The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, 336 pages, read by Angie, on 09/02/2015
Twylla used to be the Sin Eater’s daughter then she was taken in by the queen as Daunen Embodied, the reincarnation of the daughter of the god and goddess. She is engaged to Prince Merek even though she hasn’t seen him in a couple of years. As Daunen Embodied, Twylla must ingest poison every month which stays in her skin and makes her poisonous to the touch. She has become the queen’s executioner, a job she hates. Most of the court is afraid of her and avoids her. She had to execute her only friend years ago and goes through guards as fast as they can be hired.
Twylla’s world changes a bit when a new guard is hired. Leif is Tregellian and an ancient enemy of the people of Lormere. Nevertheless, he becomes her guard. He is unlike her other guards. He doesn’t seem to know what it means to be a guard, he is too familiar and questions her choices. He soon becomes her only guard when Dorin falls ill. Soon they become friends and that friendship turns to something more. At the same time, Prince Merek has returned and started courting Twylla even though they are already betrothed. Merek reveals what he has found out about the queen’s evil plans for the future. Twylla must choose between the two men in her life and what role she will play in the future of the kingdom of Lormere.
This book had so much potential. I love the concept of a girl whose touch can kill, who is the executioner for the country. You would think that girl would be awesome and powerful. You would be wrong in this case. Twylla is a twit who sits around bemoaning her life but does nothing to change it. All she does is sing and embroidery. She is sad that people are afraid of her and sad that she is trapped in the castle with her destiny. Yet, she never does a blasted thing to change her circumstances. She just sighs and whines incessantly.
Then there is the instalove and the love triangle. I can’t tell you how annoying I find both of these plot devices. Love triangles are so overrated and for the most part do nothing for a story except irritate readers. Instalove is just ridiculous. Twylla goes from being irritated by Lief to seeing him shirtless and being in love with him. There is really no reason the two are in love other than the fact that they don’t seem to have anyone else in their lives. The reveal at the end of the book makes it even more ridiculous and stupid.
I can’t say I really liked any of the characters. Twylla was a dishrag. Merek was inconsistent. Lief was just irritating and a confusing character. Why was a guard helping Twylla dress and bringing her meals? Where are the maids in this world? He never actually seems to be guarding her, but acts more like a personal servant and chaperone. There are a lot of overused plot devices besides the love triangle/instalove ones. The queen is one dimensional and evil; she actually reminded me a lot of the queen of hearts from Alice in Wonderland screaming “off with her head” all the time. No one in the court is actually a character at all. They are all just in the background trembling in fear. There is very little plot for most of the book; it is basically Twylla sitting around singing and embroidering or mooning for Lief. Then the end of the book takes an abrupt turn and goes off the deep end. For a moment you think Twylla is actually going to grow a backbone and stand up for herself, then comes the epilogue and your hopes are dashed. Just like they were throughout the rest of the book. At least it was consistent!
The Wretched of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler., 302 pages, read by Kira, on 09/02/2015
Lia has grown up in Muirwood Abbey, is one of the wretched, people at the bottom of society who live as servants and are forbidden to read, all because their parents have abandoned them. Lia has always wanted to learn to read. One night a stranger asks her to hide a wounded knight named Colvin. Then the sherriff comes looking for Colvin and Lia’s attempt to save Colvin takes her life on a different path.
I loved the atmosphere, the pacing was great, and I can’t wait to read the next in this trilogy.
Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan, 340 pages, read by Noelle, on 08/13/2015
Finally! Someone has found an accurate way to describe the way I feel about shellfish: “SEABUGS!” “SNOTS IN A ROCK”
“What are my qualifications to write this book? None really. So why should you read it? Here’s why: I’m a little fat. If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book.” Bacon. McDonalds. Cinnabon. Hot Pockets. Kale. Stand-up comedian and author Jim Gaffigan has made his career rhapsodizing over the most treasured dishes of the American diet (“choking on bacon is like getting murdered by your lover”) and decrying the worst offenders (“kale is the early morning of foods”). Fans flocked to his New York Times bestselling book Dad is Fat to hear him riff on fatherhood but now, in his second book, he will give them what they really crave–hundreds of pages of his thoughts on all things culinary(ish). Insights such as: why he believes coconut water was invented to get people to stop drinking coconut water, why pretzel bread is #3 on his most important inventions of humankind (behind the wheel and the computer), and the answer to the age-old question “which animal is more delicious: the pig, the cow, or the bacon cheeseburger?””– Provided by publisher.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, 383 pages, read by Kira, on 08/27/2015
Clay recently lost his graphic design job when the economy took a downturn, and eventually ended up applying for the clerk position at Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. Soon enough he realizes something strange is afoot at this bookstore, very few books actually get sold, in fact the majority of books are NOT for sale, but get checked out, by elderly patrons, and the books appear to be all in code. On his quest to solve this mystery Clay finds himself changed and living larger.
Described as the love child of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Neal Stephenson’s Reamde, I really liked this book, and my husband did as well. Its like a fantasy quest (or a role playing game) but translated into modern urban technological life. I liked the story within a story (The Dragonsong Chronicles) and how they mirrored real life. I also learned a lot. Check it out!
A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America by Lizabeth Cohen, 576 pages, read by Mariah, on 08/31/2015
America in the 1950’s was at an economic turning point. The Great Depression had been relieved by the factory work and mass production of war time goods that World War II necessitated. Prices had been kept steady through government intervention. As the war drew to a close, both the civilian population and the postwar government would need to decide which way America’s economic policy would move. There was a large portion of the American population that wanted to continue with government regulation and were certain that prices would skyrocket as soon as the free market was opened again. However, a very powerful segment, containing most of the business holders, wanted to let the market reign. This book captures not only the story of the tug of war between those groups, it also paints a picture of where the trail led from there. Consumerism not only won the day, it became the mantra, almost a religious fever, for Americans. Spending money was the duty of an American in order to raise the standard of living for every person, neighbor, and citizen. Cohen follows the psychology of the market and techniques used to bolster sliding sales as time moved forward. She tries to keep a balanced view of the historical episode and the reader will come away with a lot of new material to contemplate.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik, 438 pages, read by Kira, on 08/16/2015
A delightful tale! For years our protagonist, Agnieszka, has dreaded the Choosing Day, when her brave best friend, will be taken away by the dragon (a wizard). Her best friend Kasia is beautiful, talented, graceful, and brave. Everyone knows that Kasia is the prototype of the type of girl the dragon chooses every ten years. Agnieszka has felt guilty knowing that she is safe from this wizards tribute. In return for the tribute,the surrounding villages are kept safe from the dark evil woods. Except then the wizard for some reason chooses Agnieszka, clutzky, gawky, disheveled Agnieszka.
I very much enjoyed this tale, the plot kept me interested, and the magical atmosphere really worked for me.
Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me by Chelsea Handler, 292 pages, read by Angie, on 09/02/2015
I think Chelsea Handler is funny and used to watch Chelsea Lately all the time. I have enjoyed her brand of humor for years, but this book is terrible. First of all, it is not actually written by Handler, but by a bunch of her friends and family. It is all about the lies and tricks Chelsea pulls on those around her. I can definitely see her doing pretty much everything discussed in the book. However, it just makes those who hang out with her look like complete and utter idiots. Most of these people have known Chelsea for years and have witnessed numerous attacks from her so why would they ever believe anything she says? I think she must be a nightmare to work for, but she seems to instill a lot of loyalty in her group. Probably because she is always taking them on vacation or letting them move in with her. I will admit that I gave up on this book during the “standards and practices” chapter, which was just a bunch of emails about having to bleep things on the show. I tried to listen to the final chapter from her dog Chunk, but just couldn’t do it. I will still be a fan of Chelsea Handler, but I am going to hesitate before I read anything from her again.
