Monday, January 27, 2014

Book Review: The Stars Care for None

The Stars Care for None, by A.D. VanKirk.

I never saw much validity to Dad's sagacity, but there can be an instance where his wisdom deviated from the typical absurdities, and I understood. Never before and never again have I witnessed so much truth in his tiny sparks of wisdom then when I came upon the man I first knew as James Piece. I began to see just how flawed my first observations were.

He was quite the mess - Piece, I mean. Those that really know what it means to be a companion to James Piece assert that he was without a doubt, a genius. I feel privileged to say that I was one such of these companions.  

The Stars Care for None is A. D. VanKirk's debut novel, and it's an interesting read, especially by a first-time writer. It's loosely based on The Great Gatsby, and you can see its influences throughout - one of the characters' names is actually a gay man named Jordan Baker (in G.G. the character is a woman), and the narrator muses over a billboard at one point that is similar to the one in the book and recent movie. The main character in this novel, however, is quite a bit different than Jay Gatsby, even though some of his struggles are the same.

Official synopsis:
The Stars Care for None book review, A.D. VanKirkJames Piece is a closeted gay man and Kuwaiti immigrant to the United States struggling to discover himself while juggling his religion, ethnicity, country, and sexuality. Pulled in opposing directions by friendship, love, tradition, and faith, Piece must navigate a precarious existence in a post-9/11 Metro Detroit.

Not wanting to risk exclusion from any of the communities that he might adopt into his identity, Piece remains in a stagnant and uncertain state. When he rekindles the flame with his first-time lover, he begins to show signs of progress. Piece is moving toward a life where he might love openly, but is such a life enough to bring him solace or able to compensate for all he risks losing? Will he find comfort in the forces that demand he conform to their conditions? Told through the perspective of Nick, Piece's confidant,
The Stars Care for None not only shares the endeavors of one man, but also those of an entire community.
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The novel was set in the metro Detroit area, which I loved since I am also from here. The characters bounce around Royal Oak, Birmingham, and the city proper, and although the restaurants and bars they frequent seem to be fictitious, one can still get an overall sense of the cities from the novel.

Piece's story is interesting, as no one knows exactly who he is and what the truth is about his background, until he starts to confide in Nick (much like Gatsby and his confidant Nick). Piece was in love with a guy named Tom at one point, whom Nick knows because Tom is engaged to his friend Violet, and Nick ends up trying to reunite the two, even though he feels guilty since Violet has no idea of Tom's exploits.

The writing in this novel was very good and I could hear the author's voice clearly (I personally know the author, as I state below), which I also liked. There were a few situations that seemed a little implausible (which I can't get into without giving away spoilers about the end of the book), but otherwise everything seemed realistic, especially some of the online dating parts.

The Stars Care for None will be available for purchase starting in early March, or you can pre-order your copy here. 3.5 stars out of 5.

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

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Book Review: Thrown

Thrown, by Colette Auclair.

"What if he wasn't your boss? What if you met him at a Starbucks? Or in your case, the hay bale outlet."

Her eyes flickered away from him and she looked around as though the answer were somewhere on the stones of the patio. She sighed. "It wouldn't matter. I'm leaving in September, and I don't do flings." Except maybe with Luke, she added in her head.

"Ah, but you'd consider it."

"He's very attractive. Anyone would." She hoped she sounded flippant.

"But you're not just anyone, Amanda Vogel. Neither is he."

Thrown is a love story with horse elements, in that it's about a woman who falls in love with her boss, whose children she is teaching as first-time riders. It's being marketed as "steamy" but really is more PG or PG-13 than R-rated, in my opinion, and focuses a lot on the main character's relationships with everyone in the novel and not just with the man she eventually loves.

Official synopsis:
Thrown book review, Colette Auclair, horsesIn THROWN, professional trainer Amanda Vogel dreams of riding jumpers in the Olympics, but after seeing her best friend die in a riding accident, she’s so traumatized she can’t show. Broke and desperate, she takes a summer job in Aspen teaching some big-shot widowed movie star’s spoiled daughters to ride—even though she hates teaching kids. She braces herself for three miserable months. But by Labor Day, she has to choose between capturing a gold medal…and the man who has captured her heart.
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Amanda Vogel, our protagonist, is set on one day making the Olympic riding team, even though she recently had to sell her favorite horse, Edelweiss, due to financial problems. She takes a job in Aspen for the summer so that she can make some money, and ends up teaching the children of Grady Brunswick, a famous (and famously hot) actor. The kids are resistant to riding at first, but soon begin to enjoy it.

