Review: We Are The Goldens

We Are the Goldens, Dana Reinhardt

Amanda

Published May 27th 2014 by Wendy Lamb Books

208 pages

Source: NetGalley

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From Goodreads…

Nell knows a secret about her perfect, beautiful sister Layla. If she tells, it could blow their world apart.

When Nell and Layla were little, Nell used to call them Nellaya. Because to Nell, there was no difference between where she started and her adored big sister ended. They’re a unit; divorce made them rely on each other early on, so when one pulls away, what is the other to do? But now, Nell’s a freshman in high school and Layla is changing, secretive. And then Nell discovers why. Layla is involved with one of their teachers. And even though Nell tries to support Layla, to understand that she’s happy and in love, Nell struggles with her true feelings: it’s wrong, and she must do something about it.

As the parent of a little girl this book scared the hell out of me!  As as sister this book went to my heart reading the story of Nell and Layla.  I really felt for Nell as she just wanted her sister’s happiness, but worried so much for her.

We Are The Goldens is written from Nell’s perspective, telling the story of Nell’s freshman year of high school and Layla’s junior year. To her sister Layla is nearly perfect and Nell is so happy to be the little Golden at school.  But when Nell learns of Layla’s secret relationship it begins to eat away at her and influences her own choices.

The reader is pulled into Nell’s inner struggle over Layla’s secret.  Does she tell her parents?  Does Nell confront Mr. B himself?  Does she tell her best friend Felix?  Oh I loved Felix! He was a great foil to Nell, and enriched the story by helping Nell keep living her own life and not just being wrapped up in Layla’s.

What some readers might not enjoy is the open ending to this book.  I liked having that left to my imagination personally.  I felt like I knew Nell enough in the end to decide for myself where the story led. I was not comfortable starting this book because I didn’t want to read about the student/teacher relationship, but because Nell is telling this story we don’t have to read about Layla and Mr. B directly. That definitely made the book better for me.

This was a short read, but totally compelling and I thought the writing was beautiful.  This was my first Dana Reinhardt book but I am definitely going to be looking for her other titles.

4 stars!

Thank you NetGalley and Wendy Lamb Books for this advanced read copy in exchange for an honest review!

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Bittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Published May 13th 2014 by Crown

400 pages

Source: Edelweiss

From Goodreads…

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Suspenseful and cinematic, Bittersweet exposes the gothic underbelly of an American dynasty, and an outsider’s hunger to belong.

On scholarship at a prestigious East Coast college, ordinary Mabel Dagmar is surprised to befriend her roommate, the beautiful, blue-blooded Genevra Winslow. Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer at Bittersweet, her cottage on the Vermont estate where her family has been holding court for more than a century; it’s the kind of place where swimming boldly is required and the children twirl sparklers across the lawn during cocktail hour. Mabel falls in love with the midnight skinny-dips, the wet dog smell lingering in the air, the moneyed laughter carrying across the still lake, and before she knows it, she has everything she’s ever wanted: wealth, friendship, a boyfriend, and, most of all, the sense, for the first time in her life, that she belongs.

But as Mabel becomes an insider, she makes a terrible discovery, which leads to shocking violence and the revelation of the true source of the Winslows’ fortune. Mabel must choose: either expose the ugliness surrounding her and face expulsion from paradise, or keep the family’s dark secrets and redefine what is good and what is evil, in the interest of what can be hers.

If you’re looking for a book to take to the pool or the beach this is it!  Unless you live in Chicago like me where it will likely snow again next week.  But really-get this book!  This felt long, but I flew through the ending while ignoring my husband at night to see what choices Mabel made for herself.

Anyway, back to the beginning…

We meet Mabel during the school year.  Mabel is the poor and overweight roommate of the rich, glamorous, beautiful and somewhat thoughtless Ev.  When Ev begins to accept Mabel into her life and invites her Winloch for the summer Mabel sees a summer of perfection ahead.  Mabel hints as to the reasons she doesn’t want to go home for the summer; including violence from her father, tension with her mother, and the desperate desire to avoid working under her parents’ watch at their dry cleaning business.

Winloch is the summer estate where the Winslows – approximately 100 of them – spend every summer, each in their own cottage.  Ev is coming of age to inherit her own cottage and she and Mabel move into Bittersweet and make it their own.  Mabel knows that she’s not a Winslow, that she does not have the money, the class, or the claim to Winloch, but she desperately wants to belong.

When Ev’s eccentric aunt Indo hints to Mabel that if she helps her with a project for her own inheritance that she might pass her cottage down to Mabel, Mabel has to act.  She begins going through the family papers and starts wondering how the Winslows survived the Great Depression and kept on getting richer.