Wildalone: a novel by Krassi Zourkova., 384 pages, read by Kira, on 08/22/2015
Thea leaves Bulgaria traveling to the US to attend college at Princeton, as well as to investigate the death of the older sister she didn’t know about until a few months ago. Her sister Elsa also went to Princeton and started believing in the Bulgarian myth of the Samodivi – ethereal maidens who like harpies kill men that see them dancing in the wild.
Thea is a sniveling, whiny protagonist, she starts dating Rhys, total control freak and makes numerous excuses for his many failings, and she makes mountains out of molehills against Rhys’ brother Jake, the nice guy, who offers Thea choices, instead of commanding her about.
The book does get better when it focusses on the mysteries, on figuring out the puzzles, so if you can slog through the romance portions (and sex scenes), you might like this mysterious part I of a trilogy.
After the Ashes by Sara K Joiner, 288 pages, read by Angie, on 08/31/2015
Katrien lives in Java with her father and aunt. Her mother died when she was a child. She loves Java and enjoys exploring the jungle with her friend Slamet, looking for beetles to add to her collection. She is obsessed with Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Her aunt Greet thinks she needs to become more ladylike. She wants Katrien to be friends with Dutch girls like Brigitta instead of native boys like Slamet. Katrien and Brigitta don’t get along at all and it seems like everytime they meet they end up insulting each other.
Not far from Anjer where they live is the island of Krakatau. When it starts emitting smoke most of the people are not concerned. After all, it is many kilometers off the coast. Then the volcano erupts and ash and fire starts falling on Anjer. This is followed by several horrific tsunamis that wipe out everything in their path. Katrien and Brigitta are the only survivors and must rely on each other to survive the devastation and the lack of water. They learn they have more in common than they thought and become friends in their quest to survive.
I loved the historical aspect of this story. I was astonished to learn that we have been misspelling Krakatau since the 1880s (it’s not Krakatoa). I liked the realistic aspect of the tensions between natives and the Dutch. And I really enjoyed Katrien’s fascination with insects. However, for the majority of the book both Katrien and Brigitta were thoroughly unlikeable. Neither of them were nice to each other or those around them. They both acted like spoiled brats who only thought of themselves for the first half of the book. They did get better after the disaster when they were fighting for survival, but it was hard to forgive them for the first part. If you can get past that drama, I think you will like the book.
Waiting for Wren by Cate Beauman, 414 pages, read by Melody, on 08/30/2015
Wren Cooke has everything she’s ever wanted—a thriving career as one of LA’s top interior designers and a home she loves. Business trips, mockups, and her demanding clientele keep her busy, almost too busy to notice Ethan Cooke Security’s gorgeous Close Protection Agent, Tucker Campbell.
Jaded by love and relationships in general, Wren wants nothing to do with the hazel-eyed stunner and his heart-stopping grins, but Tucker is always in her way. When Wren suddenly finds herself bombarded by a mysterious man’s unwanted affections, she’s forced to turn to Tucker for help.
As Wren’s case turns from disturbing to deadly, Tucker whisks her away to his mountain home in Utah. Haunted by memories and long-ago tragedies, Tucker soon realizes his past and Wren’s present are colliding. With a killer on the loose and time running out, Tucker must discover a madman’s motives before Wren becomes his next victim.
Dime by E.R. Frank, 336 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/20/2015
At 13 years of age, Dime’s life has already taken a series of unfortunate turns. She lives in an over-crowded foster home, which isn’t great to begin with. Things get even worse when Dime’s foster mother starts drinking again. Dime now has to stay home from school to help around the house while dodging the advances of her foster mother’s sketchy new boyfriend. In a fit of anger, Dime flees the house. While sitting out on a cold street corner, Dime meets a girl who temporarily loans her the winter coat she’s wearing. This girl, Brandy, tells her about her “Daddy”, a man who takes care of her and buys her nice things. Dime is intrigued and eventually leaves her foster home to go and live with Daddy. Over the course of time, Daddy convinces Dime that she’s his special girl. He buys her the nicest things she’s ever owned. He doesn’t make her skip school. He tells her that she’s better than the other girls that live in the apartment with them. It’s only a matter of time before Daddy’s asking Dime to start working so that she can “help” Daddy make ends meet. She must either work the streets or forgo Daddy’s attentions. Dime doesn’t like being a prostitute, but she does love Daddy and she’s willing to do whatever he asks in order to stay with him. It isn’t until he brings in an 11-year-old girl called Lollipop that Dime begins to suspect Daddy’s intentions for the first time.
