These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

24187925This book has pretty much everything I crave in a good YA mystery: A fearless (albeight sometimes reckless) amatuer sleuth, a simmering star-crossed romance, and mysterious suspects galore! Set in 19th-century New York, this fish-out-of-water story follows the journey of Jo Montifort as she goes undercover to hunt down her father’s murderer. Though he appeared to die by his own hand, her investigative reporter insticts tell her that something is amiss.

When Jo discovers a cryptic note at the crime scene, she has no other choice than to go against the rules of high society and set forth on her investigation—gasp—without a male escort. As she roams the filthy city streets, she soon discovers more atrocities than her father’s untimely demise. Through her naïve eyes, readers get a feel for what life must have been like for the “have nots” of the world back in the dark ages of patriarchial oppression. Could you imagine wearing a suffocating corset on a daily basis? Biting your toungue in fear of sounding too sharp-witted? Or marrying a strange man just to maintian high social status? I may gripe about modern American culture, but I’m feeling rather fortunate to be living in a society that allows me to walk the city streets unescorted in my pajama jeans and Crocs!

At 500+ pages (or 13 hours on audio), the book is a little overwhelming, especially for those youngins, but the story moves fast. I “read” this on audio and it was hard pressing the off button when Jo stumbled across a new clue, or when the romantic tension simmered to a boil between her and the handsome newspaper boy from the wrong side of the tracks. With his help, she travels to the most forbidden places—from brothels to dive bars to shipyards—and has quite a few close encounters with some nefarious street urchins. Along the way, she makes a few friends in low places: A teenage pickpocket, and a budding forensic scientist. Both prove to be quite handy as she pursues her father’s killer.

I’ll stop right here to save you from spoilers, but I will say that this book is worth your while! I’m just bummed that it’s a standalone because I would love to know what adventures lie ahead for Jo as she navigates her life as a cub reporter.

Washington Irving Fans, Eat Your Heart Out!

18586140Another hot and muggy September has reared its ugly head in this inferno called Austin. That means I’ll be reading nothing but spooky ghost stories all the way through December! This year, I’m jump-starting the witching season with this fun YA thriller filled with ghosts, leering jack-o-lanterns and a sword-wielding fiend on horseback.

Sounds promising, but yet I went into this book with cautious optimism. After attempting to watch that blasphemous Sleepy Hollow series and suffering through the first installment of the Hollow Trilogy, I know that there’s so many ways a headless horseman story could go wrong. Oh and please don’t get me started on the Tim Burton movie. Who in their right mind would cast Johnny Depp as Ichabod? I’m sure poor old Irving is still rolling around in his grave over that one.

Here’s the thing. If you’re going to retell old Washington Irving’s masterpiece, you better use the spooky setting to your full advantage. Irving and Ray Bradbury mastered the art of intoxicating readers with lyrical descriptions of fall landscapes. Contemporary authors all seem to pale in comparison. That is until I took a chance on Richard Gleaves.

He is clearly a huge fan of Irving’s work, and it shows in his atmospheric descriptions of Ichabod Crane’s stomping grounds. His prose swept me away to the little hamlet along the Hudson River, where I could hear the soft autumn breeze wafting through the trees, smell the smoke drifting from burnt leaves, and see the moonlight shining upon spooky boneyard. Such fun!

With a hip hip and a clippity clop, he's out looking for a head to chop!

With a hip hip and a clippity clop, he’s out looking for a head to chop!

The genius of the story, is the parallels between the modern day characters and their direct descendants—Brom bones and Ichabod Crane. Our hero Jason Crane may be long and lanky, but he’s much cooler than his social-climbing ancestor. As expected, he falls in love with Kate (the new Katrina), who is unfortunately hooked up with the modern day Brom Bones, a school jock with lots of skeletons in the closet.

