Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Isle of the Lost, by Melissa de la Cruz {ends 6/7}

For her mother was the great Maleficent, Mistress of Darkness, the most powerful and wicked fairy in the world and the most fearsome villain in all the land.

Or at least, she had been.

Once upon a time, her mother's wrath had cursed a princess.

Once upon a time, her mother's wrath had brought a prince to his knees.

Once upon a time, her mother's wrath had put an entire kingdom to sleep.

Once upon a time, her mother had had all the forces of hell at her command.

And there was nothing Mal desired more in her heart than to grow up to be just like her.

While I was reading this novel, I didn't know that it is a prequel to Descendants, which is going to be a Disney Channel original movie starring Kristin Chenoweth as Maleficent. I'm a huge fan of Melissa de la Cruz's work, and they definitely chose the right author to write Isle of the Lost, as it was a fun read.

Official synopsis:
Twenty years ago, all the evil villains were banished from the kingdom of Auradon and made to live in virtual imprisonment on the Isle of the Lost. The island is surrounded by a magical force field that keeps the villains and their descendants safely locked up and away from the mainland. Life on the island is dark and dreary. It is a dirty, decrepit place that's been left to rot and forgotten by the world.

But hidden in the mysterious Forbidden Fortress is a dragon's eye: the key to true darkness and the villains' only hope of escape. Only the cleverest, evilest, nastiest little villain can find it...who will it be?

Maleficent, Mistress of the Dark: As the self-proclaimed ruler of the isle, Maleficent has no tolerance for anything less than pure evil. She has little time for her subjects, who have still not mastered life without magic. Her only concern is getting off the Isle of the Lost.

Mal: At sixteen, Maleficent's daughter is the most talented student at Dragon Hall, best known for her evil schemes. And when she hears about the dragon's eye, Mal thinks this could be her chance to prove herself as the cruelest of them all.

Evie: Having been castle-schooled for years, Evil Queen's daughter, Evie, doesn't know the ins and outs of Dragon Hall. But she's a quick study, especially after she falls for one too many of Mal's little tricks.

Jay: As the son of Jafar, Jay is a boy of many talents: stealing and lying to name a few. Jay and Mal have been frenemies forever and he's not about to miss out on the hunt for the dragon's eye.

Carlos: Cruella de Vil's son may not be bravest, but he's certainly clever. Carlos's inventions may be the missing piece in locating the dragon's eye and ending the banishment for good.

Mal soon learns from her mother that the dragon's eye is cursed and whoever retrieves it will be knocked into a deep sleep for a thousand years. But Mal has a plan to capture it. She'll just need a little help from her "friends." In their quest for the dragon's eye, these kids begin to realize that just because you come from an evil family tree, being good ain't so bad.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: Mimi Malloy, At Last! by Julia MacDonnell {ends 6/3}

Review by: Rachel Gonzales

My sisters love nothing better than picking at our past like it’s the carcass of a rotisserie chicken, ooh and aahing when they find a juicy morsel, a bit of crispy skin. It’s a love that came upon them, one by one, after the Change. Maybe it’s a side effect, like night sweats and hot flashes. But to me, it’s just charred bones.

Julia MacDonnell’s novel, only her second is twenty years, examines the life of Mimi Malloy, the oldest surviving sister of an immigrant family, and explores the many different ways (good and bad) that families and memories can impact your childhood, even when you’re already well into adulthood.

Official synopsis:
Mimi Malloy was born into an Irish-Catholic brood of seven, and she has done her best to raise six daughters of her own. Now they’re grown, and Mimi cherishes the comforts of her new life: Frank Sinatra on her stereo, walks with her super, Duffy, and spare time that is finally hers to spend. Sure, her eldest worries about her memory lapses, and Mimi’s surviving sisters, who love to gossip, question her indifference to the past. As far as Mimi is concerned, she’s entitled to enjoy the present -- and that includes the occasional Manhattan.

