it out: I'm pretty sure I dated Jonah Prentiss.

Finishing Bright Before Sunrise was a slightly uncomfortable experience for me, and I couldn't quite figure out why. I blew through the book in just a little over 24 hours, and I liked the story quite a lot. I was completely swept up in Tiffany Schmidt's ability to write real characters--they're flawed, vulnerable, with authentic teenage problems and concerns. I know these kids. I've been to their parties and met their friends, and had those same arguments and awkward moments. I've had those late-night talks when it seems you really know each other, and anything is possible. This is fabulous realistic fiction.

The genius, though, of realistic fiction--any good writing, really--is that it forces us to relate, somehow. If we identify with the characters, the situations, the emotions, we might just find ourselves dredging up some very real memories, and that can trigger unresolved issues.

I found myself entirely charmed by Brighton. Her desire to please and make everyone happy, despite and the stresses it placed on her made her such a lost and fragile character. I felt a same kind of maternal compassion for Jonah, in the beginning: his parents alternatively ignore and emotionally abuse him. He's lonely, angry, defensive. He's a different kind of lost soul, and he needs tender care. Watching his world and Brighton's collide is spectacular--and it is excellently written. I was pleased with the ending, and there were all kinds of lovely moments. I walked away from it, though, feeling shell-shocked, and I couldn't figure out why.

I've spent the last week agonizing over how to rate this book and how to start writing this review, and as I sat down to finally write today, it FINALLY hit me between the eyes: Jonah is ______--that guy I dated one summer. He is SO Jonah! It didn't end well, and there really wasn't any closure, and that's why I've been feeling so unsettled, ever since I hit a certain point in the book. This, I've concluded, is a testament to Schmidt's ability to write so fabulously. Those scenes are REAL. Those characters? REAL. They're so real that they're dredging up little moments that are 15 years in my past! And really, they were lovely moments. It just took me a while to figure out why a novel as lovely and fun as this one was making me feel so weird and unsettled. Now that I've figured it out, I'm much happier. :)

Verdict? As long as you don't have a weird, unresolved issue in your past that directly parallels this book, that you just can't identify (chances of that? Slim!), I think you will adore Bright Before Sunrise. It's a charming, authentic, emotional love story, written from two distinct perspectives, both of whom are sympathetic and kind of fantastic. I think this one will stick with me for a long time.

4 stars. Some sexuality (Jonah is very much an older teenage boy). TV-safe language.

Bright Before Sunrise hits shelves today! Thanks to Walker Childrens/Bloomsbury and Netgalley for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for review.

Me Since You

Me Since You - Laura Wiess

Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

I’m struggling to find the words to begin this post. I’m not quite sure how to talk about Me Since You without giving away too much, and yet, it’s such a powerful book, it deserves quite a lot of discussion. Maybe I’ll start with the publisher’s synopsis:

Before and After. That’s how Rowan Areno sees her life now. Before: she was a normal sixteen-year-old—a little too sheltered by her police officer father and her mother. After: everything she once believed has been destroyed in the wake of a shattering tragedy, and every day is there to be survived.

If she had known, on that Friday in March when she cut school, that a random stranger’s shocking crime would have traumatic consequences, she never would have left campus. If the crime video never went viral, maybe she could have saved her mother, grandmother—and herself—from the endless replay of heartache and grief.

Finding a soul mate in Eli, a witness to the crime who is haunted by losses of his own, Rowan begins to see there is no simple, straightforward path to healing wounded hearts. Can she learn to trust, hope, and believe in happiness again?


If it sounds kind of heavy, that’s because it is. But there’s also something vulnerable about Me Since You, something delicate and contemplative. The entire book is full of cavernous (and sometimes devastating) emotions. There are extreme outbursts. There is extraordinary trauma. The beauty of it, perhaps, is the way in which Rowan and Eli manage to soldier through it all, and even find moments of normalcy and joy.

