Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Title: Dreams of Gods and Monsters
Author: Laini Taylor
Series: Daughter of Smoke & Bone, book #3
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Source: purchased hardcover AND audiobook  ;0)
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible

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By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.

Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael's brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz ... something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?

Wow, you guys...this may be the best series finale I've read in...well, ever. Or at least since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. ;0) But seriously, I couldn't have asked for more from Laini Taylor. Well, except maybe more Karou and Akiva alone time, but they're on the cusp of a war that's spilling over into our world, so I kind of understand the reluctance to let loose with the swoons. =)

But is it really the end? I've seen a lot of speculation over the ending and how open it is...for more story, that is. There's definitely some resolution to the story, so fret not about the conclusion but about the possibility of more angels and chimera....just maybe from a different vantage point. There were so many new characters introduced in this final installment that it makes perfect sense to continue the story through some of their eyes. Or even from the perspective of characters we've come to know throughout the series, just not as deeply as Karou and Akiva. Or maybe Taylor's pleased with how she left things in Dreams of Gods and Monsters and we'll never see these characters again. I might cry at that thought if I didn't know I could revisit these books any time I please.

Everything I loved about the first two books was present and accounted for: beyond gorgeous prose, strong characters that evoked equally strong emotions in me, and an amazing story to match. This final book is long, but between the audiobook and the hardcopy, I finished it in about two days, listening while I was at work or in the car and picking up where I left off as soon as I could at home. (Khristine Hvam narrates the audio, and if you've never experienced her narration and awesome accents, this series is the place to won't regret it.) In the beginning, I questioned the importance of some of the newer characters, wondering at how necessary it was to include their arcs and whether the overall plot was suffering from so many different perspectives, but once things started coming together little by little, it was clear Laini Taylor knew what she was doing by peppering this last book with peeks at these new characters. Everything came full circle and though many new questions popped up over this world throughout this final book, I feel like I got my questions answered, that the resolution I was hoping for was here in this book.

I'll admit, not all of my hopes for this story were realized, though. I'd hoped that a few things that were fact in previous books might come into question again and be proven false now that the angels and chimera were on the brink of war, but even though those hopes weren't met, I'm still ridiculously happy with this conclusion. It was also torture watching and waiting for Akiva and Karou to make amends, but it was worth it. Plus, I had my favorite secondary characters -- Zuzana and Mik -- to entertain me in the meantime. All in all, a solid ending to one of my favorite series. I'd say Laini Taylor's only misstep was in giving me hope for a spin-off series. ;-)

And here's what my copy looked like after I'd gotten through with it:

And that's me being conservative with the tags!!! =)

GIF it to me straight:

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #2)Night of Cake & Puppets (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #2.5)Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #3)

About the author:

I am a writer-artist-daydreamer-nerd-person, and simultaneously a mom-wife-sister-daughter-person. I can do a lot of things at once, like for example: I can sleep and dream and also lie very still, all while also breathing and ever-so-slowly growing ten distinct toenails.

I write books for youngish people, but they can also be read and enjoyed by oldish people, aka grown-ups. You know grown-ups? They tend to be a little bigger and hairier than kids. But not always.

I live in Portland, Oregon, USA, with my husband Jim Di Bartolo, who is an amazing illustrator and who I'm always begging to draw me things, and with our wee droll genius, Clementine Pie, age three.

Some of my favorite things are books and bookstores and breakfast food and mangoes and chocolate, and cake stands and table cloths and old houses, and going places (like libraries and other countries), and dreaming up stories, and making stuff (like cupcakes or peculiar dolls), and playing with Jim and Clementine, and taking pictures, and falling asleep (so cozy) and waking up (exciting!).

Find Laini:

Website | TwitterPinterestGoodreads

As a reader and a blogger and just a lover of books in general, one of my biggest priorities as a parent is to grow and sustain a love of reading in my own daughter. I want her to demand that I take her to the library, to beg for just one more story at bedtime. I want Katie to expand her knowledge of the world by visiting other worlds in books. I want her to question everything but also to find books to be a far better source of entertainment than those video games she's also drawn to. (I blame her father. Lol.) And I know that April feels the same way about her daughter Aubrey. And in these formative years is when we have to instill that love of reading and just hope that everything we do now keeps our kids interested in reading.

