Saturday, February 23, 2013

Q&A and Giveaway: Beautiful Bastard authors Lauren Billings and Christina Hobbs

left: Lauren Billings; right: Christina Hobbs
Last week I reviewed Beautiful Bastard, the new Fifty Shades-esque novel from author Christina Lauren. The pen name Christina Lauren is actually a combination of two writers: Lauren Billings and Christina Hobbs. I was able to interview them over email regarding Beautiful Bastard, some of their favorite authors, and their plans for future books.

Beautiful Bastard started out as Twilight fan fiction. The published version, however, only has about 20% of the original story, titled The Office. What parts of The Office did you change, and why?

The ending is mostly new, and the rest of the book has been extensively edited for both content and flow. We knew there was interest in getting the book out there, but we didn’t want to simply put out the same version that had been available for free for nine months. So, we cleaned it up, changed some of the details and context, and gave them an entirely new ending. Much of what is different is that the second half of The Office has been cut for this new ending.

Christina Lauren is your pen name, but there are actually two of you. Do you each write 50% of the novel, or how does it work? Was there ever an idea that one of you wanted to include in the book but the other didn't, and if so, how did you resolve it?

It worked slightly differently for BEAUTIFUL BASTARD because we were starting with a story that Christina had written. Initially, Lo cut, edited, and reworked the story. Then Christina revised from there. But our usual “process” is that we outline together and then split up who will write which scenes. The scenes may correspond to chapters, or they may not, but we usually alternate. Once we’ve drafted a little, we swap, edit, smooth for voice, and then continue drafting. The most fun aspect of it is feeling like we’re writing a book just for each other, so it gives us a little freedom to indulge what we love most, which is romance.

What are your thoughts on the whole Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, and do you anticipate it being a trend long-term?

We think every trend has its time. Right now, people are having fun reading smut. Maybe eventually they’ll look to something else. For now, everyone wants to be the next EL James, but it’s unlikely that anyone will be, because what she has done is a true phenomenon. And even though it’s hard to imagine that anyone will soon see that magnitude of success, we’ll all do better because of the market her books have created. The honest truth is that every erotica author out there now, including us, has benefitted from the mainstream obsession with Fifty Shades.

What are some of your favorite books and authors that you've read recently? (or, some of your all-time favorites?)

Lo: All time favorites would be Jane Eyre, Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True, and Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere. Recently: Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners, Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road, and Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma.

Christina: Favorite book of all time is probably The Sky is Everywhere. Also Little Women, Warm Bodies (Isaac Marion), Shatter Me (Tahereh Mafi), Forbidden (Tabitha Suzuma), Angelfall (Susan Ee), and Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (Rachel Cohn and David Levithan).

The sequel to Beautiful Bastard, titled Beautiful Stranger, will be released in May, but focuses on a different couple - Chloe's friend Sara and a new character, Max - with Chloe and Bennett making only short appearances. What made you decide to do that rather than write another book focused mostly on Chloe/Bennett, and do you have any plans to do another Chloe/Bennett novel in the future?

We felt like Chloe and Bennett’s story of falling in love had been completed at the end of BEAUTIFUL BASTARD, though in no way do we think their happily-ever-after is a smooth road (haha), and would love to write more of them if we had (1) interest from readers and (2) a story that could stand alone and pull the readers back in. We’ve toyed recently with the idea of writing a novella.

And honestly, we think readers may love Sara/Max just as much (GASP! Crazy, I know, but everyone who has read STRANGER is smitten).

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Thanks to Lauren and Christina, as well as Gallery Books, for the interview!

I also have two copies of Beautiful Bastard to give away to my readers, courtesy of Gallery Books!

To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, March 2nd at 11:59pm EST. Winners will be contacted on Sunday, March 3rd, and have 24 hours to respond to my email; if one or both do not respond, alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

Good luck!



a Rafflecopter giveaway


Friday, February 22, 2013

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell.

He'd stopped trying to bring her back.

She only came back when she felt like it, in dreams and lies and broken-down deja vu.


I reviewed Rainbow Rowell's first novel, Attachments, back in July 2011, and it was fantastic. It's not surprising, then, that her second novel, Eleanor & Park, is just as good, if not better.

