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Friday, May 22, 2015

Freebie Friday: Happy Memorial Day Weekend

Happy Friday!

For me, Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer reading season, which is a happy thing indeed! I'm behind on my Goodreads challenge and hoping to catch up!

Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt
Lion Heart by A. C. Vaughn
The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver
The Last Good Day of the Year by Jessica Warman

As always, this is US only, but do not despair. Hot off the Presses has had a lot of international winners lately.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Just Finished Reading... The Last Good Day of the Year

The Last Good Day of the Year
by Jessica Warman
Published on May 19, 2015
by Bloomsbury

Source: ARC for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: Ten years ago, in the early hours of New Year’s Day, seven-year-old Samantha and her next door neighbor, Remy, watched as a man broke into Sam’s home and took her younger sister, Turtle, from her sleeping bag. Remy and Sam, too afraid to intervene at the time, later identified the man as Sam’s sister Gretchen’s much older ex-boyfriend, Steven, who was sent to prison for Turtle’s murder. Now, Sam’s shattered family is returning to her childhood home in an effort to heal. As long-buried memories begin to surface, Sam wonders if she and Remy accurately registered everything they saw. The more they re-examine the events of that fateful night, the more questions they discover about what really happened to Turtle.

My take: At first, I wasn't sure about The Last Good Day of the Year. I tried it when I was in a noisy and crowded situation, and had trouble getting into it. Then, over the weekend, I was all by myself in a lounge chair with a glass of lemonade, and I started over and ended up really enjoying it.

First off I should say that to me, The Last Good Day of the Year did not read like mainstream YA. I think you could shelve this book with adult mystery and it would fit in just fine. It's one of those books in which all the tension and suspense run underneath the surface. I absolutely love mysteries like that, because they allow my mind to explore all the who/what/where/when/why possibilities. But if you read a book like that and your mind wanders to what you're going to have for dinner, you may prefer something more plot-driven.

The story revolves around a decade old mystery: main character Sam is still dealing with the emotional aftermath of her younger sister's disappearance ten years earlier. As you find out in the early chapters of the story, Sam feels a lot of guilt in that she was there -- right in the room -- when her sister was taken. Of course, Sam was only seven when that happened. Through the course of the book,  she slowly goes over that night and what she saw (or didn't see.)

This story is more psychological suspense than page-turning thriller. Sam's investigation is more gradual than purposeful, as the book examines the impact of the sister's disappearance on Sam's family, the rest of the neighborhood, the community, the person who was accused of the kidnapping. The story is very subtly and skillfully woven, though some readers might wish for a different resolution.

I'd definitely recommended The Last Good Day of the Year for those who enjoy true crime and/or more character-driven mystery.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hot Off the Presses: New YA Releasing May 19-25

Hot Off the Presses -- brand new YA releases!

Welcome to Hot Off the Presses!  

Tuesday is book release day, so every Tuesday I tell you about all the great new YA books you can buy in the week to come. If you're a reviewer, you can also link your blog or Goodreads reviews of any YA book publishing in the current month so we can all check them out!

May is such a great book month -- I'm piling up the books for my summer reading! This month's winner can pick any book up to $15 on either Amazon (for US winner) or The Book Depository (for international winner.)

Enter by linking reviews of YA books that release in May or by commenting on other people's linked reviews.

Hot Off the Presses aims to include every traditionally published YA book. Please let me know about books that came out this week that I might have missed! Some titles may have different release dates outside the US.

Click on the photos to get to each book's Goodreads page!

Made You Up School for Unusual Girls Last Good Day of the Year From a Distant Star
Made You Up by Francesca Zappia (Greenwillow)
A School for Unusual Girls by (Stranje House #1) by Kathleen Baldwin (Tor)
The Last Good Day of the Year by Jessica Warman (Bloomsbury)
From a Distant Star by Karen McQuestion (Skyscape)

Illusionarium Killer Within Sense of the Infinite
Illusionarium by Heather Dixon (Greenwillow)
Killer Within (Killer Instinct #2) by S. E. Green (Simon Pulse)
A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith (Katherine Tegen)

Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak Eternity's Wheel Off the Page
The Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak by Brian Katcher (Katherine Tegen)
Eternity's Wheel (Interworld #3) by Mallory Reaves, Michael Reaves, or Neil Gaiman (Harper)
Off the Page (Between the Lines #2) by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer (Delacorte)