I won’t get into all of the secrets but I will say that while some I saw coming, the end of this book was not at all what I expected! We learn why Ev keeps her bedroom door triple-bolted at night, murders take place and are solved and the money behind the Winslows is uncovered.  None of the characters in this book are innocent and they are definitely all dislikeable at times.  I think that makes for a stronger book, when you’re so caught up and excited, even when you don’t know what outcome you want!

My only complaint was about Mabel’s secret.  Its hinted at throughout the book and finally is brought out in the final confrontation.  But I would have liked to know more about what happened.  Mabel never addresses her past head on, its only alluded to in her unsent letters to her mother or this one discussion of her brother.  I would have liked the full story.

BIttersweet has summer love and drama all in a perfect venue.  Definitely get this book for the summer and let me know how you feel about the Winslows!  Would you like to go to Winloch?

4.5 stars

Thank you Edelweiss and Crown Publishing for this advanced read copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Midway Through Grave Mercy

We’re 60% into Grave Mercy and the assassin convent.

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Catch our thoughts on the first third of the book here.

I received an email from Holly with the subject “62% and I do not like this book”.  At that time I was barely into the story so that was disconcerting!  Here’s where we are now.

H:     Back to the convent being the first people to be nice to her…okay, but the blind faith is just too much to deal with. Clearly too  much for Duval too which almost makes me like him…

A:     I agree, I almost like Duval.  Sometimes I’m finding him rather irksome thought.  I do really like Ismae’s  blood thirst.  That kind of makes me laugh. Like let me go check bodies out for more people to kill.

I like the duchess. I’m glad she’s strong willed thus far, despite her position and her age.  

H:    And WTF is with the creeper nighttime visits? I mean I get the purpose but she is completely at his whims of when and how long and he just springs in on her with no knock or warning? And then he sits and watches her sleep? This is totally a knock off of creeper Edward Cullen and I say rings of unhealthy relationships. For teenage readers. Ick.

A:    I totally see your point about the night time visits being creepy, but really they are a necessity for the cover up.  If they’re supposed to be lovers it would be more notable not to be there.

What I didn’t like was scene with the ankle grabbing and the kind of forced arousal:

“When his hand comes down and grasps my ankle, it takes every bit of willpower I possess to keep from jerking away…. ‘However will you play the game of seduction if you flinch so?’”

Maybe this wasn’t Cullen-esque in my mind, but it did creep me out for some reason.

H:     I understand the nighttime visits as cover-up. I do not understand why they must be unannounced. She is totally at his mercy when she is waiting in bed. Vulnerable much?

A:     Ok ok I concede this point.  

H:    Other things I do not like: overuse of ‘hooded eyes’ and ‘peahen.’

A:      Sorry. I find ‘hooded eyes’ to be such a good descriptive phrase it hasn’t bothered me.  Doesn’t it just make you see some creepy eyes?  And I do like peahen.

H:    Peahen once is a good descriptor. Twice stands out to me. Details,  pal.

And a couple plot points don’t make sense… no one knows where they are having the secret meeting then suddenly they’ve discussed a plan for her presence and she has a loaf of bread?

Also no discussion that Anne is about to meet the suitor then suddenly that’s clandestinely arranged.  I need believable details. Clearly.

A:    I think I just suspend much disbelief when we get to a convent of teenage assassin nuns sister.

H:    I do think Ismae’s evolving feelings and described well. And Duval’s. Just ended on the ‘i do not think it would be wise to linger tonight.’ I would be so behind some LUV if not for the creeping.

A:    I can usually get behind some LUV.  Its just too fast for me for someone who hated all men so recently, so I hope I come around on Duval because I feel the Luv coming!

Back to reading!  I’m hoping Holly gets over her WTF feelings!

We’re Reading Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy, His Fair Assassin #1, Robin LaFevers

Published April 3rd 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

529 pages

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Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart.

The last book Amanda and I read simultaneously was The Cuckoo’s Calling (which we LOVED – see here), inspired by an Amazon Daily Deal.

Looking for another book to read together, we jumped on His Fair Assassin of the Grave Mercy trilogy when it was $1.99 (we totally bought the second book at $1.99 also, before reading the first).

It took a while to sync our timing to start reading this one, but here we are!

30% in (or so)

Holly:   So far, all I keep saying is WTF is going on in this book? Like Cuckoo, I didn’t know too much about this one going on, other than it is another blasted YA trilogy (like Divergent). And, I heard it mentioned recently on the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour, described as a fun read about teenage nun assassins.

Yup.

So, WTF?

Amanda:   Who wouldn’t love a book about teenage nun assassins?  Besides clearly my sister?

H:   I’m at 23% and this shit is weird.

WTF is going on in this book and where is Comoran Strike?

