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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!

Currently reading

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

Darla's Story (Ashfall, #0.5)

Darla's Story (Ashfall, #0.5) - Mike Mullin I wanted it to be just a liiiittle longer, but it's clear Mullin told the story he set out to tell. I feel that way with almost all novellas. and I love Darla, so of course I wanted more. Totally worth $0.99, and a fun little addition to the series.

The Clearing

The Clearing - Dan   Newman A great start, and then it got really slow, but I was willing to stick with it, if it weren't for the language. The setting (St. Lucia) was fabulous, and I really wanted to see how it turned out.

Advance copy received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This House is Haunted

This House is Haunted - John Boyne Review first appeared on Fefferbooks.com.

When I read the synopsis of John Boyne’s This House is Haunted, two things impelled me to request copy immediately: “ghost story” and “Dickensian prose.” I know! I know! Some of you are thinking “Omgosh, that sounds like THE COOLEST THING EVAR and I must read it NOW,” and the rest of you are going, “Uhhh…why?” K. Lemme ‘splain.

This House is Haunted takes place in actual Dickens-contemporary London, so it’s not completely crazy to have the protagonist, Eliza, speaking in the same way Dickens’ characters did. I have to say, I’ve read a fair bit of Dickens over the years, but it’s been quite a while, so initially, I thought maybe Boyne was overdoing it–the sentences were quite wordy. Then again, I really couldn’t recall what Dickens had been like. Then I remembered one night, as a kid, when I’d stayed up reading (in my blanket fort, no less) A Christmas Carol, and found one sentence that literally took up a whole page and bled on to the next one. Seriously. DICKENS WAS SO WORDY. This…is not like that. Sentences are really no longer than what I’m writing; they’re just a little less modern and a touch more formal. I found it charming and delightful, and after a couple of chapters, I got so completely used to the way the characters spoke that it faded into the background.

Boyne is an intelligent writer (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is among his credits). His plot was interesting, his characters engaging. I felt deeply for Eliza and her father, and particularly for her young charge, Eustace. Her friends Mr. Raisin and Mrs. Toxley were also well-rounded and emotionally grounded. I would have liked just a bit more development with Isabella, and even, perhaps, Mrs. Livermore.

As a ghost story, House is an interesting specimen. It bears comparison to The Turn of the Screw, and even perhaps a bit of Jane Eyre or Rebecca. Though the foreshadowing, throughout, is a bit heavy, I was still wrapped up in the drama of the story, right up until the end–I was a little disappointed with the big, climactic scene of the novel. I think Boyne let Eliza feel a little too calm while things were literally crumbling and shattering around her, and I would have liked to see that scene be far more distressing.

Still, nothing about this book is poorly written. I did like the way Boyne wrapped up the story, and I was generally pleased with my reading experience, and can recommend it as a fun, “scary” romp through post-industrialized England. It might make an interesting book-group read–a murder is discussed a couple of times, but not in gory detail. These are ladies in Dickensian England, after all!

3 stars.

Advanced copy received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook: 100 Delicious Heritage Recipes from the Farm and Garden

The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook: 100 Delicious Heritage Recipes from the Farm and Garden - Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Brent Ridge, Sandy Gluck Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

I have to admit to being duped, a little, by The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook. Some of you may have seen my Facebook post, excitedly exclaiming about getting to review a cookbook full of recipes from the early 19th century. Um…whoops? All I can say is, even proficient readers miss things in their excitement sometimes because, HELLO, the info is RIGHT THERE in the synopsis:

…what began as a way to reconnect with their own style of modern country living soon exploded into a wildly successful brand, Beekman 1802, named after their historic home.

Oh. To quote Liz Lemon, “Uh, doi!”

That said, the book is beautiful: filled with fabulous food photography and tasty-sounding desserts (Chocolate Rocky Road Potstickers? Sweet Green Tomato Hand Pies?), all organized by season, so that the home cook can look up a dessert that will work perfectly with whatever produce is fresh (or, in the case of Winter, what we love to eat when it’s cold outside–AKA chocolate.). It’s a great concept, and the book is beautiful.

I confess to being a little disappointed by the layout of the book: the recipes are nicely written, but these days, it’s fairly surprising not to have a photo of each recipe alongside the text. Several are skipped altogether, and I thought that was a shame. A lot of the plates are shots of the Beekman Boys on the farm–nice, pastoral shots, to be sure, but not really that relevant to the cooking, itself.