But when she stumbles upon a long-lost pendant of her mother’s, recollections of a shocking and painful childhood begin to surface. With the help of her siblings and her daughters, Mimi must find the courage to confront her troubled history -- and discover that the stories that refuse to be forgotten are the ones she ought to treasure most.
Mimi Malloy, At Last! is an unforgettable novel, alive with hope, unexpected romance, and the magic of hard-earned insight.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Book Review: Sophomore Year is Greek to Me, by Meredith Zeitlin

Review by: Jackie Vore

Official synopsis:
A laugh-out-loud high school adventure set in Greece, perfect for fans of Meg Cabot

High school sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they’re moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she's devastated— he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona's mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she’s supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks... but no thanks.

In the vein of
Anna and the French Kiss, Zona navigates a series of hilarious escapades, eye-opening revelations, and unexpected reunions in a foreign country—all while documenting the trip through one-of-a-kind commentary.

Sophomore Year is Greek to Me is the follow up book to Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters, but if you have not read the Freshman Year book, you can easily pick this book up and not feel lost at all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Quick Pick: The Law of Loving Others, by Kate Axelrod

  • Opening lines: It was a Friday in the middle of December, the day after Daniel and I had finished our finals, and we were leaving Pennsylvania for New York. 
  • Reason I picked up the book: I received it in the mail to review, without a pitch letter or email (very mysterious, ha) and it looked good. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • Terrified by the realization that she could lose her mother to schizophrenia, Emma spirals out of control over the course of one winter break.

    The car glows with that careless feeling before the freedom of winter break as Emma drives home from boarding school with her boyfriend, Daniel. But when Emma calls to tell her mom she’ll be home before dinner, something is wrong. Just hours after Emma returns home, she realizes that her mom is suffering from a schizophrenic break. Emma’s entire childhood and identity is called into question. How could the woman who sent huge care packages of candy to sleep away camp be the same woman duct taping their windows to keep out the voices in her head? In her search for answers, Emma lands on a terrible possibility: schizophrenia is genetic. Emma could have only a few more years of sanity. Emma could end up just like her mom.

    In the span of just one winter break, Emma’s life falls apart. Her relationships alter forever and she is forced to see the hard reality in a line from Anna Karenina: “The law of loving others could not be discovered by reason, because it is unreasonable.”

  • Favorite paragraph:
  • "I know we aren't allowed to do anything," he said, "but can we just hang out again? Just a little? Really, just to talk and do whatever?
    He grasped me playfully, and I wondered if he was going to kiss or hug me but then he just rubbed his knuckles into the mess of my hair, a sloppy bun that rested on the top of my head.
    "Maybe a little," I said and I twisted myself out from his grip, did a clumsy twirl. "Maybe we can hang a little."
  • Recommended for: Anyone who like stories about mental illnesses or enjoys YA lit.
  • Something to know: The story mostly takes place in NYC, even though the main character goes to boarding school in Pennsylvania.
  • What I would have changed: The ending. HATED it because it just makes you speculate on the fates of all of the characters. I will say the actual writing (prose) in this book was good, but it ends on a very vague note; I would have liked a more defined ending. 
  • Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here.
*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Review: One of Us, by Tawni O'Dell

Review by: Rebecca Eve Schweitzer

Official Synopsis:
Dr. Sheridan Doyle, a fastidiously groomed and TV-friendly forensic psychologist, is the go-to shrink for the Philadelphia District Attorney's office whenever a twisted killer's mind eludes other experts. But beneath his Armani pinstripes, he's still Danny Doyle, the awkward, terrified, bullied boy from a blue-collar mining family, plagued by panic attacks and haunted by the tragic death of his little sister and mental unraveling of his mother years ago.

Returning to a hometown grappling with its own ghosts, Danny finds a dead body at the infamous Lost Creek gallows where a band of rebellious Irish miners was once executed. Strangely, the body is connected to the wealthy family responsible for the miners' deaths. Teaming up with veteran detective Rafe, a father-like figure from his youth, Danny, in pursuit of a killer, comes dangerously close to startling truths about his family, his past, and himself.

Some books end better than expected, which is the case with Tawni O’Dell’s latest book, One of Us, but that may be to make up for the difficult trek to reach that point. Despite its claimed genre classifications, this book isn’t a mystery. It’s not a psychological thriller either. It’s a psychological story with some not-quite mysterious intrigue? Maybe.

