Friday, January 31, 2014

First Lines: January 2014

The first words you read can often set the tone for the entire story.  I thought it would be fun to keep track of the first lines of the books I read each month and share them with you.  Below are the first lines for all the books I read in January.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
"I remember being born."

 Waking Kate by Sarah Addison Allen
 "Kate was in the kitchen putting ice cubes on a plate of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, two glasses of wine on the counter next to her, when she heard the evening news come on."

The Lure by Lynne Ewing
"The night heat melted over me, the quiet unsettling since the laughter had stopped."

Antigoddess by Kendare Blake
"The feathers were starting to be a nuisance."

Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore
"Adventure awaits."

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen
"In my life, I'd had my share of fights, sometimes with fists, sometimes with knives, occasionally with a sword."

How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller
"My father never wasted his wisdom on me."

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
"To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale."

My favorite first line this month was from The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender.  I have not yet finished the book, but from the very first line it set up the beautiful and whimsical language that Leslye Walton favors and which lends a magical quality to this book.  

My least favorite line was from Manor of Secrets.  "Adventure awaits." was far too simple and boring for my taste.  Unfortunately, it was also indicative of the type of character that the book featured.  It was not terribly bad, but it certainly wasn't all that great either. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday (41)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.
This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is: Cress by Marissa Meyer which is due to be released on February 4th.

 Rapunzel’s tower is a satellite. She can’t let down her hair—or her guard.

In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.

 I listened to the first two books in this series on audio and they were fan-fricking-tastic.  I expect no less from this one.  I mean, just look at that cover - how phenomenal is that? Can't wait to see the three girls come together and wreak some havoc on Levana's evil ass. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Curse of Having a Life Outside of Books

My husband normally works shift work.  2 days (6am to 6pm), 2 nights (6pm to 6am) and then 6 days off.  Coupled with the fact that I am a teacher, working a "normal" schedule and that we have a 2 year old in daycare - this can make for some pretty hectic scheduling.  So, when he got loaded onto a course that would see him with basically the same schedule as me, I was pretty happy to have some tag team parenting time.  But, I am seeing a side effect that I hadn't anticipated.

Those night shifts were designated me time.  I would get the offspring into bed, turn off the tvs, grab my snuggie (yes, I have one of those and I love it - shut up) and read for the remainder of the night.  When he was working, I would go to bed earlier than him and have another 30 mins or so of reading time.  Now that we are on pretty much the same schedule all my habits are being jeopardized.

I started The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen last week.  Now, this is the series to her Ascendance trilogy and a book that I have been looking forward to for months - I squealed when I opened the mail to find the ARC waiting for me.  And yet, despite my love of this series and all things Jennifer N, it took me a week to finish.  Not because I didn't enjoy it, but because my husband was there - ALL THE TIME.

Don't get me wrong, I love dear hubby and none of this is really his fault.  He would never get upset at me if I preferred to read in another room to watching another hour or two of television with him - but I continue to fail to make that decision anyway.  Perhaps it is the curse of the military wife - the husband has spent so much time away that I know what it is like to regret not taking advantage of the time we had together to, well, be together.  I am constantly putting my reading down, so that I can watch yet another hour and a half long episode of Sherlock (not that the acting of Cumbersomethingsomething aren't equally stimulating).

I am finding this actually impacting my day to day living.  I can't seem to fall asleep the way that I used to, and when I do, I find myself caught up in the most mundane of dreams - working at a sardine canning plant or sorting socks by size, color and approximate time worn.  My memory is being impacted (see Cumbersomething comment above) and lazy (hence, not looking up the spelling of Benedict Cumbersomething's last name).  Lazy days on the couch munching popcorn and staring at the boob tube have sapped my will to do anything productive and the pile of correcting on my desk is starting to reach avalanche warning size.

With this course lasting until April, I have got to find something to break the rut.  So, I turn to you, dear reader, how do you escape the glowing lure of the television screen and the comforting warmth of someone to watch with?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Stacking the Shelves (25)

Stacking The Shelves hosted by Tynga's Reviews.  It is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!

I used to do this post every week, but due to work and family demands I have had to become a little more selective on how many books I am requesting.  As such, this actually represents 2 or 3 weeks of books.


