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Recommendation: The Princess, The Scoundrel, And The Farm Boy

The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy

by Alexandra Bracken

If your son is anything like mine, it is almost impossible to get him to read outside of his allotted “required reading” for school. The summer has always been a struggle for me as a Mom — trying to maintain some sense of a schedule and mental stimulation while also trying to allow my children to rest. Their academic calendar years always seem so jam-packed and I sometimes wonder if on some instinctual and base physical level, they need the months of summer to recuperate and catch up on all of the sleep and rest they have lost.  Between the rigorous training that attaining his black belt involved, a basketball season with late games and extra practices, pushing through his first year of middle school like a champ — it all left my 11-year old son feeling mentally drained, but I pushed on, determined to get some reading in this summer.

My son did not learn to read until the summer right before he entered the 4th grade. He was identified as having a learning disability at age 4 and was formally diagnosed with a “short term memory” disability when he was in the 3rd grade. To give you an idea as to how his disability works: just imagine reading a paragraph of text. Then imagine moving to the next paragraph, but having completely forgotten the first paragraph you read. Because of this disability, we have had to find countless ways to work around things. In most areas we were successful early on — memorization was our friend. Math was always easy because while “write” and “right” sound exactly the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings, 1 + 1 is ALWAYS 2. Our final struggle and most arduous battle was reading. How can you teach a child to read when the task is so daunting and to be honest, at times so humiliating that they feel absolutely defeated? Well, I’ll tell you. You find a story that they know. A story that they know inside and out and all they have to do is put words on paper to the story in their head — this was our recipe for success.

Star Wars: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy is essentially the retelling of the movie Star Wars: A New Hope (or Episode 4, if you’d prefer). Lovers of the iconic series set in a fantasy land of space and time, with rebels and empires and one memorable villain, know the story inside and out. A princess leading a rebellion against an evil empire hooks up with a handsome rogue who provides her with a sturdy ship. A once immature and naive boy begins to learn the secrets of The Force from an old and wizened Jedi Master in disguise. But the novel, the first of three, digs deeper into the lives of the three central characters. Each section is focused on one of the players, allowing members of this particular fandom to delve right into the very heart and core of what makes these people tick. While there isn’t a ton of extra or new information, the story is told in a fluid manner (something not easy to accomplish, given the focus of each character) and is fresh and crisp. Author Alexandra Bracken has a way of retelling a story that most people already know in a way that makes it appear new, and the writing style is extremely friendly to readers of all ages — including those 10-year old boys who lament over not ever being able to find something worthwhile to read.

I give this book a 5 out of 5 star rating, and I recommend it to any lover of Star Wars, of fantasy, and of lands far, far away. I recommend it to any boy or girl who wants to lose themselves in richly drawn characters that they can look up to — a princess who is smart and capable and no one’s snowflake, a scoundrel who is more than he appears and carries with him a sly sense of humor and a heart of gold, and a farm boy who will find within himself something that brews strong and ancient and a lineage to write home about.

Readers will enjoy the other two tales in this three-part series:

On Amazon.com, readers can find all three of the books in a bundle for under $35 — which is a steal. They are hardcover and gorgeous. I love the clever designs and colors. Disney and Lucasfilm Press did an amazing job putting these together. Not only are all three incredibly well written, but the illustrations are unique and flawless.

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Review: The Teddy Bear Chronicles (Saved in Paris)

The Teddy Bear Chronicles (Saved in Paris)

by Donnalyn Vojta

When Kelly met the roughly handsome and intensely charming Mark, she was impressed with more than just his fancy education and the flashy job that came with a substantial paycheck. Mark Flannery was doting, seemed genuinely interested in her, and over the first few weeks of their whirlwind romance, thoroughly embedded himself into the very seams of her life. Coming from a broken home that involved an emotionally and verbally abusive mother and a sister who abandoned her, Kelly wasn’t mentally aware of how much she was searching for something to fill the holes of her life. She yearned for someone to care for her in every aspect, for someone to truly nurture her spirit and to encourage her along her goals and dreams.

Luckily for Kelly, Mark slipped right into that role like a good pair of shoes. But soon enough, for Kelly, the dream of a life with a gorgeous and successful man turned into a nightmare.

It began with an obsession over her email correspondence. Endless questions about her cell phone texts. Interrogations over who she was friends with and what they discussed. Queries over where she was going. And then it slowly transitioned into Mark controlling what she was going to do with her life, insisting that he would pay for the entirety of her education as long as she chose a profession that was “especially befitting a woman.” He told her who she could be friends with and how often she could speak to those friends each month. He demanded that she be home at a certain time each evening to prepare him a handmade meal, not even lessening his grip on her life when her father passed away. Feeling trapped but uneasy at the prospect of going it alone , Kelly eventually put her aspirations of becoming an entrepreneur and business owner to the side, accepting Mark’s offer of financial stability while desperately trying  to put the trepidation growing within about his controlling ways and instead, focusing on being  thankful for the good things that he was bringing into her life and their relationship.

But as time passed things only got worse. Mark infiltrated her life like a seasoned war general, directing and managing her every waking minute. As Mark’s controlling ways eventually began to wear heavily on her, Kelly began to try and fight back — but her rebukes were met with his fists. Slaps, shoves, and swift kicks became the repercussion any time Kelly dared to contradict Mark or speak her own mind. Feeling angry and sometimes hopeless, Kelly decided to formulate a secret plan of escape — but she knew she had to be incredibly careful and strategic. She’d known for a while that Mark had a professional private investigator tailing her every move and so every step she took towards freedom had to be precise and perfect. She also didn’t put it past Mark to take his physical abuse to the next level. . . Kelly had her suspicions about a previous relationship Mark had where the girlfriend ended up rotting in a ditch with her throat slashed.

Little did Kelly know, she had an ally watching over her the whole time, someone who was monitoring her every move just like Mark but with good intentions instead of deviance. There was someone in Kelly’s life who felt joy when Kelly succeeded and felt pain when Kelly was hurt. Like a ray of sunshine peeking through a stubborn cloud, there was a friend observing Kelly right underneath her nose.  A certain little teddy bear had been a constant companion to her since she met Mark, and unbeknownst to Kelly, the cute stuffed toy knew everything there was to know about her boyfriend — including the fact that he’s was only controlling, but also, that he was indeed a murderer.

Stowed lovingly in a carry-on bag, the toy accompanies Kelly as she spirits away in the dead of night all the way to Paris. Her teddy bear gives a honest account of Kelly’s palpable fear, intense relief, and also of bizarre coincidence and exalted reunion — all  in a fresh and true voice. As a friend who can only be seen and not heard, Kelly’s teddy bear spins a story for readers from a one-sided perspective, allowing readers to come to their own conclusions as to why Kelly is doing what she is doing and what shadows lurk in the background. Readers will also be privy to two other character’s corresponding story lines, also told from the viewpoint of their teddy bear companions. All of the characters reach their climax in the enigmatic and magical City of Lights, and all three bears will find an individual end to their exhilarating adventures.

The Teddy Bear Chronicles is the debut novel by Chicago based author Donnalyn Vojta. A former litigation attorney, the author is now fully immersed in the world of writing by way of a station as an academic tutor and professional writer. The concept of a thriller being written entirely by the perspective of a group of teddy bears is singularly unique, and while the mystery and pace of the story ramps up, readers will be thankful for the comedic relief provided by the furry companions of each character.

Giving the novel 3 out of 5 stars, I have to commend the author on being so bold in her somewhat peculiar and unexpected choice of perspective. I have read 1000’s of books and not one has been told by way of a teddy bear; especially not a novel that is certainly for adults due to the subject matters of abuse, mental illness, and murder. I was unclear as to several of the character’s intentions at many parts of the novel, and I also felt that the characters at times did not behave or react in a realistic manner. The dialogue between characters at times appeared forced, especially given the nature of the relationship. I really enjoyed the character of Richard and his progression in the romance department; he was written in such a way as to be found endearing and sweet.

Readers interested can find this book at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.

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Recommendation: Say No To Joe?