As for the recipes, as much as I adore baking, I have yet to try one. I bought peaches, thinking I’d make the Peach Cobbler, then found in the end, I wanted Ina Garten’s, instead. Many of the recipes have a universal quality: i.e., they’re universally appealing, and for that reason, you may find you already have a version of each you prefer. Then again, maybe not, and this compilation is quite nice.

3 stars.

Note: I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey

Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey - Fiona,  Countess of Carnarvon I just...couldn't finish it. I'm a little disappointed, honestly--I was sure this one had so much potential, both as a book, and from a marketing standpoint. Hello? Who doesn't want to read more about Downton Abbey?? I do!

Obviously, I didn't expect the "real" Downton to be like the show (soapy and full of intrigue and death and sexytimes). And as much as I like to believe that everyone has a story worth telling, I've come to the conclusion that not everyone's story will fill a novel.

Eep.

The portions referring to Lord Carnarvon V's involvement with Tut's tomb were fascinating to me, but the rest read like faithful journalling, rather than an attempt at storytelling. I took what I intended to be a weekend hiatus, and just couldn't make myself go back. Bummer, all around.

Advance copy received via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Every Waking Moment

Every Waking Moment - Chris Fabry ...I didn't realize this was a "Christian fiction" thing. That shouldn't matter, I guess, since I'm Christian, and all, but the whole genre just rubs me the wrong way. I may read it later, when my pile's not so huge. I just couldn't get past the mental block.

Advance copy received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Mind Games

Mind Games - Kiersten White Review originally published on fefferbooks.com.

I received a lovely, glossy, *autographed* copy of Mind Games right from the hands of Kiersten White herself. I’d like to pretend it’s because I’m superfancy, but really it’s just because I follow her on Twitter like the giant book geek I am, and I won a contest. But still: how cool is that?? An author mailed me a book! In the mail! For free! And I got to choose which one I wanted. I was pretty excited.

Before I read Mind Games, I saw several reviews here on Goodreads along the lines of “It wasn't White’s best/I didn't love it as much as her vampire books blahblah,” so I wasn't sure what to expect, but I loved the synopsis. I was just as pleased by my experience with the book. This was my first exposure to White, and I really loved her writing. She has an excellent ability to throw you immediately inside the head of her main character. It’s an interesting trick, in Mind Games, making you connect with Fia, when the first thing you learn about her is that she’s about to murder someone. The entire book is spent playing mental catch-up with Fia and her sister, Annie, and I thought it was great fun putting the pieces together. The structure is clever and the characters are unique and memorable. I’ll be adding more of Kiersten White to my reading list, for sure!

No swearing, sex, or smut. (yay!) Fight scenes and some blood, but not portrayed in a gory way. 4 stars.

Awakening: Book One of the Geis

Awakening - Christy Dorrity Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

I have to be honest: as eager as I am to read books written by friends of friends, it always makes me a little nervous. Will it be any good? Will I have to force myself to finish? Will I have to find something nice to say about it so my friend doesn’t feel bad for asking me to read it?

I was so thrilled (and relieved) to have that concern thrown right out the window, just a couple of chapters into Awakening by Christy Dorrity. I wasn’t just pleasantly surprised–I was downright shocked by Dorrity’s talent and ability. Awakening is a self-published book, which can have a certain stigma in the industry. Honestly? I would never have guessed that Dorrity published Awakening on her own. It’s impeccably edited and beautifully developed. But the proof is, as they say, in the pudding.

Dorrity has a great gift for writing: her characters are varied in nearly every way imaginable, and her story is just plain fun. Let me be the first to say that I’m not usually much for books about “magic,” and the cover didn’t necessarily appeal to me. There is, though, a great deal more to this book: it’s really a story about finding one’s talents and abilities, and caring for the people you love most. Dorrity spends the greater portion of the book developing relationships between the characters, which serves to further the plot. I was particularly fond of Rourke, the taciturn but deeply protective janitor.

Dorrity’s real talent lies in relating the psychology of her characters: she is excellent at capturing the complex emotions that make up being a teenager. I was particularly impressed by her ability to convey deep, profound communication with her characters’ subtle gestures and body language. I think it must take a high degree of observation to be able to translate such tiny but significant things into writing. Such is Dorrity’s gift.