I mostly liked this novel but it wrapped up a bit too perfectly at the end, even though the main characters take a while to acknowledge their feelings for one another. The book sometimes seemed long, too, even though it's only about 320 pages; it's available in e-book format only, but I had a bound (printed) galley which I read.

The characters and situations were definitely believable, but I wanted more out of the story. I'd recommend this book as a light read, though, if you're looking for a fun novel that has serious elements as well.

3 stars out of 5.

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Review: The Naturals

The Naturals (The Naturals #1), by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

This is a game, I heard Dean's voice echoing throughout my memory. It's always a game. That was what he'd told Michael, and at the time, I'd agreed. To the killer, this was a game - and suddenly, I couldn't help thinking the good guys might not win this one.

We might lose.

I might lose.

The reviews on this novel are saying it's like the teenage version of the TV show Criminal Minds (of which I am a big fan), and I definitely agree. The ending was a little abrupt but this is the first in a series, and I can't wait to read the second book once it is published.

Official synopsis:
The Naturals book reviewSeventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want. But it’s not a skill that she’s ever taken seriously. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they’ve begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie.

What Cassie doesn’t realize is that there’s more at risk than a few unsolved homicides— especially when she’s sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own.

Sarcastic, privileged Michael has a knack for reading emotions, which he uses to get inside Cassie’s head—and under her skin. Brooding Dean shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but keeps her at arm’s length.

Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms closer than Cassie could ever have imagined. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive.
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I liked this book a lot, although at some points it seemed like Criminal Minds-lite - it's not a short book but I got through it quickly. Cassie leaves her grandmother's home to come to D.C. and be in the program that the FBI has made for teenagers, and each of the teens in the program has a gift; Cassie is a Natural, which means she is good at reading people.

Cassie also decided to join the program because her mother was murdered a few years ago - that's how she ends up living at her grandmother's house, as her father is in the armed forces.

This novel made for quick reading although, like I said before, the ending was far too abrupt; the reason for this being, of course, that it's the first in a Naturals series. I've also heard this might be developed into a TV show, which I would watch, and I would think younger fans of Criminal Minds would also watch.

3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: Flowers in the Attic, premiering on Lifetime on 1/18

Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews.

"It's all right, Momma," said Chris, drawing her into his embrace just as our father would. "What you ask isn't too much, not when we have so much to gain."

"Yes," Momma said eagerly, "just a short while more to sacrifice, and a ltitle more patience, and all that is sweet and good in life will be yours."

What was there left for me to say? How could I protest? Already we'd sacrificed over three weeks - what was a few more days, or weeks, or even another month?

At the end of the rainbow waited the pot of gold. But rainbows were made of faint and fragile gossamer - and gold weighed a ton - and since the world began, gold was the reason to do most anything.

This book was my first foray into V.C. Andrews who has written many, many books, mostly in series. This one, the Dollanganger series, has five books, and is the one for which she is most famous. The TV movie adaptation of the novel is coming to Lifetime on January 18th, and I can't wait to see it, because this book was one of the most screwed up novels that I have read in quite a while.

Official synopsis:
Flowers in the Attic, V.C. Andrews, Lifetime movieIt wasn't that she didn't love her children. She did. But there was a fortune at stake - a fortune that would assure their later happiness if she could keep the children a secret from her dying father.

So she and her mother hid her darlings away in an unused attic.

Just for a little while.

But the brutal days swelled into agonizing years. Now Cathy, Chris, and the twins wait in their cramped and helpless world, stirred by adult dreams, adult desires, served a meager sustenance by an angry, superstitious grandmother who knows that the Devil works in dark and devious ways. Sometimes he sends children to do his work--children who--one by one--must be destroyed....

'Way upstairs there are
four secrets hidden.
Blond, beautiful, innocent
struggling to stay alive....
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I unfortunately had read many spoilers online because of this movie and its sequel, which Lifetime also plans on producing, so I knew what was in store for me in Flowers in the Attic. That didn't make what happened any less crazy, though, and it was interesting to read.