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell, relationships, romance
While Attachments took place in 1999, and focused on a young couple, Eleanor & Park takes place in 1986 - one year before I was born, actually - and introduces us to Eleanor, a redheaded 15-year-old, and Park, a half-Korean 16-year-old. Eleanor moves to town during their junior year of high school, and she has a hard life; harder than she wants anyone to know. She lives with her younger siblings, her mom, and her stepdad Richie, a mean drunk that she must constantly tiptoe around, yet she never forgets how Richie kicked her out of the house and she was gone for a year without seeing her siblings or her mom.

Park, on the other hand, lives with his parents and brother in a nice, middle-class household. He's never wanted for anything, except maybe for his dad to let him try for his license on an automatic (not manual) car, and overall he's had an sheltered suburban life.

When Park shows Eleanor a kindness by letting her sit next to him on the school bus, a friendship is born, and it eventually transpires into something more.

The (rather sparse) official synopsis:
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.
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As you can probably tell from this blog, I'm a huge fan of YA (Young Adult) books, especially ones involving love stories. Eleanor & Park is interesting because it's not really a YA book; it doesn't pander towards younger audiences, and overall Rainbow Rowell is an adult fiction author, in my opinion. Yet the story drew me in just as fast as any YA book I've ever read, if not faster.

Eleanor and Park both tell the story from first person point-of-view, and each chapter alternates whose views we get to read; this lets us into their heads, and I loved how they were often even thinking the same thing or variations of it. Eleanor gradually becomes closer and closer with Park and tells him about her family, though she neglects some of the really awful parts at first - like that she doesn't have a toothbrush until she steals one from her (biological) father's fiancee, and she sometimes doesn't have shampoo either. Neither of them have ever really been in a relationship before, for the most part, and they find themselves falling hard and fast for each other.

When I was about midway through the book, I reread the first page again (part of which is in italics above) and was a little worried - it foreshadowed Eleanor going away somewhere - but the ending of the book does not disappoint; it's a little ambiguous, which is why I'm docking a half-star (I'm a mean reviewer sometimes!), but it was also satisfying.

I would love to see a sequel to Eleanor & Park, too, as I'm curious to see what will happen to these characters next.

Eleanor & Park will be in stores on February 26th. 4.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Good American

A Good American, by Alex George.

Everything he’d seen had been unimaginably different from the dry, dour streets of home, and to his surprise he was not sorry in the slightest. He was smitten by the beguiling otherness of it all.

And so began my grandfather’s rapturous love affair with America—an affair that would continue until the day he died.


A Good American, Alex George
I read this book for the BlogHer Book Club, and to be honest it didn't sound that interesting at first. However, I like books that span generations, and so I decided to give it a try. It ended up greatly exceeding my expectations, and I am very glad I read it; it's a fantastic book that anyone can enjoy.

Official synopsis:
This is the story of the Meisenheimer family, told by James, a third-generation American living in Beatrice, Missouri. It’s where his German grandparents—Frederick and Jette—found themselves after journeying across the turbulent Atlantic, fording the flood-swollen Mississippi, and being brought to a sudden halt by the broken water of the pregnant Jette.

A Good American tells of Jette’s dogged determination to feed a town sauerkraut and soul food; the loves and losses of her children, Joseph and Rosa; and the precocious voices of James and his brothers, sometimes raised in discord…sometimes in perfect harmony.

But above all, A Good American is about the music in Frederick’s heart, a song that began as an aria, was jazzed by ragtime, and became an anthem of love for his adopted country that the family still hears to this day.
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The book is "told" from the point of James Meisenheimer, who is Joseph's son - the son of Jette and Frederick. It starts off at the very beginning of Frederick and Jette's relationship, when he sings to her in a park and captures her heart. Jette becomes pregnant and her mother hates Frederick, so they move to America; originally they wanted to settle in St. Louis, but they stay in Beatrice, Missouri instead, because Jette gives birth to Joseph there. The story continues through the birth of Joseph's sister, Anna; when Joseph marries and has four children; and throughout James's lifetime.

The book is about family and about how everyone's choices affect everyone, for the most part; a twist later on in the story, involving family, is rather shocking, but also interesting, and affects how we have perceived one of the character's lives and the entire book in general.

Although the novel may take a while to get through, it reads almost like a biography: one almost expects the author's name on the cover to say James Meisenheimer rather than Alex George. The family and all of its descendants' lives are laid out in exquisite detail, and some of their fates end up being rather surprising. I would recommend this novel for anyone who likes a good story, and there was some humor sprinkled throughout as well that made me laugh.