So, the point of this post is to share some of our favorite children's books, to rag on some of those that displease us (or me, rather), and to share what we love reading with our own kiddos. Also, both of our girls had to get glasses in the same week, so we wanted to share their adorableness with you. I hope some day that these two girls get to meet because I just know that they'll be fast friends!

Our Girls:

Katie, or Katiebug, as we like to call her around these parts =)

Little miss Aubrey, don't let her cuteness fool you. She's full of sass! 

Our Childhood Favorites:

Jen's favorites:

The Giving TreeChicken Soup with Rice: A Book of MonthsGreen Eggs and Ham

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein - As an adult, this book makes me kind of sad because of how badly the boy treats his beloved tree, but as a child, I saw the tree as a mother-figure and didn't think anything of it. What does that say about me?
Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak - Honestly, I can't remember what this book is really about...I just remember checking it out at the library as an eight-year-old for six consecutive weeks. o_O
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss - It's good to try new things, even when you don't think you'll like them.

April's favorites:

Sweet Valley TwinsThe New GirlDawn

I know, these aren't exactly childhood books, but I honestly don't remember any being in our house. We just weren't that kinda family if you catch my drift. And that's one of the reasons it's so important to me to read with Aubrey. 

Sweet Valley Twins by Francine Pascal - When I was young I remember my grandmother taking me to the library just about every weekend so I could check these books out. From there I moved on to Sweet Valley High. 
Fear Street by RL. Stine - I didn't read too many of these, but my friend always read them so she would lend them to me when she was done. 
Dawn by V.C. Andrews - We didn't have any children's books in the house, but my mother had always been a big reader. Her shelves were filled with Horror, Thrillers, and V.C. Andrews novels. Dawn was the first one I read, and I was 10 years old. I wasn't allowed to read it, I was told they were too old for me, but I read it anyway. Those books are what really sparked my interest in reading. 

Favorites to Read with Katie & Aubrey:

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses (Olivia)Olivia Saves the CircusOlivia And The Missing ToyOlivia Goes to Venice

Jen's picks for Katie:  Pretty much any Olivia book -- but especially Olivia & The Fairy Princesses -- because that little pig is so tenacious and independent and free-spirited. Also, in OatFP, Olivia considers exposing corporate malfeasance, which yes, I had to explain to Katie, but I loved explaining it to her and sharing my love of vocabulary with her. I will make her an SAT-word girl yet. =) Also also, Olivia marches to the beat of her own drum, and I like that. I like that it makes Katie want to be her own unique self and not copy what everyone else is doing.

I just love this little pig and how much she doesn't want to be like everyone else.

I just love reading to Katie, using different voices and trying to bring the story to life for her. But now she's reading in Kindergarten, and she's actually four levels ahead of where she's supposed to be right now. So, she reads to me each night, too, not just because she has to, but because she wants to, too. And her awesome Auntie Kat bought her the Olivia Loves to Read set for her birthday so we can continue our love for this fantabulous pig. :-)


April's picks for Aubrey:

Aubrey has recently gotten into the Pinkalicious books, and I know, I know.. they are pink, and I'm always seeing all the gender garbage about them. I don't limit Aubrey to just girly books, she picks what she likes and right now, it's pink. lol. To mix it up though, we really enjoy reading the Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer also. They used to be her daddy's and she loves that. Her favorite one is I Was So Mad. It's something she can relate to I guess, since I'm such a mean mommy sometimes. lol. Jen has me thinking we need to try some Olivia books now. 

Pixie hollow

The World of Fairies, At the Dawn of Pixie Hollow is a favorite of ours to read together. Aubrey loves the Tinkerbell movies and this book is almost like a secret guide to everything. It talks about all the inner workings of Pixie Hollow, from Character Bio's to hidden fairy talents that don't really get much air time in the films. 

Also, around the Holidays we bring out Jingle! I'm kind of in love with that little pup and it really does react when you're reading the story. 
The Ones That Don't Send the Right Message:

Jen:  The ones that bother me most are the fairy tales. I know most of them used to be full of warnings and dire consequences when they were originally written, but through the years and after many rewrites and interpretations, they've become trite and lacking in morals.

Take this short retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk from xxx that I read to Katie from time-to-time. It gives me a great opportunity to use my funny voices, and it was a steal when we picked it up at HPB awhile back. But I hate the thought that it makes it seem like it's okay to steal and that you can have a happily ever after if you get away with it. Also, Jack's mother seems to condone this behavior. Katie knows it's wrong to take from others, no matter who it is or what they may have done to you, but I always like to reiterate that point at the end of this story.