One of Us opens on the protagonist and primary narrator, Danny, heading home to Lost Creek, which the book goes to great lengths to establish as creepy and mysterious, with lots of mystery and maybe ghosts and even more mysteriousness. During all the town-based pseudo-mystery, One of Us, offers up a ton of town trivia, family backstory and character description. Just when all of this gets supremely boring and the book is a quarter of the way through, a new narrator, Scarlet, suddenly appears to make everything worse.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Walking on Trampolines, by Frances Whiting (ends 5/19)

Review by: Rachel Gonzales

There is a moment in panic when time stills, suspended like Chinese lanterns across a street, and in that instance you can fool yourself that everything will be all right if you just stay calm.

This novel by Frances Whiting, a popular and long-running columnist for an Australian newspaper, explores whether it is possible to both stay calm and stop fooling yourself in the face of a personal crisis so big, so dramatic, that it threatens to tear two families apart -- not to mention two best friends.

Official synopsis:
From the day Annabelle Andrews sashays into her classroom, Tallulah “Lulu” de Longland is bewitched: by Annabelle, by her family, and by their sprawling, crumbling house tumbling down to the river.

Their unlikely friendship intensifies through a secret language where they share confidences about their unusual mothers, first loves, and growing up in the small coastal town of Juniper Bay. But the euphoria of youth rarely lasts, and the implosion that destroys their friendship leaves lasting scars and a legacy of self-doubt that haunts Lulu into adulthood.

Years later, Lulu is presented with a choice: remain the perpetual good girl who misses out, or finally step out from the shadows and do something extraordinary. And possibly unforgivable …

It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Quick Pick: Younger, by Pamela Redmond Satran

  • Opening lines: I almost didn't get on the ferry.
  • Reason I picked up the book: Younger is one of my new favorite TV shows (see the updated book cover at right, starring Sutton Foster and Hilary Duff) and I just found out it's based upon this book. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • She's old enough to be his mother.

    Alice has always looked young for her age, even with her graying hair and her dowdy New Jersey housewife style. Make that ex-housewife: Now that her husband's gone and her daughter is grown, Alice is in desperate need of a whole new life. So she lets her best friend Maggie, a hip New York City artist, transform her on New Year's Eve. Soon, thanks to the wonders of hair dye and tight jeans, Alice looks really young, as one night in a Manhattan bar confirms. At midnight, she kisses a boy who was in diapers when she was in high school.

    She's having too much fun to care.

    The white lie Alice tells Josh gets her thinking that if no one asks her age, she doesn't have to tell. So she applies for a job she had briefly before becoming a full-time mom and gets it. Meanwhile, Josh is falling head over heels for Alice, who's just way cooler than girls his age. He figures she's about twenty-nine and for the first time since she was twenty-nine, or possibly ever, Alice feels that life is ripe with possibility. Unfortunately one possibility is that she's gonna get caught.

    Challenging the adage that the truth will set you free, Younger is a hilarious and insightful story that proves that you're only as young as you feel.
  • Favorite paragraph:
  • "Think of it as a performance piece. You ride it as far as you can - get yourself some new clothes, see if you can land a job - and let it end when it ends."
    "And what if I do get a job? Then this so-called performance piece will be my real life."
    "I thought you said if you were younger you'd take more risks and be more selfish," said Maggie, as the espresso began to percolate. "See, I knew you couldn't do it."
    "I could do it."
    "Then do it," said Maggie. "Go ahead. I dare you."
  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys a good story and/or is a fan of the TV show.
  • Something to know: I was astonished to see that this novel was published in 2005 - so it took them ten years to bring it to TV!
  • What I would have changed: The ending wraps up a bit neatly but I still enjoyed it. It's a little different from the TV show - names and some events have been changed - but the TV show follows it pretty closely otherwise. I'm now curious to see if the ending of the TV show (whenever it does end) will reflect the book's ending, too. 
  • Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

GIVEAWAY: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie at City Theatre, Detroit {June 6th}, ends 5/12

Many of us grew up reading the children's book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and now you can see this stage production this June in Detroit! It will be playing at the City Theatre on June 6th and 7th

Read on to win a family 4-pack for the June 6th at 5pm performance, as well! (two winners!)

