Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale (Book Review)

January 16, 2012 Adult Fiction, Book Review 3 ★★★★

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale (Book Review)Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
Series: Austenland #2
Also in this series: Austenland
Published by Bloomsbury on January 31, 2012
Genres: Chick Lit, Contemporary, Contemporary Romance, Mystery, Romance, Suspense
Pages: 277
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher through Netgalley
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4 Stars
When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests' Austen fantasies.

Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn't sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside's mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And-perhaps of the most lasting importance-could the stirrings in Charlotte's heart be a sign of real-life love?

Midnight in Austenland is the companion novel to Hale’s Austenland (read my review), which I have been gushing about across the Internet for EVER. Lucky for you, the release date was pushed up a few days, so you can grab yourself a copy of it even sooner than I had originally said! Oh, and I love the cover. It’s so pretty!

Austenland is one of my favorite books in life, so I knew it would take a lot to supersede (or even meet) my really high expectations for its companion. I went into this knowing that it was a companion novel and not a sequel, so I would not be reunited with my beloved characters from book 1. No biggie, I just miss them. Midnight focuses less on the romance, and more on an underlying murder mystery, which was pretty exciting (although the romance is totally there). It was a cute book, but I’ll always love the first one better. Seriously, though, when is the second book ever better than the first one? I think it all boils down to the fact that the heroine in Austenland (Jane) was so much better and more likeable than the one in Midnight (Charlotte). I still liked Charlotte, I just didn’t identify with her as much as I did Jane (seeing as how I’m not a divorced mother of two, but I am a closet Mr. Darcy Lover with a desire to hide my overly used BBC copy of P&P like Jane did.). I don’t have a ton to say about this book, but I broke up my thoughts into several different sections:

1. I loved the mystery/murder/suspense aspects that were woven throughout the book. It was a bit spooky, and I know I’m a chicken, but… I had a hard time reading after the family went to bed! When I started the book, I really was not expecting this. The characters sat around in the parlor playing mindless little games, and this mystery was a game initially. Then it broke out into the truth, and really blindsided everyone, including me.

2. The “Inner Thoughts” drove me nuts. The heroine’s inner thoughts speak to her a lot in this book, and she has frequent conversations with them. I hated it. It was so cheesy and done in a rather unnecessary, bulky sort of way. It was like she had multiple personalities that talked to each other. Kinda weird.

3. I did enjoy the romance. I ALWAYS enjoy the romance, and this love story is pretty dang cute. Charlotte is divorced, and her ex-husband recently re-married. So she decided to get away. The “resort” hires men to be love interests for the female paying customers. Just like in the first novel, a true romance bloomed… but a less predicable one. Hales is great at writing love stories. I would get butterflies in my stomach, like I was the one who was in love! Haha.

4. I love the idea of a themed vacation. I want to go find a company that actually does this, and book my trip! It would be so much fun to fly off to England, wear regency clothing, and live in an old mansion with chivalrous men hanging on your every word. Both Austenland and Midnight in Austenland made me feel like a vacation like that was really possible!  

If you loved the first one, I think you’ll really enjoy this one too. I recommend it to lovers of Jane Austen, a little mystery, and a sweet love story. 

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Everneath by Brodi Ashton (Book Review)

January 14, 2012 Book Review, Young Adult 9 ★★★★

Everneath by Brodi Ashton (Book Review)Everneath by Brodi Ashton
Series: Everneath #1
Published by Balzer + Bray on January 24, 2012
Genres: Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Retelling, Romance
Pages: 370
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher through Netgalley
Amazon Add to Goodreads
4 Stars
Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now she’s returned—to her old life, her family, her boyfriend—before she’s banished back to the underworld . . . this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can’t find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack, the person most devastated by her disappearance—and the one person she loves more than anything. But there’s just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to take over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he’ll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

As Nikki’s time on the Surface draws to a close and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole’s queen.

When I saw the description of this story on Netgalley, followed by the buzz and excitement around the blogosphere, I knew I had to read it. Since I was very young, I’ve always had an intense curiosity for Greek mythology. Then, when I minored in art history in college and studied Greek art, I learned a lot more about the ancient myths from the art that illustrated them. This book is centered around the story of Persephone’s abduction by Hades, God of the Underworld. Persephone was beautiful, and sought after by many—namely Hades. One day when she was out picking flowers on the plain of Enna, Hades emerged from the ground and abducted her. Her mother, Demeter (the goddess of harvest), wandered the surface of the Earth searching for her lost daughter. When she found out what happened, she was livid (as any mother would be!). Her extreme sorrow caused her to withdraw, and the earth became infertile. Zeus knew that this could not go on forever. He sent his son Hermes down to the Underworld to get Hades to release Persephone. Hades reluctantly let her go, but gave her a pomegranate seed before she left. Once she ate it, she was bound to the Underworld forever and had to spend 1/3rd of the year there. Whenever she was with Hades, her mother would not let anything grow, thus the season of winter was born. Pretty cool story, huh? I swear, I love mythology!