The basic plot is that after their father dies, the Dollanganger children - Christopher and Cathy, the oldest, and Carrie and Cory, the twins - must move with their mother to their grandmother's house, whom they've never met. Their mother stashes them in the attic with promises to visit every day, and soon we learn why they have to stay there instead of one of the main other rooms in the mansion; their grandfather didn't approve of their mother's marriage. They're waiting for their grandfather to die, so their mother says, and then they can re-enter the world and live downstairs with her.

It's pretty hard to explain why this book is so strange without giving away spoilers. I will say there's a reason why the Dollanganger children all look so alike, with blonde hair and blue eyes, same as their mother, though. Events happen later on in the novel, too, that show their mother's real personality and also their evil grandmother's.

I will say that the novel was originally published in 1979, and because of that, some of the writing was a little hard to get through - older expressions are used and sometimes the writing seemed a little stiff. I won't be reading the other four books in the series because of this, but I did go on Wikipedia to see what happens to the characters, as I was definitely curious.

Lifetime is premiering Flowers in the Attic on Saturday, January 18th, at 8pm EST, and it will repeat at 12:01 EST that night and 9pm EST the next night, in case you're like me and will be watching the SAG awards then. The cast includes:

Heather Graham as Corrine (the mother)
Ellen Burstyn as Olivia (the grandmother)
Kiernan Shipka as Young Cathy (the oldest daughter)
Dylan Bruce as Bart
Mason Dye as Christopher (the oldest son)
Chad Willett as Christopher Sr. (the father)
Ava Telek as Carrie (twin #1)
Maxwell Kovach as Cory (twin #2)

You can check out the trailer below - I love the Sweet Child O' Mine version they used in it:



3.5 stars out of 5.

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

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Tangled, ends 1/17

Tangled, by Emma Chase.

It's the hottest club in New York City. Well, at least tonight it is. By next week it will be some other club. But the location doesn't matter. The script is always the same. Every weekend my friends and I come here together but leave separately - and never alone.

Don't look at me like that. I'm not a bad guy. I don't lie; I don't sandbag women with flowery words about a future together and love at first sight. I'm a straight shooter. I'm looking for a good time - for one night - and I tell them so. That's better than ninety percent of the other guys in here, believe me. And most of the girls in here are looking for the same thing I am.

Okay. maybe that's not exactly true.

This book is one of the first I've read in a long time where it's "chick lit" - written by a woman, and the type of book that women usually like to read - but the narrator is a guy. A very smug, entitled guy, for the most part, but he makes this novel funny and hard to put down ... and he learns from his mistakes throughout the novel, as well.

Official synopsis:
Tangled, Emma Chase, book reviewDrew Evans is a winner. Handsome and arrogant, he makes multimillion dollar business deals and seduces New York’s most beautiful women with just a smile. He has loyal friends and an indulgent family. So why has he been shuttered in his apartment for seven days, miserable and depressed?

He’ll tell you he has the flu.

But we all know that’s not really true.

Katherine Brooks is brilliant, beautiful and ambitious. She refuses to let anything - or anyone - derail her path to success. When Kate is hired as the new associate at Drew’s father’s investment banking firm, every aspect of the dashing playboy’s life is thrown into a tailspin. The professional competition she brings is unnerving, his attraction to her is distracting, his failure to entice her into his bed is exasperating.

Then, just when Drew is on the cusp of having everything he wants, his overblown confidence threatens to ruin it all. Will he be able untangle his feelings of lust and tenderness, frustration and fulfillment? Will he rise to the most important challenge of his life?

Can Drew Evans win at love?

Tangled is not your mother’s romance novel. It is an outrageous, passionate, witty narrative about a man who knows a lot about women…just not as much as he thinks he knows. As he tells his story, Drew learns the one thing he never wanted in life, is the only thing he can’t live without.
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Drew was a pretty funny narrator, and I found myself laughing at some of his "Drew-isms." He talks about cuddling after sex as such:

Typically, after a woman and I are done, there is no spooning, no snuggling, no frigging pillow talk. I might, on occasion, have a nap before I head out the door. But I can't stand when a girl braids herself around me like some mutant octopus. It's annoying and uncomfortable.
When he meets Kate, however - first at a bar, and later when she's introduced as the newest employee at his office - the old rules go out the window, and he finds himself actually struggling to get the girl, for once, instead of having her come to him.