Say No To Joe?

by Lori Foster

” ‘Yes, Joe.” Then she smiled. “Saying yes to Joe Winston — it has to be one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.’ “

About ten years ago I was living in a small town that was very outside of my norm. My husband at the time was given a wonderful job opportunity out of state and our family needed a change in a big way, so we made the move from big-city-living in Dallas to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Now, as a Texas girl through and through, I never EVER thought I’d come to live in Oklahoma. I enjoyed a Starbucks on every corner and a mall in all four sectors of my perimeter. Broken Arrow was sleepy and slow, and I had a hard time adjusting.

There wasn’t much to do in the part of Oklahoma that we moved to. I spent the first year feeling very much like an outsider. I had a different accent, I liked different sports teams, I didn’t go to church. I made a few friends along the way (hey there, Kristy!) and funnily enough, they were transplants too. . . so maybe that’s why we meshed so easily. The closest Barnes and Noble was half an hour away and there were none of my (much beloved) Half Price Books stores so I became a regular (and I mean regular) patron of the local library, which was surprisingly huge and stocked full of every book imaginable.

Both of my children were in school by that point, and for the first time in 7 years I actually had. . . time. I began devouring books as if there was no tomorrow, drowning myself in vampires creeping through sticky Southern nights and handsome cowboys saving damsels in distress before riding off to rob banks with their faces hidden behind dusty handkerchiefs. For the first time in my life, I picked up a romance novel. The Harlequins were out of fashion and paperback contemporary romance was all the rage, with Lori Foster leading the pack of numerous female authors who churned out spicy stories of hunky heroes and spunky heroines.

Say No To Joe? was one of those such books, and I grabbed a dog-eared copy off of a book carousel along with three or four others like it, knowing it would barely last me the week. I liked nothing better than sitting on my back porch with a glass of wine, a few chunks of cheese, some artisan crackers, and the symphony of cicadas and playing children as my companions.

I’d met Joe Winston before, in an anthology called Wildy Winston which showcased the Winston brothers in a series of four stories (all contemporary romance). Joe was a cousin of the wild four and made a cameo appearance. Lori Foster decided to give Joe his own story and The Visitation Series was born, becoming a collection of five books all set in and around the same town:

Joe Winston has asked Luna Clark out more than once, which isn’t something he makes a habit of. Usually all he has to do is flash his seductive eyes and bulging muscles at a woman and she’s ready to go wherever, whenever he chooses to take her. And if the lady in question doesn’t, well — he just moves on to bigger and better things.  But Luna — she’s different, and he hasn’t been able to get her out of his head since a kiss they shared at a relative’s wedding. She’s a little eccentric and wacky, but she’s also smart and feisty, not to mention curvaceous in all the right spots and sexy as hell. She doesn’t take his nonsense which is perhaps even more attractive than the body he so readily admires whenever in her presence. But every time he’s asked her out, she’s handed him a quick and resounding “no,” so he’s given up and has relegated her to a woman of his fantasies instead.

” Under normal circumstances, Joe kept a clear head at all times. But with Luna, nothing felt normal. In so many ways, she shot his perspective all to hell. On that particular day, she’d turned to set the meal on the checkout counter, presenting Joe with a perfect view of that delectable rear end, and without even thinking about it or the possible consequences, he’d . . . touched her. 

That is, if you could call a pat, followed by a full-palm squeeze, a mere touch. Soft, warm, resilient . . . He’d gotten one handful and immediately wanted more. A whole lot more. 

But Luna had gone rigid, and from one second to the next Joe found himself wearing his lunch instead of getting to eat it. She’d stormed out without given him a chance to apologize or explain or coax her into a better mood. 

It hadn’t been easy, but Luna had eventually forgiven him. After all, the chemistry was there, as undeniable to her as it was to him. At Zane’s wedding, Joe had finally managed to ease her into one long, wet, blistering kiss that had haunted his nights for three months now. 

After that, he’d tried repeatedly to get her alone. Hell, he’d even tried being on his best behavior. Not that his best was all that good. At thirty-six, he’d had a lot of time doing just as he damn well pleased. And the jobs he’d had — bodyguard, bounty hunter, private dick — had only made him meaner, a little nastier. It came with the territory and in some cases was outright necessary. 

But for Luna, he had tried and had been damn uncomfortable in the process. 

And still she’d turned him down. “

When Luna’s cousin dies and leaves behind two children, she feels responsible. While she didn’t know her cousin all that well, she does know that Chloe left behind a teenager and a younger son, both of whom are attempting to go at it on their own under the careless and unfriendly supervision of an aunt. The woman currently in charge of the two wants nothing to do with the responsibility of raising two unruly children and is ready to move on with her life, leaving the kids in a lurch. No one knows who fathered the kids and as a result, they are due to become wards of the state if Luna doesn’t step in. Not able to hold that thought on her conscious for long, Luna decides to step up to the plate. She can find work anywhere and is up for the challenge, with one problem — it seems someone has been causing trouble for the children in the small town they live in, blaming them for petty crimes and the like, and it almost resembles a plot to drive the kids out of town. But who would bother messing with a couple of orphaned children? Luna knows she needs backup and she knows who she can turn to — Joe Winston.

A bounty hunter among other things, Joe has the intimidating build and menacing stare required to act as Luna’s bodyguard and keep an eye on things while she gets settled, and that’s exactly what she’s looking for. Making it clear that nothing but a professional job is on her mind, Luna persuades Joe to accompany her to Visitation, the town out in the middle of nowhere where she is going to set up shop with kids her cousin left behind. Although he is a little taken aback at her can-do-attitude and willingness to step in and become a guardian to two kids she doesn’t know, Joe is all in. Little does Luna know, it actually took zero persuading on her part to get Joe to agree. She’s the one who got away as far as he’s concerned, and he is more than willing to re-open the door she previously slammed in his face and see where it takes them.

” Imagining how young kids must feel without any stability, Joe scowled. But to have Luna take over . . .

As a bona fide free spirit, Luna was too exotic, too bold and far too sexy to be a mother. Not only that, but she worked as a psychic, or rather a psychic’s assistant. There were plenty of times when Joe thought she had legitimate woo-woo ability. On several occasions, she’d seemed to know more than she should, especially about him. 

As if she’d read his mind, Luna flipped her hair and forged on. ‘I’ve already passed the background check, but I’ll have to do the home study once I’m settled there. I’m not overly concerned because while I might not be the ideal mother –‘

‘You said it, not me.’

With no interruption to her explanations, Luna pinched him on the arm, making him lurch. ‘–CPS is way overworked, and anytime kids can be placed with a relative, they tend to bend over backward to see it happen, or so the social worker told me. Even though I’m a distant, unknown relative, I’m still preferable.’

‘Yeah? Preferable to what?’

A golden fire lit her eyes, alerting Joe to the possibility if another pinch. He caught her hand to deter her. ” 

As the duo willingly fall into pseudo Mom and Dad roles for the young children, they are both surprised that the the threats keep coming, even with the hulking figure of Joe around. Someone definitely wants these kids out of town, but who — and for what purpose? It’s up to Luna and Joe to figure out the mystery, and perhaps, figure out what’s going on between them in the process.

Say No to Joe? is one of those books that you can read in a day or two, and there’s something about that that I really like. Not every book needs to be deep and meaningful; sometimes you need a little junk food thrown in with your filet mignon and if it’s spicy and hot — mores the better, right? I give Say No to Joe? a 4 out of 5 star rating. I enjoy Lori Foster’s novels and her nod to the relatable working man hero who has a tough exterior but a soft core. The right amount of romance and mystery is something to enjoy, and I’ve read this book more than a few times. The entire Visitation Series is fun, so readers like this first book, I recommend checking the others out as well (outside of Say No to Joe?Jamie is my favorite!)

 

 

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Recommendation: The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries

by Nicola Kraus & Emma McLaughlin

“ ‘And he doesn’t care what you’re wearing or what you’ve brought him.

He just wants you there. Wanting him.

And time is running out. He won’t love you unconditionally that much longer.