I am so excited about all of these books.  The Shadow Throne is the conclusion in a fantastic trilogy, We Were Liars is getting some great early reviews, I Kill the Mockingbird sounds like and awesome middle grade book and Lost Lake is my most anticipated adult novel in a long time. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I lost a former student this week.  He was 16 years old.  To anyone who follows me, if you are thinking of harming yourself, please talk to someone.  I promise you, the world is a better place with you in it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday (40)

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.
This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen which is due to be released on January 21st.

 From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a novel about heartbroken people finding hope at a magical place in Georgia called Lost Lake.

Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it's the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn't believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake's owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake's magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages—and her heart—back to life? Because sometimes the things you love have a funny way of turning up again. And sometimes you never even know they were lost . . . until they are found.

I cannot even explain to you how excited I am for this book.  I have had it bookmarked for ages, I have read the short story prequel, I have requested the ebook (still waiting to hear from you NetGalley!).  I have read all of Allen's other books and they are a regular go to gift for me when a friend has a birthday or just needs a pick me up.  It is simply a crime that I cannot read this book yet.  MUST HAVE NOW!

Monday, January 20, 2014

ARC Book Review: Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore

Title: Manor of Secrets
Author: Katherine Longshore
Publisher: Point (Scholastic)
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions: 
Pretty girl in a pretty dress with a pretty staircase in the background.  Nothing that stands out at first glance.  The tagline (on my ARC) is "Upstairs.  Downstairs.  Drama."  Which sends me into Downton Abbey territory - which I love.  The cover model even looks like a younger version of Lady Mary.

The Gist:
Charlotte lives a life of luxury.  Sheltered in the manor by a cold and distant mother, she longs for a life of adventure.  Janie works in the kitchen under the tutelage of her mother.  Having spent a tumultuous childhood wondering where her next meal is going to come from, she clings to the only place that she has ever felt secure.  As the girls' paths cross their lives are thrown together.  Charlotte sees a manner of escape, Janie sees a lonely girl who has never known love.  Together they begin to learn more about each other, and themselves and seek to unravel the secrets of the Manor.


I will admit it.  I, Zabet Reading, am a Downton Abbey Junkie.  With the show off the air until next season, I was excited to read a book that seemed to follow that type of world quite closely.  In fact, I couldn't help but picture the characters and set from Downton Abbey.  (Of course, Charlotte was Lady Sybill despite the cover model's clear resemblance to Lady Mary.)  Manor of Secrets doesn't quite hold up to Downton, but then that is a pretty high bar to reach.  On it's own, it was an interesting story and a quick and easy read. 

The setting was beautiful and the author clearly delineated between the opulence and quiet of the upstairs and the simplicity and chaos that came downstairs.  Personally, I preferred the drama and quarrels of the servants' quarters to the cold and oppressing formality of Charlotte's world and could completely understand why she would want to escape it.  I would have enjoyed seeing a bit more of the "downstairs" back-story - particularly why Tess and Mollie hated Janie so much.  Had we had an opportunity to learn a little more about this history, I think the events in the second half of the book would have had more impact.  The first half of this novel was much stronger than the second.  In the first half we watch a sheltered young woman begin to break out of her shell and a romance that was clearly going to cause a great deal of turmoil.  By the second half, most of the secrets had been revealed and the reader was left to watch as the two girls tried to decide which path to take.    
I did find the plot a little bit predictable but it moved fairly quickly and the only moments of lag came from some eye-rolling dialogue near the middle.  The relationship between the two girls developed rather quickly for my taste.
The main characters seemed rather true to form: Charlotte was the clueless aristocrat who had no idea how much trouble she could cause for her servants in simply seeking a bit of "adventure" and Janie was trying to be kind to a lonely girl while still protecting her livelihood.  The side characters were interesting but not quite as fleshed out as I would normally prefer.    The men were all rather bland and I found Andrew's loyalty after Charlotte's scandal, to be a little hard to believe.  I think the book could have benefited from featuring a smaller cast, so that we could get to know each one a little better.
This is my first foray into Katherine Longshore's writing, though I am familiar with her previous books.  I am putting her on my "search for" list in the hopes that I come across her earlier work in a second hand bookstore. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

12 and up
Gender: Female
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Fist Fighting
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book Review: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

Title: Antigoddess
Author: Kendare Blake
Publisher: Tor (Macmillan)
Release Date: September 10, 2013
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions: 
I really like this cover, though it doesn't quite have the impact of Blake's last two books.  The feather got me curious and I was glad to see how prominently it featured in the book - I wonder if this theme will continue with the next book.

