6

Waiting on Wednesday: Mortal Heart

Welcome back BookTasty friends!

I hope you’re all having a stress-free week so far! For today’s Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine) post I chose to focus on Robin Mortal Heart by Robin LaFeversLaFever’s third book in the His Fair Assassin series, Mortal Heart.

Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own. She has spent her whole life training to be an assassin. Just because the convent has changed its mind doesn’t mean she has.

The first two books in this series are both really, really well written books that will hook you from the beginning. I adore the idea of medieval assassin nuns and LaFevers’ characters are just so captivating! I have enjoyed getting little tidbits about Annith in both Gave Mercy and Dark Triumph, so I’m excited to learn more about her story. I am wondering how she’ll fair as she attempts to be an assassin because she just seems so innocent and sweet compared to Ismae and Sybella!

I’ll have to ask for Mortal Heart for my birthday because it is scheduled to release in early November 2014, and my birthday is November 13. *hint hint nudge nudge*

0

Plain and Simple: Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

PorchWell hi there!

The weather is beautiful today in South Carolina! So, I’m writing this review from my front porch basking in the late afternoon light. Le sigh…Fridays are great!

Okay, so today’s review is all about Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2) by Robin LaFevers, which is anything but “plain and simple”.

When Sybella arrived at the doorstep of St Mortain half mad with grief and despair the convent were only too happy to offer her refuge – but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons.

But her assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. But when Sybella discovers an unexpected ally she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for.

This whole historical fantasy thing that LaFevers has going on is right up my alley. Sybella lives in Dark Triumph by Robin LaFeversmedieval Brittany in the middle of a resistance to French rule and is loyal to the twelve year old Duchess Anne who has recently been forced into rule due to the death of her father. Mixed in with this historical narrative, LaFevers mixes in a bit of the supernatural focused mostly on the convent on St.  Mortain, the god of death, and his method of communicating with his assassins. I have always been a bit of a history buff and adore the fantasy genre, so swirling the two together makes me happy!

Sybella isn’t as likable or sympathetic a character as Ismae is in book one, Grave Mercy and I wavered over whether I liked her story or not because of this part of her character. As you spend more and more time with her however, you begin to see the pieces of humanity within Sybella that she herself has shut away and is blind to. She has this strength to her that one can only get from tangling with harsh realities. I grew to like her more and more.

As you might expect in a story about “assassin nuns” Dark Triumph is full of action, suspense, and intrigue. Life inside Sybella’s father’s court is full of your usual gossip and social climbing but amidst those things there are much darker forces at play and Sybella is an incredibly experienced spy, assassin, and courtier who knows how to play the game to survive. Because Sybella will do whatever it takes to survive you know that she has little trouble using poisons, garrotes, or knives to complete a necessary task and you never know who will show up next on Sybella’s “hit list”.  Basically, Sybella is a bad@$$! Plain and simple.

And let’s not forget the romance. If I had the ability to add emojis into my blog posts (is this possible?!) I totally would be giving the little “thumbs up” one right now. Yes. The romance is good.

If you’re searching for your next read and you want to be completely riveted to the story you need to check out the His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers. Don’t read Dark Triumph (because it’s book 2, silly!) until after you’ve read Grave Mercy, but you should totally read them both! I actually listened to them on audio, so if you’re into audiobooks or want to get started these books are quality introductions!

Author: Robin LaFevers

Publisher: Recorded Books (April 19, 2013)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 13 hours and 36 minutes

Narrator(s): Angela Goethals

Series: Second in the “His Fair Assassin” series

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book:

2

Sheer Perfection: Better off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Hola!

Sometimes the perfect book comes along at just the perfect time. That’s what happened for me with Elizabeth Eulberg’s Better off Friends.

For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Better Off Friends by Elizabeth EulbergLevi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way.

Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder, are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated? Can guys and girls ever really be just friends? Or are they always one fight away from not speaking again — and one kiss away from true love?

Seriously, this one came along at the best time. I’ve been on a pretty big fantasy kick recently (for like the past year! haha) so I think I was ready for a quality contemporary read to really dig into. And talk about quality! Better off Friends is probably one of the best contemporary romances I’ve read in a while…right up there with Stephanie Perkins and Sarah Dessen!