And soon he won’t love you at all.’ ”

There are a few books in my expansive library that I deem “go-to’s,”

What I mean by that, is I can pick them up any time I need a break from life and quickly get lost in their world, if only for a few minutes. They are stories that I enjoy reading over and over and never really tire of; they have characters that I admire and can relate to, and they are easy to throw in my purse for those random moments of quiet that I experience while sitting at basketball practice or guitar lessons.

The Devil Wears Prada. Chances, by Jackie Collins. Pride and Prejudice.  Something Blue, by Emily Giffin.

And, The Nanny Diaries. All of these fit into my “go-to” category.

The Nanny Diaries chronicles a period of time in which Nanny, our main character, cares for the child of a rich and well-established upper class family in New York. With 4-year old Grayer almost  in her complete charge, Nanny certainly has her work cut out for her. Between a special diet that his mother deems appropriate (and one that does not include chicken nuggets or mac and cheese) and a social schedule that would leave the typical adult exhausted and overwhelmed, Nanny feels as if her feet never leave the ground. And the constant hustle and rigamarole of rules is only the tip of the iceberg; Grayer acts out and is a bit socially awkward, both as a result of his neglectful upbringing and his life of privilege.

It isn’t hard to see why the young boy behaves the way he does once the reader meets his parents; Mrs. X has no concept of compassion or affection and spends most of her days spending money or hibernating in her own space as she shuts out reality. Mr. X is a businessman who has no interest in his son or his wife, preferring the company of younger women, a fact that he does not try too hard to hide. In an effort to combat her lack of control in most areas of her life, Mrs. X is belittling and cruel to her staff, placing unrealistic expectations upon their overly laden shoulders and firing them on a whim. She chooses to focus on ways to quench her own need for personal power rather than trying to connect in any way with her son, unless of course, there is a photo-op involved. In fact, that only way that Mrs. X knows how to communicate with Grayer is with attempts at molding him into what she believes a perfect little boy should look and behave like. But instead of immersing herself in the grooming process herself, she simply delegates it all to an already flustered Nanny. It doesn’t take long for Nanny to feel as if she is in over her head, especially as the requests begin to get more extravagant and all the more strange.

” ‘I’m going to flick the light on, Grayer. Close your eyes.’ He turns his sweaty face into my neck. The light is blinding after being up for so long in the dark and I have to blink a few times before I can focus in on the gleaming silver of the faucet. I grip his body as I lean over to turn on the shower and then sit down, balancing on the edge of the tub with him on my lap. When the water hits our legs he really begins to cry.

‘I know, sweetie, I know. We are going to sit here until this wonderful steam makes your chest feel good. Do you want me to sing?’ He just leans against me and cries and coughs as the steam fills the bright tile around us.

‘ I . . . want . . . my mommmmmm.’

He shudders with the effort, seemingly unaware that I am here. My pajama pants soak in the warm water. I drop my head against his, rocking slowly. Tears of exhaustion and worry drip down my face and into his hair.

‘Oh, Grove, I know. I want my mom, too.’ 

Nanny takes the abuse from the Xes, especially as she needs the money and she sees how much Grayer needs her. A budding relationship with a hottie from Harvard who lives in the same building as the Xes helps to reinforce Nanny’s desire to keep her job. As the story progresses, Nanny begins to believe that she is the only true source of light and love in Grayer’s life, and this proves true; she is his only sense of stability in a world wrought with chaos. In crucial years where Grayer should be cuddled and adored, he is ignored and chastised, causing him to run to his Nanny more often than not. Eventually this circular pattern of abuse from his mother, perpetual distance from his father, and acute affection from his nanny leads Grayer to view Nanny as more than just a caretaker — he begins to see her as a true mother figure.

Unfortunately for Grayer, this bond does nothing but further enrage Mrs. X and makes her spin out of control, causing her to fire Nanny without allowing her to say goodbye to the young child, devastating them both and causing irreparable damage. As a final farewell, Nanny uses a Nanny-Cam to leave a message for the dysfunctional Xes.  Beseeching them on behalf of their son, she pleads a case for Grayer and his need for love and tenderness throughout the rest of his formative years. The effects of the tape and of Nanny’s sudden departure will have a lasting effect on all parties involved, although perhaps not as she had initially intended.

” ‘Frankly, Nanny, I just don’t feel that your heart’s in it anymore and I think Grayer can sense that, too. We need someone who can give Grayer their full commitment, don’t you agree? I mean, for the money we’re paying you, with the new baby coming, we should  really have someone more professional.’ She stands. ‘I’ll give you a hand, so you don’t wake Grayer.’

She follows me toward the stairs. I walk up ahead of her, frantically running through scenarios that might give me a chance to say good-bye to him. She comes behind me into the small room and stands between our beds with crossed arms, watching me carefully as I hastily stuff my things into my bag, awkwardly moving around her in the cramped space. 

Grayer moans in his sleep and rolls over. I ache to wake him. 

I finish collecting my things in her shadow and sling my bag up over my shoulder, mesmerized by the sight of Grover’s hand in a tight fist flopped over the side of the bed, the Batman Band-Aid sticking out beneath his pushed-up pajama sleeve. 

She gestures for me to walk past her to the door. Before I can help it, I reach out to smooth the damp hair off his forehead. She grabs my hand an inch from his face and whispers through clenched teeth, ‘Better not to wake him.’ She maneuvers me to the stairs. 

As I start down ahead of her my eyes fill with tears, causing the stairs to pitch beneath me and I have to grip the banister to steady myself. ‘

The Nanny Diaries is followed up by the sequel, Nanny Returns, which I did not like nearly as well as I liked this first installment. In fact, I do not recommend Nanny Returns at all, as I feel that it was a vanity book published solely to capitalize on the popularity of The Nanny Diaries. A movie was also made featuring Scarlett Johansson as Nanny, and it’s okay, but of course not nearly as good as the book.

I loved all of the little tidbits of humor in The Nanny Diaries and appreciated the behind-the-veil look at the life of a New York nanny to a wealthy family. Becoming attached to the child in your care is something that I’m sure is very easy to do considering the amount of time that full-time nannies spend with their charges, and when those children grow up or other circumstances change and the bond must be severed, I can only imagine how difficult it can be to move on to another family and begin the process all over again. As a mother myself I have no idea how to set boundaries on love for the children in my care, and I can see how attached Grayer must have gotten to Nanny, and how it must have truly injured his heart to have her ripped so thoughtlessly from him after all she provided for him.

I give The Nanny Diaries 4.5 out of 5 stars and while I understand that it is not critically acclaimed, I also appreciate that not all books have to be, to be considered good reads. While I definitely enjoy epic novels that take me weeks to get through, I also like fun and easy books that keep me turning the page; The Nanny Diaries is certainly a book that fits into that category. I recommend that a few tissues are kept handy for the ending.

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Recommendation: The Carrie Diaries

The Carrie Diaries

by Candace Bushnell

“ In life, there are only four kinds of girls:
The girl who played with fire.
The girl who opened Pandora’s Box.
The girl who gave Adam the apple.
And the girl whose best friend stole her boyfriend. ”

As a diehard fan of the HBO series Sex and the City (btw, I’m a Charlotte!) I was skeptical when writer Candace Bushnell decided to grace Carrie aficionados with a prequel. If you’ve ever tried to sit down and read the Sex and the City novel that the television series was loosely (and I mean loosely) based upon, you may have found it difficult to navigate and a bit thick in the middle. I’ve never been able to make my way through it in its entirety. Bushnell, the blonde bombshell behind some of television’s most beloved women characters is a New Yorker herself; her columns at The New York Observer magazine paved the way for her creative footsteps to stomp all the way to the bank in Christian Louboutin stilettos as she transformed her column into a itinerary for piloting your way through the City’s dating scene. While the characters of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, Charlotte, and of course, Mr. Big, are pure fiction, it’s not hard to see the similarities between the trendy literary protagonist and the smartly-clad woman who penned her.