In the book, the Everneath is explained as being the space between the world we live in and the Underworld, where the Everlivings have found the secret to eternal life. But they must feed off of the energy of a human every 100 years or they will die. Enter Nikki/Becks. Cole convinced her, in a moment of weakness, to go with him to the Everneath so he could feed off of her for 100 years (which is only 6 months time on the earth). When the Feed is over (which is when this book begins), Nikki is allowed to Return to Earth for 6 months before she is to be sucked into the Tunnels to serve as a battery to power Hell. Or… she can go back to the Everneath with Cole and become an Everliving, and have eternal life at the cost of the lives of human beings. She hates both of her choices. This book is all about Nikki’s quest to find a way to beat Mother Nature and stay with her family and friends.

I really enjoyed the story. I loved the unique subject matter, and how the author was able to tie in so many elements of the Greek myth, while still adding in unique aspects that made it her own. The story itself is actually pretty beautiful. It’s all about love, loss, and courage. The easy way out for Nikki would be to go back with Cole and have eternal life. She’d even have a shot at being the next Persephone and claiming the crown, becoming queen of the Underworld. That sounds a whole lot better than eternal suffering in the dark, dirty depths of Hell. She can’t fathom the idea of draining the life out of others to save herself, though, so she has chosen the Tunnels. Actually, she could have gone straight there and not return to see her family. It would have been far less painful for her to never see them, and the results of their grief while she was gone. She decides to go back to make amends and say goodbye the right way, before disappearing again. Every decision she makes in this book is for other people. I admire that about her.

Cole’s kind of a slimy character, but I always find myself rooting for the bad-boy (at least for part of the story). In the beginning he seems so wonderful (and I wanted Nikki to choose him), but once we learn what he did to her we quickly root for the sweet childhood-best-friend-turned-boyfriend character, Jack, instead. I loved Jack. He ached for Nikki the entire time she was gone, and upon her return he is very understanding and supportive. He gives her the space she needs to recover, and lets her come to him rather than pouncing on her and demanding answers. That a really mature way to handle a situation like this, especially from a high school boy. He was just a really good guy.

The writing was enthralling, although a few phrases were used too many times. Everything in the story was delayed for “a few moments” or “a long moment”. Like, a character would say something and the other character would respond “after a long moment”. Or two people would hug for “a long moment”. That’s really my only complaint, about the writing, though. I’ve always been the type to not like hearing or reading the same phrases. It’s a quirk of mine. I enjoyed Ashton’s descriptive passages, allowing me to picture the Tunnels, the Everneath, and especially different peoples’ emotions. I also loved that this book takes place in Utah! I live here! I go to the setting of this novel, Park City, all the time! I loved being able to picture the streets they walked down… the Sundance Film Festival. It was kind of a funny discovery of mine, because no book takes place in Utah, so when I saw “Park City” in the book, I immediately wondered where in the World there’s another one! But then I saw the Utah Jazz mentioned, the Film Festival, the Weber River… the Timpanogos Caves… and I knew this story took place right here. So fun! The characters were also great, with lots of dynamic traits. We’re told very specific things about each character, so that by the end of the story you understand their body language without needing the author to explain it. I loved that. It’s like I was watching a movie in my head as I read the book.

I can see this book having a very wide appeal. It’s not mushy gushy, so I think the guys would enjoy it (if they can handle reading a book with that cover, that is! Buy it on Kindle, boys.). It’s not juvenile, so I think it could appeal to the adult fiction lovers out there. Greek mythology enthusiasts will eat this one up. Fans of paranormal romance (YA or adult) will love it. It’s a bit of a mystery that you need to figure out, which is always a plus. Music plays a big role in it, which pretty much nobody can complain about. The book is attacked from so many different angles, that it’s very versatile. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would! I’m very intrigued by the cliffhanger ending, and can’t wait to see what the currently untitled next book has in store for us.

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My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by B. Wilhite (Book Review)

January 13, 2012 Book Review, Young Adult 2 ★★★★

My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by B. Wilhite (Book Review)My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by Becca Wilhite
Published by Shadow Mountain on March 3, 2010
Genres: Contemporary, Contemporary Romance, Romance
Pages: 181
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought it!
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4 Stars
Sarah Howard's first year at the university is everything and nothing she expected especially when a very cute boy named Ben in her Art History class starts to show interest in her.

Sarah feels like she's an average, normal, everyday girl. So, when Ben (to whom she secretly refers as Adonis because she thinks he could be a Greek god) begins to take interest in her, Sarah is in denial. For one thing, last year she was deeply crushed and humiliated by Jesse James a guy who she thought liked her.

She's determined not to get burned again. But in her heart of hearts, what she really wants is a Jane Austen kind of romance. Ridiculous, right? That kind of romance doesn t exist anymore . . . or does it? Sarah is smart and fun to be around and even pretty, despite her Medusa-like red curls. She even plays the guitar. (So does Ben!) Yes, Sarah is everything Ben has wanted. He's crazy for her, but Sarah is just not getting it. She's playing hard to get, and if she s not careful, she s going to lose a real hot gentleman -- her 21st-century Mr. Darcy.

So, this is kind of a mini book review! It’s a REALLY cute story. This is the kind of story that will instantly improve your mood and make you smile. I was actually laughing out loud and then reading parts of it to a co-worker. I never laugh out loud when I read, especially while I’m at work!