Tangled is the first of three books, technically three and a half, in a series, and the next book in it, Twisted, will continue Kate and Drew's story, but be from Kate's point-of-view, which should be interesting. There's a 40-page novella (#1.5 in the series) that is also from Drew's POV.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who likes chick lit, especially from a guy's POV, or anyone looking for a light, funny story.

4 stars out of 5.

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


^ fan made trailer for Tangled - a bit NSFW. Creator made a great choice of Chris Evans for Drew!


GIVEAWAY:

I have two paperback copies of this novel for some of my lucky readers to win!

Enter via the Rafflecopter form below. Contest will end on Friday, January 17th, and winners will be notified on January 18th, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen. U.S. & Canada residents only, please.

Good luck!

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review: These Broken Stars

These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.

I've got no clue where we are or how far behind we've left the pod, but as a branch hits me in the face, I'm forced to close my eyes again. The ship is still there, a painting of muddled afterimages. The sunlight's lancing almost horizontally through the trees, alternating flashes of glare and shadow that shine red through my eyelids. How long were we on that bluff?

My father's ship is in ruins. I watched her fall from the sky. How many souls fell with her? How many couldn't launch their pods?

These Broken Stars may be my favorite novel of 2013 (even though I read it in 2014), and it's an interesting mix of a disaster story with either sci-fi or dystopian elements throughout, depending on how you look at it. The story reminded me a lot of Titanic at the beginning, as they're on a "luxury spaceliner" that ends up plummeting out of space - complete with first-class areas and lower-class ("steerage") areas - and the way the women and men dress up for dinner, etcetera.

Official synopsis:
These Broken Stars book reviewIt's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.
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The book follows the only two survivors of the Icarus crash: Lilac LaRoux, daughter of the creator of Icarus, and Tarver Merendsen, a decorated soldier who still isn't used to hobnobbing with the rich and famous. Lilac and Tarver meet each other onboard the Icarus, and as fate has it, they end up together when the ship starts to plummet out of orbit. Lilac knows a lot of mechanical things that girls of her stature aren't normally taught, and she manages to get herself and Tarver into a safety pod and off the ship before it starts to crash.

This novel was fantastic. The year is never specified, but it seems like it could be in the not-too-distant future, where corporations buy up planets and "terraform" them (make them habitable). There were 50,000 people aboard the Icarus, a spaceliner (side note: who would name their ship the Icarus?! Based on the legend, that's just asking for trouble ...), most of whom were rich like Lilac, and they all perish once the ship crashes out of hyperspace. Lilac and Tarver must then learn to cooperate, and also survive, while they hopefully find a way to send a distress call into space.

I really wanted to give this novel 5 out of 5 stars, but thinking back on it, I wanted more of an explanation for some events. The authors are great at character-building, but I'd like to know more about the world where Lilac and Tarver crash-landed. We also don't get much of a backstory for the two characters, besides their family lives and where they used to live. This novel also reminded me a lot of Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, which I didn't review but also really enjoyed reading this past year; the situations, at least at first, were similar.

4.5 stars out of 5.

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

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Book Review: Man Made Boy

Man Made Boy, by Jon Skovron.

"He didn't seem all that freaked out by me. And he was pretty comfortable with you, too. What about all that predator and prey stuff you were talking about?"

"Carmine may not believe in monsters, but he knows they exist."

"Humans are pretty complicated," I said.

"No, Boy. Rain-forest ecosystems are complicated. Humans are just a mess."

This may be the most unique novel I have read in quite some time. Everyone knows that Victor Frankenstein created a monster, and then the Bride, his companion; but what they might not know, from this book, is that Frankenstein's monster and the Bride then made (manufactured) a son, whom they named Boy. This novel is the tale of Boy's introduction into human society and his computer hacker exploits.

Official synopsis:
Sixteen-year-old Boy’s never left home. When you’re the son of Frankenstein’s monster and the Bride, it’s tough to go out in public, unless you want to draw the attention of a torch-wielding mob. And since Boy and his family live in a secret enclave of monsters hidden under Times Square, it’s important they maintain a low profile.

Boy’s only interactions with the world are through the Internet, where he’s a hacker extraordinaire who can hide his hulking body and stitched-together face behind a layer of code. When conflict erupts at home, Boy runs away and embarks on a cross-country road trip with the granddaughters of Jekyll and Hyde, who introduce him to malls and diners, love and heartbreak. But no matter how far Boy runs, he can’t escape his demons—both literal and figurative—until he faces his family once more.