Dime is a gritty tale of teenage prostitution. It seems hard to fathom the circumstances that would draw a 13-year-old into this dangerous world, but Frank weaves a chillingly realistic tale. Dime is naive, insecure and neglected. Other pimps use drugs to lure their girls in and keep them, but Daddy uses a different tactic. Daddy preys on young girls from rough homes; he takes advantage of their weaknesses in order to exalt himself in their eyes. Dime adores Daddy and will literally do anything for him until her own status is threatened. It’s a dismal state of affairs, but these circumstances are not unique in reality. As the novel progresses, so to does Dime’s awareness of her situation and that of the girls she shares an apartment with. In spite of everything she goes through, Dime shows a tremendous amount of growth and strength as she struggles to come up with a plan of action to right at least a few of the wrongs she’s witnessed.
SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki, 224 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/17/2015
SuperMutant Magic Academy is kind of exactly what you’d expect it to be, only even more awesome. It is completely different from any of Tamaki’s other published work in that it’s more of a comic strip collection than a true graphic novel. Nearly every strip manages to skewer the tropes of high school drama in spite of all the characters possessing magical or mutant abilities. Somehow, angst and ennui are just so much funnier when magic is involved. This is a genuinely clever and hilarious book. Highly recommended.
Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn, 240 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/16/2015
When Sadie Su gets kicked out of her third boarding school for nearly killing a classmate, she finally goes back to live at her childhood home. Sadie doesn’t even have a good reason for her transgressions; she just gets bored easily. Emerson and his brother Miles haven’t seen Sadie since they were kids. Miles doesn’t really remember Sadie, but Emerson does and he is not happy to see her return. Sadie’s homecoming brings up a wealth of disturbing memories he’d rather not revisit. Emerson feels that he has enough to deal with as it is. His father killed himself years ago and the family never quite recovered. Miles is frequently distant and prone to strange behaviors, which makes him a target for bullying. Emerson knows he should stand up for his brother more, but he just finds it so exhausting to be constantly dealing with Miles. Miles, on the other hand, would prefer Emerson stay away. These three disparate souls collide in unexpected and potentially devastating ways in their sunny, California-wine-country town.
In true Stephanie Kuehn fashion, there’s no easy way to sum up the plot of this book without giving away key details and these details are the proverbial bread and butter of Kuehn’s work. Each novel I’ve read of hers has been both harrowing and surprising; this newest outing is no different. Kuehn has a knack for creating characters that haven’t been seen before and then placing them in situations that might seem familiar until a twist renders them into something completely new. I love books that keep me guessing and this one absolutely fit the bill. It’s dark and it’s brutal, but if one has encountered either of Kuehn’s first two novels, these qualities won’t come as a surprise. The rest of the book though? Brace yourself – it’s going to be quite a ride.
Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, 128 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/09/2015
Meet Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley – five awesome girls attending the Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types. They’re determined to have the best summer ever. It’s going great, even with some surprising encounters with the monstrous creatures that hide in the forest. As it turns out, nothing can stop this group of sassy, self-assured friends, even if their counselor has trouble believing their seemingly far-fetched stories.
The first installment of this charming comic series doesn’t fail to impress. It’s got something for every reader. Combine great characters with a hilarious and inventive plot and you have a recipe for success. I adored the Lumberjanes and can hardly wait to see what their next adventure brings.