I’d heard this one compared to a high school version of When Harry Met Sally and for real, Better off Friends is definitely an homage to that classic film. Macallan and Levi are kind of thrown together by their school principal, but quickly form a relationship based on need and a very silly British television show. Macallan is struggling to make a new life after her mother’s death, while new-guy Levi is simply looking to fit in, so both think of their friendship as kind of a new start. I can completely relate to Macallan and Levi’s friendship because it’s always been easier for me to be friends with guys than with girls. There is a freedom that comes from a friendship with a guy that one can’t get with another girl, but as Levi and Macallan soon discover that freedom usually comes with it’s own share of drama.

Eulberg writes the swoony, drama laden friendship between Macallan and Levi with expert skill. Each chapter alternates between Levi’s narration and Macallan’s. As I’ve mentioned in the past, sometimes switching between narrators can annoy me, but Levi and Macallan’s voices are so clear and distinct that I never have to check back to see who is telling the story. In between each chapter Eulberg has inserted commentary from both narrators, just like in When Harry Met Sally, and the banter between the two is sheer perfection! These were probably my favorite parts of the story, they just added both fun and perspective to Macallan and Levi’s story.

But this isn’t just Levi and Macallan’s story. Throughout the book, we get glimpses of how friendships change as we get older, especially in that transition from middle school to high school. Also, we see the way in which Levi’s mother serves as a stand-in mom for Macallan who is navigating her teenage years without her own mother. Each of these secondary relationships are realistically painful and joyful and just so well portrayed.

You really need to consider adding Better off Friends to your TBR list. I promise you wont’ be sorry, especially if you are looking for a strong contemporary read! It is most definitely a YA title, but I believe that older middle school readers, as well as adults, will appreciate it just as much as I did.

Author: Elizabeth Eulberg

Publisher: Point (February 25, 2014)

Format: ARC (e-galley)

Length: 288 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: YA/MG

Buy the Book: Better Off Friends

5

Crying Books and My Comfort Zone: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Welcome back!

There are tons of different types of books out there. There are books that want to make me laugh. Books that want to make me swoon. There are books that just want to entertain me. There are even books that want to make me think.  But then there are also these devious little books whose only desire in life is to make me cry.

I am a pretty emotional person in real life. I can cry at the drop of a hat. There was even a commercial about a friendly lady and her daughter who send their lonely elderly neighbor a greeting card. The old lady is so touched that she comes over and hugs the lady and her daughter…I WAS WEEPING! So, you see when I sit down to read a book I’m not in the mood to cry. When I read a book, I pick the ones that are going to make me laugh or swoon or think. I kind ofIf I Stay by Gayle Forman just want to be entertained. I don’t want to cry…and If I Stay by Gayle Forman ONLY wanted me to cry.

In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck… A sophisticated, layered, and heart-achingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make, and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

Can’t you just tell from the summary that this is a book that is plotting the imminent emotional demise of all its readers?! YES! I knew this going into it, but I thought it’d be good to step out of my reading comfort zone a little. In the end, I’m glad I did but If I Stay isn’t a book that I can say I enjoyed.

Forman’s writing is stunning and almost musical and the story itself is well imagined. The lyrical writing is reflected in Mia’s love of music and everything about the story just kind of flows by smoothly even though the story weaves back and forth through flashbacks and the story’s current point.

Mia’s story was interesting. I was enthralled with the possibility of her decision. Which choice will she make and what will happen to her because of it? I loved learning about her life and family and friends up until that fateful moment on that particular snowy morning. You begin to see just how complicated and painful Mia’s decision is going to be. But Mia herself isn’t the most intriguing character I’ve ever read. She just doesn’t seem all that colorful of a person.  Her friends and family do, but Mia seems to fade into the background of the scenes she shares with her family and friends.

So. You want to know. Did If I Stay achieve its mischievous little goal to make me cry?

No. It didn’t. But that’s because I knew I had to protect myself going into it. Don’t get me wrong, this book was painfully heartbreaking and there were times where I was VERY CLOSE to shedding some tears while listening (I had the audiobook from my public library) but in the end I was stronger than the book….VICTORY!

The audiobook was a quick listen, and I believe I finished the book in a little over two days (while running or driving or cleaning the house).  I love getting through an audiobook that fast!

So, if you’re one of those people who do enjoy a good cry while reading (I know there are tons of you out there!!!) you should definitely pick up If I Stay by Gayle Forman. It may even be a good idea to stop by the store to pick up a box of Kleenex as well! I also have to mention that this book is definitely intended for high school readers as there is some language and some sexual scenes sprinkled throughout.

I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone a little, but now that I have I’m going to crawl right back into my preferred reading cave! :)

Author: Gayle Forman

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (April 5, 2011)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 4 hours and 48 mins

Narrator(s): Kristen Potter

Series: First in the If I Stay series

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book:  If I Stay

wasn’t my favorite

0

Distrubing & Creepy, Yet Fun: Everlost by Neal Shusterman

Hi there and welcome back!