This hilarious, romantic, and wildly imaginative tale redefines what it means to be a monster—and a man.
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This novel was a fun read. I haven't read sci-fi or fantasy fiction in a while, and Boy's adventures were definitely interesting. He and his family are part of The Show, a Broadway show in Times Square operated by the monsters they live with. His dad has to "turn off" every night in order to be impervious to Medusa and the Siren's powers, and when he "turns back on," all of his pent-up emotions from that time period bubble to the surface.

His mom, the Bride, hasn't been "Outside" in more than 20 years, and Boy has never been outside, until one day when the stage manager, Ruthven, takes him with him on a few errands. Boy later learns his parents plan to send him to the University of Geneva, in Switzerland, with one caveat: he will be living with descendants of Victor Frankenstein, the creator with whom his father has a love/hate relationship. Boy does not like this at all, and runs away, trying to make it on his own in the human world.

This book would make a fantastic movie. Boy is described as ugly by human standards, but he still manages to pass for human, and I wonder exactly what he looks like - he's supposedly a bit like his father, a little more toned-down. His mother, the Bride, is described as having a porcelain, pale face, and is very delicate-looking despite the stitches on her face, a trait they all share.

The author went and got a Man Made Boy-inspired tattoo recently, too, which you can check out below:



4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Broom with a View, ends 1/11

Broom with a View, by Gayla Twist and Ted Naifeh.

It was no use; try though she might, magic never obeyed Miss Popplewell's wishes the way she intended. Most children born to the Craft assumed that the world was their dollhouse, to be rearranged at their whim. But harnessing the unseen forces of the world was a tricky business full of hidden complications and unseen traps. And although almost an adult, Violet still struggled to bend the magical world to her will. 

I have previously reviewed two books by Gayla Twist, in the Vanderlind Castle series: Call of the Vampire and Heart of the Vampire. I will say that I enjoyed those a little more than this novel, Broom with a View, but the voices in both are hard to compare; the Vanderlind books made me laugh out loud more than once, but Broom is written in almost an old-fashioned tone. Regardless, however, Broom stands on its own merits, and is worth a read.

Official synopsis:
Gayla TwistCan a good Witch and a brooding Vampire find true love? Especially when the whole world is against them?

The threat of war between Witches and Vampires means England may no longer be safe for a young Witch. Hence, Miss Violet Popplewell is sent abroad under the watchful eye of her great-aunt Vera. Without so much as a bon voyage party, Violet finds herself a visitor to the city-state of X, a mysterious place where magic is used openly and Witches and Vampires live together in harmony. Or at least, they try to get along. Violet’s aunt is shocked to discover that there are Vampires staying at their pensione and alarmed to note that one of the undead is a rather handsome young man.

An outburst of hostilities in X thrusts Violet into the young Vampire’s arms. And, much to her dismay, she realizes she may have accidentally bewitched him with a love charm. Are the emotions that the Vampire feels true passion or just a slip of the wand?
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Violet is a Crafter - aka, a witch - and has been sent away to the city of X while the witch-vampire war rages on in England. It's there that she meets Cyril, a human who asks for her hand in marriage, as well as Sebastian, a handsome vampire that is drawn to her.

I think my favorite character in this novel is actually Violet's aunt, Vera, because she was always so concerned about doing the proper thing at the proper time, which made for some hilarious situations. She warns Violet that humans have some sort of compulsion when they ask for marriage three times, and after Cyril asks three times Violet realizes this is somewhat true.

This novel also had some Harry Potter-type elements in it, as Violet is only sixteen and sometimes hopelessly bad at magic; she reminded me of Ron Weasley in that way.

The book ended a little abruptly so I'm hoping that this is the start of a new series, but if not, Broom is still worth reading as a stand-alone novel.

3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this novel from the author for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

GIVEAWAY:

I have one paperback copy of this novel for a lucky reader to win, courtesy of the author.

Enter via the Rafflecopter form below. Contest will end on Saturday, January 11th, and winner will be notified on January 12th, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen. U.S. & Canada residents only, please. Book will be mailed by the author, so please allow a few weeks for delivery.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway