Rated Reads http://ratedreads.com Tue, 22 Aug 2017 00:16:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 Toward a Secret Sky http://ratedreads.com/toward-secret-sky-young-adult-book-review/ http://ratedreads.com/toward-secret-sky-young-adult-book-review/#respond Tue, 22 Aug 2017 00:16:01 +0000 http://ratedreads.com/?p=9689 Maren’s mom has just died in a strange accident, and since her father died before Maren was born, she is sent away from Missouri to live with her grandparents — her dad’s parents, who live in Scotland, whom she’s never met.

She is soon sent a small shipment of what seems like junk from her mom’s things, just leftover stuff from the office. But one wooden box, once she manages to figure out how to open it, contains a number of curious items, including a necklace and a letter from her mom, as well as a journal with blueprints drawn inside.

It’s hard enough to be orphaned and move to a totally different place and have to meet new friends. But Maren also starts having vivid, horrifying dreams. Coupled with the strange things that begin happening in the small area where she lives, she doesn’t know what to think. When she meets a ridiculously good-looking guy, however, she does know that she wants to get to know him better, despite his telling her she needs to stay away.

The story of Toward a Secret Sky involves a secret organization that employs humans to work with angels to defeat demons. Maren gets drawn into the battle that is happening right where she lives, and she tries to figure out how to help the good side to save her new friends, even while falling in love with someone she is forbidden to be with.

I just could not enjoy the book. It’s full of stock characters and it copies (not well) other very popular YA series, including Twilight and the Shadowhunters sets of books by Cassandra Clare. I found none of it original, and the execution and style were just write-by-the-numbers. While many “tropes” or basic plots appear often in great literature, for various good reasons, in the wrong hands they can be disastrous — and greatly annoying to readers. Here, since the writing was subpar and the world-building didn’t offer me anything new, I never was able to immerse myself in the story. I won’t be reading any sequels.

Rated: Moderate. There’s not a lot in the way of language. But there is some sexual material: some kissing scenes, some crude references and innuendo, a character who drugs the main character’s drink and tries to have his way with her, and another character who is intent on “stealing the virginity” of the main character. There’s teen drinking in a couple of places. And there is some violence and descriptions of some gore.

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A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire, book 1) http://ratedreads.com/shadow-bright-burning-young-adult-book-review/ http://ratedreads.com/shadow-bright-burning-young-adult-book-review/#respond Fri, 18 Aug 2017 20:12:39 +0000 http://ratedreads.com/?p=9686 Henrietta, orphaned as a baby, has lived many of her 16 years at a charity school in Yorkshire. It’s not been pleasant, but it’s her life, and she’s making do. Her best friend, Rook, has been one highlight in her life, and they’ve been there for each other, even as many others have avoided Rook because of his scars — he’s considered an “Unclean” because he was wounded by the dangerous Ancient monster Korozoth but not killed. Henrietta herself has had to lie low because of her magical abilities with fire. While sorcerers are celebrated and relied upon to fight the seven Ancients and their Familiars, witches are killed and magicians are feared and not allowed to train apprentices because both a witch and a magician helped the Ancients cross over from some other place into this world. But when the sorcerer Agrippa visits her school, despite her best efforts to not reveal her ability, he discovers what Henrietta can do. What shocks her, however, is that she’s not labeled a witch and put to death — he tells her she’s a sorcerer, too, and he’s going to bring her to London to train her.

Henrietta consents to go to London but insists she won’t come into the protected city without Rook to accompany her. Agrippa agrees and allows Rook to be a servant in his household, where he is training a number of other “Incumbents,” young people from magical families who spend two years honing their crafts before they are commended by the queen and made official sorcerers. In Henrietta’s case, she is only going to be trained for two months, at which point she will be tested before the queen to see if she can be commended at the same time as the others in Agrippa’s house. It seems an impossible task, but Agrippa feels she is the chosen one from a prophecy and she will be up to it.

Henrietta faces skepticism and outright derision from other sorcerers and incumbents not just because she is a woman, but because of her low birth. She has no status and comes from a family with no magical abilities. She wants to help her queen and country fight these horrific monsters, but first she has to pass the trials and be commended. And soon into her time of training, she isn’t making any progress following the guidance of Agrippa. Her abilities don’t seem to improve with his methods.

But a magician who lives on the edges of the city wants to teach her — and he seems to know more about her and her background than even she does. And her dear Rook is experiencing some strange changes himself. Dangers around her just keep increasing, and she is afraid for her life and for Rook’s, as well as the future of her country.