I can tolerate all of the princess stories and happily ever afters Katie begs for, unless they are full of misogynist malarkey perpetrating the myth that a woman needs a man to be happy, as in the example to the right. That's a short retelling of The Frog Prince in another collection of fairy tales that Katie likes me to read to her at bedtime each night. I must say, I much prefer when she requests Runny Babbit or Fox in Sox.


I don't really have a whole lot to add here, though I agree with Jen on the Fairy Tales. I'm not a fan of the whole "Needing a man to be happy". It's funny because take the little mermaid for instance. I love The Little Mermaid, but at the same time I hate the message. In pretty much every variation of the story that Aubrey has, she gives up just about everything to be with this man. In the one fairy tale collection she has, the mermaid travels with the man to go meet his soon to be wife. Then the ship gets caught in a storm and she saves him again! Then he realizes it's her the girl who saved him, and they live happily ever after. Um...NO! In real life, I'd be telling that douche to take a hike and learn how to swim. 

What books do you love sharing with your children from your own childhood? Any recommendations for our early readers?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Title: The Chapel Wars
Author: Lindsey Leavitt
Series: n/a
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Source: from publisher via Netgalley
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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Acclaimed author Lindsey Leavitt brings her trademark heart, humor, and romance to her hometown--Vegas.

Sixteen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she’d rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?

And then there's Grandpa's letter. Not only is she running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money--fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family's mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and... Dax. No wait, not Dax.

Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there's a wedding chapel to save.

The Chapel Wars was everything I expected it to be: sweet, funny, and clever. Basically, everything I thought about Going Vintage. Except, where Going Vintage was on the fluffier side, I enjoyed that The Chapel Wars took a slightly more serious approach in its exploration of grief and loss and expectations. But only slightly.

This book takes the dueling family aspect to another level. Forget the Montagues and Capulets. Move over Hatfields and McCoys. This story features two rival families, the Nolans and the Cranstons, with competing wedding chapels in Las Vegas that share a parking lot. And as crazy as that sounds, things get even crazier when Grandpa Jim passes away and leaves the family chapel to Holly, his like-minded granddaughter.

I loved how Vegas kind of became its own character in this story. I've personally never been to Vegas, never had any desire to do so, but the wacky and detailed way it's portrayed in this story, the history of the city as it's described, makes me feel like maybe I'm missing out. Like maybe I judged the town too harshly before I knew what it was all about, sort of like Dax.

The wedding chapel business sort of takes on a life of its own, too. And I was really impressed with the family dynamic in this story, as well. Some YA novels fail to deliver a realistic family that's actually in the picture, that actually makes a difference in the main character's life, but The Chapel Wars is not one of those. Holly's family is by no means perfect. The parents are no longer together. They all fight and bicker. But they're there for each other when it counts.

I also appreciated that Holly "Numbers Girl" Nolan isn't your typical protagonist. She's so Type A it's endearing. Holly takes running the Rose of Sharon chapel very seriously, and she'll do everything in her power to keep it from failing. But I also like that she doesn't take everything at face-value, that along the way, she begins to question her own goals and dreams, whether she really wants to run the chapel after she graduates or if that was just because it's all she's ever known.

And Dax helps her to discover what she really wants. Namely him, even if it was hard for her to admit that, but I liked how that relationship progressed, how she also made him feel at home in a place he didn't want to be. Both Dax and Holly were a little messed up, both affected by grief and the feud that had fueled their grandfathers' hate-fire for years. But it was nice to see them overcome their losses together and to move past their families' prejudices and do so in normal teenager ways. I shipped them as soon as I read that summary and with good reason.

I adored that cover the moment I saw it, and the story is just as cute. It definitely had its moments, alternating between funny and heartbreaking, and it has solidified me as a fan of Lindsey Leavitt. I definitely recommend The Chapel Wars for fans of YA contemporary who are looking for something that falls in between fluffy and gritty. It's like baby bear's porridge...

GIF it to me straight:

About the author:

Lindsey Leavitt is a former elementary school teacher and present-day writer/mom to three (mostly) adorable girls. She is married to her high-school lab partner and lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is the author of the PRINCESS FOR HIRE series, SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD, & GOING VINTAGE.

She also feels weird writing about herself in third person.