The Girl From The Well by Rin Chupeco, 267 pages, read by Courtney, on 07/06/2015
Okiku has been traveling the earth for 300 years, seeking out anyone who has murdered children. Once she finds them, she returns the favor in a most frightening manner. While on her latest mission, she encounters a teenaged boy who appears to be bound to a malevolent spirit. Even more curious, the boy has strange tattoos on his arms, legs and chest. Though Okiku is rarely interested in the affairs of the living, she takes notice of this boy and sticks around to observe. Tarquin, the tattooed boy, has recently moved to town and he’s got quite a bit of history in tow. His mother resides in a mental hospital with her massive collection of Japanese dolls. She is the one responsible for the odd tattoos that Tark has been trying to cover up since childhood. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t even that incident that put her in the hospital, rather a far more disturbing one: she tried to strangle him. Tark isn’t crazy about the move, but his cousin lives in town and he’s happy to have a friendly face around. After a disastrous visit with his mother (she tries to kill him again), Tark is prepared to give up on her. Unfortunately, she dies later that night. Her room is nearly destroyed and her head is found someplace other than atop her neck. Her dying wish is to have her ashes scattered at the Aomori Shrine in Japan. Tark, his father and his cousin head for Japan. There, they discover that Tark’s mother was a shrine maiden tasked with capturing evil spirits in the bodies of dolls that have been specially blessed. Until something went terribly wrong, that is.
This book really wasn’t terrible, but there were so many details that didn’t work for me. My biggest issue was how clunky the plotting was. Many of the characters’ actions feel only as if they were placed in the narrative to create a reason for something else happening later. For instance, there’s a chapter where Tark’s cousin is discussing a study-abroad program with a friend. It’s revealed that she passed some sort of test and can now go wherever to study. The chapter doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with the rest of the book until it’s time for everyone to head for Japan. Tark goes with his father and the cousin goes with a study abroad group (even though she’s not in school and the trip seems to have been planned at the last minute). Her study abroad trip conveniently takes her to the site of Okiku’s origins, so Okiku’s story can be told in more detail, before she goes to meet Tark at the shrine. I also felt the pacing was erratic and the characters underdeveloped. On the plus side, I did actually enjoy the writing style. Okiku herself narrates the entire novel and serves as a quasi-omniscient voice. Overall, there wasn’t enough of the good to outweigh the bad (or at the very least, irritating) for me. While I likely won’t be seeking out the sequel, it’s equally likely that my teens absolutely will. I read this with my high schoolers for our book group. They definitely liked it far more than I did.
The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell., 339 pages, read by Kira, on 08/21/2015
Clara lives in a crumbling old mansion with her mother the housekeeper, and an old widow on her last breath. It also has an aviary containing 5 birds that scare her, until one day after the widow’s death they birds slowly start talking to her. Her mom has always insisted she stay inside the house because of her health, but Clara is tired of being constrained.
I loved the magical mysterious atmosphere of the setting and the slowly developing friendship between and the neighbor girl.
the Mystery of the Silver Spider by Arthur, Robert, 151 pages, read by Kira, on 08/15/2015
After moving back to the US – the mystery series I stumbled upon were “Trixie Belden” and “Aflred Hitchcock & the Three Investigators” somehow missing Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. What I really liked about the Three Investigators was that they’d find mysterious happenings, that seemed to be paranormal events, but then they’d find the criminals hiding behind scare tactics. Also, they had a really cool headquarters within the labyrinth of the junk yard. So when I came across this paperback in the donation pile, I had to taste some nostalgia. Perhaps this was Not one of the best in this series.
The three investigators meet the Prince of Varania who asks if they will hang out with him as he tours LA. Later the state department sends them to Varania to pose as tourists and make sure the prince and Not his uncle the interim regent gets crowned. In this case they are Not able to provide evidence of that the usurper uncle is conniving, but they are able to prevent his shenanigans, and somewhat indirectly save the day.