A:   Ha! I’m at 24%.  I like this historical aspect, rather than a totally made up world.

H:   I don’t mind the historical, but I don’t get why the religious shit if they are just political assassins.  And is Ismae an idiot?  No questions asked?

A:   Isn’t she probably kind of an idiot?  No education, abused by her father…

H:   Well true.  But ‘here poor abused child, you will be an agent of death?’  I was down for some Dexter shit of killing bad guys, but for all we know the nuns are the bad guys!

A:   Good point! I am hoping that is coming.  Now that she can read and write.  And I am hopeful for her assassin nun friends.

H:   I am also optimistic for her friends.

And on we go.  Anyone else with an opinion on Grave Mercy so far?  Are you optimistic?  Into the killer nuns?

Click here for part 2 of our read-along!

Review: Bird After Bird

Bird After Bird, Leslea Tash

Amanda

Published April 6, 2014 by Fido Publishing

290 pages

Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads…

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Dear Birdy, Princess Birdzilla von MuffinStuff, Keeper of Dreams, Lover of our Fine Feathered Friends, queen of my life and light of my world, I hope this letter finds you well. If you are reading this then I am gone, and sweetheart, I am so sorry.

Chi-town professional Wren Riley is 25 and a rising star in the business world. She can eat a man alive and laugh about it to her girlfriends in seconds flat–and she does, on the regular. Behind the power suits and the flashing, flirty eyes, however, Wren has a secret, vulnerable side. Following a devastating loss and the discovery of a bird journal she and her father made together years before, Wren sets out to seek peace, closure, and something she just can’t name. Is that something tied to the little paper cranes she keeps finding along the way?

Laurence Byrd grew up a lanky Hoosier kid with the good/bad fortune of having the same name as the state’s perennial basketball legend. With a better affinity for dogs than sports or school, he ends up in the Army instead of the Chicago art school of his dreams. Still, his service to our country is something he can be proud of–until an argument with the girl who means the world to him results in a series of events that blows his life apart. With no one left to understand him, black sheep Laurie pours out his heart into letters and drawings he never intends to send–then he folds them into paper cranes that he leaves behind like messages in little winged bottles. He never dreams someone might be finding them.

God damn it, Sylvia, for a few moments I tricked myself into feeling really alive. I cut it off before anyone got hurt, but just for a moment or two, I really thought I might feel something again–something like trust. Something like love. Not the kind of love we had, but something new. Something like hope.

Spoiler alert: Wren and Laurie are going to meet. And when they do, their lives are never going to be the same.

Thank you Fido Publishing and NetGalley for this advanced read copy in exchange for an honest review.

We meet Wren Riley visiting her hometown a year after her father’s death.  She’s just read a letter her dad wrote her knowing he was dying, so she’s understandably a mess.  Wren stops to try to freshen up after the letter and meets Laurie for the first time.  I thought the meeting was cute and I liked the potential Wren and Laurie sparked in this brief time they spent together.

Sadly, that is mostly what I liked about this romance, the potential.  I liked Wren and Laurie individually, but it seemed to me that Tash put too much into Laurie as a character and not enough into Wren.  Why is Wren known as a maneater?  I’d have rather read those details then the details of the business deal she put together.  Or in the end I’d have like to see Wren’s choices fleshed out more rather than just a vague plan.  I loved the letters from her dad and her plan to redo their birding trip-where was the rest of that?

Then we have Laurie, poor Laurie.  He has PTSD, his fiance and dog died, his mom is abusive, he didn’t get into art school, he’s in therapy with a lesbian nun and his best friend is a redneck.  He sounds like a country song!  His letters to Sylvia, the dead fiance, are very sweet as are his origami cranes. I wish there had been more focus on one or two aspects of Laurie’s life rather than a laundry list of issues.

Some of the scenes with Laurie and Wren were very sweet and touching, but some of the dialog was off for me.  Laurie visits with the parents of his deceased fiance and finds her father proudly offering him lemonade made with a recipe from Pinterest.  I really can’t imagine any of the men I know bragging about Pinterest finds!  Some of the language was too old-fashioned-i.e. Wren calling out “Ladies and gents!”  Some just wrong for the character in my mind, i.e. Laurie talking to his dog “You blasted mutt!”  This was just awkward in the flow of my reading.

Parts of this book were really sweet and I did really like Laurie and Wren together in the end.  This was a cute read, but for me just took too long to get to where it needed to go.

2 stars

 

Finally Finished Game of Thrones

Title:A Game of Thrones

Amanda

Series:A Song of Ice and Fire #1

Author:George R.R. Martin

First published August 6th 1996 by Bantam

835 pages

Source: Chicago Public Library

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our final messages on the topic:

A: Fin

H: Oh dear, and full of hate?

