Cover Shot! The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

Supervillains.  I love them.  Especially when they are, deep in their heart, good guys.  Look at this guy.  Does he look like a devious doer of evil?  Nope!  I can hardly wait to get my hands on The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz, to see just how bad Alex really is.  Or isn’t.  In stores October 2012

 

The Cloak Society: An elite organization of supervillains graced with extraordinary powers. Ten years ago they were defeated by the Rangers of Justice and vanished without a trace. But the villains of Cloak have been biding their time, waiting for the perfect moment to resurface. And twelve-year-old Alex Knight wants to be one of them.

Alex is already a junior member, and his entire universe is Cloak’s underground headquarters, hidden beneath an abandoned drive-in theater in Sterling City, Texas. While other kids his age are studying math and history, Alex is mastering his telekinetic powers and learning how to break into bank vaults. His only dream is to follow in his parents’ footsteps as one of the most feared supervillains in the world. Cloak is everything he believes in.

But on the day of his debut mission, Alex does the unthinkable: he saves the life of a young Ranger named Kirbie. Even worse . . . she becomes his friend. And the more time he spends with her, the more Alex wonders about the world outside of Cloak—and what, exactly, he’s been fighting for.

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Cover Shot! Story’s End by Marissa Burt

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

I loved Storybound by Marissa Burt.  It is one of the best books I’ve read this year, so I am all aflutter with anticipation to get my hands on Story’s End, the next book in the series. I love the cover for this one!

In stores 2013.

No synopsis yet

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Review: Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

 

 

   Title: Inside Out & Back Again

   Author: Thanhha Lai

   Publisher: Harper Collins

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.

But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. HÀ and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, HÀ discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next. 

Review:

I love books about different cultures or ways of life, and Inside Out & Back Again delivers up an emotionally enthralling account of a young Vietnamese girl’s flight from her home country to the US.  As I read Ha’s adventures, recounted in simple yet moving free verse, I wondered what it would be like to have everything familiar ripped away.  Before the fall of Saigon, life for Ha was happy and content, despite the growing hardships caused by the war.  Her father has been missing in action since she was an infant, but her family still holds out hope that he will return home one day.  She loves her family, she is doing well in school, and she is eager for her papaya tree to finally yield fruit.  Her three brothers are happy, as well, and they are excellent students with bright futures ahead of them.  Everything changes with the fall of Saigon.

Ha’s mother is trying valiantly to raise four children by herself, but life has gotten more difficult.  It’s harder to make ends meet, and the price of everything keeps climbing.  As the communists threaten Saigon, she has a family meeting and asks everyone what they should do.  Should they flee, and try to built a new life in a country without Ho Chi Min and the war?  Ha and her brother Thoi don’t want to go.  How can they leave Ha’s papaya tree and Thoi’s chicken?  The pain of leaving their most prized possessions was a bitter pill to swallow for a new life with no guarantees.  I don’t think I could have done it.  Photographs, clothing, memories; all were left behind in Vietnam.

I loved Ha and found her easy to relate to.  She has been thrust into a new life that she doesn’t want, and one that doesn’t seem to want her.  Her new neighbors in Alabama aren’t very neighborly, she can’t understand the confusing language she is immersed in, and her classmates mock and bully her.  Her teacher doesn’t understand her and doesn’t try to make her feel welcome.  Instead, Ha, a bright, curious girl, is left feeling stupid and ignorant.  As she begins to pick up the language, she wishes she did not understand the names she is called or the jokes that her peers make about her.  She is angry, justifiably, but there is no outlet for her rage.  Ha is the one who must make concessions to fit in with a group of kids who can only see how she is different from them. 

This is a quick read that follows one year in Ha’s life.  Starting in Vietnam on New Year’s, Inside Out & Back Again chronicles her flight from Saigon, life in a refuge camp, and her eventual home in Alabama.  I could not put the book down and I read it in one sitting.  Highly recommended.

Grade:  A

Available in Print and Digital

Review copy provided by library

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Review: Storybound by Marissa Burt

 

Title: Storybound

Author: Marissa Burt

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 978-0062020529

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When Una Fairchild stumbles upon a mysterious book buried deep in the basement of her school library, she thinks nothing of opening the cover and diving in. But instead of paging through a regular novel, Una suddenly finds herself Written In to the land of Story—a world filled with Heroes and Villains and fairy-tale characters.

But not everything in Story is as magical as it seems. Una must figure out why she has been Written In—and fast—before anyone else discovers her secret. Together with her new friend Peter and a talking cat named Sam, Una digs deep into Story’s shadowy past. She quickly realizes that she is tied to the world in ways she never could have imagined—and it might be up to her to save it.

Review:

I am having a fantastic winning streak of wonderful Middle-Grade novels so far in 2012.  Storybound turned out to be another winner.  The premise is fantastic, and I could not put the book down.  I was literally glued to my reading chair for an entire afternoon as I frantically turned pages, eager to see what kind of trouble Una would find herself in.

Like Harry Potter, Una has never known her parents.  She has been shuffled through the foster care system, and she currently lives with Ms. McDonough, an odd woman who speaks to her cats far more frequently than she speaks to Una.  Una is fine with that, because she finally has some time to herself after being fostered in big families where she never felt that she belonged.  She feels invisible, both at her foster home and at school.  One day when Una is reading in the library in the basement at school, she finds a mysterious book.  A book about her.  Before she even has a chance to catch her breath, she finds herself sucked into the book, trapped as a character in the story.  Now she must  find her way back out again, all without getting killed.  Whoa!