I recently listened to the audiobook of Everlost by Neal Shusterman.

Nick and Allie don’t survive the car accident but their souls don’t exactly get where they’re supposed to get either. Instead, they’re caught halfway between life and death, in aEverlost by Neal Shusterman sort of limbo known as Everlost: a shadow of the living world, filled with all the things and places that no longer exist. It’s a magical, yet dangerous place where bands of lost children run wild and anyone who stands in the same place too long sinks to the center of the Earth.

When they find Mary, the self-proclaimed queen of lost kids, Nick feels like he he’s found a home, but Allie isn’t satisfied spending eternity between worlds. Against all warnings, Allie begins learning the “Criminal Art” of haunting, and ventures into dangerous territory, where a monster called the McGill threatens all the souls of Everlost.

I was so excited to hear that Neal Shusterman was going to be holding a reading and signing in Orlando earlier this fall! Young adult authors rarely visit Orlando so I went even though I’d never read any of his books. I left the event super excited to read his books!  My media center’s copy of Unwind was checked out (actually it still hasn’t been returned, but that’s a whole other story…) so I couldn’t read that one.  Some of my students recommended I picked up Everlost.

The premise of Everlost is incredibly intriguing. Two teens die in a car crash and end up in this purgatory-like world where they have to fend for themselves and solve the mysteries of Everlost. Shusterman is obviously a very creative storyteller and the world he has surrounded Nick and Allie in is disturbing and creepy, yet also fun which makes me think of Everlost is like a more sinister version of Peter Pan’s Neverland.

I did feel a little bored at times,  as there wasn’t much character development until pretty much the very end of the novel. In fact, I was pretty set on not reading the rest of the trilogy, until the ending. Now, I feel like I might possibly continue the books. Not necessarily because I wasn’t super connected to any characters, although  I like both Nick and Ally and was glad to see some change in them. I even liked the McGill, but what made me want to find out what happens in the end is Mary. I’m not a fan of Mary at all, which is actually how I think I was supposed to feel, but I do want to know if and or how she is defeated!

This was an interesting read, and my students (especially my boys) really like it a lot. The audiobook narrator was pretty good, but I wasn’t a fan of all of his voices all the time. I admit that I didn’t LOVE this book, but it was entertaining and I think that middle school readers who are looking for a different sort of story that’s kind of a mix between fantasy, sci-fi, and supernatural fiction will enjoy Everlost!

Author: Neal Shusterman

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (January 20, 2009)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 8 hours and 1 minute

Narrator(s): Nick Podehl

Series: First in the Skinjacker series

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book: Everlost (The Skinjacker Trilogy)

6

I Honestly Didn’t See it Coming: The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg

Hello!

I’m finally reviewing The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg; I finished it like two weeks ago and have been so crazy busy!  The last month of the school year is when everything ramps up and there are tons of activities going on.

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess RothenbergOkay, so on to the book, which I read as part of the 2012 Debut Authors Challenge.

BRIE’S LIFE ENDS AT SIXTEEN: Her boyfriend tells her he doesn’t love her, and the news breaks her heart—literally.
But now that she’s D&G (dead and gone), Brie is about to discover that love is way more complicated than she ever imagined. Back in Half Moon Bay, her family has begun to unravel. Her best friend has been keeping a secret about Jacob, the boy she loved and lost—and the truth behind his shattering betrayal. And then there’s Patrick, Brie’s mysterious new guide and resident Lost Soul . . . who just might hold the key to her forever after. With Patrick’s help, Brie will have to pass through the five stages of grief before she’s ready to move on. But how do you begin again, when your heart is still in pieces?

I believe I received this book (an Advanced Reader Copy) from another blogger, but I can’t remember who (bad Tina!) because it was a few months ago and I didn’t write it down.  If the book gifter is reading this, THANK YOU and I’M SORRY for forgetting!

I must admit that it took a little while for me to really get into The Catastrophic History of You and Me (TCHoYaM).  I kept reading a few pages, then putting it down and picking it back up again.  It was a vicious cycle, that I finally mastered and I’m so very glad I did!  If you read it and feel the same way I did in the beginning, please persevere and keep reading, you’ll be happy in the end that you did.

One of my favorite things about TCHoYaM is the way in which Rothenberg uses song titles as chapter titles.  This was super creative and fun and really help set the scene and tone for each chapter.  Plus I had a blast trying to figure out if I recognized the songs by their titles!

