Monday, July 14, 2014

The Testing & Independent Study - Joelle Charbonneau

Title: The Testing (The Testing #1)
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Hardcover: 336 pages (my version ARC paperback)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books
Published date: 2013
FTC: Requested to review from publisher

When I heard about the premise for the YA trilogy The Testing I knew I'd want to check it out. I love YA dystopian novels - The Hunger Games, Divergent, Article 5, etc. I was pretty darn impressed with The Testing. So far, it has the most realistic premises for it's dystopian future.  I also really liked the protagonist Cia Vale. I don't normally write multiple reviews in one post, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Back of the book:

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation's chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing - their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father's advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies - trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this first book of The Testing series. I was very impressed with synopsis of the Seven Stages War that left earth pretty messed up.  Survivors have rallied and made a capitol city in Kansas while colonies are made in other regions of the U.S. The goal of the survivors is to fix and rejuvenate the earth while making sure their future government doesn't make the same mistakes. Gradually throughout the testing (and more in the second book) the background unfolds. I thought this was pretty brilliant on the author's part to gradually fill in the gaps of the apocalyptic background.

I also thought the idea of the future University whose goal is to recruit only the best and brightest who will be the future leaders of the United Commonwealth.  Think of The Testing as the ACT or SAT test only insanely more intense and life threatening.  What appealed to me the most about this book is how scarily logical the whole thing is. While some dystopian novels have kind of a silly or far fetched big brother government, this one is very realistic. The Testing challenges are also crazily brutal. I think it's more scarily done than The Hunger Games because it's done on such an awful stage.

I also really liked Cia Vale. Growing up with five older brothers, you can see how she became the person she is. She really looks up and adores her oldest brother Zeen and her father - both are very intelligent.  She's got a drive to impress and live up to her family's brilliance.  While this book has a tad bit of love story between Cia and Tomas, it really isn't mushy or overly done. I think even guys would enjoy reading the story. I was definitely looking forward to reading book two of the series.

Title: Independent Study (The Testing #2)
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Hardcover: 310 pages (my version eBook)
Publisher: HMH Books
Published date: January 2014
FTC: Check out eBook from the library

Back of the book:

Cia is a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas - and thought the government has tried to erase her memory of the brutal horrors of The Testing, Cia remembers. Her attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government's murderous programs put her - and her loved ones - in a world of danger. But the future of the Commonwealth depends on her.

My thoughts:

Hmm. This one is much harder to review. It doesn't lack in action, it starts out on a good foot that way.  Think of college freshman initiations only more deadly. That and Cia and her classmates don't get to pick which area of study they want. They are placed. So while Cia Vale was wanting to do mechanical engineering, she is placed into government studies. The synopsis is also a little misleading. Cia really doesn't remember her time during the Testing...but I'd spoil the end of book one if I told you what happens.

I think the problem with book two is that I just didn't connect as much with Cia. She is basically on survival mode and a lot of the relationships and character building of book one just isn't there. The book doesn't have a whole lot of dialogue so that's always hard for me as a reader. I'll admit that halfway into the book I was debating on giving up on the series.  I am glad I stuck with it though because I really liked how it ended on a cliffhanger and I'm going to check out book three. I won't be waiting on pins and needles but I do want to see how it ends. I just hope the last book gets back some of the personal tones and relationship building that book one had.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Salt & Storm - Kendall Kulper

Title: Salt & Storm
Author: Kendall Kulper
Hardcover: 416 pages (my version ebook ARC)
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published date: September 23, 2014
FTC: Requested to review from Netgalley

My goodness, I'm not sure exactly why but I love this cover. I would have read Salt & Storm without even knowing the story blurb based on the cover alone.  It's mid-July and this book isn't going to be published until September but I already know that Salt & Storm is going to make waves. (I'm laughing at my little joke.)

The story blurb:

 A sweeping historical romance about a witch who foresees her own murder - and the one boy who can help change her future.

Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island's whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she's about to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.

Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane - a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.

My thoughts:

Salt & Storm is beautifully written and engaging. Kendall Kulper is a Harvard grad with a degree in lit and history. My kind of author!  So while this book may be tagged "romance" and "ya" it can stand alone as a piece of well written literature.

As a history major myself, I adored the mid-nineteenth century era Avery Roe is from. It almost makes me want to try and read Moby Dick again. I have yet to travel to the shores of Massachusetts but for some reason I always think it will look and feel like this book.  A girl can wish though, can't she?

While the story is set in the past and it's dubbed a historical fiction, if that genre isn't your thing you'd probably enjoy this novel.  The whole story is from Avery Roe's perspective. She's sixteen and rebelling against the life her mom wants for her. While I liked the mystery around Avery's dream of her murder, her frantic search for a way to stop her murder, and her romance with Tane, I loved how the story rolled back to her relationship with her mom.  I think this is a great coming-of-age story.  And what sixteen year old girl isn't going to swoon over Tane. I would have.

I am looking forward to future books by Kendall Kulper.  

Alternate covers I found on Goodreads:

What's your favorite cover?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Modern Pioneering - Georgia Pellegrini

Title: Modern Pioneering
Author: Georgia Pellegrini
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Published date: March 2014
FTC: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

I love the site Blogging for Books. They've recently gone through a revamp and they have a ton of new review books. I gasped when I saw this one and then nearly drooled when I received it. I absolutely adore this book.  Tiny disclaimer - the "pioneering" is taken a bit lightly - you aren't going to learn how to pluck a chicken or anything major.  But this book is right up my alley as a newbie to gardening and eating in season.

This book is beautifully made.  I had to snap some pictures because while you can get it as an eBook, I'd definitely recommend getting the physical book. It is gorgeous.

I love that this book is so visually stunning and explains everything so easily. It's like being able to pick someone's brain and throw it all into a book for handy reference. I've been needing someone to explain what she does in just a couple of pages:

This is really a massively awesome cook book and gardening book. Like I said, while it won't tell you how to raise, kill and pluck chickens, it does show how to quarter one and how to make stock.  Again, perfect for me (although my husband has a dream to raise chickens, goats and bees for some reason).

My family and I are currently going through a massive change. We moved from Las Vegas and are looking for a job and a place to live. I'm looking forward to being able to grow some of our own food and get my two sons involved as well. Modern Pioneering is going to be a great resource for recipes and gardening tips once I get started. For instance, I might be able to grow radishes but then what? I love her section on preserving and jamming. Mmmm.

Check out the video:

Also check out:

Georgia Pellegrini's website
Georgia Pellegrini's facebook

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Glittering Promises - Lisa T. Bergren

Title: Glittering Promises (Grand Tour #3)
Author: Lisa T. Bergren
Paperback: 443 pages (my version ebook)
Publisher: David C Cook
Published date: 2013
FTC: Requested from Netgalley

When I saw the third book in Lisa T. Bergren's Grand Tour series on Netgalley, I knew I wanted to check it out. I really enjoyed the first two books, check out my review of book one Glamorous Illusions. This Christian fiction series has a cute romance story but I actually really liked the characters, especially the leading lady Cora Kensington. I also loved watching the characters tour around pre-WWI Europe.

Back of the book:

For Cora Kensington, the Grand Tour was to be the trip of a lifetime. She discovered the family she never knew she had and may have even found the love she longs for in Will. Yet her life has just become infinitely more challenging...

Hounded by the stubborn pursuit of Pierre de Richelieu and journalists chasing the beguiling story of the newest American heiress, Cora fights to remain true to her past, reconcile her present, and still embrace her future. But as Will struggles with her newfound wealth, Cora begins to wonder if their love is strong enough to withstand all that threatens to pull them apart.

As she glimpses the end of the tour, Cora knows it's time to decide Who and what defines her...and who and what does not.

