Monday, March 1, 2021

Review: The Spies that Bind by Ally Carter

 


Review:

I love the concept of audible and find the badges and different reading levels you can achieve to be quite motivating and addicting, but I can't justify the cost. I get all of my audiobooks using the Overdrive and Hoopla apps for free with my library card. Every now and then I will receive a 30 day free trial officer from audible and decide to take them up on it. 

This book doesn't require a credit, so I would definitely recommend listening to his short story if you are a Gallagher Girls fan or are interested in trying out the series. This is a prequel, so you will not spoil anything by listening to this book. In fact, it was nice to learn more about the history of the school and its founder, which I don't recall being revealed in any of the books in the series.  I also enjoyed seeing how Cammie found all of the secret passages that generations of Gallagher girls never discovered. In addition, we get to see Cammie's first impression of the Gallagher Academy and how she met her roommates. These ladies always seemed so smart and confident in the series, but they weren't always that way. They all questioned if they have what it takes to succeed in such a competitive environment.

The transition to a new school impacted more than just the students. Cammie's mom is returning to the Gallagher Academy for the first time since she graduated, but this time around she is the new head mistress. She is expected to lead and develop the next generation of Exceptional Young Women. Not everyone thought she was the best woman suited for the job and even she is questioning her decision. 

I really enjoyed having the opportunity to return to the Gallagher Academy. This is a very short story and will not take much of your time. In fact, I took my dog for a walk around the neighborhood and was able to listen to the entire thing.  I understand audible needs to have original and exclusive content to entice members, but I remember feeling disappointed when Ally first announced this book was an audible exclusive. I'm glad I finally had a chance to listen to it.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

 


Goodreads Overview:

The Shadowhunters of Los Angeles star in the first novel in Cassandra Clare’s newest series, The Dark Artifices, a sequel to the internationally bestselling Mortal Instruments series. Lady Midnight is a Shadowhunters novel.

It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.

Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions…

Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?

Review:

I've read the first 3 books in the Mortal Instruments series and loved them. I will likely read the rest of that series, but book 3 had a nice conclusion that I was happy with and I didn't feel like taking on the next 3 books in that series yet.

Lady Midnight was an exceptional start to a spinoff series. I absolutely loved Emma and Julian and enjoyed seeing how Mark reacclimated into the Shadowhunter world after his time with the faeries. We have another star-crossed lover situation that reminded me of the Jace and Clary relationship in the Mortal Instruments. Emma and Julian are not related, but they are parabatai and are forbidden to have a romantic relationship by the Clave.  They are both struggling with their feelings for each other and why the Clave has this law in the first place.

Emma has been investigating the murder of her parents for years and comes across her first solid clue at the beginning of this book. There are a series of murders that appear similar to that of her parents and she will do anything to uncover the truth. The truth was not what she was expecting and hit much closer to home than any of the Shadowhunters could have imagined.

We are introduced to Christina and Diego, who are Shadowhunters from Mexico City. Christina came to live with the Blackthorn's for a year and becomes good friends with Emma. "Perfect Diego" is Christina's ex-boyfriend, but we aren't exactly sure why they split up and she decided to leave Mexico City  That was a mystery for the majority of this book. 

Jace and Clary make an appearance in this book, which I was excited to see. We discover what they have been up to since the end of the Mortal Instruments series. We also received updates on several of the other characters including Alec, Magnus, Simon, and Isabella. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this action packed adventure and gave the book 5 stars. I would recommend reading at least the first 3 books in the Mortal Instruments series before starting Lady Midnight. It probably isn't completely necessary, but there are a lot of references to what took place in the Mortal Instruments. In addition, it will provide a solid foundation of the Shadowhunter world without jumping in head first.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Review: The 12 Days of Book-Club-Mas by Once Upon A Book Club

 


Review:

This is the 3rd volume of the Once Upon a Book Club's 12 Days of Book-Club-Mas. Last year it was a single story that was broken up into 12 chapters. Similar to their subscription boxes, there was a section in each chapter that instructed the reader to open the corresponding gift.  


This year each chapter was an independent story by a different author. The author was given a gift that they needed to incorporate into the story for the reader to open. I really enjoy the Once Upon a Book Club concept of bringing a book to life. The issue that I have with this company is that some of the gifts seem cheap and in other cases aren't practical or useful. The cost of the box was $89.99 + $12 shipping within the US. I did enjoy the fact that there was an adult AND a YA version of the box this year. I read mostly YA and will definitely enjoy the books selected for the YA version better than the adult selections.

Below is a link to a nice YouTube Unboxing that I found for the YA edition of this year's advent calendar.