Find Lindsey:

Website | TwitterFacebookGoodreads | Pinterest

Title: Don't Look Back
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Series: n/a
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: April 15, 2014 -- today!!!
Source: ARC received from publisher/from publisher via Netgalley
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Add to Goodreads
Samantha is a stranger in her own life. Until the night she disappeared with her best friend, Cassie, everyone said Sam had it all-popularity, wealth, and a dream boyfriend.

Sam has resurfaced, but she has no recollection of who she was or what happened to her that night. As she tries to piece together her life from before, she realizes it's one she no longer wants any part of. The old Sam took "mean girl" to a whole new level, and it's clear she and Cassie were more like best enemies. Sam is pretty sure that losing her memories is like winning the lottery. She's getting a second chance at being a better daughter, sister, and friend, and she's falling hard for Carson Ortiz, a boy who has always looked out for her-even if the old Sam treated him like trash.

But Cassie is still missing, and the facts about what happened to her that night isn't just buried deep inside of Sam's memory-someone else knows, someone who wants to make sure Sam stays quiet. All Sam wants is the truth, and if she can unlock her clouded memories of that fateful night, she can finally move on. But what if not remembering is the only thing keeping Sam alive?

April and I are apparently pretty awesome at picking our buddy reads because Don't Look Back was another success. Not that we'd mind coming together to rip apart a book we didn't enjoy, but I'd much rather spend my buddy reading time with a good book.

Initial Thoughts:

Jen:  Don't Look Back was my first time reading a book by Jennifer L. Armentrout, but it definitely won't be my last. I can now see why so many readers are drawn to her stories. I myself found her writing style to be quite addictive, making this book very hard to put down. I've had JLA's other books on my TBR for ages, but I think this book has pushed me to get to the others sooner. Don't Look Back wasn't anything I haven't seen before, but it was insanely readable which also made it unputdownable.

April: I've been curious about Jennifer L. Armentrout for a while. I've purchased a few of her books, but this is the first one I've picked up. I think it was a good start. Like Jen says, her writing style really is addictive. It was a busy weekend for me, so unfortunately I had to put it down a lot, but I didn't want to! I thought about it constantly when I wasn't able to read. Now that I've given  her a try, I'll have to try out some of her other stuff.

The Story:

Jen:  Okay, so the murder mystery/missing girl scenario and subsequent amnesia plot aren't terribly unique, but the way in which they were handled in this story did impress me a bit, especially the way in which Sam's returning memories were triggered and how the memories were described. I also love an unreliable narrator, and it's definitely hard to believe a girl with no memory of the night she and her best friend disappeared.

Honestly, this book reminded me a lot of The Lying Game...the television show, not the book series it was based on. I only read the first book, but from what I could already tell, the TV series strayed wildly from the plot of the books. But Don't Look Back also features the bullying aspect of Mean Girls, though not quite to that extent, at least not at present. I'm sure if the book had begun with the time before Sam went missing, we'd have seen an entirely different side of her...and we do, but only through her returning memories and accounts from her family and friends.

April: I loved the story! I've read books with similar plot lines in the past but it's been a while. Reading Don't Look Back reminded me how much I enjoy these kinds of mystery's. Sam has amnesia, and her memories start to come back to her through-out the book. Her best friend is missing and she depends on these memories to help the police find her. I was very intrigued. Sometimes these amnesia story lines annoy me but I found myself looking forward to each and every memory.

The Characters:

Jen:  Sam, as we meet her, is a completely different person from who she was four days ago when she first disappeared. Before, she was a spiteful bully who took pleasure in others' misfortune. Now, she's having a hard time reconciling her second chance with who she was before. But the people she seems to have been cruelest to in her past life are the ones who are most willing to help her to try to solve the mystery behind her disappearance, including her brother and his girlfriend...Sam's former best friend. I think this story goes far to prove the point that when tragedy strikes, you begin to find out who your real friends are. Sam's clichéd mean girl clique and her supposed Prince Charming are far from helpful or even kind, and it's clear that this group of privileged kids will always be waiting in the wings to usurp whatever someone else has that they want...Cassie included. That character remained a mystery for much of the book, as the search for her continued, but what's discovered about her character as the story unfolded made her no more likable than the other mean girls.

April: Old Sam's friends, are total bitches. There I said it! They really are and I loved to hate them. Then again, old Sam was a total bitch too. I think what I loved the most was watching Amnesia Sam react to things she learned about her old self. That shit was funny. Really, I wish some of the girls I went to school with could have had moments like that.