4.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was compensated for writing this review for the BlogHer Book Club. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Beautiful Darkness

Beautiful Darkness, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

This town owned us, that was the good and bad of it. It knew every inch of us, every sin, every secret, every scab. Which was why most people never bothered to leave, and why the ones who did never came back. Before I met Lena that would have been me, five minutes after I graduated from Jackson High. Gone.

Then I fell in love with a Caster girl.

She showed me there was another world within the cracks of our uneven sidewalks. One that had been there all along, hidden in plain sight. Lena's Gatlin was a place where things happened - impossible, supernatural, life-altering things.

Sometimes life-ending.


Beautiful Darkness, Beautiful Creatures #2, Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl
Beautiful Darkness is the second book in The Caster Chronicles, which started with Beautiful Creatures, which I recently reviewed. I also recently saw the film adaptation of it, and I liked it a lot, although they changed a lot of things from the book. I was eager to get back to "book Gatlin," then, and I started devouring Beautiful Darkness rather quickly.

SPOILERS - SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVEN'T READ BOOK ONE:
The previous book ends with the death of Macon, Lena's uncle, after Sarafine, her Dark Caster mother, stabs Ethan, and she brings him back to life with the Book of Moons (in the movie, Ethan is still harmed, but not by Sarafine, and no spell is cast). This book starts with Macon's funeral, and then we skip ahead two months.

You can start re-reading now!
Lena has started hanging out with Ridley and a new boy, John Breed, who Ethan and his friends think is an Incubus of sorts. Meanwhile, Marian has a new assistant for the summer, Liv (Olivia), who is from England, and Ethan soon finds out that she's a Keeper-in-training. When Lena starts becoming more and more Dark, her eyes even changing to gold from green, and distancing herself from Ethan, they become concerned about her, and must follow her and John Breed to the Great Barrier, a "utopia" of sorts for Casters.

I will say that although the story here was still captivating, I didn't like it quite as much as the first book. There's a MAJOR twist at the end which sets up the next book in the series nicely (Beautiful Chaos) and which definitely caught my attention; however, most of the book is about Ethan figuring out who he is, and him and his friends Link and Liv trying to find Lena using the Caster tunnels throughout Gatlin. This novel actually reminded me a bit of the second Twilight book, which was not my favorite, in that the two main characters were separated for most of the book, with one trying to find and "win back" the other.

However, I will say that the Caster Chronicles are very well-written, and the story will still leave you wanting more at the end of the novel. I recently purchased the final two stories, Beautiful Chaos and Beautiful Redemption, for my Kindle (through Amazon's Gold Deal of the Day - $2.99 each!), and I am looking forward to reading those and seeing how Ethan and Lena's story concludes.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Gates of Paradise

Gates of Paradise, by Melissa de la Cruz.

Gabrielle's daughter will bring us salvation. She will lead the Fallen back into Paradise. Her grandfather Lawrence Van Alen had always believed it, and Schuyler knew in her heart that he was right, that she held the key. There was just one problem: she had no idea what that meant. The gate was immovable, as solid as a vault, and immune to every spell and incantation she threw at it. She had been trying for months and failing. Time was running out - the Dark Prince had set his sights on destroying the gate and was gathering his forces for battle to reclaim the throne he had been denied. The Silver Bloods could attack at any moment and take up the rebellion that had been subdued so long ago.

So where do I fit in? How do I fulfill my legacy?


Gates of Paradise is the final book in the Blue Bloods series, which started in 2004; the series is why I first started reading Melissa de la Cruz's books, actually. I also got to interview de la Cruz a few months ago, and she talked about Blue Bloods and some of her other books.

Official synopsis:
Entertainment Weekly featured Blue Bloods' Schuyler Van Alen as #9 of the Top 20 Greatest Vampires, and in Gates of Paradise, she is running out of time. The Dark Prince of Hell is storming the Gates of Paradise, intent on winning the heavenly throne for good. This time he has his greatest angels by his side, Abbadon and Azrael, or as they are known in the coven, Jack and Mimi Force. Will Bliss and the wolves she has recruited to join her win the battle for the vampires? Is Schuyler prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, the same one Michael was forced to make in Florence so long ago? Love and vengeance, duty and loyalty, life and death - all are at odds in this gripping, heartbreaking finale of the Blue Bloods series.
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I am a fan of this series, and this book was no exception. The book switches from present day to some chapters in Florence in the 1400s, and we get a bit of history that explains the present. Jack and Mimi have to pledge themselves to Lucifer to escape the Underworld, and he assigns them two tasks which won't be easy for them; Jack must kidnap Schuyler, because they need her blood to open the gate to Heaven, and Mimi has to deceive Kingsley, her love.