Of all the multi-dimensional characters in this book, I most enjoyed Jason’s newfound bestie—a wannabe Robin Williams who spends most of his waking hours manning the grounds of the local cemetery. This actually comes in handy when Jason finds that his grandmother is being conned into digging up a veritable Pandora’s box that has been entombed in the family crypt for two centuries.

I’ll save you from the gory details—and I mean that in every sense of the word! But I will say that this is one thrill ride that will get you in the Halloween spirit. Ever since I watched the Disney version of Sleepy Hollow—a masterpiece onto itself—I’ve been obsessed with this story. It was such a treat when Gleaves invoked bits and pieces from Ichabod’s last ride into the climax. I won’t tell you any more, but I will say that fans of the Disney classic will be most amused.

 

Gizzy & CeeCee’s Halloween Treat: Asylum by Madeline Reoux

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What’s creepier than an abandoned insane asylum? If you, like me, are into those ghost-hunting shows, you already know those cavernous old buildings are full of bad juju. If walls could talk, would you really want to hear the stories?

In this book, our fearless protagonist Dan Crawford didn’t have much of a choice. Unless he unravels the mystery of his college dorm—formerly an asylum for the criminally insane—some very bad things would happen to all of his friends. A dark force looms above the campus, and it’s up to Dan and his two trusty sidekicks to put the genie back into the bottle before the body count rises—and they too become trapped forever within the hallowed halls of the asylum.13597728

On the scare-o-meter, I give this thing a 7.5, not bad for young adult. The little hairs on the back of my neck stood up a couple of times, and the unsettling photos of abandoned asylums and tortured patients really set the mood. Ransom Riggs jumpstarted this mixed-media trend with his book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and I must say it’s pretty effective for this particular genre. All of the photos are of real people and places from a bygone era, adding another layer of intrigue. With each chapter, I kept asking myself, “What’s the story behind the pale, haunted faces within these photos? What atrocities were performed on those rusty hospital beds?”  On second thought, I’d rather not know.

My only gripe is that the story was bogged down by all the typical YA junk (awkward flirtations, clichéd bullies, whiny self-loathing, etc.). The awkward romance between Dan and his fellow sidekick, Abby, really stunted the pace. This guy had no qualms about hunting for clues alone in a haunted basement, but he couldn’t muster the courage to ask a girl out? Please. I know these authors have to appeal to swoony girls, but sometimes the romance falls flat when it’s shoehorned into the story. I also could’ve done without the insatiably clingy Jordan. Dude clearly never heard of the term “cock blocker.”

Aside from those minor hangups, I have to say this is a quality read for ghost enthusiasts. But if you’re expecting any answers, you’ll have to wait until then next book in the series. Why were the trio of friends all brought to the haunted dorm by some unseen force? What’s the story behind the evil entity lurking within the dark recesses of the halls? Your guess is as good as mine.

CeeCee’s Dog Days of Summer Reading Roundup

10351599_530856277043177_2547800760911905463_nSometimes I feel as though I’m the only Texan who loves the dog days of summer. When I hear the locusts playing their summer symphony in the pecan trees and gaze up at the big, cloudless Texas sky, I wax nostalgic about my happiest childhood memories at summer camp.  Oh how I miss those long hot days filled with ice cream socials, campfire ghost stories and cheesy sing-along songs. So when the barometer reaches an all-time high, I always go for books that invoke that carefree summertime feeling.

Although my assistant, CeeCee Honeycutt Sinn, isn’t a fan of hot weather, she loves good stories about island adventures and steamy romance. If you’re looking for a fun, light read to stash in your beach bag, she highly recommends checking out these titles.

15812854Killer Honeymoon by G.A. McKevett

This is my first foray into the Savannah Reid mystery series and it won’t be my last. Although I solved the mystery long before the fearless Southern sleuth closed in on the killer, I was thoroughly entertained by the colorful cast of characters and witty dialogue. The tranquil West Coast setting took me back to Catalina Island, where I would eat my weight in ice cream underneath a thatched roof to the ever-present sound of Jimmy Buffet’s greatest hits. Ah memories…but I digress. This book is a fantastic beach read that will get you in the perfect summertime state of mind. The constant bickering between the two honeymooning protagonists was mildly annoying at first, but eventually I started laughing along at their zippy little quips. Fans of Janet Evanovich and Laura Levine are sure to enjoy this series.

