Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: "Latte Daze" by Erynn Mangum

Title: Latte Daze
Author: Erynn Mangum
Publisher: NavPress, 2010

This post is a review of a Christian fiction book, and is also slightly personal; just a warning!

Maya Davis is back in this second book in her trilogy, this time as maid of honor for her good friend and roommate, Jen. And now that Maya is dating Jack, her best friend in the world, she's got much more on her mind than just what coffee roast to serve at Cool Beans, the coffee shop where she works. Jack's left the shop to work in a zoo, Jen is getting married, and on the heels of all this, her brother and sister-in-law announce their pregnancy. Maya's life is changing rapidly, and she doesn't like change. Can she trust God to get her through this, and trust He knows what He's doing?

Again, this is a Christian fiction book, which I'm finding I'm really enjoying at this point of my life. I love that Maya is 24, my own age; it's hard to find books with characters in their early to mid-20s. It's nice to read about someone going through the same points in their life as I am.

This book not only is really fun to read, and a story on the lighter side, it also challenged me in my own life. I'm going to be completely honest in this review, and I know not many of my readers are Christian, but I'm finding myself becoming a stronger Christian when I read about other Christian's journeys and their quests to better serve God. It makes me want to work harder, and realize I should be working harder to be a better person and a better Christian.

I do want to call foul on a couple of things, though. Jen's wedding planning happened WAY too easily. I know what it's like to plan a wedding, and it seems way too lucky for Jen to be able to find her wedding dress on the first day after being engaged. Everything fell into place surreally easily and felt fake. But whatever! Maybe it is that easy for some people. They are lucky.

I also felt it was really weird how Jack and Maya never really kissed in this book, despite the fact they've been dating for months. MONTHS.

I'm also annoyed that this is pitched as a book for teens. Teens are not in the place in life Maya and Jen are in, and I'm not sure they'll be able to easily connect to the story or characters as a whole. I'm sure a few would, but I think it's hard to bill this as an adult title since the characters are so young and the story is so tame.

I'm really enjoying Maya's story and am invested in her and her family and friends at this point, so I will most certainly be finishing up this trilogy when I get the chance.

Disclosure: I bought this from as an e-book.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: "A Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness, based on an idea from Siobhan Dowd

Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness, from a story idea from Siobhan Dowd
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2011

Conor's mother is not dying. At least, that's what he tells himself, and what she tells him as well, despite her cancer that is making her waste away. Nothing is going right; he's being bullied at school, his extremely proper grandmother is starting to spend more and more time at his house, and he is having trouble coming to terms with all of this. But one night, at seven minutes past midnight, an ancient monster pays Conor a visit. What he wants is the truth.

This is a story about stories and truth—their power, and how they can be twisted, unexpected, or denied and hidden from view. The yew tree in Conor's back yard, one his mother always comments on, is actually a very ancient being who has seen much in its life. When he visits Conor, he asks for the truth, but also tells him a story each time. And each time, the story varies wildly from what Conor expects.

The stories help lead Conor to his own realizations, but it's much more than a coming-of-age story or the finding of oneself. Conor has to look deep within himself and admit a truth that he wants to bury under guilt and pain.

I love the stories, and the value the monster puts on them. I'm taking a storytelling class right now, and I know they have been a part of culture since humans could speak—yet, Ness veers off from the normal motifs and shows a side to human nature that I wasn't expecting, and one Conor definitely was not.

The illustrations by Jim Kay are absolutely brilliant. Haunting, richly textured black-and-white images creep up toward the words on the page until they completely take over in stunning double-page spreads. They perfectly complement the prose.

If you're a Patrick Ness fan, don't expect this to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller like his Chaos Walking trilogy. This is a much gentler and more subtle book, despite it's darkness and occasional violent emotions. It's a short book, but very rich and worth reading, especially if you're a story lover, which I think most of my readers are.

Siobhan Dowd's premature death made her unable to write this story herself, but we are lucky that Patrick Ness, an incredibly talented writer and someone I think is a gift to young adult literature, was able and willing to pick up the pen and write it for her.