Lion Heart Three Day Summer Scarlett Undercover
Lion Heart (Scarlet #3) by A. G. Gaughen (Bloomsbury)
Three Day Summer by Sarvenez Tash (Simon & Schuster)
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham (Little, Brown)

Conviction Dangerous Deception Hold Me Like a Breath Sparks in Scotland
Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert (Disney-Hyperion)
Dangerous Deception (Dangerous Creatures #2) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stool (Little, Brown)
Hold Me Like a Breath (Once Upon a Crime Family #1) by Tiffany Schmidt (Bloomsbury)
Sparks in Scotland by A. Destiny and Rhonda Helms (Simon Pulse)

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Monday, May 18, 2015

A Reader's Journey: Scarlet/Lady Thief/Lion Heart

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Welcome to A Reader's Journey, a new feature in which I talk about a book (or in this case, a series) that I had a complicated journey with... 

Lion Heart (Scarlet #3)
by A. C. Gaughen
Published on May 19, 2015
by Bloomsbury

Source: ARC from publisher for review

Synopsis from Goodreads:  Imprisoned by Prince John for months, Scarlet finds herself a long way from Nottinghamshire. After a daring escape from the Prince's clutches, she learns that King Richard’s life is in jeopardy, and Eleanor of Aquitaine demands a service Scarlet can’t refuse: spy for her and help bring Richard home safe. But fate—and her heart—won’t allow her to stay away from Nottinghamshire for long, and together, Scarlet and Rob must stop Prince John from going through with his dark plans for England. They can not rest until he’s stopped, but will their love be enough to save them once and for all?

My journey:  The story of my Scarlet trilogy journey is this: I didn't read the first two books when they came out. Robin Hood was always one of my least favorite Disney movies. The characters were animals, and it was mostly guy animals doing interesting stuff while Maid Marion stood around looking pretty and worried.

But after seeing a lot of positive reviews from my friends, I decided to try these out. Overall my instincts were right: these aren't really my kind of books, though this series had a lot of strengths and I enjoyed reading it.

Scarlet wasn't my favorite of the three. It was a lot of fighting and roaming around in the woods (I know I mention my dislike for woods a lot in reviews. What do I have against woods, you ask? I'd need a therapist to figure that out, but it probably has something to do with bad camping experiences as a child.)

Lady Thief was my favorite by far. I'd argue that this is the rare series in which the middle book is the best. How often does that happen?  I really loved all the court intrigue and a there were a lot of shocking plot twists and a darker tone.

Lion Heart was ... satisfying, though not as thrilling as I'd hoped.  I guess my main complaint was that it felt to me like mostly loose-ends-tying, but it was nice to see (mostly) everything wrapped up.

My overall pros and cons: I loved how the author took the whole Robin Hood story/myth/legend and tied it to actual historical figures. I always love books that teach me more about European history, because that is a gap in my education. Loved the story of Scarlet and Rob -- the obstacles these two face in their quest for happiness are pretty daunting.  Even though I prefer a higher ratio of ball gowns to sword-fighting in my historical fiction but, I'm glad I tried this series.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Freebie Friday: More Spring ARCs!

Happy Friday!

So sorry about forgetting to post last week. But I have a nice stack of ARCs for this weekend's winner to choose from:

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
Lion Heart by A. C, Vaughn
Rook by Sharon Cameron
The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver
The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord
The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre

As always, this is a no-strings, US only giveaway!

Happy weekend and happy reading!

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Trending Thursday: YA Title and Cover Trends

Welcome to a new installment of Trending Thursday, a periodic post in which I discuss various YA trends. This week I'm looking at two trends:a title trend, and some recent YA fantasy cover trends.

When I posted over the weekend about downloading a new book, everyone was excited:

And I began to think about the title: A Madness So Discreet. I've read a fair amount of romance novels and I've seen this title format before:

A Soul So Wicked A Hunger So Wild A Jewel So Rare

I'll call it ... A Noun So Adjective.  It has been used before in YA:

A Need So Beautiful A Want So Wicked A Blue So Dark
A Need So Beautiful by Suzanne Young
A Want So Wicked by Suzanne Young
A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler

Okay, and what's with all the Sinister Hooded Figures in YA fantasy lately? And, uh, the typography in these three feels a little similar too...

