Category Archives: Books I Received From The Publisher

House of Ivy & Sorrow

Finished House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple.  I received a copy from the publisher on Edelweiss.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline. Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.”

Oh, you guys, this book.

I feel like in a lot of ways, witchcraft is becoming the latest trend in YA.  We’re not seeing so many vampires or werewolves and now it’s all witches and magic and whatnot.  But this book is a whole other thing.  Witchcraft isn’t fun or easy—spells demand a price, and generally it’s something awful (like losing a fingernail.  And you have to do it to yourself, which makes me cringe every time I think about it).

Natalie Whipple spends the first part of this book setting up the rules and parameters of this family and witchcraft and then the next part breaking them.  Almost everything we initially think is true turns out to be a lie.  That’s an interesting trick, but what’s an even better one is the fact that she makes it all make perfect sense in the context of the story.  That’s impressive and probably nearly impossible to do.

I love Jo so much, and I love her Nana and friends, too.  To Jo, her life is completely normal, even the fact that she can’t let anyone who isn’t her family into her life.  That’s got to be almost impossible for a teenage girl, because you know how your friends become your family and usually even more important than said family.  So Jo spends her life balancing a tightrope, trying to be a normal girl and at the same time, not being able to be more than, say, 75% typical.  (And that’s at best.)

There are definitely creepy aspects to the book (primarily the Curse and the person doing the Cursing) but it’s the best kind of creepy: enough to send a chill down your spine but nowhere near enough to steal sleep.

Unless you’re unlucky enough to start this close to bedtime, because you won’t want to stop reading until you’ve finished.

Highly recommended.

 

I Don’t Know What You Know Me From

Finished I Don’t Know What You Know Me From by Judy Greer.  I received a copy from the publisherIn case you legitimately don’t know what you know her from, click here.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Like Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, and other (bestselling) co-stars, Judy Greer is taking pen to paper and in her honest, self-deprecating, and hilariously relatable way reminding us why she’s not America’s sweetheart but America’s best friend.

You know Judy Greer, right? Wait, what was she in again? The Wedding Planner, 13 Going on 30, 27 Dresses, The Descendants. Yes, you totally recognize her. And, odds are, if you’re like most women in America, you feel like she’s already your friend. Thankfully, Greer has finally written a book of essays about all the moments, topics, observations, and confessions that you would hope to hear from your best friend. How a midnight shopping trip to CVS can cure all? What it’s like to have stepchildren? And how she really feels about her mother? Yes, it’s all in there. But Judy Greer isn’t just a regular friend-she’s a celebrity friend. Want to know which celebs she’s peed next to? Or what the Oscars were actually like? Or which hot actor gave her father a Harley Davidson? Don’t worry—that’s included, too. Besides being laugh-out-loud funny, you’ll love her because she makes us genuinely feel like she’s one of us. Because even though she sometimes has a stylist and a make-up artist, she still wears (and hates!) Spanx. Because she starts her book like this: “This is who I am. This is what I think about things. This is stuff that happened to me, that could have just as easily have happened to you. I’m not that special, and we’re probably not that different. I think I am really lucky to be where I am in life, but I’ve never really lost that feeling that I don’t fit in, and if you have, will you please email me and tell me how you did it? I’m serious.“

If you watch movies or have a TV, you know who Judy Greer is (whether or not you know it).  TV-wise, she’s been on Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory and House, MD to name just a few.  In terms of movies, she’s been in 13 Going On 30, The Descendants and the remake of Carrie (again, this is a small sampling).

What you may not know is that she’s also a really funny person.  I laughed out loud reading this book so many times.  It’s sort of like a human version  of that US magazine feature about how stars are just like us.  Except Judy Greer really IS just like us.  (It’s not like how Jennifer Aniston is just like us except crazy rich and can get pretty much whatever she wants.)

There are three parts to this book: her childhood and college years, Hollywood and what I will call her real life.  I love movies so I liked the Hollywood part best, but the entire book was funny and smart and endearing.

I would’ve liked a few more set stories (especially from 13 Going on 30, which is one of my favorite movies) but that didn’t make me enjoy the book any less.

Highly recommended.