More info:
Olympia Entertainment and Etico Productions once again present the children’s favorite, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, a family production that explores the tasty chain reaction set in motion when a little boy offers a cookie to a visiting mouse. This heartwarming stage adaptation, produced by Performance Network Theatre, returns for another delicious run at the City Theatre on Saturday, June 6 and Sunday, June 7.

Tickets ($19) are on sale now and can be purchased at, The Fox Theatre and Joe Louis Arena box offices, Hockeytown Authentics in Troy (without service charge) at all Ticketmaster locations and To charge tickets by phone, call (800) 745-3000. Groups of 10+ receive a discount by calling (313) 471-3099 for more information.

Created and directed by Etico Productions founder John Manfredi, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie is a madcap messy ride through Laura Joffe Numeroff’s best-selling children’s book. Don’t miss this funny heartwarming story about a boy and his energetic, demanding and inquisitive visitor. Michigan's Etico Productions has been a leader in providing live family entertainment since 2007, including creating the Michigan Premieres of Alexander and the Terrible No Good Very Bad Day and Good Night Moon. Etico has also adapted other If You-stories including; If You Take a Mouse to School and If You Give Pig a Pancake.

The production is produced by the Performance Network, Ann Arbor's premier professional theater. The theatre is home to award winning theatre, music and concert events, making it one of Michigan's most renowned cultural destinations.

Performance schedule:
Saturday, June 6 11 a.m., 2 p.m. & 5 p.m.
Sunday, June 7 11 a.m. & 2 p.m.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Review and Autographed Copies GIVEAWAY: End of Days, by Susan Ee, ends 5/15

The invasion. My mom. My sister. The massacres. They all come rushing back. He's right.

We're at war.

On the verge of an apocalypse filled with monsters and torture in a nightmare world. 

And I'm standing here, a moonstruck teenager pining for an enemy soldier. What am I, crazy?

This time, I'm the first to turn away.

This book is the third in Susan Ee's Penryn and the End of Days series - I reviewed the first two, Angelfall and World After, back in November 2013, and have been waiting patiently since then for this last installment. I actually gave World After 5 out of 5 stars, which for me is pretty rare. End of Days alternated between slow-paced scenes and fast scenes, and although I still enjoyed it, it took me a while to get through it.

Official synopsis:
After a daring escape from the angels, Penryn and Raffe are on the run. They’re both desperate to find a doctor who can reverse the twisted changes inflicted by the angels on Raffe and Penryn’s sister. As they set off in search of answers, a startling revelation about Raffe’s past unleashes dark forces that threaten them all.

When the angels release an apocalyptic nightmare onto humans, both sides are set on a path toward war. As unlikely alliances form and strategies shift, who will emerge victorious? Forced to pick sides in the fight for control of the earthly realm, Raffe and Penryn must choose: Their own kind, or each other?

First off, I highly recommend reading the series in order, because these aren't really stand-alone books. You might be able to get through End of Days without reading the first two, but you'd be missing all of the backstories from the first two novels. 

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Far End of Happy, by Kathryn Craft (ends 5/13)

"We're all on the same team here."

Ronnie turned to Corporal McNichol. "There's something you need to know."

Janet said, "That's enough, Ronnie. It won't do any good to air private affairs."

Ronnie deflected the slice of Janet's glare. "This isn't the first time he's threatened to kill himself."

This novel was unlike any I had ever read before - it's about a suicide standoff and the slow destruction of a marriage. It's also based on real-life events, as the author's husband also committed suicide.

Official synopsis:
The Far End of Happy is a powerful new novel based on author Kathryn Craft’s personal experience with a stand-off involving her husband. Here Craft delivers “real, raw emotion” (Library Journal) exploring a marriage unraveled by mental illness; and one man’s spiral towards a violent conclusion that tests the courage, love, and hope of the three women he leaves behind.

“Framing the novel within a 12-hour period keeps the pages turning (Library Journal).” Narrating from the alternating perspectives of three women, whose lives will be forever altered by Jeff Farnham, gives an intimate look at the steps a woman will take to get the help her husband so urgently needs while desperately trying to keep her children safe.

When the emotionally troubled Jeff engages police in a deadly stand-off, his wife, mother-in-law, and mother struggle to understand why the man they love has turned his back on the life they have given him, the one they all believe is still worth living.

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