My thoughts:

While book one, Glamorous Illusions, was my favorite book of the series, I thought Ms Bergren did a great job in book two and three of rounding out the characters and really showing their realistic struggles with each other and with their faith.

To be honest, the story can sometimes seem a little ridiculous.  Cora finds herself not only as the illegitimate child of one of the wealthiest men in America, but after coming into her own fortune, she also becomes the wealthiest woman in America. She is pursued by the wealthy European Pierre de Richelieu, hounded by journalists, and chased by a villain intent on kidnapping her. Ok. That's a lot going on.

But what I loved about the story is that Cora's and Will's internal struggles were something every one could identify with. Do we let our jobs, finances, relationships define us or are we defined by God? We all have to decide Who not what defines us. Sometimes Cora and Will drove me crazy by their childish behavior and lack of communication - but isn't that realistic too? Often we are our best worst enemy.

I loved the armchair traveling in this last book. Traveling around Italy I was Googling sites as they went. I loved that some of the excitement in the story happened at Pompeii and then the next book I read was also located near Pompeii although during WWII. How interesting is that? This series is great if you want to do a lot of armchair traveling.

I am loving Ms Bergren's story telling and am looking forward to checking out her other novels.

More novels:

The Homeward Trilogy

River of Time Series

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay

Title: Sarah's Key
Author: Tatiana de Rosnay
Paperback: 295 pages
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Published date: 2007
FTC: Bought at library book sale

Sarah's Key has been on my radar since it first came out in 2007.  I kept meaning to read it but never got around to it.  Then they made a movie and I knew I'd want to read the book before I saw the film.  Was it good? Yes. Five star good? No. Will I watch the movie and probably get all teary eyed? Yes. Will I keep the book? No.

Back of the book:

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting French families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard - their secret hiding place - and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.

Sixty Years Later: Sarah's story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.

My thoughts:

It's hard not to get overwhelmed at the number of fictional books out there centered around the Holocaust during WWII.  I've read a number of them so I am always in awe of authors who manage to find something "new" and manage to make it a fascinating, absorbing, and moving story.  Before Sarah's Key, I had never heard of the French police's involvement and the absolutely horrendous treatment of children during the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup. Sometimes it's easier to just blame the Nazi's but Ms de Rosnay's ability to remind us that ordinary people in any time period are capable of committing horrendous acts and how such horrible events are already becoming forgotten.  It is unbelievably sad.

On top of the Holocaust and the craziness that was the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, Ms de Rosnay manages to throw in the story of a young boy locked in a cupboard by his ten year old sister because just like it seems unfathomable to us, it was unimaginable to her that she would not be returning to her home. Sarah's story, while fictional, is one that everyone should read about and remember so history such as hers is never repeated.

I understood why Sarah's Key was interspersed with Julia Jarmond's story. I think to have the whole story centered around Sarah would have been almost too hard to read. I liked Julia's quest to uncover the truth, to find out who Sarah was and what happened to her, to want to tell her that people like Julia will never forget what happened.  But there is much of Julia's personal story that got in the way and I felt it was almost distracting. I could have done without the drama of her failing marriage or her husband's infidelity or her being l'américain in Paris. 

Other covers:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Half a King - Joe Abercrombie

Title: Half a King (Shattered Sea #1)
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Hardcover: 352 pages (my version egalley)
Publisher: Del Rey/Random House
Published date: July 15, 2014
FTC: Received eGalley from NetGalley

I've been wanting to check out Joe Abercrombie's books for some time. So when I saw NetGalley had the first book in a new series by Abercrombie, I jumped on it.  I didn't realize it until later but it's his first foray into YA.  I probably wouldn't have realized that since I haven't read any of his other books but don't let that stop you from checking it out. Wow. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series when it comes out and will be checking out more of Abercrombie's books. If you are a fan of Game of Thrones and want something just as good but not as gory, you must check out this series.

Back of the book:

"I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath."