16101148 Five Summers by Una Lamarche

Let me begin by stating that this book is going on my Best Books of 2014 list. My happiest childhood memories took place at Camp Marston, a sleepaway camp nestled in the mountains of Julian, California. This book rekindled so many memories of the deep friendships that were forged over burnt marshmallows and capture-the-flag games. In this book, the four girls were lucky enough to stay in touch throughout the years and help each other through the trials and tribulations of young adulthood. Each girl is holding back a deep, dark secret and it all comes to a head when they reunite at their beloved Camp Nedoba. I really liked how the author used the third-person narrative to weave each of the girls’ past and present summer camp experiences in every chapter. I loved getting to know all the characters and reminiscing about my carefree summers at camp, where I only had to worry about hiding contraband candy from the counselors and getting caught on a night raid to boys hill!

17568234The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee by Carolyn Brown

How could I resist a Steel Magnolia-esque story set in an idyllic small Texas town? Like a big ol’ slice of pecan pie, this book is oozing with saccharin sweet Southern charm. But anyone who isn’t privy to the complexities of Texas women should know that phrases like “bless her heart” or “aint that nice” have a double meaning.  It’s a jungle out there below the Mason-Dixon line—especially at the Cadillac Diner, home to the hottest jalapenos in Texas! The three women who run the diner are constantly sparring with the indomitable queen of the elite jalapeno club, Violet Prescott. She will stop at nothing to take home the blue ribbon—even if it means shutting down the town’s beloved diner. This woman is about as evil as a Pixar villain. In fact, her nefarious antics are so over-the-top, it’s hard to really take this book seriously. There’s a lot of characters thrown into the mix, and it’s hard to really get a good grasp on the reasons behind their bizarre behavior, but the multiple subplots kept me reading up until the rather anticlimactic standoff at the jalapeno jubilee. Yes, I do think the characters needed to be fleshed out more. And yes, the story seemed a little disjointed. But all in all, it was a fun, fast read for a day by the pool. Please be advised that if you’re looking for a tear-jerking story about love, loss and friendship, you’re not going to find it here. But if you want to read something on par with Sweet Home Alabama or Hart of Dixie, this book will not disappoint.

Short & Sweet Sundays

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These past few months have gone by in a blur – and I’ve been reading more books than I have time to review! But don’t fret, my wonderful bookish friends, I have plenty of reviews coming your way. And today, I bring you a veritable cornucopia of short and sweet book reviews! Here’s a few hits and misses from my fall reading list.

Hits

Dark Kiss by Michelle Rowen (Audiobook)
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This was a quality audiobook. Great narrator, fast-moving plot, interesting characters, swoony teen paranormal romance – pretty much the perfect escape from reality! I’m hoping there’s going to be a romantic triangle brewing in the next book because Craven and Samantha would be dynamite together! The author did a fine job tying up the story at the end, while leaving her readers with lots of questions. All in all, this is an entertaining read for paranormal romance enthusiasts.

Dead of Night by Charlaine Harris and Amanda Stevens
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Confession: I bought this book at an airport because of the spooktacular cover! As expected, Charlaine Harris delivers a quality novella titled Dancers in the Dark.  It’s a deliciously romantic mashup of  Dirty Dancing and True Blood. The author did a bang-up job slowly unraveling the characters’ mysterious backstories while bringing their simmering romance into a rolling boil.  I read this thing from start to finish in one sitting. Five stars all around! As for the next story, The Devil’s Footprints, I’m only halfway through it. So far, it’s pretty darn creepy. Stay tuned for the review!