Weiss’ writing is, obviously, deeply emotive. She has a gift for realism, both in dialogue and in her ability to express thoughts and feelings. Weiss’ characters are flayed wide open for her readers, and we are the better for it. I came away from this novel feeling like I had a far greater understanding of depression, and the extreme helplessness it oppresses upon its sufferers. It’s something I honestly had little patience for before. In that, I related completely to Rowan when she says,

“And there it is, that flash of impatience mixed with helplessness creating the dilemma that twists me up inside: Stay or go? If I stay I embarrass him, will be late for work, feel like I’m coddling and encouraging him, but if I go I’m disregarding his pain, ignoring it, saying, Look, I know you’re sad but life goes on, and it makes me feel cold and uncaring and guilty.”

That little paragraph hit me right between the eyes. Rowan stays a moment, in case you’re wondering, and I realized I’m far too dismissive. Weiss is teaching something important in this novel, if only to me.

There are a couple of times where are some tiny little skips in psychological development–I wasn’t sure why someone felt or acted the way they did, suddenly. Also, the second chapter (only) changes point of view and is narrated in third person omniscient perspective. I can assume why it was done, but it’s a jarring shift. The relationships between Rowan and Eli and …well, frankly, everyone with each other, are wonderfully written, and made it worth reading, for me.

There is a fair amount of swearing in this book. The bulk of it–the worst–falls during scenes of extreme emotional crisis, so I was far more willing to overlook it than the usual gratuitous stuff. But if it were a movie, it’d be rated R, so be warned.

3.5 stars, leaning heavily toward 4.

Many thanks to MTV Books/Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for review. Me Since You hits shelves February 18th. You can pre-order it now!

Incarnate (Newsoul, #1)

Incarnate - Jodi Meadows

Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

One of the things I love the very most about being a book blogger is how much it stretches me. Before I started blogging, I was pretty predictable in my reading choices–(classics, historical fiction). Now, I try a lot harder to be aware of what’s out there and to maintain greater variety in what I read, so I can share it all with you! There are just so many books out there in the world, and so many of them open up whole new genres and ideas and writing styles, and some of the authors out there are wonderfully subtle about sneaky about it.

Example: I never ever used to like fantasy novels. You know those moms who know how to make brownies with applesauce and make them actually taste awesome? Every time I end up liking a fantasy novel, I feel a little like that’s what just happened. If I’d read a synopsis that gave a rundown of, say, the fantastical and mythological creatures that’d be appearing in said novel, I’d give a cynical quirk of my eyebrow and put the thing down. TRUST ME and do not do that with Incarnate. Jodi Meadows is making good brownies right here.

Incarnate, at its heart, is a story about Ana, a teenaged girl trying to figure out how she fits into the world. She hasn’t had much help, up to this point. She’s distrustful, defensive, and determined. She’s downright likeable. Ana’s vulnerable, at heart, and when she meets Sam, all bets are off. (And just trust me when I say: BEST kissing scene ever. Ahem.)

Meadows is a downright fun writer. Her plot is just plain imaginative, her setting fantastical, but her characters are real, which is what makes the novel so enjoyable, in my view. Their emotions are raw and authentic. I also absolutely revel in her precise word choices, but I’m an English geek like that.

Verdict? Incarnate is a fun, clean, romantic adventure. I was hooked from about page three, and I’m onto the second book in the series, Asunder, right away. 4 stars.

Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky, #3)

Into the Still Blue - Veronica Rossi

Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

Some of you might have seen my Instagram about this book, in which I admitted to refreshing the Kindle Store about seventyzillion times after midnight, until I could download Into the Still Blue.

True story. I have enjoyed this series so much, and I could not wait to get my hot little hands on the final book. I was a little nervous, though: would it live up to all the hype I’d built up in my head?

Oh, man. Guys, there were goosebumps. There were moments when people had to wait a minute to talk to me, because they weren’t allowed to interrupt the crazy scene happening in the book. Friends, there might even (definitely. were.) have been tears! But only the good kind, I promise.

Still Blue is explosive, emotionally. If Under the Never Sky was action-packed, and Through the Ever Night was a little slower and more psychologically well-developed, Still Blue pulls a classic Joey Tribbiani and puts those hands together. The result is, in short, spectactular. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but let’s just say Rossi is fantastic at leaving us hanging just…long…enough. Omgosh.