A Shadow Bright and Burning drew me in right away. I wanted to know the mythology of the world of the book, a Victorian England where magic exists and horrible creatures are taking control of parts of the countryside. Where did the monsters come from? How can they be defeated? What’s Henrietta’s real background? What will be her fate? It’s a story of a young woman who potentially can do great things but who first has to prove herself just because of her class and gender. It has bits of romance and mystery. Granted, many of the parts of this book are all too familiar, but it worked for me and I enjoyed it. Now I await the next book and hope to see some answers to the questions.

Rated: Moderate. It’s close to mild. There are occasional uses of mild and moderate language. There are a number of scenes of fighting between the sorcerers and the dangerous Ancients, with some that are a bit gory. There is intimation that the headmaster of the girls school not only is strict with the girls there and beats them but may also take advantage of them. One dashing male sorcerer is known for being a ladies man and having his way with many. One scene has intense kissing between him and the main character, nearly going further but stopping.

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Magpie Murders http://ratedreads.com/magpie-murders-fiction-book-review/ http://ratedreads.com/magpie-murders-fiction-book-review/#respond Mon, 14 Aug 2017 16:50:15 +0000 http://ratedreads.com/?p=9675 Atticus Pünd does not have long to live. The famous detective might have enough strength to investigate one more murder, but he would much rather devote his limited time to a more personal project. While he’s pondering his fate, a young woman comes to consult with him, and he turns her away. Days later, a man in her village is killed, and Herr Pünd knows it is because of his refusal that he died. He therefore travels to Saxby-on-Avon in an attempt to right his wrong before he is dead himself. Suspects are all over the quiet little hamlet, together with myriad motives. Suddenly, a break occurs in the case, and Pünd determinedly heads to apprehend the killer.

At this point, the story jumps the rails and we abruptly get yanked into the “real world,” complete with persons that bear striking similarities to the citizens of Saxby-on-Avon. Pünd’s creator, Alan Conway, cannot be located, and his desperate editor needs to find the final chapters so he can publish this series-ending book, thus saving the little publishing company from financial ruin. Before long, someone in “this” world also dies, and the police cannot be sure it is not suicide.

The rest of the story is sort of a double whodunit, as Conway’s editor tries to gather clues without arousing suspicion, meets with people who had opportunity, struggles to discern a motive (if there is one) and continues to search for the missing final chapters of Magpie Murders. This project is really all over the place, but it is very easy to keep track of what is going on; there is plenty of gentle repetition all the way through the overall story.

Personally, I enjoyed the Atticus Pünd portion (set in 1955) much more than the contemporary section. Horowitz does a marvelous job creating completely different prose for each tale, and to me, the book within the book was just more interesting. Other reviewers have compared the Pünd part to the works of Agatha Christie, and although I do not completely disagree, I believe I could detect as much Ian Fleming coming through as I could Christie.

Rated: High. Frustratingly, this was a totally clean read until the last quarter, when a handful of f-bombs appeared, along with an exceedingly crude anagram revelation.

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Shark Girl http://ratedreads.com/shark-girl-young-adult-book-review/ http://ratedreads.com/shark-girl-young-adult-book-review/#respond Fri, 11 Aug 2017 21:57:52 +0000 http://ratedreads.com/?p=9651 Jane Arrowood knows she should feel lucky for surviving the shark attack. But as she recovers in the hospital, she feels only anger, fear and confusion. Why did this have to happen? How can she take care of herself with only one arm? What about her dream of a brilliant art career?

Once she goes home and returns to high school, Jane faces a new set of problems. How can she fit in when she so painfully stands out? How does she deal with being pitied for her suffering and idealized for her survival, when she doesn’t want either kind of attention? Slowly, and at times unwillingly, Jane learns to accept who she is and begins to dream in a new direction.

This book is written mainly in verse, which helped me slow down and see the significance of each small struggle Jane faces. I like that she’s not portrayed as a perfect hero; sometimes she blames others and herself for her situation, and sometimes she’s too angry and afraid to go on. But she does go on — because she has to. I admire Jane’s character for recognizing her own imperfections and for being able to learn from others on her journey. It’s a journey of recovery, self-discovery and hope.

Rated: Moderate. About 12 mild swear words and about 7 moderate ones. The shark attack is never described; there are only a couple allusions to there being a lot of blood.