Haunting Violet by Alxyandra Harvey
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This may very well be my most favorite YA paranormal novel.  Set amidst England’s lush and foggy countryside, this is the perfect atmospheric gothic romance for a blustery winter’s night. The mystery behind the drowned ghost girl kept me glued to the pages as Violet searched for clues in a stately English manor. Complete with masquerade balls, danger and romance, this book is everything I could ever ask for in a paranormal mystery. If you love Barbara Michaels (how could you not?), I highly recommend this one!

Misses

Mid Summer Night’s Scream by R.L. Stine
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Oh R.L. Stine! I love you. I really do! This book just didn’t do it for me. I love the concept of young actors getting terrorized on a cursed movie set. And I certainly wasn’t expecting a whole lot, except for maybe some campy 80s horror movie fun. Yet it’s never a good sign when you’re rooting for the masked killer to knock off the utterly despicable characters. I absolutely loathed all of the kids in this book, mainly because they’re a bunch of rich, fame-obsessed brats in the Hollywood Hills. I get that R.L. needs to keep up with the times and market his books to the “Me Generation,” but at what cost? I can see how this book might be of interest to fans of the Kardashians and those Jersey Shore lushes, but do those people actually read? I don’t know, guys, after this sad attempt of a paranormal thriller, I might have to write R.L. off.  Life is too short for lame-ass books.

Phantom Evil by Heather Graham (Audiobook)
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I’ve always been very “meh” about Heather Graham’s formulaic thrillers, but sometimes she delivers some quality stuff. Plus, this audiobook was on clearance for five bucks, so I decided to go for it. Unfortunately, I got what I paid for. Lured by the haunted New Orleans setting, I really wanted to like this book, but sadly it was stilted by flat characters and a very tedious plot. It all seemed very rushed, and the author failed to make the most out of an incredibly spooky location. When you’re setting a horror story in New Orleans, you owe it to your readers to take a page from Anne Rice’s playbook and delve into the evocative, mystical Louisiana setting. I hardly ever quit a book, but I had to stick a fork in this one long before the Scooby Doo cast of characters solved the mystery.

Teaser Tuesdays (No. 3) Broken by A.E. Rought

tuesdays

13515848It’s Tuesday and you know what that means! Time for Teaser Tuesdays!!! This bookish meme, hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading, is all about tantalizing readers with two “teaser” sentences from a current read. I’m about halfway through Broken and am loving the deliciously spooky Halloween ambiance! If you’re looking for a good YA paranormal mystery filled with teen angst and unearthly romance, check this one out. It’s only two bucks on Nook, so you really can’t go wrong!

Here are the rules:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two “teaser” sentences
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
• Share the title & author, too, so other bloggers can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!

 And here’s my teaser:

Jack-o’-lanterns leer from porches, glowing faces following my every step, as if they see the hollow space in me and find it familiar. The Peterson’s pumpkin is particularly vicious looking, with narrow pointy teeth and angular flaming eyes, squatting like a gargoyle on the front step.

What’s on your nightstand? Care to share some teasers with me?

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

7664334There’s nothing I love more than a good road trip. The long stretches of desert wasteland, the greasy spoon diners, the crumpled bags of Doritos – everything about it makes me long for the open road. There’s something magical about traveling through uncharted territory and catching a glimpse of what life must be like in a big, bustling city or a small desert town. It’s like pressing the pause button on the mundane rinse-wash-repeat cycle of daily life and watching the world pass by in a series of varied landscapes.

If you know how to do a road trip right (meaning don’t strictly go from point-A to point-B) there’s really no problem a cross-country journey can’t solve. That’s why I got super excited when I came across Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour!

The story revolves around a teenage girl who’s severely traumatized by her father’s untimely death. Sure, she may look like she’s got it all together, but she’s really just going through the motions on autopilot. Unable to drive – or even bring up her dad’s name – she’s living in a state of emotional shellshock. That is until she meets Roger.