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston, 336 pages, read by Angie, on 08/30/2015
Lo-Melkhiin has had over 300 wives. Some last the night others a few days, but they all die in the end. He has his pick of any girl in all the villages and districts under his domain and he is coming to our heroine’s village. She knows he will pick her beautiful, vivacious sister and she doesn’t want that so she dresses in her finest and offers herself to Lo-Melkhiin. Back at the qasr in the heart of the city she expects to die as well. But she doesn’t and she lives each night. She discovers that every night when Lo-Melkiin comes for her there is a blue fire and a copper fire that are exchanged at her touch. Instead of dying, she gets stronger and stronger. Is it because of the exchange of fire or is it because her sister has made her a smallgod? Her sister has built an alter for her and spread the word of her heroism. She can feel the power that has given her and soon can see across distances and has visions of the future. Or is she creating the future through her visions? Lo-Melkiin was not always as he is now. Years ago he went on a hunt in the desert and came back with a demon inside of him. The demon controls his body and keeps his power. The girl thinks she may one day have to fight the demon and save everyone, but will she be strong enough to do it. Circumstances are moving around her without her knowledge and that day may be closer than she thinks.
I really enjoyed this retelling of the Arabian Nights. While there aren’t necessarily tales like the original there are stories told by the girl every evening to Lo-Melkiin. I loved the magical aspect of the story and how she grew into her power wisely. I also liked the chapters that were from the demon’s point of view and gave a history of who and what he was. The one complaint I had was that no one had a proper name except Lo-Melkiin. We don’t know what the girl’s name was or any of her family. They are all referred to by their roles: sister, mother, father, brothers, etc. I didn’t necessarily notice this until about halfway through the book, but it was kind of annoying not to have a name to put to the character. I am sure it was done on purpose, but it was a bit jarring.
I received an advanced copy of this book from both Netgalley and Baker & Taylor. Thanks!
The Paper Swan by Leylah Attar, 273 pages, read by Jessica, on 08/28/2015
“Intense, gritty, and full of heart.”
They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. They lie. For 21 days she held on. But on Day 22, she would have given anything for the sweet slumber of death. Because on Day 22, she realizes that her only way out means certain death for one of the two men she loves.
A haunting tale of passion, loss, and redemption, The Paper Swan is a darkly intense yet heartwarming love story, textured with grit, intrigue, and suspense
The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham, 395 pages, read by Angie, on 08/28/2015
Village Drowning used to be protected by the Luck Uglies, a band of men who kept everyone safe from the Bog Noblins, creatures who like to eat children and livestock. Ten years ago, Earl Longchance banished the Luck Uglies after they had defeated the Bog Noblins. Now the Earl and Constable are the only ones protecting the village and they are really more interested in the tariffs they can collect. What happens when the Bog Noblins come back?
Rye and her friends live in Village Drowning and like to cause a bit of mischief. We meet them right after they have stolen a banned book and escaped across the rooftops of the village. Rye and Quinn live on Mud Puddle Lane between the village and the bogs and beyond the shale. Folly lives in The Shambles on the other side of the village outside the walls. One day Rye sees a Bog Noblin in the bogs when she is out looking for her cat. She is rescued by an unknown someone and soon meets Harmless. Rye doesn’t know who exactly he is, but her mother seems to trust him so she does as well. Turns out Harmless is far from harmless and has a lot of secrets connected to Village Drowning and Rye’s family. He may be their only hope when the Bog Noblins come looking for their missing member.
This is a wonderful fantasy adventure. It started off a bit slow, but quickly picked up the pace once Harmless and the Bog Noblins entered the picture. I loved the medieval wildness of the setting with the village and the castle at odds with each other. I thoroughly enjoyed Folly’s family and the Dead Fish Inn. The intrigue at the castle was fantastic. And I especially loved the hidden tunnels and the secrets of the Luck Uglies. It seems like a lot is going on in this small village and not all is revealed in this first book. I will definitely be reading the second book in this series.