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The Thing About Jellyfish http://ratedreads.com/thing-about-jellyfish-young-adult-book-review/ http://ratedreads.com/thing-about-jellyfish-young-adult-book-review/#respond Tue, 08 Aug 2017 18:10:27 +0000 http://ratedreads.com/?p=9666 Suzy Swanson never needed any friends besides Franny. Franny liked that Suzy talked too much and didn’t know how to act like the stylish, popular girls at their school. But as the girls started middle school, Franny started to change, and their friendship ended … and then Franny died. Suzy doesn’t understand any of it. She’s always been better at making sense of math and science than of people. Suzy decides to stop speaking and begins a quest to understand what really happened — which possibly involves jellyfish. As she researches more about these fascinating creatures, Suzy comes up with a crazy idea that just might help her find meaning in Franny’s death — and that just might help her make up for the horrible thing she did to end their friendship.

This is a beautifully crafted book, filled with almost poetic observations on jellyfish, friendship and much more. I love how awkward and intense Suzy is. She fights so hard to try to keep everything the same but eventually begins to find her way in a changing world. I’m inspired by how she gradually learns to let other people into her life, instead of pushing them away and immersing herself in facts and research. It’s a story of grieving and growth, that finds meaning in things as vast as the evolutionary journey of the jellyfish and as small as one middle-grade girl’s lonely heart.

Rated: Mild. There are no swear words, violence or sexual content. I’d almost consider this a children’s book except for the more mature themes of the book, a scene where two men kiss, and a mean prank that involves pee.

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The Lake Effect http://ratedreads.com/lake-effect-young-adult-book-review/ http://ratedreads.com/lake-effect-young-adult-book-review/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 20:30:41 +0000 http://ratedreads.com/?p=9655 Briggs Henry has a father who focuses on success and lives by aphorisms (“failure is not an option,” “you don’t get points for effort”); a mother who lives by lists, and a grandmother who seems entirely without humor, doesn’t like sarcasm, and gives him a Ficus for his graduation present. He’s expected to take it with him to his summer job and college and keep it alive using the care instructions she’s printed out for him.

Briggs also has an ex-girlfriend who broke up with him a couple months prior, and he is having a hard time not thinking about her — and her new boyfriend.

And always, through all he does, he thinks about the money his family used to have and what they lost.

His summer job is staying with an 80-something woman who lives on Lake Michigan and needs some help. He figures it should be an easy one, since he’s been volunteering at an assisted living center and has charming older ladies down to a science. But when he arrives at a giant, gorgeous Victorian house and meets Mrs. Bozic, a tiny Serbian lady with a strong accent, a laugh that is signaled by her shoulders moving up and down, and a habit of attending funerals, he starts to realize the summer isn’t going to be quite as he expected.

Mrs. B. has no Wi-Fi and expects to be able to reach Briggs when she needs him by using a pair of walkie-talkies. She says part of his job is to escort her to funerals. And when his phone loudly (and accidentally) plays a video in the middle of their first funeral, she expects him to write apology notes to the pastor and the deceased’s widow.

Briggs meets the teen girl next door, Abigail, who walks her bike around town, keeps herself at arm’s length and tends to lie on a towel on the beach and, sometimes, just disappear for a few days. He is intrigued by her, not least because she is pretty.

As the summer progresses, Briggs (or “Briggs Baby,” as Mrs. B often calls him) paints entire rooms in her house various shades of blue in an attempt to get the right color, goes to funeral after funeral, hangs out with the local teens and slowly gets to know Abigail. He starts coming to terms a bit with what he’s lost and what his family is like, and he comes to care a great deal about Mrs. B.

Erin McCahan consistently has produced sweet, funny stories with characters to care about, and this is no different. I laughed, I smiled, I felt for Briggs and those around him. I think I and all other readers just adore Mrs. B. I bought this book right away without blinking because I’ve been so happy with McCahan’s other two: I Now Pronounce You Someone Else and Love and Other Foreign Words. As always, I look forward to more in the future.

Rated: Moderate. There are occasional instances of mild and moderate language, a couple of brief mentions of teen drinking and a couple of kissing scenes that involve a little bit more than kissing (just mentioning hands under sweatshirts). I’d call this a “new adult” book, really, and it’s close to being just a mild rating.