Her road to healing all begins when she joins Roger on an epic cross-country adventure from California to her new home in Connecticut. Although she was less than thrilled that her mom forced her to take a road trip with a stranger, she quickly warms up to the soft-spoken college boy. Too bad he’s totally hung up on his ex-girlfriend, who inexplicably stopped taking his calls.

For the first time ever, Amy decides to rebel against her mother and throws her direct route out the window. She’s in no hurry to face the real world and needs to take some time for herself. Plus it helps that she’s sharing a car with a tall, blond and handsome boy!  As  they travel from Yosemite to Colorado Springs to Graceland, they fall deeper and deeper in love and begin to come to terms with their problems.

This book perfectly captures the beauty of the American road trip. Like the journey of life, if you focus on the destination, you’re missing out big time!  It’s about  talking to strangers at a random pit stop. It’s about listening to mixed tapes and playing silly word games. It’s about going outside your comfort zone and trying something you’ve never done before.

For instance, while bunking with Roger’s college friend, Brownyn, at a college dorm, Amy learned an insightful bit of knowledge about confidence. Maybe I’m biased because I’m a Texan, but Brownyn is the coolest secondary character in the book. Although she may look like another fashion-obsessed sorority girl, she’s a super sweet – and very generous – Southern Belle. I sure wish someone would surprise me with a suitcase full of stylish new clothes!

“And sometimes,” she added, in slightly hushed tones, like she was letting me in on a secret, “if you don’t feel great on the inside, just look great on the outside, and after a while you won’t be able to tell the difference.” – Brownyn

What I really love about this book is the chatter between Amy and Roger as they drive along lonely highways and munch on cheeseburgers on the hood of the car. As their relationship develops, they offer each other some insights into their emotional hangups.

 “Tomorrow will be better.” “But what if it’s not?” I asked. “Then you say it again tomorrow. Because it might be. You never know, right? At some point, tomorrow will be better.” – Roger

I also really enjoyed the random musings about road sign oddities and state trivia facts. Yes, this book is mostly about personal tragedy and healing, but it’s also got some funny moments. Anyone who’s done a long haul across multiple state lines would get a kick out of the random roadside observations.

“In addition to the OPEN RANGE CAUTION, there were animal signs I’d never seen before-an antelope, a cow, and cow with horns…But it worried me that, without warning, a cow with horns might be running across the interstate. And that this had happened frequently enough that they’d had to erect a sign to warn people about it.” – Amy

All in all, I have to say Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour is the reason why the YA genre is so much more than bubblegum and fluff. Filled with poignant insights, lyrical narratives and fascinating characters, this book transcends age demographics. If you enjoy a good story about self-discovery, adventure and sweet romance, check this one out!  With photos of receipts, breakfast platters and various roadside sightings, you’ll feel like you’re right there in the car with Amy and Roger. Music lovers will also enjoy the listings of songs on their playlists. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – get it, read it, share it!!!

Beautiful Creatures: Movie & Book Review

Beautiful-Creatures-2013-Posters-alice-englert-32920228-632-960When I found out Beautiful Creatures was going to hit the silver screen, I knew it would be a gargantuan disappointment. I mean, come on, how in the world can moviemakers crunch a 500+ word tome into a two-hour flick without garbling the plotline and obliterating important characters? As I expected the movie distorted the entire story, characters and plot threads into a hot mess of teenage melodrama. Not since Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, have I seen such a warped movie adaptation of a book.

But I have to confess,  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained. Despite the choppy scenes and unanswered questions, the movie put an interesting spin on some of the characters and left me hanging with an entirely different ending. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but I will say that the ending in the movie is far more interesting that where they left off in the book.