My favorite gifts from this year's box are the 4 books, the winter hat, and the Shhhh I'm Reading pillow case. The rolling bag with small plastic wheels and the camp stool are two of the gifts that I do not see lasting. I am smaller than average and would not even consider trying to sit on that stool. The wheels on the rolling bag also do not seem very sturdy or durable. I understand there is a budget for each gift, but a standard tote bag without the gimmick would have been far more practical. In addition, the steering wheel cover is not something I would ever consider using. My skin cream roller arrived broken and I received a $7 refund for the cost of that item. The blanket as she mentioned is very thin. I received a blanket recently in an Owlcrate box that also had a book quote, but was considerably higher quality.

Overall, I really enjoyed the 12 stories and the concept of opening a bookish gift each day for advent. The YA books that were selected all sound like books I will enjoy, so I was very pleased with that. I just wish some of the other gifts were more useful. A candle, tea, bookish socks, etc. would have been more my speed. It was a fun experience, but after trying it for two years, I probably will not purchase next year's advent calendar. I will be interested in watching the unboxing, however, to see if they improve the quality of their gifts.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Review: Chop Wood Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf

 


Goodreads Overview:

Guided by “Akira-sensei,” John comes to realize the greatest adversity on his journey will be the challenge of defeating the man in the mirror.

This powerful story of one boy’s journey to achieve his life long goal of becoming a samurai warrior, brings the Train to be CLUTCH curriculum to life in a powerful and memorable way.

Some things you will learn…
—No matter how it feels, you are always building your own house.
—How and why you must surrender to the outcome in order to be at your best.
—Why you never want to have your identity wrapped up in what you do.
—Why your strength lies in faithfulness to the little things.
—How to develop a heart posture of gratitude.
—How to use the biggest challenges as a training ground for greatness.
—Why the process is more important than the goal.
—Why comparison is the thief of all joy.
—How to develop a growth mindset.
—Why talent is more of a curse than a blessing.

Review:

This is one of 3 books recommended by my son's golf coach to help him with the mental game. There are a lot of great messages and one line quotes that are very inspirational and motivating. Most people are focused on what they want to accomplish. In my son's case, "I'm going to make the Florida Gulf Coast golf team and get my degree in PGA golf management." It is necessary to set goals, but this book teaches you the importance of the day to day dedication and training that is essential to achieve greatness.

Before you can focus on winning, you must work on the fundamentals EVERY DAY. You can't take the day off simply because you are tired or it is raining and windy. Pushing through adversity is what makes you stronger and will ultimately give you an edge over your competition. You should always focus on the positive and what you learned today vs. your perceived shortcomings. 

My son and I read this book together and discussed each chapter. He appreciated the message and has definitely improved his work ethic. Some of the conversations between John and Akira were lengthy and my son lost interest. Instead of reading this book like a typical novel, I would recommend reading a chapter a day. This would have given him something to think about, digest, and implement into his daily routine before going onto the next chapter. In shorter chunks the stories and conversations may not have felt so long. 

Overall, it was a good story with a great message that everyone could benefit from. I gave it 3 stars simply because a book this short really shouldn't have felt like it was dragging.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Review: Mind the Gap, Dash & Lily by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

  


Goodreads Overview:

Dash and Lily were feeling closer than ever...it's just too bad they're now an ocean apart. After Dash gets accepted to Oxford University and Lily stays in New York to take care of her dogwalking business, the devoted couple are struggling to make a long distance relationship work. And when Dash breaks the news that he won't be coming home for Christmas, Lily makes a decision: if Dash can't come to her, she'll join him in London. It's a perfect romantic gesture...that spins out of Lily's control. Soon Dash and Lily are feeling more of a gap between them, even though they're in the same city. Will London bring them together again--or will it be their undoing?

Review:

I loved Dash & Lily's Book of Dares and watched the Netflix series as a refresher prior to reading this book. I have also read the 12 Days of Dash and Lily and don't think either of the sequels really lived up to the expectations of the original book. They were cute and entertaining stories, but they didn't have quite the same magic as the original.

I love London, so a book with Dash & Lily in my favorite city was sure to be a winner. After the 12 Days of Dash and Lily, I was hoping there would be less drama in their lives. Instead, Dash is second guessing his life long dream of attending Oxford. The one positive is that Dash has the chance to spend time with his father's mother, who lives in London. When he was a child she sent him an Oxford sweatshirt, which first planted the Oxford seed in his mind. In addition, she always sent him books, which he absolutely loved and cherished. He and his grandmother hit it off from the very beginning and it is nice to see them enjoying each other's company. He has never been close to his parents, so this was something he desperately needed.