Sarah compares her life to a romance novel. I do that a lot too! I read a ton of romance books or books with romantic overtones, and always find myself looking for a novel romance in my own life. I identified with her a lot for this reason. And even though she reads a lot of these novels, she’s not very good at handling her own romances! I love her internal dialogue and her flip-out sessions over the latest conundrum. My only complaint is that she was SO clueless about how this guy felt about her. Her best friends were drilling it into her head that he liked her. He was moping right in front of her face when she called him a “good friend.” College freshman girls are not THAT clueless, especially if they are romance novel junkies. I just wanted to shake her! Almost the last half of the book was a total miscommunication, when all I really wanted was more cute romance and conversations between the two of them. I’ll admit, though, the miscommunication was pretty funny and kept me turning the pages to see what happened next.

My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions is a quick read that will only take you an hour or two to get through, but will leave you smiling. It’s definitely a book I needed in order to pull myself out of the dark supernatural/dystopian rut I was in. I absolutely love YA contemporary, and this one is one of my favorites!

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Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi (Book Review)

January 11, 2012 Book Review, Young Adult 10 ★★★★★

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi (Book Review)Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Series: Under the Never Sky #1
Also in this series: Through the Ever Night, Into the Still Blue
Published by HarperTEEN on January 3, 2012
Genres: Dystopia, Romance
Pages: 374
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher through Netgalley
Amazon Add to Goodreads
5 Stars
Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction.

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions.

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephew’s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love - one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY

I really loved this book! Ever since I read The Hunger Games, I’ve been devouring dystopian novels. I honestly never thought I’d find one I liked as much, but this one came pretty close. The story was extremely exciting and had me hooked within a few pages. I became quickly invested in the story and the characters, and fell off the face of the Internet until I finished!

Aria’s world is crazy. These Realms take her and her people, The Dwellers, anywhere in time and in space that they wish to visit–from medieval encounters with the knights of the roundtable, to mysterious forests, to the Paris Opera House. All they have to do is think, and they are transported there. It’s all marketed as being real, but so much better. They live in domed pods with white ceilings, and never see the sky. The outside world is filled with deadly diseases, savages, and cannibals. Nobody wants to go out there, but Aria (named for her lovely singing voice) is forced out there after being blamed for a crime she didn’t commit. When she runs across Perry, she’s in desperate need of help to survive and return home to find her mother who has become unreachable at her scientific research lab miles away. Perry also desperately needs her help, as his nephew has been abducted by her people. A very unlikely duo sets out on a treacherous journey in search of a way to beat the odds.

My favorite character is Perry. He’s very dynamic, with lots of layers that are slowly peeled off throughout the story. His back story has lots of interesting details, and I grew to find him completely captivating. His ability to sense what a person is feeling has made him extremely mature and sensitive. It has also caused him to care very deeply for people. Even though Aria is his enemy, he can’t block out her feelings of pain and sorrow over the possible loss of her mother. He tries so hard to stay away, but can’t help himself from trying to console and understand her. Aria sees him as a dirty savage, but softens as she realizes that he is just as capable of loving and losing someone as she is. As they begin to recognize that they’re both human and are both going through the same thing even though they come from different worlds, their hearts are softened towards one another and a special bond forms. Aria’s pretty strong, considering she was exiled from the only world she knew and thrown into a disease-ridden wasteland, ravaged by cannibals and deadly electric storms. She learns a lot about herself in this story, including where she came from, her powerful desire to survive, her ability to handle scary situations, the gift of her voice, and her desire to love. I liked her, but not as much I liked Perry and his best friend, Roar, who tags along mid-journey and becomes a character you grow to adore. Another character I was surprised to grow attached to was Cinder, an orphaned boy who’s a lot more special than he realizes.

The writing was mesmerizing. I was totally immersed in the vivid descriptions of the land, the Aether (which made me picture the magnificent skies of Vincent van Gogh even before the author mentioned Starry Night), the advanced, limitless technology, the Realms and their virtual worlds, and even the pungent smells of the cannibals (ick!). Perry’s inner struggle with feeling the feelings of others was beautifully written. The author explains his interpretations so well, that it’s like a window has been opened to his mind. I could feel and understand Aria’s fear when she was dropped in the Death Shop. It can be hard to write emotion, but Rossi did a wonderful job. I could feel the love as it grew between Perry and Aria. Nothing was forced or instant, just believable. I could feel Cinder’s inner confusion and Roar’s sense of mischief and humor. It was like I was there, along for the journey. I’m so sad the book is over! I can’t wait to rejoin my friends in book #2, with a pretty vague release date of 2013.

I would definitely recommend this to futuristic dystopian lovers who enjoy action and sweet, innocent romance. I’m so proud of this 2012 debut author! Her first book is amazing, and I know it will only get better from here!

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Bookish Finds: Bookishness Meets Visual Communications!

January 10, 2012 Bookish Finds 6

TTT

Bookish Finds is a feature here at That Artsy Reader Girl, where I highlight awesome bookish things I come across during my exciting life.

PEOPLE. You must watch this video! Ever wondered what books do for fun at night when the bookstore door is locked, and nobody is watching them? This happens. Check out the amazing stop motion video awesomeness, uploaded to YouTube by user: crazedadman.