To show you the hits and misses, let me break it down for you like this.

beautiful-creatures-Alden-Ehrenreich-Alice-Englert-ethan-lena-warner-brosThe Cast

How awesome is the Emily Blunt lookalike actress playing Lena?!? With her porcelain complexion and luxurious dark hair, she fits the profile perfectly. But what about the electric green eyes and crescent moon-shaped birthmark? How could the moviemakers overlook these significant features? Symbolic of Robert Frost’s “nothing gold can stay” prose, her stark green eyes mark her temporary state of purity. She’s constantly scribbling “nothing green can stay” on the walls with her Jedi mind-trick powers, foreshadowing her inevitable fate as a dark castor.

 Literary symbolism is a huge part of the book, but the moviemakers didn’t really bother with the many references to T.S. Eliot and Faulkner. I guess it kind of makes sense considering that it would probably be lost on their teenage audience.

As for Ethan, I was not impressed by this guy at all. I pictured more of a tall, lanky, disheveled writer-type, not a short pretty boy. Sure he’s cute and all, but his big, cheesy smile has all the charms of a schmoozy used car salesman. Ethan is so much more loveable in the book because of his tragic backstory. After his mom dies in a car accident, his dad completely shuts down into a walking catatonic state. The authors did a beautiful job making me fall in love with Ethan and his sad life as an orphan. Hopefully in the next movie, they’ll delve more into his mother’s death – and Sarafine’s possible involvement.

Ethan-and-Lena-1024x681The Romance

I wasn’t digging the leading man, so maybe I’m a little biased, but the romance just kind of seemed forced in the movie. You get a better feel for their magnetism in book, especially because they can speak to each other telepathically – and when they touch, sparks literally fly! In the movie, Ethan is about as sexy as a sweet little puppy dog.  

review-beautiful-creatures2-e1360830491815Ridley Duchannes

I have to tell ya, Ridley is much more interesting in the movie. Emmy Rossum does a bang-up job playing an evil-to-the-core seductress. In the book, she’s more of a rebellious punk rock princess who walks a fine line between good and evil. Yet in the movie, she clearly reached a point of no return and is a shining example of what happens when a caster girl goes dark. I really liked the flashback scene where Lena describes Ridley’s moonlit transformation from a sweet farm girl into a stone-cold killer. She has no reservations about manipulating horny boys into early graves, and I’m interested to what’s next for her in Beautiful Darkness!

BEAUTIFUL-CREATURES1Amma

Considering that it’s probably politically incorrect to cast a black woman as a housemaid in a very white bread movie set in the South, I can see why the changed Amma’s role from the loyal housekeeper to the town librarian. In fact, this was a very clever way to fold two characters into one.

To speed things along, they had to get rid of  some characters, including Marian, the town librarian, castor watchkeeper, and Ethan’s mother’s best friend. Since they decided to cut out Ethan’s backstory, I guess that makes sense. I think Vioa Davis did a great job playing a wizened mystical voodoo lady of the swamps, but I was picturing more of a little old eccentric grandmotherly woman who rules the house with an iron fist. It’s a shame the movie had to leave out her complex relationship with Macon Ravenwood, and her super-cool time-bending powers.

BC-17715rV2-jpg_211413The Library

I was so excited to see how they were going to create the library in the movie. Considering that the story is set in a small Southern town, I pictured a two-story Carnegie library with a spiral staircase and walls of books. But nope, they just decide to plop the library in a dumpy nondescript building. And that’s not the worst part! The castor library, described as a dark, dank crypt-like labyrinth of books, is just another brightly-lit extension of the library. Boring!!! With the wonders of CGI graphics, you’d think that they could come up with something more Harry Potteresque than that.

Oh and what’s the deal with the Book of Moons? Of course they had to save time by omitting characters and scenes, but why did they have to leave out the creepiest, most deliciously atmospheric scene in the whole story? I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll just say that Ethan and Lena had to go on a rather gruesome grave-digging quest to find the book.