The Gist:
The old gods are dying and that is something Athena simply cannot abide by.  With the help of her brother Hermes, she sets out on a mission to discover the meaning behind their affliction and a way to cheat death.  This path leads her to Cassandra, a young girl with visions of the future, and no idea that she is the famous prophetess of mythology - nor that she is not the only reincarnated soul in her small town.  But Athena is not the only Goddess searching for Cassandra.  There are other Gods, darker Gods who would like to use her for their own purposes - the question is, can she trust any of them?


I really enjoyed Blake's first two books and even chose Anna Dressed in Blood as one of my student bookclub books this year.  This one, however is missing the gore of her other books.  It is pretty tame by comparison.  Although, I will admit several moments of cringing whenever Athena had to remove a feather. 

It was also missing the unstoppable power that Anna held as a character.  In Antigoddess, I didn't quite love any of the characters.  I liked them, but they were a little bland and missed some of the quirks that make for really interesting and compelling characters.  I also felt like I spent most of my time, early on in the book, trying to figure out if the peripheral characters (like Cassandra's brother and friend) would turn out to be important characters from mythology.  That being said, I did really like the worldbuilding and the unique take on a fairly common theme (the death of the gods).   

While the premise was interesting, the pacing suffered from moments of lag.  There was a little too much talking for my liking.  It seemed like whenever a group of characters got together we were treated to lengthy discussions in which they hashed out issues from a millennial ago.  When we did get to the action scenes, these were quite well done.  The villains were true villains in their terrifying and damaged glory and we did have a few very effective death scenes.

I was a little disappointed that none of the big questions were answered.  I never found out why the Gods were dying or why they were dying in the manner in which they were.  Nor was it revealed why some Gods were spared or why the big baddies thought that they could save themselves by killing their kin.  I realize that this is the first book in a series, but I normally appreciate a little more information to be revealed. 

I did like this one enough to give the series another shot.  I am hoping that the second book will be a bit more compelling now that the initial getting to know the characters bit is behind us.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Hand to hand combat, explosions (buildings being blown up), near drowning
Inappropriate Language: Bitch, Whore, Asshole, Bastard, Shit, Fuck, Prick
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage drinking

Monday, January 13, 2014

ARC Book Review: The Lure by Lynne Ewing

Title: The Lure
Author: Lynne Ewing
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Release Date: February 11, 2014

Cover Impressions: 
Interesting, I think they could have made better use of the graffiti element and the color is a little hard on the eyes.

The Gist:
Blaise Montgomery has built a reputation for being fearless in the face of danger.  Living with her grandmother on little more than welfare and social security has left her longing for a different life and a family that can protect her from the dangers of the neighborhood.  She finds that in Core 9 a fearsome gang that promises to open up a new world for her.  Blaise faces a brutal initiation and is quickly chosen to act as bait for rival gang members so that Trek, the head of Core 9 can exact his revenge.  This new position offers her prestige and power, but also places her in a dangerous situation from which she may not escape.


I read this book in a day.  With a 2 1/2 year old running around.  That is serious high praised.  I was shocked when I went on Goodreads to see the low reviews and from people who claimed that they didn't understand why these characters made the choices that they did.  I don't think that assessment is fair.  Yes, you hear stories about kids who grow up in these kinds of neighborhoods that escape the violence and make a better life for themselves but, do you know why they are such compelling stories? Because they don't happen very often.  The characters in The Lure were faced with a limited set of choices and a life that kept dealing them one hard blow after another.  The more I learned about each girl's set of circumstances, the more saddened I became. 

The Lure features some pretty gritty scenes of violence.  I was very interested to see this portrayal of gang life from a female's perspective and that it featured the different initiations and roles that females could take on.  I do wish that there had been more development to show why girls do join these gangs.  As a reader, I suspected where the plot was headed eventually, but we did not have a great deal of time between Blaise's initiation and her being thrown into a very violent situation, in order to see the prestige and perks that would have drawn her to this life in the first place. 