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The Wildling Sisters http://ratedreads.com/wildling-sisters-fiction-book-review/ http://ratedreads.com/wildling-sisters-fiction-book-review/#respond Tue, 25 Jul 2017 16:57:54 +0000 http://ratedreads.com/?p=9647 Jessie and her husband, Will, have been searching a few months for a big house in the country so they can move away from London. They feel it will be a good move for Will’s teenager, Bella, who’s been troubled since the death of her mother, Will’s first wife. And it would be a wonderful way to raise their preschooler, Romy — out in the fresh air, with plenty of room to run and wander and explore. When they find Applecote Manor it seems to be just perfect: It needs lots of work, but that means they’ll be able to afford it.

But Applecote has its ghosts: A girl went missing there more than 50 years earlier and was never found. Audrey’s cousins used to spend weeks in the summer with her at Applecote before she disappeared, but it takes five years until they end up back there, spending the end of the summer with their bereft aunt and uncle.

The story of The Wildling Sisters goes back and forth between August of 1959, when the four Wilde sisters stayed at Applecote and shared a horrific bonding experience, and the present, when Jessie is settling her blended family in to the old home.

There’s a sense of foreboding hanging over the story in both times: Readers know something devastating is going to happen to teens Flora, Pam and Margot and preteen Dot, that they will have a secret to keep of their own, all on top of dealing with the secrets that underlie the disappearance of their cousin. And those secrets somehow cling to the house decades later, when Jessie and Will move in. Will they be able to find some peace in the countryside, or will the ghosts of the past, however unrelated to them, make it impossible?

I enjoy stories of dark secrets from the past bubbling up to the surface in the present day, so I was eager to find out how this book played out. I wasn’t disappointed. I felt invested in what happened not just to the four “Wildling” sisters (as their uncle called them) but to Jessie, who so much wants to make peace with her stepdaughter and the ever-present specter of her husband’s seemingly perfect dead wife. I couldn’t put the book down for the last third and enjoyed how the ending came together.

Rated: Moderate. There are three uses of strong language and a few other uses of milder language; sexual content includes vague references to the free lifestyle of the four girls’ mother and the developing bodies of the girls, as well as a few teen-girl observations on seeing or almost seeing manly body parts. The one narrator talks about her sister saying she almost “went all the way” and there is a scene of some kissing and fondling.

*I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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One Summer http://ratedreads.com/one-summer-clean-fiction-book-review/ Fri, 21 Jul 2017 20:29:44 +0000 http://ratedreads.com/?p=9641 As a summer plays out on a small island on the west of Ireland, a 30-something woman rents out her house over six weeks to three sets of visitors, and their stories mingle with those of her and her family, her fiance, friends and others on tiny Roone.

Nell has been engaged to Tim for a year, and they plan their wedding for December. Tim works in Dublin and makes good money in computers, and he spends the weekends with her on Roone, but Nell wants to be able to pay for a good portion of their wedding rather than let him do so. So she decides to move out of her charming cottage and rent it out.

First to arrive for two weeks is one man in his 30s who has finalized a divorce. He is lonely and looking to get past what’s happened to him.

Next is a young mother and her twin 5-year-old boys, who are energetic and busy. The widowed mother is outgoing and throws herself into island life.

Last is a 50-something couple and the wife’s single sister.

As time goes on, life shifts and changes happen for everyone. The island itself, as well as Nell’s home, seem to charm most.

Though the book is set in Ireland, making it an obvious reason to compare to Maeve Binchy’s work, this book really reminded me of Binchy a bit in that it’s a story about a lot of people. There’s the main character, Nell, but a lot of threads spin off from her. And I enjoyed every one. I enjoyed going along with them as they spent time on Roone and bumping up against each other, seeing what happened to them, good and bad. There are other books that follow Roone and the people in it and I may have to revisit some time in the future.

Rated: Mild. There are five to ten instances of mild and moderate language, and there’s one brief scene where two characters start undressing and touching each other.

The Breakdown http://ratedreads.com/the-breakdown-clean-fiction-book-review/ Wed, 19 Jul 2017 00:14:27 +0000 http://ratedreads.com/?p=9625 On a very rainy night, Cass drives home to her comfortable cottage in a quiet hamlet. She promises her husband she won’t take the isolated road that could work as a good shortcut in better weather, but traffic leads her to go ahead and do it. When she’s nearly home, she sees a car pulled off to the side, a woman sitting in the driver’s seat. She pulls in front of the car and stops, but the woman never flashes her lights or does anything to try to hail her, so Cass decides to drive on home — nowadays, there are stories of all kinds of things carjackers or robbers, etc., will do to trick unsuspecting Good Samaritans into getting out of their cars.