BEAUTIFUL-CREATURES2Macon Melchizedek Ravenwood

Of all the magical characters, I found Uncle Macon to be the most fascinating. As the story unfolds, he gets more and more complex, leaving me with more questions than answers. Is he a castor or some sort of dark angel? What’s going on with his strange connection with Ethan’s dead mother? Of course, he isn’t nearly as interesting in the movie, which basically pigeonholes him as just another castor. And what about Boo Radley, Macon’s ginormous dog? I was really hoping he’d make it to the big screen, but hopefully he’ll make an appearance in the next movie.

imagesCAL8KKVWThe Mean Girls

Now here’s where the moviemakers made some smart choices in cutting the fat. The book is long, and in some spots, it gets really tedious. The movie left out a lot of the stereotypical mean girl antics and high school party shenanigans, which is totally fine by me. I was glad to see that the movie didn’t bother with Lena’s surprise birthday bash, which seemed to go on and on and on forever. However, the book beautifully captures the evils of small-mindedness and bigotry.  It’s a sad fact of life that we live in a society filled with judgmental, unforgiving people. And what better way to bring this message home than by sticking a witch in a god-fearing bible belt? 

I would love to go into detail about the plot twists and alternate ending, but I don’t want to ruin it for you. But I will say that if you resolve to only watch the movie, you are missing out big time!

 

 

Awake at Dawn by C.C. Hunter

10800916There’s a reason why C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls series is on the best-selling lists. Her main character is living every teenage girl’s fantasy. Tall, blond and gorgeous, she’s the prettiest – and most mysterious – girl at Camp Shadow Falls. Two of the camp’s hottest boys are chasing after her – plus she’s got the coolest best friends a girl could ever ask for.  Oh – and did I mention that a side-effect of her hidden super-powers is growing an extra cup-size over night? So not fair…the only things that sprouted on my teenage body overnight were pimples.

If you’re not familiar with the Shadow Falls series, here’s the scoop: Kylie is a camper at Shadow Falls, a place where teenage fairies, vamps, werewolves, shapeshifters and witches can learn how to hone their supernatural powers. They can do some really cool stuff like reading each other’s brain waves, shifting into four-legged beasts, and communing with ghosts..

Unlike her fellow campers, Kylie’s supernatural identity is a total mystery. Desperate for answers, she hires a PI to look into her ancestral past. And as her powers begin to develop, she comes up with more questions than answers. What kind of preternatural species can talk to dead people, run at warp speed, and grow taller and more boobalicious overnight? No one – not even the camp counselors – seems to know.

In this second installment, Kylie is plagued by a new ghost who insists that someone she loves is on the cusp of death. It would be helpful if the blood-drenched spirit could give her more details. But like everything else, Kylie must figure it out on her own. And if that’s not enough, she’s facing some serious boy drama. Lucas, a gorgeous werewolf with smoldering blue eyes, inexplicably skipped town with the world’s bitchiest she-wolf. She wants more than anything to write him off completely, but his love letters and dream-scaping invasions keep her hanging on.

Wouldn't Jared Padalecki make a great Derek?!?

Wouldn’t Jared Padalecki make a great Derek?!?

And then there’s Derek. Don’t let the half-fairy status fool you; this guy is no sissy with sparkly wings. He’s big, buff and completely smitten with Kylie. I have to say that the shower scene is one of the hottest romantic moments I’ve encountered in paranormal teen lit. With his brown shaggy hair, chiseled features and barrel chest, I kept picturing a half-naked, dripping wet Jared Padelecki. Supernatural fans, you know who I’m talking about! Kylie must have some crazy superpowers to walk away from…shall I say…a very promising opportunity.

Considering the formula of YA paranormal love triangles, I’m willing to bet she’s going to end up with the mysterious bad boy, but oh how I wish she could just be with Derek. He’s sweet, romantic and oh-so-very perfect! If the author really wants to give her readers a plot twist, she should make Kylie choose the nice guy in the end.

Aside from the love triangle, Kylie is also helping her friends deal with some serious problems. Miranda is crying into her pillow every night over a bad breakup. Della fears the death angels will make her atone for the sins of her past. And Sara, Kylie’s mortal BFF back home, is no longer returning her phone calls. Aye yay yay – teenage life is tough!