I’m excited to see how well this book does. I’m still not quite sure about all the magic and world-building that happens at the very end (but if you’re into magic/mythology/Ireland, you will be NUTS for it), but I can’t say enough good about Dorrity as a writer. Awakening hits shelves today, and I think it has huge potential. Go! Buy! Read!

Squeaky clean, with a sweet love story. 4 stars.

Note: ARC provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving - Ellen Cooney Review first appeared on fefferbooks.com.

May I just say that I love Thanksgiving? It’s my absolute favorite holiday–the food, the family, the food…. So the premise (um, and the title. And frankly, the cover art) of Ellen Cooney’s Thanksgiving appealed to me, completely: “the story of one family through many generations, as Thanksgiving dinner is prepared.”

In execution, the premise is a little less on-point. The book is, clearly, about one family, and in fact, one house. At first, it almost seems to take on that disjointed short-story quality that I so dislike, but it soon becomes apparent that the stories are blending seamlessly into one another, their characters carrying over from one generation to the next, and helping to create continuity. That quality was lovely. It was not, however, at all apparent that the stories were about Thanksgiving. There was food, in abundance: each chapter is named after a traditional turkey-day course, and in all honesty, reading the thing made me hungry ALL the time. The book is filled with details about women cooking, spending time together in the kitchen, sharing stories while they prepare food, or thinking about their relationships while they bake or eat. Frankly, I related to that. I love to cook and bake, and I spend a lot of quality time, both with my family and alone, while I’m in the kitchen.

The writing, itself, is thoughtful, delicate, and fluid:

(Background–Hester is to inherit the family home. She loves it, but is at odds with the idea. The family is eating off the heirloom plates, upon which are painted a replica of the family home.)

“As she’s thinking this, she’s starting in on her plate. She goes for the dressing first. She picks out the chestnuts, sliding them to the side, because she believes in saving the best part of anything for last. Then she picks up her knife to slice her one piece of turkey. She doesn’t realize she’s eating it, until she’s eating it, and bits of the front door revealed, then more of it, then more–that old wood door, with its heavy, rough timber, standing there waiting to be opened.

There were a few places where the story seemed to be just the slightest bit bogged down, but overall, it moved well. There were also a lot of women getting pregnant outside wedlock; the ones conceived inside marriage seemed to be abnormal, which, given my genealogical research, seems strange. The content was a tad hit-or-miss with me, in general; if it had been as strong as the quality of the writing, itself, it would have been a homerun novel. Regardless, it’s not bad, and I’d be interested to see what else Cooney can do.

Clean, language-wise. Several mentions of sex, but nothing that’s really TMI. Three stars.

Note: I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley. It’s on shelves now!

Wake Up Missing

Wake Up Missing - Kate Messner Review first published on fefferbooks.com.

Wake Up Missing is a well-written, quick-paced little morsel of a sci-fi novel. Written for tweens (wait. I hate that word. Pre-teens? Let’s roll with that.) Ahem. Written for pre-teens, its characters are smart, active, and dynamic enough to hold a slightly younger audience’s interest.

I read this book with my ten-year-old boys in mind, but I have to say that I became absorbed in it almost immediately–-Messner manages to write content that’s safe for kids, but is thoroughly engaging for adults, as well. I never felt like I was reading a “kids’ book,” which I think is a sign of a truly great one. (Remember Harry Potter?)

Messner is an award-winning author, and she certainly writes like one here. Her plot has great movement, and her characters are multi-dimensional–both the kids and the adults. I particularly loved that her young main character fought not only for her life, but to understand and have compassion for those around her. There are some good messages here about love, loyalty, and self-esteem, and Messner manages to deliver them without being cloying.

I recommend Wake Up Missing wholeheartedly for all audiences, middle grades and up, and will be passing it along to my own children.

Clean as clean can be. 5 stars.

Note: I received this book as an ARC from NetGalley. It will be available for purchase on September 10th, but you can pre-order it right now!

Chasing Shadows

Chasing Shadows - Swati Avasthi Had to DNF because of the adult language, but it's a really cool concept (YA lit combined with graphic novel), and well-written. I was totally sucked into the story and bummed to put it down.