Overall, I would say that this book is a good end to the series, although I will miss these vampires; they made for some good reading. The endings for each character were realistic, and Oliver Hazard-Perry's final chapter was a fitting ending for him, although vampires on the TV show The Vampire Diaries would probably think he was insane for one of the choices he makes. I wouldn't mind seeing a spin-off series just about his adventures, either. Schuyler also finds out she has a half-sister, Finn - they had the same human father, as Schuyler is half mortal and half vampire - and there's a side plot about this that helps her later in the novel when she's in a tricky situation.

4 stars out of 5.

Related reviews:
Serpent's Kiss (Witches of East End #2, also by de la Cruz)
Lost in Time (Blue Bloods #6)

Witches of East End (Witches of East End #1)
The Van Alen Legacy (Blue Bloods #4)

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Beautiful Bastard

Beautiful Bastard, by Christina Lauren.

My father said the way to learn the job you want it to spend every second watching someone do it.

"To get the job at the top, you've got to start at the bottom," he told me. "Become the person the CEO can't live without. Be their right-hand man. Learn their world, and they'll snatch you up the second you finish your degree."

I had become irreplaceable. And I'd definitely become the Right Hand. It just so happened that in this case, I was the right hand that most days wanted to slap the damn face.

My boss, Mr. Bennett Ryan.
Beautiful Bastard.

Beautiful Bastard, Christina Lauren, erotica, offices
This book started off as Twilight fanfiction called The Office, which I didn't know until after I had read it. The authors - there are two, but they write under the pen name Christina Lauren - then reworked it, and have said that only about 20% of the original Office remains.

I downloaded an e-galley from NetGalley a few weeks ago and threw it in my "virtual pile" of e-books to read, until The Romance Bookie told me that she had read it and that it was HOT. Actually, more than hot - it was well-written too, which is somewhat of a rarity in this genre, at least based on some of the books I've read. 50 Shades of Grey, for example, had a hot story, but the writing was atrocious - part of the reason I never actually reviewed it, though I whipped through the trilogy in about a week - and some of the other books in this genre also had good stories, but just subpar writing.

In Beautiful Bastard, however, we get a story with sex, rather than sex with a story. Chloe has worked for Ryan Media Group throughout college and now through her MBA degree, and is going to graduate from Northwestern in the spring. Her boss, Bennett Ryan, is gorgeous, but a complete bastard; she very rarely gets praised for the work she does, and she's held to a standard of perfection. One day, however, he asks her to stay late to work on something with him, and they have sex in the conference room; she still hates him, but her "body has betrayed her," she said. Soon, this is becoming an every day occurrence, and their relationship changes for good when they go to a work conference in San Diego together.

Chloe doesn't want to get a reputation as "that woman who slept to the top," especially after all the hard work she's put into her job at Ryan Media, and she's the one with everything to lose; Bennett is an executive and also part of the Ryan family (his dad owns the company), and he knows this. She and Bennett can't keep their hands off each other, though, so they keep their relationship a secret at first, until Chloe eventually tells some of her friends, and then one of the Ryan siblings accidentally finds out about it.

I thought the story in this novel was good, and I really liked how the authors changed the point-of-view in each chapter; it starts off from Chloe's POV, and then the next chapter is from Bennett's, and so on. The authors have a companion novel, Beautiful Stranger, that will be in stores in late May, too; Chloe and Bennett make appearances in that one, but it will focus on Sara, one of Chloe's friends, who moves to NYC from Chicago where she meets a new guy, Max. I'm a little disappointed that we don't get to hear much more about Chloe and Bennett, but perhaps the authors will consider a sequel to Beautiful Bastard in the future.

Beautiful Bastard will be in stores on February 12th. 4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from NetGalley to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Truth About Love & Lightning

The Truth about Love & Lightning, by Susan McBride.