Like Jen says above, you definitely find out who your true friends are during tragic times. But that's a good thing, and it was nice to see her reconnect with people she alienated in the past. As the story goes on, you get a clearer view of why she was the way she was. Not that there's an excuse for some of her past behavior, but I understood where some of it was coming from.

The Romance:

Jen:  From the moment Del's character is introduced, I didn't like him. (But I did love everyone's nickname for him, especially after having dated a "Del the Dick" myself.) He seemed skeevy, and I always felt like he was hiding something. And then when Sam couldn't remember their "fairy tale romance" or even conjure up any feelings for the guy, I knew he was a goner. Especially when she started spending a fair amount of time with Carson, who actually wanted to help her discover what happened to her and Cassie that night. And then Carson, player though he was, actually wanted to be a good guy to Sam, to not complicate matters for her while she was still sorting out her past and her feelings for Del, nonexistent as they were. I shipped Sam and Carson so hard, especially when I found out that they'd been best friends growing up. She may have been pretty horrible to him, but he was still there for her when it counted. So, it probably sounds like a love triangle, but it's not really...especially when certain things come to light.

April: The problem with doing a joint review following Jen's thoughts are, she always says everything perfectly, and I'm left thinking, hmmmm, what can I add? I'm going further on the "sounds like a love triangle" bit. Because I know many are discouraged by things like that. It's definitely not a love triangle. You see, Sam is a new person after what goes down. She has no memory of who she was, so coming into the book she doesn't know Del the Dick. And boy is he a dick. She's not confused as to how she feels about him, she doesn't know him. She knows pretty much right away that things will not work with him now that she's changed as a person.

I enjoyed the romance that bloomed between her and Carson. They're childhood friends, and that's the best kind of romance. <3 I also appreciated that while it was sweet and swoony at times, it didn't take away from the mystery going on.

The Twist:

Jen:  Totally saw it coming. I mean, I feel like the truth was pretty much shoved in my face, but I pretty much start out any mystery like this trying to weed out possible suspects and red herrings. So, maybe it's my fault that I usually guess the ending before the halfway point in a story. But with this book...well, I don't want to point out anything that might spoil the mystery for you, but it was just so obvious. (To me, at least.)

April: I'm usually dense when it comes to twists. I rarely see them coming, but this one is right there. I'm laughing at Jen not wanting to point it out, because we discussed this obvious thing via text. Even though I figured it out pretty early on, it didn't ruin the book for me. I still didn't want to put it down, because I was dying to see if I was right!


Jen:  Don't Look Back was a satisfying thriller that does use quite a few clichés and tropes to accomplish its mission, but JLA uses them so effectively that I didn't mind. Is that the magic of Armentrout's stories? That even though she uses some of the most annoying plot devices, they don't come across as annoying? I must read more of her work in order to prove or disprove that theory. But from what I've read of this book, and from what I've gathered from readers of her other books, I think the main contributing factor to her popularity is that her stories are just fun. And swoony. That always helps. I hope to enjoy the rest of her stories as much as I did this one.

April: Hmmm, overall I really liked it! I will definitely read more of her stuff. My friend Jess loves her books and she's been bugging me to try one for a while now. So glad I finally did. Also, major props to Armentrout mentioning the Poconos! My home. :) I actually get to meet her this weekend, she will be at YA Fest. Yay!! But yeah, Don't Look Back is a great story, and I'm so glad I started with this one.

GIF it to me straight:
The Lying Game meets Mean Girls

About the author:

# 1 NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY Bestselling author Jennifer lives in Martinsburg, West Virginia. All the rumors you’ve heard about her state aren’t true. When she’s not hard at work writing. she spends her time reading, working out, watching really bad zombie movies, pretending to write, and hanging out with her husband and her Jack Russell Loki.

Her dreams of becoming an author started in algebra class, where she spent most of her time writing short stories….which explains her dismal grades in math. Jennifer writes young adult paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary romance. She is published with Spencer Hill Press, Entangled Teen and Brazen, Disney/Hyperion and Harlequin Teen. Her book Obsidian has been optioned for a major motion picture and her Covenant Series has been optioned for TV.

She also writes adult and New Adult romance under the name J. Lynn. She is published by Entangled Brazen and HarperCollins.

Find Jennifer:

Website | TwitterFacebookGoodreads

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