Rossi’s writing is full of lush descriptions and fantastic new settings, and I so enjoyed the character development that was happening amidst all the action. I particularly warmed to Loran. His character was (no spoilers) exactly as it should be, despite his questionable motives, and he seemed just right, to me, even before we knew what he would become. The scene when he lets Aria kick him in the face is particularly heartwarming. That sounds nuts until you read it. :) Rossi’s ability to create complex characters whom we love, often because of their weaknesses and not just in spite of them, is just some of what makes her a great writer. These books have hit #6 on the NY Times Bestselling Series List–no surprise to anyone who’s read them. They’re just that engaging.

4.5 stars, only because I was a little confused about the big scene with Cinder; I felt like I was left hanging a bit. But I pretty much loved every minute of this one. Super clean.

Eat to Lose, Eat to Win: Your Grab-n-Go Action Plan for a Slimmer, Healthier You

Eat to Lose, Eat to Win: Your Grab-n-Go Action Plan for a Slimmer, Healthier You - Rachel Beller Thanks to Julie for liking someone's review of this book so I'd see it on my Goodreads feed and discover it. This book is EXACTLY what I've been looking for to bring a little direction to what I'm eating.

Rachel Beller's a registered dietician, but doesn't want to bore and overwhelm you with all that science stuff (although, it's in there--at the end of the book--if you want to read it). She doesn't want you to count calories or throw out whole food groups or do anything insanely crazy. She just wants to give you a couple of simple ideas that can basically take the meals and healthy foods you're already eating, and help you use them to lose weight. And, seriously, her ideas were enough for me to go "OH. I get it now."

I love that Beller gives you her ideas right up front, in simple, plain language, and then gives you tons of ideas for implementing them: recipes, which products on your store shelves are better for you than others, etc. She's done all the research--you can just pick which things sound good to you. No strict menus, nothing crazy. Just a way to eat that you could actually implement for the rest of your life.

Basically, it's the book I've been looking for my whole adult life.

4 stars only because sometimes she's slightly over the top with the goofy tone. But the book is solid in its info. And it was a whopping $1.99 via Kindle yesterday. :)

Pioneer Girl: A Novel

Pioneer Girl - Bich Minh Nguyen Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com

The three things I love to read most? YA lit, historical fiction, and Asian-American lit. So when a book like Pioneer Girl comes along that combines an obsession with [b:Little House on the Prairie|77767|Little House on the Prairie (Little House, #2)|Laura Ingalls Wilder|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1388255314s/77767.jpg|2884161] and a narrator whose parents emigrated from Vietnam, I’m all in.

The basic premise is this: Lee Lien’s grandfather owned a small cafe in Vietnam in the 1960s. A lovely American reporter named Rose came to visit, asked lots of questions, and ended up leaving behind a little pin engraved with a picture of a house–whether by accident or on purpose, no one is certain. Lee’s mother, twelve at the time, kept the pin as a treasured keepsake of the kind American woman, but thinks nothing more of her.

Then, Lee, as a young girl, reads the Little House on the Prairie series, and discovers that a pin matching that same description was given to Laura Ingalls by her fiancee, Almanzo. And–wait! Their daughter’s name was Rose! In her youthful exuberance, she believes it must mean something, but she’s not certain what.

The book follows post-PhD Lee; having not yet retained a professorship, and feeling a bit aimless, she goes home to her mother and grandfather (and sometimes her brother, Sam,) for the summer. Her father died in an accident long ago, and her relationship with her mother has been strained for as long as she can remember.

At heart, Lee’s tale is one of a pioneering heart–Lee knows she’s meant for greater things than helping to run the family restaurant, and that there is something waiting for her out there, in the wide, open spaces of America. In her stir-craziness at home, she starts pulling at threads of the original story about Rose, trying to find the truth of one childhood myth, and ends up unravelling not only that, but the truths about the foundations of most of her life and childhood. As she travels and searches and researches, she ends up discovering that pioneering spirit that resides in most all of us, in one way or another. The most lovely moments are those in which Lee begins to realize that her own need and desire to be free (which she finds joy in comparing to Rose Wilder-Lane’s) really are just the same as her mother’s.