Gretchen had spent way too much time ruminating over the choices she'd made. It had taken years before she'd finally accepted that Sam wasn't coming back, that Annika had flown the coop, and she was on her own, caring for a child, a farm, and her sisters, too. Must we live our lives in hindsight? she wanted to ask. Wasn't it enough to e right where they were, to accept their lot and move forward? Or was she lying to herself, believing she could ever forget the mistakes she'd made and never ever dwell on the past?

The Truth about Love and Lightning, Susan McBride, Native Americans, families
Susan McBride is the author of Little Black Dress, among others, which I reviewed back in 2011. I also got the chance to interview her via email then as well. It comes to no surprise to me, then, that I liked The Truth about Love & Lightning - McBride is an excellent storyteller and this novel is no exception.

Official synopsis:
After discovering that she is pregnant with her ex-boyfriend's child, Abby Brink returns home to the family farm on a day of a twister, only to discover a mysterious man, struck by lightning - who might be the father she's wished would reappear in her life for years. Gretchen Brink must now care for her newly-returned daughter, and for the mysterious stranger who may be the man Abby believes to be her father - all while nursing a lie that could shatter her relationship with her family, or make it stronger than ever. 
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I really liked how this book went back and forth between time periods. It starts in the present, in 2010, when The-Man-Who-Might-Be-Sam shows up at their door after a tornado passes through the area. Gretchen and Sam had a friendship of sorts when they were in high school, and when she got pregnant with Abby, she told everyone that the baby was his; he had taken off for Africa at that point, to volunteer, and was never seen from again after that - everyone assumed he had died there. The baby was NOT Sam's, however, but it was far more acceptable for Gretchen to say that it was then to tell the truth, which we don't learn until about midway through the book.

Meanwhile, Abby, Gretchen's daughter, returns to the farm from Chicago for a visit, and she is now pregnant, by her boyfriend who she recently broke up with. She's 39, though, and is going to keep the baby; it's up to Nathan whether he wants to be involved in her life or not.

I liked this novel a lot, and it was a quick read. We learn about Hank Littlefoot, Sam's grandfather, who was a Native American rainmaker - he was able to compel rain to fall from the sky, though it took a great toll on him. Sam later finds out that he has the same birthmark as his grandfather, and that he has this gift to create rain as well but that, like Hank, it takes a major toll on his body and mind.

My only complaint with this book is that I felt the ending wrapped up a little too neatly, even though it was heading in that direction throughout the novel.

The Truth About Love & Lightning will be in stores on February 12th. 3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Paper Airplane: Unique Tales from a Mile High

Paper Airplane: Unique Tales from a Mile High, by Kersten L. Kelly.

I didn't experience the first crazy thing on an airplane, and I won't be the last. One thing I do know is that my individual experiences were indeed special. Each of the individuals who made them that way influenced my life more than they will ever know. Each one created a lasting memory that I was able to re-create and share here, with you, and I am grateful for all of them. This is my collection of unique tales from a mile high.

Paper Airplane, unique tales, nonfiction, Kersten L. Kelly, planes
I was interested to read this book because I, too, try to strike up conversations with strangers on airplanes. I don't fly that much - maybe three to four times per year - but I've met a few interesting people. On my last trip a week or so ago, flying back to Detroit from Las Vegas, my plane was delayed three hours due to mechanical problems, and I started up a conversation with the woman sitting in my row, as well as her husband, who proceeded to educate me about Vegas history. I'm a fan of interesting history, especially when it comes to Vegas, and I loved hearing their stories about the "old Vegas" and the hotels that used to be there.

In this novel, the author aims to do much of the same - recount her experiences with strangers she meets on airplanes and the lessons she's learned from each of them.

Official synopsis:
The book recalls life lessons from perfect strangers about love, family, perseverance of dreams, and humility through a series of brief anecdotes all taking place on airplanes. Selfless philanthropy was discovered, long-term friendships bonded, and talents unveiled. The book proves the phrase “you never know what you will learn on an airplane” over and over again. Every chapter will capture the mind and sometimes the heart of anyone who jumps into this collection of humanity at its best. With a raw authenticity stemming from old notes in a ragged journal, this is a personal reflection of unique tales from a mile high.