I picked up The Carrie Diaries soon after it was first published, deciding to give it and the writer another try. Carrie Bradshaw is a woman that nearly every female in America can relate to — she’d rather store sweaters in her oven than ever actually cook, she will always find an excuse to have a cocktail with a girlfriend, and she can be terribly insecure when it comes to men and relationships. I’d always been curious as to how the Carrie that we saw in the Sex and the City series came to be, and so the prequel in print piqued my interest.

Fresh-faced highschooler Carrie Bradshaw only cares about a few things: her best friends (thick and thin, right?), writing (even though she just got rejected by the writing program she was dying to get into), and besting that insufferable “popular girl,” Donna LaDonna. But for Carrie, the perky little blonde in a sea full of Amazons, life is a balancing act. She is desperately trying to maintain her deep friendships with her besties as they muddle through life as teenagers, dealing with losses of virginity, glaring unpopularity, and sexuality confusion, and she’s attempting to set herself up with a writing career but can’t seem to get her footing under her. Things at home are strained and uneasy; she’s the oldest of three girls and all three are coping with the death of their mother, while her father can’t seem to sort out his own grief and provide the support Carrie so desperately needs. She feels as if she doesn’t end up fitting into the perfect box that everyone has set up for her, that she’ll be failing everyone. And the arrival of a boy from her past, the smart and perfect Sebastian Kydd, doesn’t help matters. Carrie finds that the crush she had on him at 12-years old is still going strong from the moment he first saunters into the high school cafeteria.

” I can barely breathe. Me — and Sebastian Kydd. It’s really happening. 

After a while, he raises his head and looks at me. He’s so close I can see the tiny flecks of dark green around his irises. He’s so close I could count them if I tried. 

‘Hey,’ he says. ‘You never asked why I didn’t call.’

‘Was I supposed to?’

‘Most girls would have.’

‘Maybe I’m not most girls.’ This sounds kind of arrogant but I’m certainly not going to tell him how I spent the last two weeks in an emotional panic, jumping every time the phone rang, giving him sidelong glances in class, promising myself I would never, ever do any bad thing ever again if he would only talk to me the way he had that night at the barn. . . and then hating myself for being so stupid and girlish about the whole thing.”

Her rivalry with popular princess Donna LaDonna is ongoing and obnoxious, and as Carrie and Sebastian grow closer, weird pranks keep happening and Carrie is sure Donna is behind them —  she’s sure Donna is wrought with typical high-school-girl jealousy and is trying to bring Carrie down. Despite warnings that all may not be as they seem with the attractive and alluring Sebastian, Carrie continues to plough on ahead with their relationship. She struggles to hold on to her virginity, wondering why she is practically the last of the people she knows to still be in possession of hers, and as the relationship between she and Sebastian heats up, it’s definitely hard to maintain her innocence. Putting herself first is not easy, but Carrie has goals and aspirations to get herself out of the little town she’s grown up in, and she can’t let a boy hold her back — no matter how good he looks in blue jeans.

Leaning on her friends has always been something Carrie has depended on, but unfortunately for her, she has to learn the hard way that sometimes even those who seem closest to you can deceive you. In fact, it’s those closest to your heart who can do the most damage. Carrie learns that Sebastian and one of her best friends, Lali, are having an affair behind her back, and Carrie takes her feelings of anger and heartache and pushes them into her writing, churning out anonymous articles for the school paper that reflect her emotions. The articles are well-received and afford Carrie the confidence to try again at getting into the writing program of her dreams. Twisting betrayal into a chance of a lifetime, Carrie teams up with someone unexpected and begins to walk into her new life. . . in high heels.

” I have this theory: If you forgive someone, they can’t hurt you anymore.

The rain rattles and shakes. We pass hollow buildings scrawled with graffiti, billboards advertising toothpaste and hemorrhoid cream and a smiling girl in a mermaid outfit pointing at the words, “CALL ME!” in capital letters. Then the scenery disappears and we’re going through a tunnel. 

‘New York City,’ the conductor calls out. ‘Penn Station.’

I close my journal and slip it into my suitcase. The lights inside the car flicker on and off, on and off, and then black out altogether. 

And like a newborn cild, I enter my future in darkness. “

The Carrie Diaries is a YA geared book that is best left for readers ages 15 and up, as it deals with teenage sex and sexual choices. I commend Bushnell for her addition of a sexually confused young man, Walt, who is one of Carrie’s inner circle. Walt is gay and uses his girlfriend to cover his true nature up, fearful of rejection from his parents and general society. The entire plot revolving around Walt and his choices is brave and truth-telling, and very relevant to the time period of the novel. Readers will get a surprise at the end of the book, as Carrie jets off to meet one of the women who will end up being a co-star in her future life in New York City, sharing pink cocktails on rooftops and gossiping about men. Fans of Carrie Bradshaw’s older character will appreciate her witty internal musings as a teenager in The Carrie Diaries, and will see how her core belief system about men and friendships began.

I give The Carrie Diaries 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to any lover of Sex and the City. Readers can also enjoy the sequel, Summer in the City; things pick up directly after Carrie leaves home to begin her writing career in the Big Apple. Both of these are perfect for a summer day spent poolside or at the beach. And if readers are so inclined, they can find both seasons of The Carrie Diaries adapted television show on Netflix.

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Recommendation: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.”

Happy Summer!

We get lots of reading done in the hot and sticky months of June-July-August. Texas has unforgiving temperatures during the summertime and we avoid going outside until the sun goes down. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks plumping up my bookshelves with some great mid-grade and YA reads that vary from old to new, and as my children really loved this movie, I was excited to share the book.

Because you know, the book is always better. And you don’t have to wait long for the sequel, because it’s already in print!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a unique children’s novel in that it is told through a series of photographs paired with narrative, and that it is darker than the average mid-grade book. The author’s original intent was to showcase his collection of vintage and peculiar pictures via a photo album format, but decided to go another way and provide a storyline to accompany them. Inspiration can come from a variety of places for authors and Ransom Riggs‘ blend of creepy and cool is sure to capture the interest of many more children to come. The genre of mid-grade books has expanded in the last decade, providing a larger variety of subject matter and a lot less fluff for this particular age group, and I for one am very pleased. This type of book in particular allows the readers mind to become completely engaged, and the imagination can run free while trying to figure out what the monsters involved in the story look like and how the idea of a “time loop” really works.

Jacob has always had a strong bond with his grandfather. As the years went by spending time together was a priority for them both, and after a strange and grisly accident that results in his grandfather’s unexpected death, Jake finds himself confused and at a loss as to how to process his grief. Growing up, Jake’s grandfather regaled him with tales of the school he grew up in, carving images of the tumultuous era of World War 2, and of how young Abraham took refuge in a children’s group home near Wales. Abraham was surrounded by kids of a variety of ages and manner, but they all had one thing in common — they were peculiar.

One girl could make herself completely invisible. One young lady possessed a freak amount of enormous strength. A young child had not one, but two mouths — the second of which was settled at the back her skull. As one boy used his stomach as a vessel for protecting live bees, another teenager was able to resurrect the dead, all while at the same time appearing to be as heartless as the subjects with which he ran his curious experiments.

” I felt even more cheated when I realized that most of Grandpa Portman’s best stories couldn’t possibly be true. The tallest tales were always about his childhood, like how he was born in Poland but at twelve had been shipped off to a children’s home in Wales. When I would ask why he had to leave his parents, his answer was always the same : because the monsters were after him. Poland was simply rotten with them, he said. 

“What kind of monsters?” I’d ask, wide-eyed. It became a sort of routine. “Awful hunched over ones with rotting skin and black eyes,” he’d say. “And they walked like this!” And he’d shamble after me like an old-time movie monster until ran away laughing. “

Surely none of these stories were true? Jake had always chalked it up to idle bedtime tales and the ramblings of an old and lonely man. Except something is now haunting Jake. . . his grandfather’s last words to him were not that he loved him or that he would miss him, but — “find the bird in the loop on the other side of the old man’s grave on September 1940, and tell them what happened.” With the mystery of Abe’s death completely unsolved, Jake has a hard time finding any sort of closure or resolution. His parents refer him to a psychiatrist who suggests Jake visit and explore the place his grandfather always spoke of so fondly, and to see if he can hunt down some answers about this strange school so he can perhaps put some things to rest in his mind.