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

 The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began - in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

My thoughts:

I love the niche that Joe Abercrombie has found and is filling superbly.  Game of Thrones and many other fantasy novels are widely popular but they are definitely something that I wouldn't want my boys reading (and definitely not watching) when they are YA age. Half a King is superbly written, well-crafted and is filled with addicting characters.  What I liked was that while there were battles and death, it lacked the over-the-top graphic battle and sex scenes that some fantasy novels have and was the perfect length at under 400 pages.  Often there are some interesting series or trilogies out there but the massive chunksters can turn me off.  A master storyteller can accomplish create a world, populate it with fascinating people and characters, and a compelling story that makes you eager for the next book to come out without making it a massive tome.

If you are not used to reading fantasy novels, Half a King would be a great introduction to the genre. The story is shown through Yarvi's eyes and is centered around his "coming of age" journey from younger inept brother suddenly thrust into becoming a king.  Yarvi was born with one hand partially formed and was constantly told he was not a whole man. His older brother was destined to become king.  Fate threw him onto the throne he did not want and into avenging the deaths of his father and brother. I love books where circumstances thrust a young character into growing up. It reminds me of Treasure Island or Silver. It's also reminiscent of Game in Thrones only in the fact that the world isn't too far off from our Middle Age past. I would have loved to have a map included in my galley edition and hope there is one in the hard cover version.  I am looking forward to book #2 whenever it comes out. In the meantime I will be checking out Abercromie's other acclaimed books.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

With Every Letter - Sarah Sundin

Title: With Every Letter (Wings of the Nightingale #1)
Author: Sarah Sundin
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Revell
Published date: 2012
FTC: Ebook from the library

I was perusing my library's ebook collection and while I've been trying to read ebooks that I own, for some reason I was drawn to this book.  I am such a sucker for WWII novels and I was drawn to the stories of these flight nurses.  While not five star material (ok four and a half), I was totally sucked into the series and am reading book two right now.  I'm looking forward to book three coming out in August. This book is also Christian fiction which I've been enjoying more and more.

Back of the book:

Lt. Mellie Blake is looking forward to her training as a flight nurse. She is not looking forward to writing a letter to a man she's never met - even if it is anonymous and part of a morale-building program.

Lt. Tom MacGilliver, an officer stationed in North Africa, welcomes the idea of an anonymous correspondence - he's been trying to escape his infamous name for years. As their letters crisscross the Atlantic, Tom and Mellie develop a unique friendship despite not knowing the other's true identity.

When both are transferred to Algeria, the two are poised to meet face-to-face for the first time. Will they overcome their fears and reveal who they are, or will their future be held hostage by their pasts?

My thoughts:

This sounds like such a cheesy romance right? Ok sort of. But what I loved about the story is that it went much deeper than that.  I loved Mellie Blake's background - part Filipino who helped her father apply medicine in the field in jungles and back country.  She prays for his safety as he is currently missing in Japan. Her background provided excellent training for a nurse but she struggles with making friends and being social. I adored the other flight nurses - Rose, Georgiana, and Kay.  So while there is romance, a good part of the story is watching Mellie grow as a person.  The other two books center around Lt. Georgiana and Lt Kay. Sarah Sundin's books are also great because the chapters alternate perspectives between Mellie and Tom.  I really enjoyed Lt. Tom's voice and insight. This book is also Christian fiction so while it's not slam in your face, I loved the ethical and moral decisions these characters faced and how they overcame them.

As a history buff, I loved learning about different theaters, operations, and people during WWII.  Lt. Mellie Blake, while fictional, was part of the 802nd Medical Air Transport Squadron. If you head over to Sarah Sundin's website she gives more in depth about the historical aspects of her novel. Lt. Tom MacGilliver was part of the Corps of Engineers. I thoroughly enjoyed following Mellie and Tom through Algeria and Tunisia as Operation Torch was carried out.

This book is a great read whether you are wanting romance or history.  I was also excited to find book #1 of her other series Wings of Glory free as a Nook book.