Rose and the Lost Princess

Finished Rose and the Lost Princess by Holly Webb.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The second spellbinding adventure with Rose… Turning the worn pages of her spell book, Rose can’t believe how much her life has changed. Once a poor orphan, and now an apprentice to the King’s chief magician! But when the country’s beloved Princess vanishes, everything changes. As rumours of dark magic fly through the city, the King asks Rose for help. She must find the missing Princess – before all is lost.

I absolutely love this charming series.

Rose is a fantastic heroine.  She’s clever and brave and so much more capable than she thinks she is.

This book is perfect for middlegrade readers.  It approaches creepiness but doesn’t get too scary (although to be fair, I’ve been told my scary meter is broken).

I love how plausible this book seems.  Obviously there’s no such thing as magic, but reading this, it seems so possible.  I also appreciate how quickly everyone turns on the magicians once there’s a chance that the princess was harmed, or could be harmed.  I think it’s very much human nature to find and attack a scapegoat.  (This aspect of the book would lend itself to discussions with children.)

Highly recommended.

Steal the North

Finished Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A novel of love in all its forms: for the land, for family, and the once-in-a-lifetime kind that catches two people when they least expect it

Emmy is a shy, sheltered sixteen-year-old when her mom, Kate, sends her to eastern Washington to an aunt and uncle she never knew she had. Fifteen years earlier, Kate had
abandoned her sister, Beth, when she fled her painful past and their fundamentalist church. And now, Beth believes Emmy’s participation in a faith healing is her last hope for having a child.

Emmy goes reluctantly, but before long she knows she has come home. She feels tied to the rugged landscape of coulees and scablands. And she meets Reuben, the Native American boy next door.

In a part of the country where the age-old tensions of cowboys versus Indians still play out, theirs is the kind of magical, fraught love that can only survive with the passion and resilience of youth. Their story is mirrored by the generation before them, who fears that their mistakes are doomed to repeat themselves in Emmy and Reuben. With Louise Erdrich’s sense of place and a love story in the tradition of Water for Elephants, this is an atmospheric family drama in which the question of home is a spiritual one, in which getting over the past is the only hope for the future.”

Note to readers: this book has a slow pace.  This isn’t a bad thing.  It’s languid-slow, not  boring-slow, and it takes the book time to tell you its secrets.  Be patient; you’ll be amply rewarded.

I absolutely loved this story.  It’s told from different perspectives.  I loved Emmy’s chapters the most, but enjoyed hearing things from the other perspectives, too (especially Bethany’s and Reuben’s).

The characters in this book became friends and I rejoiced and suffered along with them.  And now I miss them.

I know the synopsis compares it to Louise Erdrich (which I can see, especially in Reuben’s chapters) and Water for Elephants, this book is completely itself and I can’t wait for this book to find its audience.  It’s a rare, beautiful thing.

Highly recommended.

Ask Me

ASK ME Blog Tour Banner

Finished Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Ask Aria Morse anything, and she must answer with the truth. Yet she rarely understands the cryptic words she‘s compelled to utter. Blessed—or cursed—with the power of an Oracle who cannot decipher her own predictions, she does her best to avoid anyone and everyone.

But Aria can no longer hide when Jade, one of the few girls at school who ever showed her any kindness, disappears. Any time Aria overhears a question about Jade, she inadvertently reveals something new, a clue or hint as to why Jade vanished. But like stray pieces from different puzzles, her words never present a clear picture.

Then there’s Alex, damaged and dangerous, but the first person other than Jade to stand up for her. And Will, who offers a bond that seems impossible for a girl who’s always been alone. Both were involved with Jade. Aria may be the only one who can find out what happened, but the closer she gets to solving the crime, the more she becomes a target. Not everyone wants the truth to come out.”

I absolutely loved the concept of this book—because who wouldn’t want to be an Oracle and know the future?

Turns out I wouldn’t.

Aria is the latest in a long line of Oracles.  If anyone asks a question around her—not even necessarily TO her but around her—she has to answer.  And the answer may not make sense.  (Sometimes she rhymes.)

Now imagine that’s your life and you’re a teenage girl.  Pretty awful, right?

So it’s not surprising that Aria keeps to herself and has an mp3 player going pretty much all the time.  (If you can’t hear the question, you don’t have to answer the question.)

But then there’s a murder in her town, and it’s one of her classmates.  No one knows who did it and there are a LOT of questions.

I absolutely loved this book.  It’s ridiculously fun and creepy in equal measure.