By the way, as a coincidence (?) I started writing this review at seven minutes past midnight. Or maybe there are no accidents.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the publisher. Thanks!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review: "Millie's Fling" by Jill Mansell

Title: Millie's Fling
Author: Jill Mansell
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2009

Millie has not had the best of luck in the man department, especially lately. But when she stops bestselling romance novelist Orla Hart from hurling herself off a cliff, things are gonig to change. But Millie isn't sure it's for the better. Orla decides she wants to make a departure from her normal writing, namely about glitzy celebrities and high living, in favor of normal, everyday people. And she's willing to pay big money to Millie to tell her ALL about her love life. Trouble is, Orla isn't going to let Millie go on her own, and tries to set her up with any number of men.

This British chick-lit is great fun. It is full of what I can only describe and crazy shenanigans. Millie's trying to keep her attraction to Hugh, a young widower, secret, especially from Orla, since the novelist already told her he was off limits. Millie's flatmate, Hester, is super annoying and can be a total slut when she wants to be, since she's got the hots for Lucas Kemp, a guy they both knew in high school who is now back in Newquay and sexier than ever--despite her boyfriend Nat, who is miles away in Glasgow working as a chef in a restaurant.

Seriously, the things that happened in this book were fantastic. One twist after another, and misadventures galore. One of my favorite scenes had to do with a kitchen fire, a mud wrap, and some missing clothing. There were so many delicious misunderstandings, and the humor was rife with British slang, which is funny to me regardless.

Just to let you know, this is an adult title, but I think older teens would really enjoy it. Millie is only 25, after all.

If you're just looking for a feel-good romantic comedy type book, I'd definitely check out Jill Mansell's stuff. I'm sure her other books are just as good and funny, and I am looking forward to reading them.

Disclosure: I got this as a free nookbook from

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wedding Wednesday: I found my gown!

Wedding Wednesday is a creation by Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner, who is getting married next August. She decided she wanted to share her wedding excitement on her blog, and I really liked that idea so I'm copying her. :)

This post is exciting for me. I finally found my gown! After a couple of months of searching, I went with my mom to a place called La Reine Bridal in Waltham. The girl who helped me was fantastic; she asked me what I wanted and went and found so many gowns that could have worked for me. I couldn't believe it. I've been having so much trouble finding what I want, but not here. Hooray!

Next up: Bridesmaid gowns. I hope this will be as easy to figure out at La Reine as my gown was. I'm super excited!

A special thanks to my friend Nina, who suggested the place to me. She got married in June and told me where she got hers. Fate!

For those of you who are interested, by the way, I started a tumblr for all things wedding and house hunting. It's at

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top Ten Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Me

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish, a blog I contribute to. This week's topic is:

Top Ten Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Me

1. Macbeth. For some reason this one was never required reading for me, even in my Shakespeare class. I guess the prof figured everyone had read it already.

2. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Yeah, I have read pages and pages of praise for this one, but I never find the time to read it/obtain it.

3. Anything by Jonathan Safran Foer. I do own Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, though. Sitting on my shelf. Surprise.

4. A History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Another one I grabbed at a library book sale but haven't got around to reading yet. Heard it's great, though!

5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I'm ashamed I haven't gotten to this one yet, seeing as how it's one of the very first young adult novels written for young adults. (Yes, I own this one too.)

6. Most things by Sarah Dessen. I almost finished Lock and Key on audio, but the discs were defective. Booo. I also read This Lullaby years ago. But I feel woefully behind on the works of an author considered to be YA canon.

7. If I Stay by Gayle Forman. I bought this a little while back, brand spanking new, because of how wonderful everyone (EVERYONE) says it is. Having no time to read stuff is no fun.

8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I really like her poetry, and I feel like this is considered required reading for women, since pretty much everyone has read it.