I also wish there was a little more character development.  This might have been accomplished by alternating the narration among the four girls.  I truly felt for each one of them and their situation, but I would have liked to know more about them personally.  Ditto with the two love interests.  I loved the scenes between Blaise and Satch and was genuinely rooting for a happy ending for the two of them.  Speaking of endings, I did find this one to be a little anti-climactic.  There was a great deal of running from place to place followed by a choice that I never really expected these characters to make and one that left me questioning what the repercussions would be.

Overall, The Lure offered a gritty glimpse into gang life and the sense of hopelessness that overtakes many of those thrust into that life.  It has some flaws, but is certainly worth a read. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing, Talk of sex
Violence: Gunplay, Knifeplay, Intimidation, Rape and Gang Rape
Inappropriate Language: Bitch
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage Drinking, Selling and use of Drugs

Monday, January 6, 2014

ARC Book Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

Title: Defy
Author: Sara B. Larson
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: Jan 7, 2014

Cover Impressions: The cover does not stand out particularly well.  The blade is interesting - but doesn't appear to have any significance to the story.  I like the faint impressions of leaves in the background that link to the jungle setting but the color of the title font is throwing me off - it just doesn't appear to "go".  

The Gist: Alexa Hollen is a natural born fighter.  She has spent years training with her father.  When the war reaches their home and her parents are killed in a Sorcerer's fire, she and her twin brother must flee.  In order to avoid the breeding houses where orphan girls are sent to bear sons to become soldiers, Alexa cuts off her hair and becomes Alex, prize fighter and guard to Prince Damian.  

Defy is the debut novel for Sara B. Larson, and you can tell.  The story is not particularly well conceived and, despite having a female main character who is prized for her fighting skills, it reeks of sexist attitudes.  A major plot point revolves around the existence of "breeding houses" for young girls.  Orphans are brought here and repeatedly raped in order to produce soldiers for the King's army.   Alexa avoids this fate by disguising herself as a boy and becoming a soldier and eventually guard to the prince.  Even though she has achieved a level of proximity to the king and prince that most assassin's would dream of, and a reputation as a fearsome fighter, Alexa does not actually DO anything to stop these atrocities until fate forces her hand.

The author appears to have some issues around "male behavior" and "female behavior".  The story draws some very clear lines around what is believed appropriate for each sex.  I realize that this story is MEANT to challenge those norms - but it doesn't.  In fact, when another character guesses that Alex is actually a girl, Alexa herself claims that she hadn't been acting like a girl "I'd carried Tanoori with three other men without complaining once for days.  I helped set up the tent, I took it down, I did everything every other man here did."  Am I meant to believe that only a girl would complain about trying to save another person's life or that only men are capable of setting up and taking down a tent and that Alexa should be considered "manly" for doing so with only her weak feminine muscles to help her?  In fact, it appears that every time Alexa is hindered in doing her job she blames it on the "female" part of her, particularly, emotions and desires.  She also seems incapable of resisting the attention of any man and spends a great deal of time describing their physique. To the detriment of my eyes which have begun to tire from the number of times they are spent spinning in my head. 

We also have to deal with a very weak love triangle which, I assume, is going to be the basis of some inner turmoil for Alexa as the series (there is at least one more book planned) goes on.  I actually held particularly high hopes for Alexa when I was introduced to the young girl who had bluffed her way into the Prince's guard and rose to become their best fighter - however, as soon as that fact is established and very shortly before it is revealed that her secret was not so secret after all, Alexa becomes the damsel in distress who needs constant rescue from the two men who are now fighting for her attention.  

I also wish the author had made some different choices around the timing of the story.  If it had started earlier in Alexa's life we could have gotten attached the Alexa's parents and brother.  As it is written - their deaths did not have any emotional impact and Alexa's belief that she has to appear stoic and "manly" (insert eye roll) mean that we do not see much of the impact that it has on her character either.  Some earlier development would also have allowed for some back story into why this war was being fought and avoided some issues with "telling" letter on.  Instead, once we get to the reveal-the-whole-plot part of the story we have long explanations of years worth of intrigue and secrets.  This appears to be the author's way of compensating for the fact that there is very little action in this book.   