You loved it, right? I absolutely love it when I discover that my two passions in life have collided: books and art/visual communication. :)

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Top Ten Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book

January 10, 2012 Top Ten Tuesday 16

TTT

This is a tricky one, because so many authors I love have their next book in the works already! I had to work really hard to think of authors and their upcoming books. If any of you know something I don’t about my following 10 picks, let me know so I can be excited!! I love hearing good bookish news!

Stephenie Meyer
know… I know… but seriously! She said she wanted to turn The Host into a trilogy (even gave us the next two titles), but we’ve heard nothing of any plans in years! Just because she’s been moved to the big screen, it doesn’t give her a license to not finish the story!

Lisa Mangum
She wrote a trilogy called The Hourglass Door that I loved more than the Twilight Saga. I LOVED IT. Her writing is amazing, and her characters are so strong. I wish she’d start something else.

Syrie James
I have so many wishes when it comes to Syrie’s books! I loved Nocturne. I want a sequel. And I loved Dracula My Love… I want more diaries/memoirs from people! Like Christine from Phantom of the Opera… I think a memoir/diary from her would be amazing! And I loved Forbidden, but a follow-up/sequel has not been announced. I need more stories!

Sara J. Henry
I loved Learning to Swim! This book is amazing, and a sequel could totally happen. Or just a new storyline completely. Great author, lesser known.

Lee Carroll
This is a husband/wife (Carol Goodman) team, and they wrote Black Swan Rising and The Watchtower. AMAZING. Their combination of his poetry and her mystery-writing skills. Oh man.

Stephanie Perkins
Yes, Isla is coming. I know! But we don’t know what’s happening after that! Stephanie Perkins must write more! She’s not allowed to stop until one of us dies.

Maggie Stiefvater
So… her stand-alone The Scorpio Races is out. What next?? I need more of her writing. It’s lovely, and boy can she tell a story! I don’t care what she does, but it has to be something.

Suzanne Collins
Ok, please just do something! You can’t quit with The Hunger Games! Suzanne introduced me to dystopia, and I will always love hers the best.

Becca Wilhite
Her ability to make me laugh in My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions was so refreshing. That book is definitely one of my favorites. It’s such a cute YA contemporary, and I want another just like it.

Alex Flinn
It’s been a while, and I haven’t heard of any new novels! I love her fairytale retellings.

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New Girl by Paige Harbison (Book Review)

January 8, 2012 Book Review, Young Adult 5 ★★★

New Girl by Paige Harbison (Book Review)New Girl by Paige Harbison
Published by Harlequin Teen on January 31, 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Retelling, Supernatural
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher through Netgalley
Amazon Add to Goodreads
3 Stars
Welcome to Manderley Academy.

I hadn't wanted to go, but my parents were so excited…. So here I am, the new girl at Manderley, a true fish out of water. But mine's not the name on everyone's lips. Oh, no.

It's Becca Normandy they can't stop talking about. Perfect, beautiful Becca. She went missing at the end of last year, leaving a spot open at Manderley—the spot that I got. And everyone acts like it's my fault that infallible, beloved Becca is gone and has been replaced by not perfect, completely fallible, unknown Me.

Then, there's the name on my lips—Max Holloway. Becca's ex. The one boy I should avoid, but can't. Thing is, it seems like he wants me, too. But the memory of Becca is always between us. And as much as I'm starting to like it at Manderley, I can't help but think she's out there, somewhere, watching me take her place.

Waiting to take it back.

Well… That was confusing! With this book, I kind of felt like I was just going through the motions. I wanted to read it, and I knew I should read it, but I wasn’t excited about it or craving it like I do when I’m reading a book I adore. I spent a lot of time going, “hmmm…”. This was definitely unique and totally unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

We have our unnamed (until the very end) heroine/narrator of the story. She’s not a very riveting character, probably because she is the nameless “new girl” living in the shadow of, and pretty much replacing, the girl who disappeared mysteriously the year before. I had to feel for her. I moved around a lot as a child, and I’ve been the new girl SO many times. It’s really hard to go to a brand new place, and at the end of high school? That’s pretty brutal. It’s even harder because Becca (mystery girl) had to disappear to even open a spot for “new girl” to attend the boarding school. Everyone’s got a major thing against her, and they don’t even know her yet. That’s got to be hard. At the same time, though, because I’ve been there I know that you’ve got to stick up for yourself to fit in. She didn’t. She spent a lot of time having people yell at her and accuse her of untrue things while she sat there, stunned, with her mouth gaping open. So… she kind of bugged me. Eventually she finds her footing and begins to stick up for herself. And I do admire her for sticking it out and not moving back home. I know I would want to, so I have to give her props there.