Advance copy received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

4 to 16 Characters

4 to 16 Characters - Kelly Hourihan Sigh. I was *really* enjoying this, up until about 21%, when the language started. I have a 3 F-bomb rule, and I even bent it a little, because I thought it might just be one scene/minor character, and I was dying to know what was going to happen. But: no. The hits just kept coming. :(

I did skip to the end to see if I could piece together what happened. It was that well-written. The plot was different, the characters sympathetic and colorful, and the voice fantastic. It's just a shame good writers feel they have to involve SO MUCH SWEARING for their fiction to seem "real."

Advanced copy received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
What Happened to Goodbye - Sarah Dessen

After slogging through my last read, I was really looking forward to this little Sarah Dessen that was waiting patiently on my nightstand. Dessen is just the kind of author you like to return to after a long day: warm, complex characters, a family-oriented plotline, and delightfully, undistractingly, beautifully thoughtful writing. In short: this was just what I needed.

 

I can't say that "Goodbye" was as strong as some of her other novels--though it deals with divorce and the psychology that can play out on children of divorced families, it didn't leave the same kind of impression on me as some of her other stories. But I'm not complaining: it was well-written, likeable, and entertaining. 

 

There is some language in this one, peppered throughout. I couldn't help laughing at the name of McLean's car, though. 3 stars. 

 

What Happened to Goodbye

What Happened to Goodbye - Sarah Dessen After slogging through my last read, I was really looking forward to this one. It was just what I needed.

I can't say that "Goodbye" was as strong as some of her other novels--though it deals with divorce and the psychology that can play out in the children of divorced families, it didn't leave the same kind of impression on me as some of her other stories. But I'm not complaining: it was well-written, likeable, and entertaining.

There is some language in this one, peppered throughout. 3 stars.

More on this and other books at fefferbooks.com!

Wake: A Novel

Wake - Anna Hope Nnnnnope. F-bombs everywhere in the first few pages. :( It looked really interesting.

Awakening Foster Kelly

Awakening Foster Kelly - Cara Rosalie Olsen

Digital copy provided by author in exchange for review.

 

I want to preface this review by saying that I feel strongly about encouraging new authors and writing in general. As a result, I've really struggled with publishing this review--my thoughts about being encouraging and being honest have left me really conflicted in this case.

 

In Awakening Foster Kelly, Cara Rosalie Olsen has spent 669 pages sharing a story that largely takes place in about the last 200. I have absolutely no qualms with a lengthy tome--I've read many a classic novel in my day, and so I initially took the book's length as a delightful challenge.

 

Instead, this book is simply long. Wordy. Overly aware of its own verbiage, and oftimes distractingly awkward. The story (which I truly did not grasp until I'd read half the book) is narrated by Foster, a character who is maddeningly insecure, indecisive, and introspective--and we're along for the ride as she agonizes over everything she thinks, feels, and dithers over. It might be an interesting device, if it weren't so pervasive and pedantic. Every idea takes just plain ages to develop: three pages for Foster to describe a room, seven pages to decide whether or not to listen to something...it just becomes difficult to care about what she's up to.

 

The book's largest problem, though, is its dire need for editing. Ignoring the copyediting issues (which are extreme--not just typos and homonym errors that are common in self-published novels; here bizarre syntax and word choice problems abound), the content is wholly unfettered. The text is filled with followed tangents, unnecessary secondary characters, and all kinds of vignettes that make little sense in context. Put simply, there is no dramatic structure: no sense of direction as one reads, and though I pressed on because I was certain there must be a story in all of it, somewhere, I found the experience frustrating and exhausting.

 

There is, by the way, a story there. It's rough, and needs some work, but I believe it has some potential. I found myself surprised while reading the last 15% or so of the novel--the dialogue became far more dynamic, the word choices less awkward, the characters more authentic. There are some nice moments near the end, particularly between Foster and a new friend from school. Additionally, Foster's friends Jake and Emily are fairly delightful throughout, and her mother is a nice addition. I just wish Olsen had been able to get some help before releasing her novel as "finished." In truth, I'm a little disappointed for her.

 

I don't recall any language, and there's no sex or violence. I'd like to just not give any stars at all, yet, and send the book back for another draft, but if I'm going to rate it as-is, I can only give 1 star.