“In a way, Rose had been part of the dream, the memory, that had pushed my mother and grandfather out of Vietnam, back when the city of Saigon was crumbling around them. …A promise taken up, held on to for decades, even while Sam and I were reckless with our own history, searching for things we couldn’t yet name. If this Rose was the same Rose of the Little House books, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, then she had defined a part of American desire that my mother understood just as well.”

In the end, Lee finds not only her own way, but a way to reconcile things at home.

Pioneer Girl is insightful and extremely well-written. If the plot synopsis makes it seem heavy, have no fear–Nguyen keeps it light and enjoyable, with the addition of some pleasant side characters along the way. Lee, herself, is extraordinarily complex, but it’s the thoughtfulness of the prose that makes this novel worth reading.

Warning: three f-bombs, and a couple of non-graphic sexual encounters. 3.5 stars, which would be higher if it weren’t for the language.

Pioneer Girl hits shelves today! Thanks to NetGalley and Viking Press/Penguin for the opportunity to read it!

Not a Drop to Drink

Not a Drop to Drink - Mindy McGinnis Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com

Not a Drop to Drink has been on my to-read list for several months, and I was so excited to finally have a chance to read this. It gets all kinds of rave reviews, and so I'd been dying to get to it. Turns out, I thought it was... well, bleak. Heart-wrending.

It's not gruesome, or dark. It's not un-uplifting. But it is a novel that doesn't pull many punches. Not a Drop to Drink paints a picture of a country without much water left, and what happens when people have to fight (including, at times, one another) to survive. Their existences are solitary and suspicious, the land stark and bare, the animal populations sparse and dangerous, and nearly everything and everyone is a danger.

The book follows Lynn, a teenaged girl who lives alone with her mother. They have a home, enough food to feed themselves, as long as they're able to get it preserved in time, and a pond. The pond is what makes them vulnerable, and they spend the majority of each day watching it, guns at the ready. They have a neighbor, Stebbs, who lives a fair piece off, but they never speak to him. They're isolated, by choice. And then everything implodes.

The world McGinnis creates is extraordinarily unforgiving, and yet her characters have a sort of tenderness, when they're able to relax enough to let it show. When they're able to form bonds to one another, they care deeply, and share a strong loyalty. Their lives are often tragic, but filled with intense emotion. Less a story about physical survival, Not a Drop is really more a story about learning how to survive, emotionally, under such extraordinary physical circumstances.

Moreover, McGinnis is a good, strong writer with a clear voice, something that's lacking, sometimes, in a debut novel. There are all kinds of lovely passages, e.g.:
"Her affection and gratitude were too subtle and burned away under the harsh light of day. But in the familiar darkness of the basement she let her unspoken feelings pour out of her like water and hoped that somehow the flow would reach him while he slept, and he would know without her having to say. "

The book was hard to put down, but difficult to read, if that makes sense. Because I cared so much about her characters, it was tough to bear what she was putting them through. And in the end, I liked it so much I felt like it deserved at least four stars.

In any event, I think it's a book you have to make up your mind about, yourself. I ended up downgrading it a bit for language. There is a lot of it, so consider yourselves warned. I would not recommend it for younger teens. 3.5 stars.

A Star for Mrs. Blake: A Novel

A Star for Mrs. Blake: A Novel - April Smith Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

As I got drawn into this story, I started thinking of it as an American, WWI-era Enchanted April. It's an ensemble sort of narrative with a large, somewhat eccentric cast of characters, and the tone is extremely observational. It can take a little getting used to, but after I adjusted, I really enjoyed it. I was mightily disappointed to have to put it down, about 75% finished, because of a swearing issue that cropped up. I'll even admit to skipping to the end to find out what happened to my favorite people. (!!)

Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date

Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date - Katie Heaney Review originally appeared on fefferbooks.com.