The book is about half of the author talking about her family and her life - aka, how she ended up on each plane, or factors relevant to her flight - and half about the actual flights themselves and the people she meets. I found the stories interesting, but didn't actually think they were that "unique," although "unique" in this sense seems to mean that they impacted her life in a special way, which she says is correct. Overall, the book was a quick read and I would recommend it for anyone who has ever talked to a seatmate on an airplane, or who maybe wished they did.

3 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Touch & Go

Touch & Go, by Lisa Gardner.

Then Mick returned, except this time he wasn't alone. He shoved Justin before him, my husband stumbling toward the nearest bunk, grabbing for the metal frame to support himself.

Z released my shoulders, and just as quickly as they'd come, both men disappeared.

Justin looked up, his formerly handsome face now beaten nearly beyond recognition.

"Libby," he whispered. "Libby. I was wrong. We have ... to get ... out of here."

Then my husband collapsed into a bloody heap upon the floor.


I had never heard of Lisa Gardner before reading this book, but her novels are very similar to Harlan Coben's, in that they are in the mystery and suspense genre, and I ended up enjoying Touch and Go very much. One chapter would be from the point of view of Tessa, about the search for the family, and then the next chapter would be from the Libby Denbe's point of view, and I found that this was a strategy that worked very well throughout the novel.

Official Synopsis:
On the surface, the Denbes look like they have it all - a luxurious Boston townhouse, a beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, their own mega-construction company - but behind closed doors, their marriage is reaching breaking point. Justin and Libby return home from a much needed date night to find the door ajar and a group of intruders terrorizing their daughter. They are quickly overtaken, stripped of their personal belongings and thrown in the back of a van.

Tessa Leoni, now an investigator retained by Denbe's construction firm, arrives at the crime scene to find Taser confetti in the foyer, scuff marks on the floor, and the pile of possessions on the kitchen counter. There are no witnesses, no ransom demands, no motive, simply an entire family gone without a trace.

Held captive in an abandoned prison and fighting for their lives, the Denbes are quickly forced to confront hard truths about themselves and their so-called perfect family. For their kidnappers have clearly done their homework. They know everything about the family's home, business and personal life, including the most effective ways to make each of them pay.
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The end of this novel had a crazy twist that I didn't see coming. Throughout the book, we learn about Tessa's past - who apparently was in another novel of Gardner's called Love You More - and about how she too had her daughter kidnapped at one point, and was acquitted of murdering her husband. Since the chapters are alternating, we also learn about Justin Denbe's indiscretions, through Libby, and how Libby has been popping pills lately to deal with it all. And their daughter, Ashlyn, also has a secret, though Libby and Justin don't learn about it until they are trapped together in the prison that their kidnappers take them to.

I think anyone who likes a well-written story would like Touch & Go - you don't have to be a mystery/suspense fan to like it. The pace is done very well and there's a lot of little twists, including one big twist at the end of the book, that aren't always easy to predict. The point of view is third person omniscient, but works for the novel, as we get to experience both the pursuit of the kidnappers from Tessa's point of view and the terror of living with the kidnappers from Libby's.

4.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was compensated for writing this review for the BlogHer Book Club. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Also Known As

Also Known As, by Robin Benway.

My family works for the Collective. You've never heard of the Collective, but you've definitely read about our work. Tobacco executives on trail because of damning evidence? Human smuggling rings being broken up? The fall of that Peruvian dictator? That's us.

I have to admit, I'm still not sure who or what the Collective even is. I know only a few details: there are two hundred spies stationed around the globe, moving to wherever we're needed. Some of us are forgers (more on that later), computer hackers, statisticians, weapons experts, and I think a few assassins, too, but my parents won't answer my questions about them. I don't know how many safecrackers there are, but we move a lot because of me. Apparently a lot of safes need cracking.


Also Known As, Robin Benway, YA, teenage spies
If you are a fan of Ally Carter's books (which I am), or a fan of YA fiction in general, you will like this book. It's about Maggie, a spy who was born into her life, since her parents are spies, and cracked her first lock when she was a toddler. She and her family move back to NYC, for her toughest assignment yet: high school. Maggie has to become friends with a boy named Jesse Oliver and then figure out how to stop his dad, Armand, from publishing an expose on the Collective that could unmask her and her family and countless of other spies. The only problem is that she's never actually been to high school before ...