Every other chapter or so, Becca narrates and we have flashbacks of her time at the school before her disappearance. She was a snobby, cocky, manipulative, drunken slut! And… a total sociopath. I got really tired of reading about her against-the-rules late night beer pong/body shot parties at the boathouse, her two-timing two nice boys, her lies, and her ego. I really just hated her! She’s the kind of person that new girls of the world fear. Her friend and roommate, Dana (also “new girl’s” roommate”), was also totally psycho. She really creeped me out as I watched her grief over losing Becca totally consume her. She spent the entire book on a conquest to find Becca and ruin “new girl’s” life. And she was creepy. I got chills reading about her. And then there were all the other members of Becca’s posse, who also hated “new girl”. And then there were the two boys who had a thing for Becca… also having a thing for “new girl” but trying not to have a thing for her because it would be weird in light of Becca’s disappearance. Both guys were nothing special, and I had a hard time understand how they knew enough about her to like her so much. So… poor “new girl” does not have many positive pieces of her life.

Really, the whole story is all boathouse parties, people sneaking off to do the nasty, the occasional classroom environment, creepy encounters, and insane people being really mean to an innocent girl they don’t even know the name of. And the sad thing is… I can totally see this happening in real life. I think that’s why it disturbed me so much! A popular girl in a high school environment can TOTALLY take control of an entire student body like Becca did. She was so powerful that even being MIA, she still ruined the life of someone! That’s kind of scary if you think about it! (By the way, I had no idea this was a retelling of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier until I read another review. Now I’m intrigued… I need to go grab my copy of Rebecca and read it!) The pacing was a little too slow for me, especially at the end… although I did kind of like “new girl’s” introspection as she accessed her final thoughts and her time at Manderly.

I tend to be pretty critical, but in light of what I just said, this book had some positive points. I did not find it weird that we never knew “new girl’s” name. It did not feel like we were not allowed to know. It flowed naturally, and I think not knowing her name actually allowed me to identify with her more. It was easier to slip into her mind and feel what she was feeling. I was also pretty intrigued by what happened to Becca, and how she had such control over so many people. I read most of this book in one sitting, so even though I have my complaints, I was still interested enough to continue on well into the wee hours of the morning.

(Oh my. The light bulb just went on… Rebecca… Becca. Gosh. In my defense, it’s 3:00 AM. Don’t judge!)

I liked how Becca and “new girl” were linked. They both essentially told the exact same story, but things went very differently for the two of them. Becca always got what she wanted and “new girl” pretty much never did. The character development was sound. I know the personalities of the main characters very well. I don’t know their favorite book, TV show, or color. I don’t know where they are from, or what they plan to do with their lives, but I can guess what they’ll think or feel next. They contrasted well with each other, and I liked getting into their heads.

This book was more of an experience than a story. I can see it as a kind of social commentary. I felt the chill and the emotion. I felt really sorry for “new girl”. Actually, I ended up feeling really sorry for Becca as well. It really made me think a lot. Even now as I’m writing this review, I’m coming up with new things I pulled from the book. I just keep coming back to how eerily possible the entire story is. Clearly, an underlying moral message was written between the lines, but telling you my opinions on that might foil your own thoughts.

Have any of you read this? What did you think? Those of you who have read Rebecca, how closely does this story follow Rebecca’s storyline? No spoilers, please!

______________________________________________________________________________

**After a lovely book chat with Magan of Rather be Reading and Alexa of Alexa Loves Books, we collectively decided we are all even more confused by this book than we thought! Some of our conversation highlights include:

Alexa:  I thought the alternating points of view worked out well. Because we got New Girl’s POV and then a bit of a flashback to Becca. I had to get used to it though.
Jana:  I enjoyed it. I think either story would have been boring on its own. So, telling them at the same time was a nice change of pace.
Magan:  Yeah, I liked the alternating POVs, too. It was hard for me to keep up with the timing sometimes because of the character overlaps. Once I got used to it, all was good.
Magan: I felt like there were pages where I was supposed to read into something more, but didn’t and then something supposedly happened between them and I felt lost.
Jana:  Magan, I agree. I felt like I wasn’t thinking hard enough as I read.
Alexa: I always felt like I was missing something too. Like I was supposed to know certain things already.
Jana:  I thought it was the new girl, not Becca… OH MAN. My brain hurts. Haha.
Magan:  Mine too. This is rough.
Alexa:  It’s actually an interesting book to talk about because we can all figure it out together.Magan:  I think I would have swallowed my pride and begged for a return ticket home. I couldn’t have made it through all of that.
Jana:  OH YES. I would have been gone immediately.
Alexa:  Magan – I would have caved the instant they started comparing me to her.
Jana: Haha. I think “creepy” is our most frequently used word.
Magan:  Yeah, I had a stack of not-so-fluffy or romantic books to read after NG and I just wanted something super girly to take my mind off the haunted feeling after I finished NG.
Jana:  Same here. I did feel haunted. Kind of disturbed. It still gets to me even now.
Alexa:  Me too.
Magan:  Yep. Ditto.
Jana: I think we should all read Rebecca and then see if this makes sense. Haha.
Magan:  Yeah, I think you’re right, Jana.
Alexa:  We should! Haha, it can be our next project.
Magan:  Really there was just so much crazy here.
Jana:  Yes. And crazy = makes no sense, hence the reason we are confused.
Magan:  Haha, yep!
Alexa:  YES
Magan:  So, what did you guys rate this on GR? I gave it three stars.
Jana:  I gave it 3 stars.
Alexa:  me too! hahahaha
Magan:  It definitely wasn’t a dislike kind of book, but almost like I wanted more. More answers. More loose ends tied up.
Jana:  Exactly.