“I’ve been single for my entire life. Not one boyfriend. Not one short-term dating situation. Not one person with whom I regularly hung out and kissed on the face.”

It’s a quote from Katie Heaney’s book, Never Have I Ever, but I could have written that. Up until a certain, shockingly late point in my life, that was me. I never, never EVER had a boyfriend. In high school, in fact, I never had a date. There was nothing wrong with me; guys loved me. They wanted to tell me all about their girlfriends and hang out with me and take me all kinds of places to hang out, and even tell me how awesome and sometimes how cute I was. They just didn’t want to date me. I watched them take other girls to dances and to fancy dinners, watched them hold hands and kiss in the halls and go on picnics, and always wondered, “Why not me?”

I never did figure it out, really. I think it mostly came down to the fact that I was terrible at flirting, and by the time I got to be OK at it, I only tried it out on guys who weren’t worth my time. You can imagine how THAT went! (Or maybe you can’t. Good for you! Don’t try.) Thank goodness my husband finally came along and rescued me, the summer I turned 24.

In any case, when I read that sentence up there, and early reviews about how hilarious Heaney’s memoirs are, I was in. What could be more fun than laughing along with a life so similar to my own?

I can’t figure out why, for sure, but I just didn’t end up finding Heaney’s book all that uproariously funny. It could have been mild disappointment that I didn’t really find that much similarity to my own experience, but I don’t think so. Really, I think it’s that I found Heaney ever-so-slightly off-putting. Her sense of humor is quirky, and sometimes chuckle-worthy, but at other times, her experiences left me feeling empty, as if she had set up her suitors (of whom there are several, who are truly interested, and usually very sweet and kind and even attractive) for some kind of jarring practical joke: she chases them until they like her back, and then finds herself feeling distant, even cold, and put off by the idea of being with each of them. For a book that sets itself up to be a memoir of a girl who’s “looking for love, but never quite finding it,” I felt a little betrayed. I came away feeling as if Heaney isn’t looking for love at all–just a little confused about her end game, and wishing she were.

Unsatisfying, for me, but you might disagree. Major language alert, here. 2 stars.

ARC provided by NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

The Distance Between Us

The Distance Between Us - Kasie West Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

I finally read The Distance Between Us by lovely Kasie West this month. I kind of feel like this pretty much sums up my feelings about it:

Fefferbooks Distance Between Us Tweet

HAHAHA.

OK, but seriously: this book will take you right back to being a teenager again. But better. Lovelier. More dreamy and fantastic. I think we need some setup:

Caymen (yes, really) and her mother live above a struggling porcelain doll shop, which her mother owns. They’ve always scrimped, a bit, for money, and for one reason or another, Caymen’s mom has raised her to be suspicious of people with money. Enter: Xander, who comes into the store to buy a doll for his grandmother. He’s rich, well dressed, and Caymen thinks he’s a snob. See what’s happening here? You know where this is going, right? :)

So, I know this book is written for a teen audience, but as a child of the 80s, let me tell ya, there are shades of John Hughes everywhere, and it is fabulous. I couldn’t help but see Xander as a new Jake Ryan. Sorry if I’ve implanted that image for you, now. It’s just best if you roll with it. West makes him way better and more complex than Hughes ever did, anyway, and remember that I just made that up, and it wasn’t (to the best of my knowledge) her intention. But I loved it.

As for the rest of the book, it may not be an earth-shattering literary tome, but as I’ve come to expect from West, it’s well-paced, enjoyable, distraction-free writing. I fell in love with her style in Pivot Point (which turned out to be my favorite book I read last year. You should pick it up!). She is an expert at writing emotional scenes–especially new love and first kisses–so that you feel like you’re right there, experiencing them for yourself. I love how she writes relationships, both romantic and not, and there’s all kinds of depth to the book, apart from just the love story.

West’s characters are, here again, varied and complex. Caymen is so witty and clever, Skye so sweet and loyal, Xander so grounded and charming, that it’s absolutely impossible to put Distance down. The secondary characters are just as well-written. Everyone in the book contributes in their own way to driving the flow of Caymen’s story. Honestly, it’s hard not to want to step right into Caymen’s life.