I understand that there are several other one star reviews coming from people who simply could not bring themselves to finish the book, and I can respect that.  I did, however, see some redemption by the end.  Alexa manages to start making some decisions on her own and does show some character growth (though not nearly as much as I would like) which allowed me to raise my rating by a star.  I sincerely hope that the author is able to take care of some of the sexist issues before the publication of the second book and that Alexa is allowed to grow into her own as a character, rather than simply spending the book bouncing from one love interest to the other.    

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 15 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Use of "Breeding Houses" that feature the repeated rape and pregnancy of young girls, Swordplay, Death by Arrow, Death by fire, 
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Thursday, January 2, 2014

ARC Book Review: Unhinged by A.G. Howard

Title: Unhinged
Author: A.G. Howard
Publisher: Amulet (Abrams)
Release Date:  Jan 7, 2014
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions: 
This isn't quite the masterpiece of a cover that Splintered was, but it is quite lovely all the same.  I am glad that we get to see Morpheus on the cover as YA so often concentrates on the female characters and I love continuation of the buggy touches.  I do wish the coloring was a little lighter so that I could see more of the details

The Gist:
We rejoin Alyssa as she attempts to put back together the pieces of her life shattered by her trip through the rabbit hole.  Her family is reunited, but tensions mount as her newly returned mother attempts to control her choices and her access to Jeb - the boy who saved her life but cannot remember his bravery.  As graduation and prom approaches, she finds it more and more difficult to maintain the wall between her world and the world of Wonderland.  Creatures begin to cross the barrier and Red becomes a threat not only to Wonderland, but to Alyssa's world as well. 


Unhinged is a decent addition to an interesting series.  I really enjoy Howard's take on the Alice story, it is fun and fantastical.  The world building is incredibly detailed and stays true to the sense of whimsy we know and love from wonderland.  That being said, it is considerably more dark than the world we are familiar with.  In particular,  the enemies in this book are much more nightmare inducing.  I could never quite picture the ferocity of the flowers in the previous book, but raggedy and demented toys, especially a clown doll bent on your destruction - hand me my blankie and nightlight.   I was a little disappointed that we never got to Wonderland.  My taste was somewhat satiated with the number of elements that seeped into the real world, but I still longed for the wild excitement and madness of the first book.

Unfortunately, from the first book to this, we didn't get much in the way of character development for the three main characters, but we do get to see some for Alyssa's mom.  This is accomplished through trips into mom's memory that provided and interesting glimpse into her story (possible prequel or novel??).  As for the main characters, the whole Jeb vs Morpheous triangle got old really fast and it was difficult to maintain sympathy for Alyssa as she consistently makes choices that will ruin her relationship.  She seems to have real feelings for both love interests, but the back and forth gets really hard to take.  There appear to be two very different characters: real world Alyssa and Wonderland Alyssa.  Real world Alyssa is often infuriating and slow to action, Wonderland Alyssa, on the other hand, is much more fun and I really enjoyed watching her grow into her powers. 

Had I not loved the ending so much, this book probably would have gotten a lower rating.  The plot twist was rather obvious and I was annoyed by the love triangle.  However, the ending is a perfect segue into the third book and made me very anxious for it's undermined release date.  I have high hopes that Alyssa's acceptance of both sides of her personality will make for a much more determined queen and all round more interesting character.

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Gender: Both
Sex: Kissing, Talk of Sex
Violence: Fighting with Magic
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

First Lines: December, 2013

The first words you read can often set the tone for the entire story.  I thought it would be fun to keep track of the first lines of the books I read each month and share them with you.  Below are the first lines for all the books I read in December.

Unhinged by A.G. Howard
"My art teacher says that a real artist bleeds for her craft, but never told us that blood can become your medium, can take on a life of its own and shape your art in vile and gruesome ways."

Defy by Sara B. Larson
The crackle and hiss of the flames devouring our house couldn't block out the screaming and wailing of those who were still alive."

Wow.  Slim pickings this month.  With report cards and Christmas prep, I didn't get much reading time in this month.  To be honest, netbinging 8 seasons worth of Supernatural didn't help either!