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Halo by Alexandra Adornetto (Book Review)

January 4, 2012 Book Review, Young Adult 4 ½

Halo by Alexandra Adornetto (Book Review)Halo by Alexandra Adornetto
Series: Halo #1
Published by Feiwel and Friends on August 31, 2010
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Paranormal Romance
Pages: 484
Format: Hardcover
Source: Birthday present
Amazon Add to Goodreads
0.5 Stars
An angel is sent to Earth on a mission.

But falling in love is not part of the plan.

Three angels – Gabriel, the warrior; Ivy, the healer; and Bethany, the youngest and most human – are sent by Heaven to bring good to a world falling under the influence of darkness. They work hard to conceal their luminous glow, superhuman powers, and, most dangerous of all, their wings, all the while avoiding all human attachments.

Then Bethany meets Xavier Woods, and neither of them is able to resist the attraction between them. Gabriel and Ivy do everything in their power to intervene, but the bond between Xavier and Bethany seems too strong.

The angel’s mission is urgent, and dark forces are threatening. Will love ruin Bethany or save her?

I was expecting these amazingly perfect angels coming down from Heaven to save a deteriorating world. I thought it would be full of action, excitement, forbidden love, and suspense. Was it? Not really. The story didn’t even really pick up until about page 370. This is a 500-page book. Let me list off some of my main complaints that made this book so hard to finish.  I must warn you, this might be the harshest of all my reviews. I feel really bad about it… but I just can’t go without saying this!

1. The writing. Oh dear. Talk about purple prose. There was more flowery writing in this book than actual dialogue! And it did nothing for the plot. Things are described multiple ways and then compared to something else countless numbers of times: “That was the effect he had on me–an explosion of happiness in my chest, scattering like little beads and making my whole body shiver and tingle.” Or… “Xavier’s eyes are turquoise and almond shaped, like twin pools of clear blue ocean.” Every time Xavier’s eyes were mentioned, they were turquoise. The author could come up with nothing else to describe them. Yes, we get it. And his hair was always nutmeg. ALWAYS. Hey, did you know Xavier’s hair color is nutmeg? Oh, by the way… Xavier has nutmeg hair. And he’s hot. Really hot. If you forget, that’s ok. You’ll be told again really soon. At least 3-4 times a chapter, in fact.

Pages were devoted to descriptions of interiors, or places, or outfits, or feelings, or people that didn’t contribute to the plot at all. I’d read some long, overdone description of some nameless character, and then they are never mentioned again! So why should I care about them? I was getting so tired of it. An Amazon reviewer said it best when she mentioned that the plot takes a back seat to the overwritten details and descriptions. Did I mention Xavier’s really hot?

2. Bethany’s “brother” is Gabriel, the archangel. Her sister is a seraph.  Why are such powerful angels sent to a sleepy little town called Venus Cove, where nothing bad is happening? I would think they’d be sent to a war zone or a place with extreme poverty, but no. They get sent to a place where more volunteers are needed to serve at the local soup kitchens. There was no possible way to write in any exciting encounters against evil.

Bethany would offend all actual angels, in my opinion. She’s petty, childish, shallow, and complains about her job in Heaven. Gabriel and Ivy walk around acting very superior and stuck-up—much different than I would expect messengers from God to act. AND… these angels are so dumb! The villain of the story is painfully described to a tee and fits perfectly into the category of “evil”. Every reader in the world knew he was bad before the angels did. A 3-year-old would get it.  It wasn’t until he started doing awful things that the light bulb turned on and they were like, “Oh, I think he’s bad.” Duh! Luckily this is not what real angels are like, because we’d be in trouble if they were.

3. Don’t fall into the plot holes. In the book, angels are described as having no family and not being able to understand human emotions. So why are Gabriel and Ivy referred to as Bethany’s siblings? Gabriel says love is forbidden. He also says that angels don’t feel the way humans do. So… the fact that Bethany is so in love with Xavier makes me question the entire premise of the book.

4. The love between Xavier and Bethany is more obsessive than that of Edward and Bella. I know, right? Is that even possible? Must be because he’s so hot. I did mention that, right? Bethany is willing to turn her back on Heaven for him! That seems really unhealthy, considering it took only a week or two for this crazy, never-ending, undying love to develop. There was no build-up to the love story. They saw each other, he ran into her on purpose a few times, he tells her he likes her, and BOOM. A full-on love explosion happens, and they both go nuts. I didn’t believe it at all, and it really sounded like some little girl’s daydream. And oh my, protectiveness! Xavier actually force-fed a protein bar (airplane noises and all) to Bethany when she wasn’t hungry when he thought she should be.  He compared her to glass and would not let her carry her books. I wanted to gag.

5. Halo is a Twilight knock-off. Vampires have been changed to angels, and the girl is now the supernatural one instead of the guy. The two meet in high school, she fights her feelings for him because the two of them shouldn’t be, then the whirlwind romance happens, she tells him her dark secret after hardly knowing him at all, he is taken in to her family as a trusted ally, the angels are the hottest breed of life known to man, etc. Instead of sparkling, the angels glow. Xavier saves Bethany from a gang of guys who want sex from her. Bethany even takes the train in to the city (Port Circe) to search for prom dresses, but found nothing she liked. Can we just call it Port Angeles, call Bethany Bella, and move on?