9. Ellen Hopkins. Another author considered YA canon who I haven't gotten around to reading. Shameful on my part.

10. Anything by Marlina Marchetta. Read so many wonderful things about her. But as you can see, my backlog is immense.

What's your list? Hop over to The Broke and the Bookish to post your link.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: "All These Things I've Done" by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: All These Things I've Done
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Macmillan Young Listeners, 2011
Narrator: Ilyana Kadushin

In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal substances. Manhattan is rife with crime, and speakeasies and black market trade are rampant. Sixteen-year-old Anya Balanchine is caught up right in the middle of everything, not because she happens to be alive in this time, but because her family owns the famous Balanchine Chocolate company, and because her father, now dead, was one of the most notorious crime bosses in the city.

Still, Anya tries her best to keep a low profile, since she doesn't want to bring attention to the fact that her bedridden elderly grandmother is their sole guardian, and her brother Leo is a bit mentally handicapped due to an accident when he was a boy. Unfortunately, when her ex-boyfriend is poisoned by chocolate that she gave him, she's all over the news and in a lot of trouble. It doesn't help that she starts a relationship with the district attorney's son. And all the while, she needs to maintain some sort of control of her brother and younger sister, Nattie, and keep them away from the influence of her mafia family.

The feel of this book is a mixture of dystopia and old-school gangster, what with the prohibition on chocolate and coffee. I never really read anything about organized crime, but I found the way Anya handles things and the way her family operates fascinating. She is incredibly cool-headed, and mostly seems completely in control, even when she's going crazy inside. I truly admired her character, and I loved how she took all of her father's words to heart. She was always recounting some piece of wisdom her father imparted when he was alive, and I actually found them to be truthful and/or valuable.

All of the characters are well-written, and I found myself caring for even the most dangerous characters. Except Gable; he's a jerkface.

The dystopian society itself is not too far off from where we could be headed. There is a water problem, but one not large enough to have water rationed—yet. It's just very expensive, sort of like gasoline today. And the illegal substances of our time parallel very well with the illegal substances of this world. Organized crime developed around the chocolate and coffee industries because of their illegality, and people get a "high" off both of them, much like drugs and alcohol today. Interestingly, alcohol is widely available for all ages here.

Zevin's language is, for lack of a better word, delicious. Something I want to sip slowly. I loved the atmosphere of her world.

As far as the audio version goes, Ilyana Kadushin does an excellent job. She sounds spot-on for Anya, not too old or young. Her voice is soothing with no annoying quirks that I find happens often in audiobooks. And, she does a great Russian accent for Anya's older family members. It's very easy to tell the difference between each character's dialogue.

I highly recommend the audio version of All These Things I've Done, and certainly recommend the book itself. I fully plan on reading the rest of the Birthright series when they are released.

Disclosure: Macmillan sent me a copy of this audiobook in exchange for an honest review.

Here are some worthy causes that need some help.

Hi all.

As some of you know, I like to run on occasion. I am happy to say I've been able to sign up for a few races in the coming weeks, and I'm actually on a team for one of them (which is exciting; I've never done anything like this on a team before). The team one is called the Samaritans' 5K, taking place Oct. 1 this year. This is organized by the Samaritans, a group that works to prevent suicide in the Greater Boston area. Our team leader lost her mother to suicide 25 years ago, and every year she runs this race to raise money for the cause. I'm joining this year, and I'm hoping to raise a little bit of money as well.

If anyone would like to donate, please click here to get to our team page.

Since we're talking about fundraising, a church group I belong to is also trying to raise money, but for a different cause. We're trying to raise enough money to build a well somewhere that one is needed, a place where people have to travel miles to find any kind of water at all, let alone clean water. We need to raise $2,500 to build it, and we've got about $600 more to go. If you would like to donate to this cause, click here for that page. (By the way, I'm the one in the orange in that picture in case you were wondering.)

I know it's a lot to ask during such a tough economic time, and I don't expect anyone to donate, but I figured I would ask you all just in case someone is able and willing to give a little something to either or both of these causes. Thanks for reading! I'll be back to reviewing and bookish things soon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wedding Wednesday: The House Hunt

Jamie of The Perpetual Page-Turner started this once-a-week feature on her blog, since she's getting married next summer, and as I'm also getting married in the near future (May), I'm piggy-backing off of her idea!