Lily is struggling with her own indecision. Her mother wants her to attend her alma mater in New York, but Lily isn't sure college is for her. She has taken a gap year to grow her dog walking and craft business and has experienced some success. She would like to attend a dog training program in London, but she doesn't want everyone to think she is just following Dash. She also doesn't know what Dash will think about the idea.

When Dash decides to stay in London with his Grandmother for Christmas, Lily decides to send Dash a personalized handmade advent calendar. It was a really cute idea and went along with the book of dares theme, which I enjoyed. I just wish it could have been more of a cute love story as they explored London for Christmas, but everything spiraled out of control.

Some of our favorite characters from the first two books surface to help guide and support Dash and Lily with their struggles. Mrs. Basil E., Langston, Boomer, Sophia, and Mark all make appearances. We are also introduced to a couple of Dash's acquaintances from Oxford.  Overall, I enjoyed the story and was happy with how it ended. I wouldn't, however, recommend reading this book as a stand alone. Without the backstory from the pervious books in the series, I don't think readers will fully appreciate the story. Start with Dash & Lily's Book of Dares. It is the best book in the series and introduces you to all of the characters.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Review: Zero Day by David Baldacci

 



Review:

I have read all of Baldacci's King and Maxwell series and decided to start the John Puller series. The King and Maxwell series was about a couple of former secret service agents who become private investigators. I loved that series and hope he will release additional books, but this is another great series with a similar feel.

John Puller is a former Army Ranger and war hero. He is now working for the Army's Criminal Investigations Division and is one of their top investigators. When a Colonel, his wife, and two children are found murdered in a small town in West Virginia, Puller is sent to investigate. He finds the situation extremely unusual because he would usually be accompanied by a team of investigators. In this case, the Army insists he must work alone. The Colonel had access to high level classified information and Puller is convinced the Army is trying to keep something under wraps. He begins collaborating with Samantha Cole, who is a local police officer. She was born and raised in Drake and her brother-in-law is by far the wealthiest man in town. He owns and operates a coal mining business and has a number of other businesses in town. Teaming up with Cole gives him access to just about everyone and everything in town.

When additional bodies start turning up and attempt are made on Puller and Cole's lives, they begin to realize this is more than just a military or personal family matter. The colonel wasn't the victim of a random act of vilience and the killers are still after something. Puller and Cole must get to the bottom of things before the entire town falls victim. 

This was a fast paced and highly entertaining start to the series. If you enjoy murder mysteries / thrillers, this was an excellent read. I wasn't able to unravel the mystery until everything was pretty much spelled out for me in the end, but it made perfect sense in retrospect. I will definitely continue the series to see what is in store for Puller in The Forgotten.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Review: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

 


Goodreads Overview:

Last year, Annabel was "the girl who has everything" — at least that's the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf's Department Store.

This year, she's the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong.

Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen's help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.

Review:

If you enjoy YA contemporary, you really can't go wrong with Sarah Dessen's books. I have read a four of them so far and they are always very unique and thought provoking. I enjoy the fact that they are stand alone novels that I can pick up and read without a lengthy commitment, which is hard to find these days.

In Just Listen we are introduced to Annabel, who is high school student and a local model. Her sisters were models and it was just assumed she would follow in their footsteps. When her older sisters leave home to pursue their education and careers, Annabel becomes her mother's primary focus. Her mother doesn't work outside of the home and has always managed her daughter's modeling schedules for joy and fulfillment. When Annabel's grandmother passes away, her mother takes it very hard and experiences severe depression. The one thing that seems to pull her out of the darkness is Annabel's modeling. Annabel really wants to tell her mother that she wants to quit modeling, but she just can't bring herself to do it.

Owen is a transfer student with a reputation for being a bad boy. There are all sorts of rumors circulating the school about him, but nobody really knows the truth. When Annabel and her best friend Sophie have a falling out, Annabel finds herself on the outside looking in. She was once one of the popular girls who seemed to have everything, but now she doesn't feel like she has a single friend in the school. She begins talking to Owen, who can usually be found ignoring everyone listening to his iPod, and discovers there is a lot more to him than she ever imagined. 

Owen has learned that honesty is the best policy and he can't understand why anyone wouldn't just tell exactly what is on their mind. Annabel can see the benefits that could be achieved by getting things off of her chest, but she is such a nice person and doesn't want to say things that could potentially upset or offend others. She also has some secrets she isn't quite sure she wants to tell. Throughout the book we see Annabel's struggles as she weighs her options. She eventually needs to decide if her secrets are worth losing one of the best friends she has ever had. 

I really enjoyed this book and will continue working my way through Sarah Dessen's other books on my TBR list.