6. It was SO preachy! A religion can be written without being preached. This book is laced with mini-sermons and lectures, and should have been marketed as a Christian romance. Readers deserve to know if they’re about to be preached to for the entire book. I have nothing against Christian fiction; I just don’t read it (not because I’m not a Christian, but because there are so many different variations of Christianity and I frequently find things that rub me the wrong way, or teachings I don’t believe in). I understand this is fiction, but I was downright offended by some of the things she said about angels, God, etc. I have a hard time with authors taking liberties with spiritual/gospel-related subject matter. Commercialized Christianity. Not digging it. I hear the Devil himself is referred to as “Big Daddy” in book 2? Oh my. Gag me with a spoon.

7.  The story moved SO slowly. While reading this, I was in the process of painting my living room. I would choose to paint over taking a break to read. Watching paint dry was more entertaining. Now THAT’S saying something.

I guess I should have expected nothing more than I got as soon as I read a quote by Beyoncé on the introductory page of the book. Yes… a lyric from the song, you guessed it! HALO (Baby I can see your halo/you know you’re my saving grace.). How creative. To make matters worse, it was paired with a quote from “Romeo and Juliet.” Sorry, but Beyoncé and Shakespeare don’t go together. I’m having a hard time understanding why this book got a deal. I enjoyed the idea, but not the execution. And I feel bad for the graphic designer who had to waste their beautiful design on such a lackluster book. This is the first book in a trilogy, and I have no interest in reading the other two.

And on that note… Xavier. He’s, like, really hot.

So, have any of you read Halo? Did you like it, or did you feel the same way I did?

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Book Review)

January 3, 2012 Book Review, Young Adult 51 ★★★★★

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Book Review)Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #1
Also in this series: Scarlet, Cress, Fairest, Winter, Stars Above
Published by Feiwel and Friends on January 3, 2012
Genres: Dystopia, Retelling, Science Fiction, Steampunk
Pages: 387
Source: From the publisher through Netgalley
Amazon Add to Goodreads
5 Stars
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Reviews of Cinder are storming the blogosphere right now, in anticipation of today’s release date! They are everywhere! I’m jumping on the “Cinder-lovers” bandwagon and seriously have no idea how to approach this review. Haha! My thoughts feel so unorganized and are conflicting with one another. What can I say that will make my review different? So many people have already covered everything. Oh well! Here goes!

Last year with my first grade class (I taught reading and phonics to a 1st grade class while their other teacher did small group tutoring), we had a fairy tale week and I spent the week reading them different Cinderella picture books. We had a zombie Cinderella, and an Indian Cinderella… and a very modern spin on the story. The kids LOVED it. At the end of the week, we wrote and illustrated our very own Cinderella story called, “Mrs. Bellarella and Miss Janarella.” (I’m Miss Jana, obviously. Mrs. Bell was their other teacher.) The story was absolutely hilarious. Needless to say, I’m pretty familiar with Cinderella, and I was pretty excited to hear about a more “grown-up” retelling. I thought that cyborgs and androids were pushing the envelope a little too far, though. I was SO wrong! I loved how Cinder tied in all the elements of the original story, but put a modern sci-fi spin on it! And even though we’re talking about a dystopian society with cyborgs and aliens, Cinder was still a completely magical fairy tale. :)

I loved Marissa Meyer’s writing style, and very creative imagination! The world she created left me with no questions. The detailed descriptions of the scenery, futuristic mechanics and medicine, people, etc. were captivating to read. I got totally lost. I loved Cinder’s character. She’s a tom-boy mechanic, and has grease stains all over her ALL the time. Her idea of getting dressed up is putting on a shiny new foot, not a glass slipper. She’s spunky, and realistic. She sticks up for herself when it counts, and is not afraid of anything! I pretty much adore the fact that she’s always got her head on straight. Perhaps her internal programming is what keeps her grounded, but she just gets it. She knows what needs to be done, no matter what, and she does it! She lets nothing cloud her judgement. You go, girl! Her quirky android friend/assistant, Iko, is hilarious. She’s a machine, but there’s some kind of glitch in her that makes her more human than most androids. I was enthralled by their story, and really loved reading about their latest projects and schemes.

Prince/Emperor Kai is a little… eh right now. Don’t get me wrong, I like him. It’s just that as the male lead in the story, we don’t know much about him. His conversations with Cinder are mostly small talk, with a few intimate details shared every once in a while. Perhaps he’ll become more rounded in the next three books. I do appreciate that there’s no insta-love. They both know that there’s a connection, but they’re not going crazy about it. Meyer is giving them time to develop their relationship, which we will hopefully be able to see in the next books.

My favorite parts were the hidden Cinderella details, and the awesome futuristic settings and technology. Oh, and the ending is pretty breathtaking as well. Twists and turns keep you guessing until the last sentence. I would have enjoyed seeing a little more character development in Kai. Right now, I’m not seeing what Cinder sees in him. Also, the story takes place in New Beijing, but I never would have known if it had not been continually mentioned. I would have liked more Chinese cultural elements, even futuristic ones. Finally, the ending was a bit too rushed for me, and then I fell off a cliff all of a sudden. I’m hanging by a thread here, wondering how the ending snuck up on me so fast!