As an added bonus, I love the fact that Aria’s “super power” for lack of a better word isn’t really all that helpful.  Her inner Oracle knows everything, but generally will answer questions in a less than straightforward way.  So if you were to say, “Aria, do you know who the killer is?” you would get this really weird and creepy reply, but you wouldn’t get, “Yes.  The killer is [redacted].”

Recommended.

Great

Finished Great by Sara Benincasa.  I received a copy from the publisher on Edelweiss.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In Sara Benincasa’s contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, a teenage girl becomes entangled in the drama of a Hamptons social circle, only to be implicated in a tragedy that shakes the summer community.

Everyone loves a good scandal.

Naomi Rye usually dreads spending the summer with her socialite mother in East Hampton. This year is no different. She sticks out like a sore thumb among the teenagers who have been summering (a verb only the very rich use) together for years. But Naomi finds herself captivated by her mysterious next-door neighbor, Jacinta. Jacinta has her own reason for drawing close to Naomi-to meet the beautiful and untouchable Delilah Fairweather. But Jacinta’s carefully constructed world is hiding something huge, a secret that could undo everything. And Naomi must decide how far she is willing to be pulled into this web of lies and deception before she is unable to escape.

Based on a beloved classic and steeped in Sara Benincasa’s darkly comic voice, Great has all the drama, glitz, and romance with a terrific modern (and scandalous) twist to enthrall readers.”

I think that the idea of retelling The Great Gatsby—regarded by many as THE great American novel—is an incredibly bold one and one that’s probably pretty likely to fail.

Sara Benincasa, though, succeeded admirably.  What makes this work so well is that she kept the general Gatsby framework but made this novel absolutely succeed on its own merits.

This novel almost reads like a melding of Gatsby and My Fair Lady (or Pygmalion, for the purists).  Watching Naomi turn from herself into a carbon copy of the Hamptons teens she used to make fun of was a very interesting twist to this novel.  There are fantastic nods and references to Gatsby but at the same time, this is enough of its own story that I didn’t read this and go, “Oh, this is the part where…”

Great is amazingly fun and…well, great.  (I know, but sometimes you have to take the easy shots.)

Recommended.

The Ninja Librarians

Finished The Ninja Librarians by Jen Swann Downey.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Just a little story about your average sword-swinging, karate-chopping, crime-fighting ninja librarians.

Dorrie Barnes had no idea an overdue library book would change her life. When Dorrie and her brother Marcus chase her pet mongoose into the janitor’s closet of their local library, they accidentally fall through a passage into Petrarch’s Library -the headquarters of a secret society of ninja librarians who have an important mission: protect those whose words have gotten them into trouble. Anywhere in the world and at any time in history.

Dorrie would love nothing more than to join the society. But when a traitor surfaces, she and her friends are the prime suspects. Can they clear their names before the only passage back to the twenty-first century closes forever?”

This book is absolutely charming.  It’s definitely middlegrade and not YA; it’s the kind of story I could picture my elementary school English teacher reading to us.

I loved the concept of this story, although it definitely was a lot too young for me.  (This isn’t a criticism; it’s a byproduct of being probably 25 years too old for this book.  I’m not the target audience.  I would be willing to bet that the readers this story IS intended for—my goddaughter and godson, say—will absolutely adore this sweet, fun, action-packed story.)

Highly recommended for MG readers.

The Boy on the Bridge

Finished The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A new breathtaking novel from Natalie Standiford about love and trust during the Cold War.

Laura Reid goes to Leningrad for a semester abroad as Cold War paranoia is peaking in 1982. She meets a young Russian artist named Alexei and soon, with Alexei as her guide, Laura immerses herself in the real Russia–a crazy world of wild parties, black-market books and music, and smuggled letters to dissidents. She must keep the relationship secret; associating with Americans is dangerous for Alexei, and if caught, Laura could be sent home and Alexei put under surveillance or worse. At the same time, she’s been warned that Soviets often latch onto Americans in hopes of marrying them and thus escaping to the United States. But she knows Alexei loves her. Right?

As June approaches–when Laura must return to the United States–Alexei asks Laura to marry him. She’s only nineteen and doesn’t think she’s ready to settle down. But what if Alexei is the love of her life? How can she leave him behind? If she has a chance to change his life, to rescue him from misery, shouldn’t she take it?”