A: Slightly intrigued at the end of course due to the damn dragons.  And slightly full of hate.

H: Keep your hate for George not me!!

I finally finished this monstrosity this weekend.  I am underwhelmed.  I was hoping for a huge payoff in the end that would make me want to keep reading or to understand why everyone goes on with love for this book.  I didn’t find it.

If you have read the back and forth between my sister and me (here and here) then you probably won’t be surprised that I agree largely with her review.

In the end of Book #1 I found myself mildly curious about what the future holds for the dragons and for the remaining Starks. I kind of want to want to keep reading just to see if Jamie Lannister gets what he deserves.  I really hope he does.

But it is disappointing to me that we can’t have Arya without Sansa or Catelyn without Lysa.  And I won’t even get into the rape again, but seriously George, enough already.

2 stars from me!

I trust my sister and seeing her give her last Game Thrones read 5 stars (#3 A Storm of Swords) makes me curious, but at this moment I just don’t care. There are way too many books I am excited to read, and way too many books with kick ass female protagonists for me to be rushing onto Book 2.

For example:

The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta.  You knew I had to push them right?

Graceling trilogy by Kristin Cashore

Fire & Thornes trilogy by Rae Carson

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

And based on reviews Holly and I are about to start His Fair Assassin, which I am really excited about.  These have been on great sale on amazon so pick it up and read along with us!  Have other and better fantasy suggestions for me?  Please share!

Review: Bad Teeth

Bad Teeth, Dustin Long

Amanda

Published March 25th 2014 by New Harvest

320 pages

Source: NetGalley

From Goodreads…

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Four interlocking narratives set in four American cities form a richly comic feast about love, academia, an elusive Tibetan novelist—and SOFA, a protest group so mysterious its very initials are open to interpretation.

Bad Teeth follows a cast of young literary men and women, each in a period of formation, in four very American cities—Brooklyn, Bloomington, Berkeley, and Bakersfield. A Pynchonesque treat, it’s four (or more) books in one: a bohemian satire, a campus comedy, a stoner’s reverie, and a quadruple love story. The plots coalesce around the search for a mysterious author, Jigme Drolma (“the Tibetan David Foster Wallace”), who might in fact be a plagiarist. But how does the self-styled arch-magician Nicholas Bendix figure into this? What will happen when SOFA unleashes the “Apocalypse”? And what’s to become of Lump, the cat?

I don’t even know where to begin with this review.  This book contains four parts as the story moves from Brooklyn, to Bloomington, back and forth in time to Berkley and ending in Bakersfield.  As we begin Judas is attempting to find a Tibetan author in the hopes of translating his next novel.  Maybe he’s a plagiarist, maybe he’s a brilliant author-who’s to tell?  The book meanders all over the country from there.  I enjoyed how the flow moved overall from perspective to perspective and time and place.  There were a few direct interjections into the book of the author speaking directly to the reader and those I found to be somewhat jarring.  It was enough for me to switch man to woman, drunk to sober, city to city.  I did not need this additional break in the flow-though the snarky comments about his own characters did make me laugh. Such as:

He went away feeling sorry for himself: seeing himself as Candide and wondering why he had even bothered moving here. But the reader shouldn’t feel too sorry for him, as he was ignoring all of the times in his life when he had been the one who had acted like a total dick to someone else. He tended to express his aggression more passively than Walter and his friends, of course, but at least they were open about who they were. Judas, on the other hand, pretended even to himself that he was sweet, romantic, and innocent when in fact he was just as competitive, lustful, and petty as any of them. Which is to say that he kind of deserved to have his finger broken.

The synopsis calls the parts “ a bohemian satire, a campus comedy, a stoner’s reverie, and a quadruple love story” and while I would say I found all of these but the love story in Bad Teeth, I think this could all be summed up as a bohemian satire.  The characters are full of self-importance and low on ambition.  I don’t think I really found any love, but there was plenty of lust.  I didn’t really connect with these characters, but I did enjoy them overall.  The “Apocalypse” planned by SOFA (who are they?!) is referred to throughout but does not happen within the book which was kind of disappointing to me.  I almost wish SOFA had been more fleshed, but I understand that would have also defeated Long’s purpose of the group.

I’m still not entirely sure what I read — and I am not satisfied I learned what became of Lump the cat!  The reviews I have seen have readers displeased with the ending, but I liked the end.  I felt I had enough resolution on the characters that I wanted to read about anyway.  I felt this was worth a read for the laughs for sure, and there were some really thoughtful passages that I enjoyed.  If you’re looking for something different to read, this is it.

Last thought-I love this cover! Just kind of cool!

3 stars.

Thank you NetGalley and New Harvest for this advanced copy for review.