At times TCHoYaM is really witty and humorous, but it is also the story of a girl coming to peace with her grief.  I believe Rothenberg combined both of these elements in a thoughtful manner that doesn’t seem contrived.  Brie, herself is a pretty funny girl.  She inserts funny little comments in her narration that had me chuckling to my self as I turned the pages and her throwback “your mom” jokes are so bad they’re hilarious.

Without giving anything away, there is a massive plot twist that makes so much sense after the fact that I’m actually disappointed in myself for not seeing it coming.  Seriously – I had no idea!  I don’t want to do any spoilers so I will stop there, but you’ll understand my thoughts on this when you read it!

All in all, it wasn’t my favorite read of the year, but I did truly enjoy it and I recommend The Catastrophic History of You and Me as a cute read for anyone in the older middle school grades and up.

Author: Jess Rothenberg

Publisher: Dial Books (February 21, 2012)

Format: Paperback (ARC)

Length: 375 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book: The Catastrophic History of You And Me

0

Enjoy a Nice Story: 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen JohnsonI finally read a book by Maureen Johnson!

Inside little blue envelope 1 are $1,000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket.

In envelope 2 are directions to a specific London flat.

The note in envelope 3 tells Ginny: Find a starving artist.

Because of envelope 4, Ginny and a playwright/thief/ bloke-about-town called Keith go to Scotland together, with somewhat disastrous-though utterly romantic-results. But will she ever see him again?

Everything about Ginny will change this summer, and it’s all because of the 13 little blue envelopes.

I have heard great things about Maureen Johnson’s books and I’ve had my eyes on this one for a while before realizing that it was one of Johnson’s.  I was immediately caught by the premise of a sort of scavenger hunt, it automatically made me think of the 39 Clues or National Treasure, which I love!  The idea of someone sending characters on a search to find something valuable is just so much fun!

In 13 Little Blue Envelopes the valuable “item” isn’t literal its the idea of finding out who you are.  Ginny, the teenage main character, is not confident in herself at all.  In fact, she believes that her life isn’t interesting unless her Aunt Peg is involved.  You can really see how much Ginny admired and cared for her aunt, and how confused she was when Peg disappeared from her life.

Although Johnson touches on pretty heavy themes of death and grief, she manages to create a read that is very light and breezy, like I imagine a summer on the Mediterranean would feel. I was never overwhelmed by the grief Ginny has at the loss of her aunt, which is a good thing because, as I’ve mentioned before, I dislike books that make me cry!

I will say that Maureen Johnson’s writing style is not what I’m used to and it took me a little bit to get into the story, but once I did I was hooked.  Johnson is hilarious and there were multiple scenes and situations that make me chuckle. My favorite was Ginny’s embarrassing experience in the Richard’s squeaky bathtub.  As one who is afraid of bathroom noises (any people hearing them!) this scene had me cringing and laughing at the same time!  Also, I really enjoyed all the different supporting characters that Ginny meets along the way from the stressful family in Amsterdam to the creepy guy in Italy, each person has a role to play in Ginny’s experience.

I’ve read some reviews where readers complain that they went through most of the book feeling like they didn’t know anything about the main character.  I would agree with this.  Johnson doesn’t give up a lot of inner monologue or detailed information about who Ginny is and what she’s thinking, so in some way, we’re very limited in understanding of Ginny.  But I do think that’s the point.  Ginny doesn’t know much about herself either; she’s doing a lot of self discovery on this trip that Aunt Peg has sent her on.  That’s why Peg as sent Ginny on his trip in the first place!

I’ve also seen some readers complaining about the fact that 13 Little Blue Envelopes is non realistic; suggesting that no parent would ever let their teenage daughter jaunt around Europe alone with no cellphone or contact with home.  Yes, they’re probably right.  But that’s what I love about fiction.  It doesn’t have to be reality!  It’s okay, I don’t think Johnson is suggesting that this is or should be the parental norm.  Lets just enjoy a nice story and not worry about the details all the time! :)

In the end, I was pleased with this story and really want to read the sequel, The Last Little Blue Envelope.  I’d recommend 13 Little Blue Envelopes to older middle school readers and up who love traveling and a good coming of age story.

I wish someone would send me to Europe!

Author: Maureen Johnson

Publisher: HarperTeen (August 23, 2005)

Format: Hardcover (Library Bound)

Length: 366 pages

Series: First in a two book series

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book: 13 Little Blue Envelopes