Official synopsis, from Amazon.com:
Believe it or not, there are some drawbacks to being a 16-year old safecracker, daughter of spies, and member of a Robin Hood-esque organization that fights corruption. On the list: never getting to stay in one place long enough to have friends or a boyfriend, being the only spy ever to have a 10 p.m. curfew, and being sent on assignment to Russia. In the winter. For Maggie, the major perk thus far has been the avoidance of high school, and the accompanying cliques, bad lunches, and frustratingly simple Masterlocks on the lockers(If it’s three digits or less, why even bother?). But when Maggie and her parents are sent to New York on a major assignment, though, all of that changes. She’ll need to attend a private school, avoid the temptation to hack the school’s security system, and befriend one aggravatingly cute Jesse Oliver to gain the information she needs to crack the case, all while trying not to blow her cover.

I thought the characters in this novel were very likable, including Maggie; my only complaint is that she seems to assimilate and make friends super quickly, and I don't know if that would play out in real life like that. Her "assignment," Jesse, is gorgeous, and predictably she falls in love with him. She also makes one good friend, Roux (pronounced like Kanga-ROO, minus the "Kanga"), who later ends up helping her with her mission. This book was a little "fluffier" than most teen spy novels I have read (meaning that it reads more like a YA book than a spy novel, if that makes sense) but it was definitely fun to read, and I recommend it to anyone who likes a good romcom/mystery.

And PS: if you end up reading Also Known As and liking it, the author has confirmed that there will be a second book - so keep an eye out for that on the shelves too, hopefully sometime soon.

Also Known As will be in stores on February 26th. 3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from NetGalley to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

It had made sense when a beautiful girl was saying it. Now that I was back home, alone, and in my own bed, I was finally losing it. Even Link wouldn't believe any of this. I tried to think about how the conversation would go - the girl I like, whose real name I don't know, is a witch - excuse me, a Caster, from a whole family of Casters, and in five months she's going to find out essentially if she's good or evil. And she can cause hurricanes indoors and break the glass out of windows. And I can see into the past when I touch the crazy locket Amma and Macon Ravenwood, who isn't actually a shut-in at all, want me to bury. A locket that materialized on the neck of a women in a painting at Ravenwood, which by the way, is not a haunted mansion, but a perfectly restored house that changes completely every time I go there, to see a girl who burns me and shocks me and shatters me with a single touch.

And I kissed her. And she kissed me back.

It was too unbelievable, even for me.


First off: how have I not heard of this series?! This book, the first out of four books, was published in 2009, and the film version of it is coming out next week, on Valentine's Day (Feb. 14). I ran to buy the book before my flight last week and then started it on the way home, and was immediately enthralled ... this will be the next Twilight, in my opinion, except it's much better written and it's a combination of the supernatural (witches, or Casters) meets Harry Potter meets Twilight, at least in the love story sense.

Ethan Wate lives in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina, where life is boring and nothing ever changes. When Lena Duchannes (pronounced "Dukane") comes to town, however, he realizes that she's the girl he has - literally - been dreaming of, and they strike up a friendship, which quickly turns to something more. She has a problem, though: her 16th birthday is coming up, where she will be Claimed either by the Light or the Dark; she has no choice in the matter. Her cousin, Ridley, recently went Dark, and is now shunned by the family. Ethan must help Lena try to figure out a way around going Dark and in the process, he learns that perhaps Gatlin isn't the sleepy town he once thought it was - everyone's keeping secrets, and some of them will surprise you.

The other books in the series are Beautiful Darkness, Beautiful Chaos, and Beautiful Redemption, and the last one just recently was published. I'm definitely hooked after the first one, so I plan to read the others at some point. This one was rather long - about 500 pages - but I whipped through it in two days because it was that good.

I'm looking forward to the movie version too - it stars relative unknown actors as Lena and Ethan, but Jeremy Irons stars as Macon, Lena's strange uncle, and Viola Davis as Amma, a librarian and protector of Ethan who was best friends with his mom before she died. At the beginning of this book Ethan's dad is equivalent to a zombie - he hides out in his study all day and is writing a novel, so he says - and the reason he's been so antisocial is Ethan's mother's death about a year earlier.

I've also heard that in the movie version, they combine Amma - Ethan's protector and housekeeper - and Marian, the town librarian; in the book, they're two separate people, but in the movie they've been combined as one character to streamline the film a bit.

5 stars out of 5.

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Elizabeth has read 2 books toward her goal of 70 books.
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