Unfortunately for Jake, once he arrives in England, he finds the orphanage of Abe’s childhood left in complete ruins and disrepair, apparently not having survived the brutalities of war. Not being able to garner much information from the townspeople is frustrating and leaves Jake to explore the small town primarily on his own. During one of his treks through the murky countryside he comes across a strange girl, and as it turns out, this meeting is not one of pure chance — it is this lovely, blonde young lady who leads him to the elusive Miss. Peregrine.

” ‘We peculiars are blessed with skills that common people lack, as infinite in combination and variety as others are in the pigmentation of their skin or the appearance of their facial features. That said, some skills are common, like reading thoughts, and others are rare, such as the way I can manipulate time.’

‘Time? I thought you turned into a bird.’

‘To be sure, and therein lies the key to my skill. Only birds can manipulate time. Therefore, all time manipulators must be able to take the form of a bird.’

She says this so seriously, so matter-of-factly, that it took me a moment to process. ‘Birds. . . are time travelers?’ I felt a goofy smile spread across my face. “

Jake feels as if he has entered another world completely and as he grapples with confusion and wonders if he has lost his mind, Jacob urges Miss Peregrine and the children at the home to explain to him what exactly is going on. The house he’d previously visited and found in ruins is now a beautiful and well-kept home, as if it’s part of some weird time warp. The children are dressed in clothes that seem to be from another time altogether. . . and all seem to have the same powers as those Abraham described in his elaborate stories. Miss. Peregrine explains that the house and its inhabitants are hidden in something called a “time loop” and that they all relive the same day over and over. The loops are set up by her particular kind all over the world for the protection of peculiar children and their rare gifts. Miss. Peregrine and other teachers like her are in charge of these special children and keeping them safe from a distorted race of monsters known as hollowgasts. The hollows and wights are the result of experiments gone wrong and use the children to expand upon their devious powers, hunting them down mercilessly and murdering them to absorb their energy.

Unbeknownst to the team of children and their leader, the hollows have been stealthily tracking them and are eager to engulf the children and receive special strength through their demise. Once Miss. Peregrine is kidnapped, it is up to Emma, Jacob, and a handful of other brave children to rescue her and try to restore the balance to the loop and their lives.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a novel that I give 4 out of 5 stars to, and while it is geared primarily for mid-grade readers, I enjoyed it as an adult. I know that some adults who have read this novel took issue with the (completely innocent) budding romance between Jacob and Emma, especially as Emma previously had a romantic link to Abraham. I think that falls into the category of nitpicking and has very little to do with the story, especially as nothing but a mild attraction comes of it. Emma is a girl stuck in the 1940’s and whether or not she has actually aged internally or not makes no difference, seeing as how she has lived the same day for the majority of her life, with no newcomers brought into it until Jake. The story is whimsical and innovative and should be taken at face value instead of trying to assign labels to it in a modern day setting. I think readers are happiest when they just let fantasy be fantasy, and that is exactly what this book is.

If you or your child enjoyed the film version, I recommend picking up the book. There are two sequels (Hollow City and Library of Souls) and a companion book (Tales of the Peculiar). Readers might also be interested to learn that Riggs is planning a second trilogy set in the Peculiar world, the likes of which will be played out in America.

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Recommendation: A Court Of Thorns And Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses

by Sarah J. Maas

” Be glad of your human heart, Feyre.

Pity those who don’t feel anything at all. ”

Feyre knows nothing but survival.

Since the financial collapse of her family’s fortune and livelihood, she has had to step up — especially as no one else in her family has risen to the challenge.  Week after week and month after month, she has taken to the dense woods surrounding the meager cottage she and her family lives in, set to forage and hunt for food and anything that can garner a coin. Pelts she can sell for a premium price to the right vendor and meat they can dry or cook immediately, although there never seems to be enough to a sate the hunger that permanently resides in her belly. Feyre knows nothing but hard work and the burden of supporting three other people. Her sisters, the quiet Elain and opinionated Nesta, consider themselves too gentile and fragile for such common work as hunting, preferring instead to tend gardens and clean the interior of the shack they call home.

Feyre’s dreams are full of color. Sunny yellows and rich blues, vibrant reds and soft-as-petal pinks. If she had it her way, the golden-haired beauty would spend her days painting every surface in her home and beyond, creating an imaginary cocoon full of the whimsy and the fantastic. But if it wasn’t for her arduous struggles within the depths of the forest almost every day, her sisters simply wouldn’t eat. And as there is never any money left over to buy paint anyway, she must be content with putting her dreams on the back burner, allowing them to fester and build only in the recesses of her imagination.

” Once it had been second nature to savor the contrast of new grass against dark, tilled soil, or an amethyst brooch nestled in folds of emerald silk; once I’d dreamed and breathed and thought in color and light and shape. Sometimes I would even indulge in envisioning a day when my sisters were married and it was only me and Father, with enough food to go around, enough money to buy some paint, and enough time to put those colors and shapes down on canvas or the cottage walls. 

Not likely to happen anytime soon — perhaps ever. So I was left with moments like this, admiring the glint of pale winter light on snow. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done it — bothered to notice anything, lovely or interesting. “

One day while on the hunt, she spots something out of place. The  huge and hulking beast before her would mean food on the table for days, possibly even weeks. But there is something in the beast’s eyes that gives her pause. . . something, not quite human — but also not completely animalistic. Drawing on her suspicions and well-regulated fear, Feyre draws a special arrow from her quiver. This arrow is made from ash wood and is carefully crafted, it’s only purpose is to kill a very specific target — that of the fairy persuasion.

The Fae have lived on their side of the wall for as long as Feyre has walked the human side of their world. The treaty that included creating the wall was signed centuries before she was even born, and she has grown up hearing the tales of the evil and maniacal Fae —  how they sneak in through cracks in that wall to prey on human flesh, satisfying their disgusting and vengeful appetites via murder and mayhem. Coming face to face with one in the human territory results in her making a choice that will have consequences that stretch over her entire life, and those lives around her; spreading out like a thick web of sticky silk.

” Our territory was too small and poor to maintain a standing army to monitor the wall with Prythian, and we villagers could not rely only on the strength of the Treaty forged five hundred years ago. But the upper class could afford hired swords, like this woman, to guard their lands bordering the immortal realm. It was an illusion of comfort, just as the markings on our threshold were. We all knew, deep down, that there was nothing to be done against he faeries. We’d all been told it, regardless of class of rank, from the moment we were born, the warnings sung to us while we rocked in cradles, the rhymes chanted in schoolyards. One of the High Fae could turn your bones to dust from a hundred yards away. Not that my sisters or I had ever seen it. “

Days after her kill in the woods, her world is shattered. A second beast comes barreling into her home, demanding retribution for the Fae he believes to have been murdered in cold blood, breaking the rules of the treaty. Feyre steps up and takes responsibility, bidding her sisters and father a hastily made farewell. In killing one of the Fae, her life has become forfeit, and she must journey to the other side of the wall with the beast of a man who is calling in the bargain of her human predecessors.

The Spring Court is an eerily quiet place, full of bountiful gardens full of beautiful blooms and greenery, but there is an umistakable shadow that lingers upon the land. Upon arrival, Feyre spends her time struggling to come to grips with her new situation and the somewhat convoluted navigation around the lavish mansion’s inhabitants. Tamlin, the beast who procured her from the human side of the wall, is the High Lord of the Spring Court and as such, intent upon cultivating his lands in the midst of a tenuous political situation between the counts in the land of Fae. Lucian, his emissary and transplant from the Autumn Court, is wily and mischievous, and while Feyre chooses to view him as a potential ally, she must tread carefully as she begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse while trying to garner information about her captor.

” I’d be better off persuading Lucien to speak to Tamlin on my behalf — and soon, before any of the others whom they’d mentioned appeared, or this blight of theirs grew. Tomorrow — I’d speak to Lucien then, test him out a bit. 