The next morning, Cass is devastated to learn that the woman was brutally murdered in her car, likely not long after she saw her sitting there. And, even worse, it’s a woman she was just starting to get to know.

Cass begins getting blocked phone calls at home with silence at the other end. She is sure the killer is stalking her and making the calls. And then she starts forgetting things: that she was supposed to buy a gift for a friend on behalf of a group of co-workers; that her husband was headed out of town for a business trip; that she had invited friends over for dinner. Combined with the phone calls and the murder, she’s starting to feel unhinged. Her biggest fear may be coming to pass: that she’s showing the signs of early-onset dementia, which plagued her late mother from her 40s.

As time goes on and she continues to feel sure she’s being stalked, that her forgetfulness may be serious, her life spirals out of her control.

The Breakdown is one of those stories in which readers don’t know whether the main character is being gaslighted or if she really is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Either is a scary proposition. And if she is being gaslighted, who is doing it? The questions begun to be answered near the end, where it’s hard to put down the book as it all comes together.

Rated: Mild. There is almost no language, perhaps a couple of instances of mild profanity. There is no sexual material, only allusions to sexual relationships. Violence is limited to brief talk about how the murder was committed.

* I received an advance reader’s e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Romeo Catchers (The Casquette Girls, book 2) http://ratedreads.com/romeo-catchers-casquette-young-adult-book-review/ Mon, 17 Jul 2017 23:14:20 +0000 http://ratedreads.com/?p=9621 It’s been a month since Adele and her two friends and fellow coven members trapped the vampires who had escaped a long imprisonment in a New Orleans convent attic back in there. Adele is tormented by knowing her long-estranged mother, whom she found out last-minute was a vampire, is also within that attic. And while she feels betrayed by Nicco, the Italian vampire who told her never to trust him but she kinda did anyway, she still misses him and feels bad about his imprisonment as well.

While she, Isaac and Desiree are glad to have reinstated the spell their ancestors set a couple of centuries before so that the vamp killing spree could end in post-Storm New Orleans, they are a little nervous that it won’t be permanent. After all, they didn’t “kill” the vampires, only contained them once again. They start feeling the need to track down the other descendants of that older coven and try to find more information about what brought the vampires to New Orleans in the first place — and why they were tracking Adele’s ancestor Adeline.

Isaac and Adele are dating, and Isaac is relieved to have Nicco out of the way. Adele is keeping the fact that her mother is a vampire a secret from Isaac and Desiree. And she’s started visiting the attic, sleeping on the other side of the locked door, because she’s starting to have dreams that are seemingly coming right from Nicco. His memories of his early life in 17th-century Italy may hold a key to solving the mystery Adele is trying to solve. But she doesn’t want to share any of this either.

Meanwhile, a strange young man has come to New Orleans and started working with Isaac on storm cleanup, and while he seems to have useful help to give, a few things don’t quite add up. And something strange is again happening in the French Quarter, with some kind of problem in the spirit world bubbling over into the land of the living. As Adele, Isaac and Dee try to sift through the clues about the current problem and the mystery of the past, as well as try to find other descendants, things start to get dangerous, and Adele and Isaac’s relationship is tested even with Nicco locked up in an attic.

I really enjoyed the first book, The Casquette Girls, and I was excited when this sequel finally arrived three years later. I had to reread that first one to remember the story and the details. I found I wasn’t expecting the directions the story went in this book, mainly with 1) this book going back and forth between not just Adele’s viewpoint but also Isaac’s and 2) not getting a lot of the back story from the past for a while. This book focused a lot more on the young people’s magic and their learning more about it, rather than on the vampires, since they were locked up and out of the picture. So this was much more magical than the first book, where the vampire story dominated more than the young protagonists exercising a lot of magic.

This story really ended on some serious cliffhangers, so I hope the next book isn’t three more years down the pike. I definitely want to know what happens next.

This book had all the atmosphere of the previous one, with a gothic Southern setting, old secrets and history, and curious characters. My only real problem with it was that there was a lot of strong language in this one, whereas there weren’t any f-words in the first. It just wasn’t necessary, since the previous book was just fine without that language. I’d like to see less in the next installment.

Rated: High, for roughly 20 instances of strong language and some milder profanities. There is a fair amount of violence, with a few scenes that are pretty gory and detailed. Sexual content includes making out and some talk about see-through shirts and wanting more, etc. There is a scene of sex happening in the past that’s not too detailed but disturbing in that it’s combined with a vampire feeding.