This book is so different from Natalie Standiford’s other novels.  It’s not particularly sweet or fluffy or fun.  (It is, however, extremely well-written, which IS like her other novels.)

It’s partially autobiographical and is set during the Cold War.  A college student is studying abroad in Russia for a semester and she’s cautioned about spending time with the locals, because many of them will try and forge a relationship with Americans in the hopes of marrying them for a green card.  (There’s also the fact that they could each get in serious trouble for it.)

But, of course, Laura ends up meeting a boy.  Alexei is different from any guy she’s ever known and she’s certain that their relationship is the real thing…except if the only way for them to stay together is to get married, what exactly does that mean for their future?

This is such a great book and it only reminds me why I love Natalie Standiford’s books so much.  Recommended.

#16ThingsIThoughtWereTrue

Finished #16ThingsIThoughtWereTrue by Janet Gurtler. I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Heart attacks happen to other people #thingsIthoughtweretrue

When Morgan’s mom gets sick, it’s hard not to panic. Without her mother, she would have no one—until she finds out the dad who walked out on her as a baby isn’t as far away as she thought…

Adam is a stuck-up, uptight jerk #thingsIthoughtweretrue

Now that they have a summer job together, Morgan’s getting to know the real Adam, and he’s actually pretty sweet…in a nerdy-hot kind of way. He even offers to go with her to find her dad. Road trip, anyone?

5000 Twitter followers are all the friends I need #thingsIthoughtweretrue

With Adam in the back seat, a hyper chatterbox named Amy behind the wheel, and plenty of Cheetos to fuel their trip, Morgan feels ready for anything. She’s not expecting a flat tire, a missed ferry, a fake girlfriend…and that these two people she barely knew before the summer started will become the people she can’t imagine living without.”

Oh, you guys, I was not prepared for this book.

Things I thought were true: this would be a fun road trip story and probably also a sweet story about Morgan and Adam falling for each other.

It’s not that this isn’t accurate; it’s more that this is not ALL the book is.

Morgan is a complicated character.  There’s a lot of angst there and she likes to test people.  (Well, she may not LIKE it, per se, but she does it a lot.)  I can see how she may not be the easiest character to love, but I certainly felt for her.  Her burgeoning relationships with her dad and especially with Amy and Adam seem to be one step forward and about 10 steps back.  The problem, of course, is with Morgan. She’s so determined to not get hurt that she basically lives her entire life online, via Twitter.

And I get it.  It’s hard to mess up in 140 characters or less.

This book will make you cry, but not as much as it’ll make you laugh.

Highly recommended.

The Bear

Finished The Bear by Claire Cameron.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A powerfully suspenseful story narrated by a young girl who must fend for herself and her little brother after a brutal bear attack.

While camping with her family on a remote island, five-year-old Anna awakes in the night to the sound of her mother screaming. A rogue black bear, 300 pounds of fury, is attacking the family’s campsite, pouncing on her parents as prey.

At her dying mother’s faint urging, Anna manages to get her brother into the family’s canoe and paddle away. But when the canoe dumps the two children on the edge of the woods, and the sister and brother must battle hunger, the elements, and a dangerous wilderness, we see Anna’s heartbreaking love for her family–and her struggle to be brave when nothing in her world seems safe anymore.

Told in the honest, raw voice of five-year-old Anna, this is a riveting story of love, courage, and survival.”

This book was compared to Room (by Emma Donoghue) and I can absolutely see that.  The circumstances are different but both books tell of absolutely horrific events and are recounted from a child’s perspective.

I would argue that the events in The Bear are actually worse, but then I have a fear of nature and camping so take that for what it’s worth.

Anna has gone camping with her parents and younger brother when she hears her parents screaming.  Her dad throws her and her brother (Alex, nicknamed Stick) into the cooler, then wedges a rock into it so it won’t latch shut.  Anna thinks she hears the dog next door chewing on a bone; the reader knows that it’s really a bear killing her parents.

When she gets out of the cooler, she stumbles across her mom, who’s still alive but barely.  She tells Anna to get Stick and take the canoe somewhere safe, and that she and their dad will meet them there.

I have to tell you guys, Anna and this book broke my heart.  She’s five years old, and now she has to figure out how to stay alive and how to keep her toddler brother alive, too. She’s this amazingly brave person and it’s so much for such a little kid to handle.

This book is wrenching but it’s also completely amazing.

Highly, highly recommended.