In my room, I found a small satchel in the armoire and filled it with a spare set of clothes, along with my stolen knife. It was a pitiful blade, but a piece of cutlery was better than nothing. Just in case I was ever allowed to go — and had to leave at a moment’s notice. 

Just in case. “

While Tamlin suggests that Feyre is not his prisoner, but rather a means to an end in regards to satisfaction within the treaty, she is physically bound to the lands of the Spring Court. Curiosity pushes her to test these boundaries and exploration of the woods and gardens lends itself to meetings with lesser fairies and creatures that have deviant intentions, putting her into danger that is the stuff nightmares are made of. But Feyre is able to gather some information about the world she is now living in, and does her best to use it to her advantage – ever on the offensive.

Despite her best efforts to the contrary, Feyre finds herself drawn to the brooding and handsome Tamlin. Moody and temperamental he may be, she is also privy to a quiet kindness that remains hidden behind a mysterious mask of propriety and ancient custom. The mansion is all but deserted, and as Feyre continues to ferret information from the remaining inhabitants, she learns of a curse put upon the lands and it’s High Lord. Little does she know, she plays a large part in that curse, but the breaking of it will require skills Feyre may not possess in her arsenal.

When  a chance meeting with a peculiar and sharp-tongued stranger leaves Feyre unnerved, she chooses to withdraw into Tamlin’s embrace rather than go with her instincts and push for more information. The stranger, however, continues to plague her thoughts and when he shows up again with clear news of an immediate threat, Feyre is haunted. The blight upon the Spring Court’s lands is spreading and the only way to break the curse is to go to its source — to a wicked queen named Amarantha, who resides Under the Mountain, in the bowels of darkness and despair. To protect the woman he now cares for, Tamlin spirits Feyre back across the wall to her abandoned family, attempting to hide her among her own people so that she may be shielded from the fight that is sure to come. But soon after arriving back home, Feyre realizes that her feelings for Tamlin have shifted from soft affection and instinctual lust into something more akin to . . . love.

After rushing back to the Spring Court to declare her newfound feelings, Feyre is dismayed to find the mansion deserted and torn apart. With the aid of a friend, she makes her way Under the Mountain to confront the evil temptress and retrieve what has been stolen from her.

” ‘Take me to her,’ I insisted.

If Amarantha ripped out my throat, at least I would die doing something for him — at least I would die trying to fix the destruction I hadn’t prevented, trying to save the people I’d doomed. At least Tamlin would know it was for him, and that I loved him. 

Alis studied me for a moment before her eyes softened. ‘As you wish.’ “

A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first installment of a series of books by New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas. There are currently three Court books in publication. While these three are centered around Feyre and her adventures within the High Courts, her story is assumed to be wrapped up at the end of the third book. The series will continue next year with spin-off stories from other beloved characters featured in the books. Maas earned renown for her epic Throne of Glass series set in a fantasy world that runs parallel to the Court’s Fae-ruled society, and the fandoms surrounding both series are extensive and seriously supportive. A Court of Thorns and Roses is a modern-day take on Beauty and the Beast, but with a lot of clever twists and turns.

While the age of the main character often dictates the genre of the book and A Court of Thorns and Roses is typically classified as a Young Adult novel, I do not recommend this series to anyone under the age of 16, due to the nature of hot-hot-hot graphic sex and some violence. I give A Court of Thorns and Roses 4.5 out of 5 stars, and I have to tell you — if you even remotely like this book, you must read the sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury. The sequel is one of the best fantasy books I have ever read and kept me neatly enthralled for days. I highly recommend it. The latest book, A Court of Wings and Ruin recently came to bookshelves and fans going crazy for it.

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Review: Alice – The Wanderland Chronicles

Alice : The Wanderland Chronicles

by J.M. Sullivan

” ‘Rule number one: Always protect your queen.’ “

Alice Carroll is desperate.

A plague has been sweeping her city for an incalculable amount of time and although she and her sister have been able to avoid it up until now, death has now come knocking on their door. Trapped in a town that was once the flourishing and active site of a suburb set outside of Phoenix,  Alice has spent months watching as the people around her have fallen into complete complacency about the impending doom lurking right outside the walls that surround their metropolis. The population of her sector has fooled themselves into believing that the plague cannot darken their doorsteps, and that becoming one of the dreaded “momeraths” could not possibly happen to them.

” Like Dinah says, ‘We can only play the cards we’ve been dealt. It doesn’t do any good to wish about things you can’t change.’ “

After a scouting expedition leads Alice and her older sister Dinah outside of the confines of the sector, Alice is forced to helplessly watch as her sister falls victim to the fearful sickness that has been claiming lives all over the state. The MR-V virus attacks every system inside of their host, turning them into bloodthirsty violent killers who cannot be contained or satisfied. When Dinah begins to exhibit the signs of being a carrier for the fatal virus, Alice knows she has to do something. She’s heard whispers of a doctor miles away who is working towards a cure, and her mission is clear – she must find this man and beg for his help. Dinah is all she has left in this world and she refuses to lose her.

Leaving her precious Dinah in the care of a friend inside the sector, Alice sets out for the place that was once the thriving city of Phoenix, determined to find answers. Soon after arrival she is accosted by one of the terrible monsters that give her nightmares – a momerath set on tasting her blood and claiming her life in the process. Lucky for her, a chance encounter with a handsome (if somewhat erratic) young man named Chess leads her to temporary safety where she can formulate the next phase of her plan. But once she eventually finds the doctor she is looking for, Alice is dismayed to discover that he is scatterbrained and in a near constant state of confusion — and he insists that there is no cure for the disease that her sister is suffering from.

” ‘How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tale, and pour the waters of the Nile on every golden scale.’ His eyes flicked meaningfully from the book to Alice before he continued. ‘How cheerfully he seems to grin, how neatly spreads his claws, and welcomes little fishes in , with gently smiling jaws.’ Bug set the journal on his desk and gazed at Alice intently. Unable to decipher anything, she felt dumb. Clearly, it wasn’t the reaction Bug was hoping for. He sighed, then stood to pat her on the shoulder. ‘You’ll figure it out. but remember to be vigilant. Momerath can show up at any moment, and they’ll be hunting you.’ “

Alice finds herself wrapped up in the curious mystery surrounding Borogove Industries, a scientific research lab that sanctioned the creation of the drug that was eventually turned into the virus and subsequent plague. Her hunt leads her to the threshold of a woman thought to be sponsoring the creation of an antidote,  a woman reverently named The Red Queen. But while Alice hopes to find help and guidance from the woman in charge, she instead faces yet another challenge — mostly in controlling her temper. Alice doesn’t agree with the atrocities she experiences while under the Red Queen’s care, and fights to escape the false safety of the camp. After proving her worth and striking a bargain, Alice sets out once again, this time with the assistance of a team of elite soldiers that work under the tyrannical and deviant Queen’s employ. Alice storms the lab of Borogove in search of answers and a cure and as she unravels the convoluted riddle of the momerath disease, Alice finds herself plunging deeper into the heart of the matter than she ever intended. The path to salvation is wrought with puzzles and horrors, including an enlightening meeting with Dr. Matthew Hatta, creator of the drug, and Alice is forced to make some difficult decisions that will cling to the edges of her nightmares for years to come.

” ‘What about family?’ she asked. ‘And love?’

A wistful look flitted across Hatta’s features before he carefully arranged them back in place. ‘People get too invested in emotions,’ he said briskly. ‘It hinders them from processing information objectively and responding accordingly.’ 

‘But without emotions, what’s the point?’ she asked. Though she rarely got caught up in emotion, it didn’t mean she didn’t recognize their   value.  “

When the truth comes out, Alice is more confused than ever but stays the course — her eyes on the prize. She must get back to Dinah as soon as she can. Her sister’s life and Alice’s future depends on it. But sometimes going down the rabbit hole leads to more twists and turns than one may expect, and finding your way out of the darkness can prove to be nearly impossible.

Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles is the debut novel from American author, J.M. Sullivan. As far as debuts go, Sullivan has gotten off to a great start in a series that is sure to be a curious addition to any mid-grade to YA reader’s library. Twisted tales are all the rage and while Sullivan could stand to push the envelope more with cleverness and parallels, the story was fresh and inspired. With the exception of a few out-of-place curse words, this novel is appropriate for those ages 10+. I give the book 3 out of 5 stars; I was hoping for a bit more expansion on the characters and there were more than a few plot holes. It is my understanding that this is set to be a series of books (if the cliffhanger is any indication) and am hoping for a bit more depth in the next installment. Readers who enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles are encouraged to give this novel a try.

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Recommendation: Along Came A Spider

Along Came a Spider

by James Patterson

” One of the techies handed me a report to sign as I left the Sanders house. 

I signed it my usual way — with a †.

Cross. 

Tough guy from the tough part of town. Right. “

I love getting swept up in a good mystery.

As a patron of James Patterson’s elite brand of twisting and turning mysteries for years, I have developed a familiar affection for Detective Alex Cross. A few movies have been made portraying the strong, male character, but I’ve never felt that they truly capture the essence that is the notoriously persistent and skilled detective and Washington D.C. native. Alex is sexy and empathetic. He feels things, especially the victims he is fighting for and for the residents of the city he has chosen to live in. . . he is attune to their pain and he won’t quit until he’s done them justice. He’s an exemplary father, and takes cares of those in his immediate family with as much tender-loving-care as any man could. He is a loyal best friend who will, quite literally, take a bullet for his partner if need be. He’s just the sort of man I love to read about. He’s the sort of man that we should have more of.

The life and times of Detective Alex Cross have been chronicled by mystery-master James Patterson over the course of 27 (and counting) novels. But the first – the introduction – is Along Came a Spider.

School is a place that’s supposed to be unwaveringly safe. And as a parent in an affluent community, there should be zero question that  you should be able to drop your children off and go on your merry way; with zero question as to if your child will be protected or not. Money can buy anything, right? With money comes power and with such things, security and well-being become  a given. When you spend thousands of dollars a year on your child’s private education. . .a fancy building in a well-to-do neighborhood with teachers who are specially chosen for their innumerable talents in each subject, you have paid for the best and as such, shall receive it — right?

Wrong.

When the unthinkable happens – two children kidnapped right from school – the prominent and wealthy niche of Washington D.C. is shocked. Especially when the news coming across the waves is accusing a teacher of being the criminal culprit.

” Soneji climbed into the front and fired up the blue van. As he drove from the parking area, he sang “Magic Bus” by The Who. He was in an awfully good mood today. He was planning to be America’s first serial kidnapper, among other things. “

Alex Cross, a local homicide investigator and forensic psychologist, is called in to take over the case. He’s currently in the field working a string of the recent brutally violent murders of black prostitutes in the poorer part of D.C. He’s not particularly thrilled when he’s forced to abandon his ongoing case, especially when he sees how much media attention the kidnappings are garnering. Why is the snatch and grab of a couple of white kids more newsworthy than the murders of black women in the wrong part of D.C.? Irritated and angry, Alex struggles to switch gears and quickly partners up  with blonde and ambitious Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannagan. As head of the detail that was assigned to keep the children safe, she is having  hard time accepting her failure. With the other case reluctantly put on the back-burner, Alex enlists Jezzie’s help in putting the pieces together and working fast to catch a kidnapper.

” Jezzie Flannagan stayed behind. ‘I’ve heard about you, Detective Cross, now that I think of it. You’re the psychologist. There was an article in the Washington Post. ‘ She smiled nicely, a demi-smile. 

I didn’t smile back. ‘You know newspaper articles,’ I told her. ‘Usually a pack of half-truths. In that case, definitely some tall tales.’

‘I’m not so sure about that,’ she said. ‘Nice to meet you, anyway.’ Then she walked into the office behind Secretary Goldberg, the mayor, and the star FBI agent. Nobody invited me — the psychologist-detective of magazine fame. Nobody invited Sampson.

Monroe did poke his head out. “Stick around, you two. Don’t make any waves. Don’t get pissy, either. We need you here. I need to talk with you, Alex. Stay put. Don’t get pissy.’

Sampson and I tried to be good cops. We stood around outside the headmaster’s office for another ten minutes. Finally, we left our posts. We were feeling pissy. 

I kept seeing the face of little Mustaf Sanders. Who was going to go and find this killer? No one. Mustaf had already been forgotten. I knew that would never happen with the two private-school children. “

Meanwhile in the undisturbed country outside of the city proper, Gary Soneji believes himself to be in the midst of a perfect crime that will gain him prestige and fame for decades to come. An obsession with high profile kidnappings has led him on a quest to carve his own place out in history as a brilliant criminal. He has the two missing children locked in makeshift coffins in the ground at an old farmhouse, and he’s beginning his plan to extort money from their wealthy and high-profile parents by way of ransom. But after hearing some disparaging remarks about himself over the news by a FBI agent, Soneji’s plan takes a turn. He cannot allow these terrible things to be said about him on such a public platform — he cannot allow his image of a criminal mastermind to be tainted. Clad in a clever disguise, he murders the agent in question, the dumping of his body helping to soothe Soneji’s maniacally hurt pride.

As the investigation into the slippery Soneji continues, Alex and Jezzie begin to grow closer. Despite the attraction he has to wonder – is it a mistake to get so close to her so soon? Something about Jezzie is off, but Alex can’t quite put his finger on it. He’s enjoying the comfort and thrill of the relationship, something he hasn’t had in his life for a while now.  He’s also trying to keep a firm eye on the kidnapping case, but his attempts at victim retrieval are foiled when he attempts to trade ransom for one of the children, but has the money stolen from him instead. And as more murders relating the kidnappings occur, Alex is stunned to discover that he may be on the trail of solving not one – but two – cases at the same time.

In a classic tale of cat and mouse, Alex Cross is determined to have closure with the spider whose web he’s been caught in for over a year. The fast-paced style of James Patterson will at times leave readers breathless as one facet of the investigation is laid to rest but many more questions are raised. Who is Gary Soneji? Where are the missing children? And what is Jezzie Flannagan hiding?

I give Along Came a Spider 4.5 out of 5 stars. I have been a fan of James Patterson for many years now and Alex Cross is by far my favorite of his characters. My only regret for Alex is that he has such a hard time with his love life. Patterson could stand to give him a break every now and then. Patterson writes intelligent and crafty mysteries and never disappoints me, much like another mystery author I love – Patricia Cornwell. The books are quick and easy to get through and perfect to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.

Fans of Alex Cross can continue the journey with their favorite D.C. detective and jazz-playing good guy with:

  1. Along Came a Spider
  2. Kiss the Girls
  3. Jack & Jill
  4. Cat & Mouse
  5. Pop Goes the Weasel
  6. Roses Are Red
  7. Violets Are Blue
  8. Four Blind Mice
  9. The Big Bad Wolf
  10. London Bridges
  11. Mary, Mary
  12. Alex Cross
  13. Double Cross
  14. Cross Country
  15. I, Alex Cross
  16. Cross Fire
  17. Kill Alex Cross
  18. Alex Cross, Run
  19. Cross My Heart
  20. Hope To Die
  21. Cross Justice
  22. Cross Kill
  23. Cross The Line
  24. Detective Cross
  25. The People vs. Alex Cross (due out in November 2017)

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Review: Scoundrel In Disguise

Scoundrel In Disguise

by Shaela Kay

Sarah waved her hand impatiently in the air. ‘There is no such thing. None of the men I have discouraged are truly in love with me, and I am not in love with any of them.’

Amused, Rex sat back in his chair, contemplating her. ‘They have all been going about it wrong, have they?’

‘Going about what wrong?’

‘Making you fall in love with them.’ “

There are few things that I love more in a good book than a bad boy, especially when he is hiding a heart of gold.

Scoundrel in Disguise certainly lives up to its name, providing a charmingly witty rogue to fall in love with.