The Novice Assassin's Blade Falling Kingdoms
Novice by Taran Matharu
The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas
Falling Kindgoms by Morgan Rhodes

In 2010, Orbit Books did an infographic of the most common fantasy cover elements, and according to them hooded figures began to become popular on fantasy covers around 2009, though it seems like it crossed over to YA fantasy covers more recently. A previous trend had been swords and daggers, something I've been tracking  in YA for a while.

pic name pic name pic name

What do you think? Hood or dagger? Some of these covers have both! And what would be your Noun So Adjective title if you wrote a book? I'm going to think about mine....

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mini-Reviews: Scarlett Undercover and Ember in the Ashes

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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Mini-Reviews, where you can get my take on a book in half the time. This post is also a promo asking you to Follow/Friend me on Goodreads. I always friend back and Goodreads is the place where I publish my off-the-top-of-my head reactions to books, which often results in some interesting discussion and commentary. Lately, Goodreads friends and I have been discussing the LTP (Love Triangle Potential) of A Court of Thorns and Roses.  

Scarlett Undercover
by Jennifer Latham
to be published on May 19, 2015
by Little Brown

Source: eARC for review

Synopsis from Goodreads:  Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic, kick-butt, Muslim American heroine, ready to take on crime in her hometown of Las Almas. When a new case finds the private eye caught up in a centuries-old battle of evil genies and ancient curses, Scarlett discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks -- and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father's murder.
My take: Scarlett Undercover definitely had a lot of positives for me. Scarlett was a great main character -- a smart, independent, seventeen year-old Muslim private investigator. I love finding books with diverse characters and I liked that the story delved into what Scarlett's faith meant to her as an American teenager. Reading this book, I learned more about Islam and a little Arabic, too.

I also enjoy PI stories and was happy that at times this book had a snappy, witty Veronica Mars vibe: "My patience hit its limit faster than a college freshman's credit card." I assume that the setting, a place called Las Almas (the souls, in Spanish) was a fictional town like Neptune, since Google didn't recognize it. And I also assume, like Veronica, Scarlett lives on the wrong side of the tracks, as one character calls her a "ghetto Nancy Drew."

I must confess my disappointment that this book didn't have lot of character development, which was a shame, because there were some interesting characters. The mystery had some borderline paranormal elements, which I liked, but it also had a Scooby Doo feel at times and some villains that didn't seem that villainous. (Except when they engaged in a truly horrifying act of animal cruelty that almost made me stop reading.)

But I do recommend Scarlett Undercover, both for mystery lovers and for my fellow Veronica Mars fans.  I liked Scarlett's character and voice and could forgive the things that (for me) were slight flaws. (Hey, I didn't LOVE every single Veronica Mars episode either. Season one was excellent, season two went off the rails a little (the bus crash, Wallace and Jackie, and the kidnapped baby were not high points in my opinion) and I thought season three got things back on track.) So while the mystery aspect of Scarlet Undercover wasn't my favorite part of the story, I liked Scarlett a lot and would not be opposed to checking out future installments of her adventures.

Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Razorbill
on April 28, 2015

Source: bought
Synopsis from Goodreads: Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free. Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear. It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do. But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself. 

My take: Baa, baa, I'm the black sheep on this one. I can see why others liked it, but it really wasn't for me.  Martial, violent, brutal -- I know that ancient Rome was probably all that and more, but I just didn't enjoy reading about constant beatings and murders and brandings and disfigurement. I kept putting the book down because I needed a break.  I did like Laia's undercover job, which felt a little like Downton Abbey ... if Laia were Daisy and Cook were Mrs. Pattmore and the Granthams were cruel bloodthirsty villains. (See, I definitely prefer my historical stuff on the fluffier side....)

Dual POVs can work for me, but the chapters were really short and I felt constantly yanked back and forth between the two storylines. The romance is .... complicated. A possible love rectangle that may be disguising an OTP? Hard to say, because another of my complaints is that the two POV characters didn't have enough interaction in this installment to really get a romance going. But the ending is very unresolved so I assume this will be a series. If you love historical fantasy and don't mind a heavy dose of violence, definitely give this one a try.

Thanks for reading. Don't forget to friend me on Goodreads -- and come join in on the ACoTaR discussion: Love Triangle or Not?!?
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