I’m really very picky about the books to which I hand out 5-star ratings. The writing has to be excellent, the characters well-developed, and the book has to emotionally affect me, somehow. Usually, they’re books that are either literary powerhouses, or have some major shock value. This book gets 5 stars for simply bringing me so much joy.

Clean as a whistle.

Phoenix Island

Phoenix Island - John  Dixon Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

If you’re anything like me (and if you’re female, odds are: you are with me on this one), you have a huge crush on this guy:

Sawyer

Um. I might not have ever mentioned that to my husband, before (Hi, honey!). So now I’ll never be able to watch reruns of Lost without feeling like a total dork, but hey, it’s out there now!

Ahem. Where were we? Oh, Sawyer. So, of course I’ve been wondering for the last few years WHEN we were going to see Josh Holloway on TV again, and got really excited when I started seeing info out there about Intelligence. (Go watch. I'll wait.)

YAY FUN AWESOME, right??

Imagine how crazy-excited I was when I saw it was based on a book, and Simon & Schuster let me read it!

Phoenix Island is intense. It’s easy to see how it lends itself to a screen adaptation: it’s vivid and action-packed, and there are lots of places to go with it–particularly after book one finishes. Having read it, it’s clear that the TV show is springing forward from the very end of the book, so maybe go into it considering it backstory, and not a parallel to what you might see on TV.

Here’s the basic premise: Carl’s a well-intentioned kid who can’t stand to watch as kids are bullied (for deep-seeded reasons we learn about later). Because he’s a trained, prize-winning boxer, when his temper gets the better of him, things don’t go down well for whomever’s on the other end of his fists, and Carl keeps landing in trouble with the law. Despite his desire to do the right thing and otherwise generally be a good kid, he’s finally messed up one time too many, and is sent to boot camp–or something like it–on Phoenix Island. But Carl soon learns that this boot camp isn’t quite what anyone expected. It turns out that all the kids there are orphaned, oh, and hey, it’s really more of a mercenary training camp–kill, or be killed. He’s not quite sure how he and his friends will survive. Or escape? Things get crazy.

Phoenix Island is a wild ride. It’s full of action, and extraordinarily descriptive–I felt like I was right there, the whole time, while all the insanity was going down. Dixon is skilled at writing plot and setting, and, again, that should translate really well to the screen. The boxing scenes in particular are meticulously detailed–it doesn’t hurt that Dixon is a former Golden Gloves champion, himself–which makes for explosive action.

As for character work, I really enjoyed Carl. He was nicely fleshed out and it was easy to step into his psyche. Despite his urge to fight (which, considering his circumstances, isn’t a bad thing), Carl’s a smart and compassionate character, and he’s easy to like. Several of the other characters in the book were favorites, too–Campbell, Carl’s platoon guide, and Rivera, the only sympathetic drill sergeant on the island, were nice highlights.

If the book has one downfall, it’s in the relationship between Carl and Octavia. While I liked Octavia, I didn’t feel like I got to know her very well. Neither did Carl, so it was hard to understand why he was so attached to her. When it came down to the final climactic scenes of the book, Octavia’s portions made a bit more sense to me than Carl’s–I was just having trouble understanding his motivation, since we hadn’t gotten enough of his emotional reaction to her, I guess. His behavior just seemed weird.

That said, the extremely difficult and nuanced relationship between Carl and Stark was spot-on. I loved it, and Stark was both attractive and terrifying, at once. So much of the book depends on Stark’s character and that relationship, and Dixon’s writing, here, is excellent.

All told, I was completely wrapped up in the story, and I’d go back for a sequel in a heartbeat. I can’t wait to see what CBS does with a TV version, and where they’re going to take it. I purposely haven’t looked up plot synopses: I want to be surprised, and it should be fun.

Phoenix Island hits shelves today, and Intelligence premieres tonight! Enjoy, you guys!

Couple of mild swear words (the ones they get away with on network TV). Definitely some violence/blood/guns. No sex. 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books for the advanced copy, provided in exchange for an honest review.