The young and bright Miss. Sarah Mendenhall is anxiously awaiting her first social season in London. The prospect of spending her afternoons strolling through the busy city admiring ribbons and hats through spotlessly clean shop windows  and spending her evenings being twirled around a dance floor and admired by a room full of handsome beaux has Sarah positively giddy. She’s dreamed of this since she was a child, growing up along the banks of India, the smell of sweet jasmine a hazy companion to her sharply detailed reveries. And so finally, with the time finally here, she becomes wrapped up in all that society has to offer. But she has made a solitary solemn vow not only to her companion and keeper, Lady Rockwell,  but most importantly to herself – she will not marry any time soon. She will instead focus on enjoyment and pleasure, soaking up everything London has to offer — no matter what man catches her eye.

Sarah throws herself onto the scene like an excitable puppy, barely able to contain her excitement even under the strict eye of her caretaker. Her endless amounts of energy and her broad smiles instantly capture the heart of London society — from the male persuasion, anyway. The females are of course wary, sensing sizable competition in the cheerful brunette, but Sarah is lucky to make the acquaintance of a shy and kind young lady, Rosemary Reed.  The two quickly become friends and confidantes, and even Rosemary is left in awe of Sarah’s ingenuity and outgoing nature. Of course there are a few rotten apples in every bunch, and Sarah has the poor luck of also becoming familiar with Peter Mills, a spoiled and snobbish young man full of derisive conversation and idle gossip. Peter taints Sarah’s splash into society only a tad, because as is befitting her bubbly and flighty personality, Sarah moves on to the next man on her dance card — doing her best to leave the negativity behind her.

” Across the room, Peter Mills leaned casually against the wall and watched the scene before him with amusement. Another young gentleman came and stood beside him, following his gaze. Turning to Peter, the gentleman smiled.

‘Is not Miss. Mendenhall the most enchanting creature you ever beheld?’ His voice betrayed his admiration, and Peter turned his lazy eyes upon him. 

‘She is certainly causing quite a stir in society,’ he agreed. He looked back towards Sarah, whose musical laughter could be heard across the large room. Her cobalt eyes were bright with excitement; she obviously enjoyed the attentions of her many admirers, despite her flippant regard for any of them. She turned her head and caught Peter’s eye just then, and he winked at her. 

Sarah deliberately turned her head. “

But the impression Sarah has made on Peter is one that will follow her throughout the season, unbeknownst to her. For Peter, the activities of the season are nothing but boring traditions and tedious encounters with the same uninspiring women. Sarah has left him intrigued but not so much in the romantic sense, and when he finds out a secret that his old friend Jameson Rex has been fruitlessly attempting to hide, Peter sees an opportunity to exploit the young woman and provide himself with a bit of cruel entertainment. He seizes the moment and latches onto his Rex’s vulnerability, anxious to exploit and tarnish Sarah’s reputation.

Jameson Rex is a gentleman fallen from grace, and almost completely of his own doing. The whispers behind gloved hands and the assumptions made in mixed company have left him a man marked for exclusion. But if being included and free from scandal meant having had made a different choice, Rex would take the ostracism a hundred times over. High society has never meant anything more to him than shallow relationships and stiflingly polite airs. But with the threat of financial ruin on the horizon, and a household to provide for, Rex finds himself in a most inconvenient and wearisome position. He needs a wife. And a rich one at that. Leaving behind the only thing he loves, Rex has made his way into the city and used the last bit of money he has to procure a respectable place to live, where he prepares to engage himself with every eligible lady in town.

Rex is irritated and dismayed to find that his secret has already made its way into London and is circulating like wildfire. Yes, it’s true that he is the caretaker of a child.  Yes it is true that the child was born out of wedlock. A beautiful child. A perfectly sweet little girl named Caroline, who is the very epitome of everything good and pure that her mother possessed.  And while it was unfortunate for him that his uncle (the holder and distributer of the bulk of Rex’s financial means) found out about the child and cut him off monetarily, Rex has a plan. Find a suitable and financially flush wife. End of story.

” But Rex also knew that Peter Mills had connections that might help him. Among Peter’s varied acquaintance were many wealthy women friends — with as little desire to marry as he himself possessed. Women whose wealth and status in society meant that most people turned a blind eye to their actions. 

The thought that had formed in Rex’s mind as he first observed Peter Mills had filled him with abhorrence, but he knew that Peter could help him in ways that others could not. His stomach turned as he considered what he was about to undertake. Desperate times, he rationalized again. 

All this had passed in a moment, and Peter was still leaning forward, waiting for Rex’s reply. 

‘I plan to marry an heiress, of course,’ Rex said with forced calm. “

Regrettably for Rex, this is proving to be a problem. The women of London want hardly anything to do with him, given the scandal swirling around him like the coming breeze. Mothers are clutching their daughters close as if he is no better than a thief, no better than a. . . scoundrel. Following through with his plan is proving to be a difficult task, so when the rich Peter Mills comes to him with a proposition, Rex has no choice but to listen and accept.

The bet is simple : Rex must make Sarah fall in love with him.

The reward: five thousand pounds; a veritable fortune.

While Rex does find the bet to be rather uncouth and certainly not befitting of a gentleman, he is desperate. His little girl is counting on him and he cannot fail her. And so while he begins to woo the spritely and beautiful Miss. Mendenhall, he is working another plan behind the curtain. An old acquaintance is newly in town and she brings new prospects. But while Isabella is attached to an attractive fortune, she is also attached to spite, revenge, and jealousy — and Rex may have bitten off more than he can chew, especially as he is now balancing the two ladies.

Sarah finds Rex to be a perfectly reasonable friend and good man, regardless of what society is whispering about him. She’s heard the rumors and the insults masked behind good manners. Lucky for Rex, Sarah is a simple girl who always looks and tends to believe the good in people, even if it is to her detriment. She has no idea that there is an uncivilized undertone running through the veins of their budding friendship, especially since she enjoys her time with Rex so much. She finds herself looking forward to their driving lessons and her eyes search for his figure every time she enters a ballroom. But if she had fallen in love, wouldn’t she know it?

” ‘You do not believe I am dangerous?’

‘Not in the sense you mean.’

In two steps he was at her side, wrapping his arm around her waist and crushing her to his chest. She gasped, and he reached his other hand up, twisting his fingers into her hair. tipping her head back, he looked into her eyes. A wicked smile slid across his face, and he bent his head down. She turned her face away. 

‘Do you still think that now?’ he murmured, his breath tickling her ear. She trembled, but did not push him away. 

‘Mr. Rex, please — you are a gentleman!’

Rex laughed humorlessly. ‘That is not what I hear.’ “

When Peter Mills decides to up the ante on the bet and forces Rex into an even less desirable position than than the one he’s already in, Rex finds himself hesitating — the money is seeming less important when it comes up against Sarah’s feelings and reputation. Or rather, Rex is beginning to realize that his own feelings are leading him down a path that he did not intend, as he has regrettably found himself caught up in the spell that is Sarah Mendenhall.

But how could he ever expect her to love a scoundrel?

Scoundrel In Disguise is a proper historical romance written by author Shaela Kay. It comes after her first book, A Heart Made of Indigo, which follows the story and romance of Sarah’s brother and is set in India. While young Sarah is a supporting character in A Heart Made of Indigo, Scoundrel In Disguise is a standalone book, and I liked it better. I recommend reading the other if you enjoy the author’s style and are interested in learning more about Sarah.

 The historical references are well-researched and the romance is light and refreshingly full of morality, while the humor is witty and the characters are richly drawn. I really enjoyed this book and feel quite comfortable comparing it to the likes of Jane Austen; the time period is much the same and the romance is very similar. The story flowed brilliantly with almost no lull, and the character development was strong — especially for Sarah — who transformed from a silly and childish girl into an understanding and mature woman. Rex was dashing and full of wit, but I loved seeing his softer side. I am anxiously awaiting the story of Lady Rockwell; the author has teased a telling of the matriarch’s tale and I believe it would be a fine accompaniment to the world Kay has dreamed up.

I give Scoundrel In Disguise 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for anyone who loves a sweet romance with a twist of scandal.