Sorry for the long absence folks. It's been a busy couple of weeks. Would you like to know why?

Steve and I are looking for a house.

Yes, that's right, we're on the house hunt. It's been very educational too, I might add. I never knew how many things could be wrong with a house. Like a tree being on top of one, for example. That actually happened; we went to see a house in Westford and when we got there, surprise! A tree must have come down in the hurricane. I don't think there was much if any damage, but still, not a great way to sell a house. Also, the house itself was a hideous shade of mint green and there were eight (eight!) computer monitors in the garage.

We saw some nice ones, but we haven't found "the one" yet. But we continue to look. For the record, we're looking in Westford and Chelmsford, MA, if any of you are familiar with that area. There are beaches in Westford! Who knew? Not me, but I'll take it.

Our realtor is very nice, too. She doesn't try to sugarcoat anything or diminish flaws, and we really like that about her.

I'm also learning a lot about what heating systems are most efficient, architectural types of houses, and measurements. I'm especially keen on getting a nice kitchen, but we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Winner of "All These Things I've Done"

Congrats to Kayla, who has won a copy of Gabrielle Zevin's All These Things I've Done! I hope you enjoy it. I certainly did—watch out for my review later this week.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"All These Things I've Done" Trailer and Giveaway

Hi everyone! I've been given the great opportunity by Zeitghost Media to bring to you the trailer for Gabrielle Zevin's latest book, All These Things I've Done. See if this dystopian story is something that could intrigue you by checking out the video below. Long story short, chocolate and coffee are illegal, New York is rife with crime, and our main lady Anya Balanchine is the daughter of a notorious (and dead) crime boss, though she is not involved in that part of her family's business herself.

If you'd like the chance to win a copy of your own, please fill in the form below the trailer. Enjoy!

Interested? Fill it out, but only if you're over 13, live in the US or Canada, and do it before Friday, September 9 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: "Ashes, Ashes" by Jo Treggiari

TitleAshes, Ashes
Author: Jo Treggiari
Publisher: Scholastic, 2011

In a world that doesn't seem to be too far into the future, global warming has melted the ice caps and most of the coastal world is now underwater. This wasn't such a big deal for Lucy at first, since she was fine in her New Jersey town, but three years later an even deadlier enemy claimed 99% of the population of the planet: the plague. Lucy somehow managed to survive without contracting the disease at all, but her family was not so lucky. After a year of wilderness survival on her own in the Wilds of what used to be Central Park, Lucy finally finds a group of people who she might be able to live with. But she could spell the end for them all; there is something about her that makes her very valuable to those who are barely holding on to power.

While reading Ashes, Ashes, I often found myself thinking how awful the lives these people led sounded. I was very creeped out during the beginning of the book, when Lucy was still on her own, but I kept flipping the pages, eager to discover Lucy's past and what would happen next.

I didn't find out much as far as back story, unfortunately. We learn that Lucy is largely unremarkable (this is repeated many times), with no special talents other than survival. I can tell there is more to her, but I never found her history besides brief flashes of memory, which was disappointing for me. The same is true for the secondary characters in this book—we get clues, but no real stories.

What didn't disappoint was the action. There was a lot of it, and Lucy was nearly always at the center of it. I was compelled to find out the mysteries behind the Sweepers, what I'm assuming are government officials, who kidnap survivors of the plague. Those kidnapped are never seen again. And when Lucy becomes their target, I wanted to know what made her special.

The next part might be a bit spoilery, just a warning. We never really get the answers to the burning questions in the book, kind of a letdown, especially when much of the book focuses on this aspect of Lucy and how the Sweepers are after her for some reason. I'm guessing there will be a sequel to answer some of these questions.

Overall, I don't feel strongly about this book one way or the other. It provided entertainment while I was reading and did give me something to think about as far as how the way we are treating our planet might turn out, but I don't think the story or the characters will stay with me too long afterward. If a sequel does come out, I will most likely pick it up to find out the secrets behind the characters and the government that were left unrevealed in Ashes, Ashes.

Disclosure: I received an ARC from the publisher at one of their events.
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