Regardless of my tidbits of constructive criticism, I can’t deny how much I loved the story. Sometimes we have to make allowances and just enjoy the ride, forgetting what we would have preferred. Plus, I’m trying to remember that there’s 3 more books in the series! Marissa has plenty of time to turn Emperor Kai into Prince Charming. She has plenty of time to explain more details to me. I kind of like the mystery I’ve been left with. If we were given too much with this book, the others would end up being fluff. I’m sad I have to wait so long for Scarlet (Book #2). I guess that’s the downside of getting ARCs: more time to wait for the next one! Haha!

Oh, and for your pure reading enjoyment, here is the story my class and I wrote together. We illustrated it and had it published, so the kids could order hardback copies if they wanted to. Everyone wanted a special part in the story, so please excuse the MANY names. :) I ran into one of my kids at the grocery store a few weeks ago, and his mom told me that this is his bedtime story every night. Presh! I melted a bit.

Mrs. Bellerella and Miss Janarella

“Once upon a time there was a girl named Mrs. Bellerella, and she really wanted to go to the ball. She had two evil stepsisters named Emily and Lesly and an evil stepmother named Tamaraleen. They were very mean to her. All day long she cleaned up their messes and cooked for them. She spent her free time looking out the windows at the Castle.

Her mouse friends named Alyssa, Morgan, Pamela, Ninel, Paul, Joel, Nathan, Andrew H., and Andrew V. locked up her evil family members so that Mrs. Bellerella could escape to visit her fairy Godmother named Taylee. The fairy Godmother said, “Give this flower to the one you love, and he will love you too! Here’s an extra one, just incase you lose it or want to give one to a friend.” Mrs. Bellerella said, “Thank you! Can you help me make a dress?” The fairy Godmother, Taylee, said, “Yes. We’ll make it out of red and blue roses. Let’s get started!” Her dress was huge and puffy. It was covered with red and blue roses. She had gloves and make-up on and she looked so pretty.

Mrs. Bellerella called her sister, Miss Janarella to go to the castle ball with her. A limo came to pick up Mrs. Bellerella, and then they got Miss Janarella. Miss Janarella’s dress was yellow with yellow roses all over it. On the way to the ball, the limo ran out of gas!! The knights named Ayden, Hunter, Oli, and Gates came and took Mrs. Bellerella and Miss Janarella to the castle on their horses. They got to the ball and danced with princes and lots of boys. They danced with their favorite princes. Mrs. Bellerella danced with Prince Matthew and Miss Janarella danced with Prince Alexander. The princes liked Mrs. Bellerella and Miss Janarella so much that they wanted them to meet their parents, King Leo and Queen Hayley.

Mrs. Bellerella’s evil family broke out of their home and went to the castle to break the spell and steal the magic flowers. Meanwhile, the knights were back at the castle practicing their sword fighting and had to stop and rush to capture the evil stepmother Tamaraleen and the evil stepsisters Lesly and Emily. They saved Mrs. Bellerella and Miss Janarella! The magic flowers were destroyed, but the princes loved Mrs. Bellerella and Miss Janarella anyway. They got married in the front of the castle. They kissed. And they lived happily ever after. Oh, and by the way, they each had two kids who were cousins and liked to play together. The End!!”

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2012 Happy New Year Giveaway! (International)

January 1, 2012 Giveaway 31

Hello one and all! Happy new year! To celebrate a new year (that I know will be better than 2011), and the fact that I reached my Goodreads reading goal I am giving away a brand new copy of one of my favorite 2011 reads (also, the first book I read in January 2011), Nocturne by Syrie James. I read and reviewed this book before I started That Artsy Reader Girl, so check out my review on Goodreads.

When Nicole Walker runs off the road in a blinding snowstorm after attending a friend’s wedding at a Colorado ski resort, she wakes up to find herself stranded at the remote mountain house of a handsome, enigmatic stranger. She lives and works in a fast-paced, high tech world; he is cultured and modern yet lives a quiet life in self-imposed exile. They are both powerfully attracted to each other, but there are things about him that mystify her and fill her with apprehension—and Nicole can’t shake the feeling that he really doesn’t want her there.

She soon discovers that he’s a famous, reclusive author, renowned for his highly detailed and authentic historical fiction, and fiercely protective of his privacy. No wonder he was so reluctant to take her in, Nicole thinks. But he hides a far darker secret. As the sexual tension between them builds, the clues mount up.

When Nicole realizes that her host is an ages-old vampire who thirsts for her blood, there’s nowhere for her to run but the blizzard raging outside, and he’s the only one who can save her life. By now there is no turning back; they have both fallen deeply in love, and share several passionate days together while waiting out the storm—a deep, meaningful, and dangerously seductive experience that will change them both forever.

This giveaway is International (just make sure The Book Depository ships to you)! Yay! If a USA resident wins, the package will be coming from me. If the winner lives outside of the USA, it will come from The Book Depository.

Congratulations, Lecea L.!
Your hardback copy of Nocturne will be sent out ASAP! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. :)

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