The plot thickens when the prophetic ghost gets more and more demanding. Soon someone Kylie loves will die – and she only has a short window of time to stop it from happening. And if that’s not enough, she’s also being stalked by a rogue vampire who is out killing mortals on the streets.

There’s a lot going on in this book, but the author does a fine job weaving the plot threads into a cohesive story. With every chapter she hits me with a cliffhanger, leaving me with no other option but to tear through the pages to get some answers. Warning: if you have weekend plans or chores to tackle, DO NOT read this book. I took this thing with me on the plane, and it was torture having to put it away when I had to make a connecting flight! All in all, this is one of the best paranormal series out there. If you’re looking for a good character-driven novel filled with plot twists, romance and mystery, give Shadow Falls a try!

From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer & Valerie Thomas

sundaysIn honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 


11263180From the publisher
:
In the span of forty-eight hours, socially awkward valedictorian, Kylie Flores and conceited jock, Max Langston, who’ve never spoken in four years of high school, will find themselves kidnapped, taken over the Mexican border, married and falling in love. Kylie’s best friend, Will, Max’s girlfriend, Lily and Max’s wingman, Charlie are the unlikely cavalry charged with rescuing them. Against all odds, this crew must find their way back over the border in time for graduation and for Kylie to give her long awaited valedictorian speech, without killing each other en route.

What I liked loved: It’s hard to pinpoint the book’s biggest strength. The multiple strings of narratives, the swept-away romance, the rollicking misadventures – everything just meshes together like peanut butter, chocolate and bananas! If I had to choose, I’d say the book’s biggest selling point is the fast-moving plot. I love how the authors structured the story with each chapter jumping from one major character to the next. I credit their Hollywood screenwriting skills for weaving the multiple narratives without jerking the reader around or muddling up the plot. You get to know the characters bit by bit and want to keep tearing through the pages to find out how they overcome their problems. Oh and did I mention there are a couple of high-speed car chases involved? Vroom, vroom!  

The romance: Max and Kylie’s unlikely romance rekindled my silly high school fantasies of being marooned on a desert island with the Luke Perry lookalike from my fifth period English lit class. They had the whole Jude Law/Ally Sheedy love chemistry thing going on (Breakfast Club fans, you know what I’m talking about) and it worked! Come to think of it, this book flows much like a John Hughes 80s romance. Think Some Kind of Wonderful meets Pretty in Pink meets The Breakfast Club. And just when I didn’t think it could get any better – the love drama sweeps into a motion all-too-reminiscent of my most favorite romance movie of all time, Before Sunrise. If you haven’t seen it, put it on you Netflix queue stat! Oh Ethan Hawke…how I wish we could have a spontaneous romantic interlude on a train to Paris…sigh.

Thoughts on the cover art: If the first couple pages don’t grab you, the cover certainly will! The image, depicting a foursome of stranded rich teenagers amidst the backdrop of a Mexican sunset, looks like a “coming soon” poster in a movie theater. The little bitty Chihuahua is a nice touch, and I wonder why he couldn’t have played a larger role in the story. If I had to get nitpicky, that would be my only gripe about the book.

Overall: There’s a reason why this book made my shortlist of Best Books of 2012. It’s a fast, furious rollercoaster ride of misadventures, romance and drunken teenage debauchery! But it’s not all teenage hijinks; the characters are dealing with some heavy duty stuff, such as mental illness, cancer and financial meltdowns. Each character may seem to be neatly compartmentalized as a “jock,” “class clown” “brain” and “princess,” but they each have their own unique backstory, which the authors slowly reveal in every chapter. I love a good coming-of-age story of self-discovery – and this book totally delivers. Don’t be overwhelmed by the 400+ pages. It’s a super-fast read that can easily be devoured in one weekend. Get it. Read it. Share it!