In the land of Story, Una finds must become a student at the school where the children of Story learn how to be characters in books.  All of the citizens of Story have roles in books, and they all have to behave in a manner consistent with the character they are playing.  I loved the concept of this world.  Una’s ally, Peter, is learning to be a Hero.  He takes his studies very seriously, and when Una is magically zapped into one of his practical exams, he is not very happy when she screws it up for him.  With Peter’s help, Una learns that she was Written In.  Peter is shocked, because no one has been Written In since the Tale Keepers overthrew the evil Muses and took control of Story.

I am going to gush about how much I adored Una.  She is resourceful, clever, and loyal, and she is my favorite kind of protagonist.  She meets setback after setback, but each one makes her more determined to figure out what is going on.  Something is stinky in the land of Story, and Una won’t rest until she discovers what it is.  There is something wrong with the Tale Keepers, and she doesn’t believe that the Muses were evil.  With the help of Peter and Sam, a talking cat, she  searches for the truth, even when it puts her in mortal danger.  And Una is in a lot of danger.  She doesn’t belong in Story, and she needs to get back home before someone figures out that she has been Written In.  Another thing that I love is convincing character development – Storybound has it in spades.  The Una at the end of the book is a much more mature and likeable girl than the Una at the beginning.

My only gripe about Storybound is the cliffhanger ending.  I hate those!  Aside from that complaint, this is a fantastic book with wonderful characters, creative world-building, and non-stop suspense.  Fans of Harry Potter will enjoy Storybound, as well as anyone who loves a rousing fantasy yarn.  I am counting down the days until the sequel, Story’s End, hits store shelves, though 2013 seems like a long time away!

Grade: Waffling between an A- and a B+ (Either way, I LOVED this book)

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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Review: The Cowboy Takes a Bride by Lori Wilde

 

Title: The Cowboy Takes a Bride

Author: Lori Wilde

Publisher: Avon

ISBN: 978-0062047755

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Ex-champion bull rider-turned-cutting-horse cowboy Joe Daniels isn’t quite sure how he ended up sleeping in a horse trough wearing nothing but his Stetson and cowboy boots. But now he’s wide-awake, and a citified woman is glaring down at him. His goal? Get rid of her ASAP. The obstacle? Fighting the attraction he feels toward the blond-haired filly with the big, vulnerable eyes.

When out-of-work wedding planner Mariah Callahan learns that her estranged father has left her a rundown ranch in Jubilee, she has no choice but to accept it. Her goal? Redeem her career by planning local weddings. The obstacle? One emotionally wounded, hard-living cowboy who stirs her guilt, her heartstrings, and her long-burned cowgirl roots . . .,

Review:

Spring is in the air (actually, it is more like summer, with unseasonal highs in the 80s), so I have been reading a ton of romance.  I had very good luck with Entangled Publishing’s Indulgence line, which was helmed, briefly, by Lori Wilde.  After she was offered a contract with HarperCollins, she stepped down to devote her time and energy to writing.  When The Cowboy Takes a Bride, the first of her Jubilee, Texas series, hit store shelves, I couldn’t resist snapping it up.  I love cowboys and horses, so this book had my name written all over it.   I had a mixed reading experience, partly because I do love horses, though.

Mariah Callahan is an down on her luck unemployed wedding planner.  When she discovers that her estranged father left her a ranch in Jubilee, Texas, she has no choice but to drive from Chicago to check the place out.  Three months of job hunting has left her in precarious financial straits, so discovering that she’s inherited a house is the answer to her prayers.  Until she sees the ramshackle cabin and meets the surly cowboy who lives next door.  Now she just wants to sell the dump and get on with her life, but can she resist Jubilee’s small town charms?

I loved the start of this book.  Mariah, exhausted after driving from Chicago to Texas, discovers a naked cowboy in what she believes is her horse trough.  Only it isn’t her ranch she’s stopped at, it’s Joe Daniels, her father’s good friend and business partner.  Joe isn’t impressed when he finally meets Dutch’s daughter, and he thinks she is heartless for turning her back on her father.  What Joe doesn’t realize is that Dutch abandoned Mariah and her mother, and her childhood was spent moving from one wealthy household to another, as her mother, a domestic servant, struggled to raise her alone.  Mariah is bitter and resentful that Dutch dumped her and her mother so he could train cutting horses, and now that he’s dead, there is no hope of reconciliation.  She’s also resentful that Dutch treated Joe like a son, while she didn’t receive any scraps of his attention. 

The first half of the book drew me in and kept me engaged in the story.  I love small town settings, and Jubilee, despite all of the drama, seemed like a peaceful place to set down some roots.  I could understand Dutch’s attraction to the town.  The cutting capital of the world, it was immediately clear why he drifted there in the first place.  With big dreams to win big money with his horses, he needed to be right in the heart of cutting horse country.  After selling a promising prospect to Joe, he even had a place to call home, dilapidated as it was.  I could see the old cowboy living in the battered cabin, finally being content enough to try to plant some roots.  Unfortunately, an unexpected illness put an end to his dreams.

Joe is devastated by Dutch’s death, which occurred two years to the day after the death of his wife in a riding accident.  Joe is suffering, reeling from the loss of the two people he loved most.  He doesn’t understand the chip on Mariah’s shoulder; nor can he understand that she’s not openly mourning Dutch’s death.  While Mariah is cool and reserved, and not about to wear her heart on her sleeve, Joe is more open with his feelings.  Everyone knows he is suffering, and the small community bands together to keep on eye on him.  When Mariah arrives in town, she, too, finds the community welcoming and caring.  At first put off by their interest in her, she discovers that being neighborly, something didn’t get much of in Chicago, isn’t a bad thing.  I found that the various secondary characters helped keep the plot moving, and helped to ground Mariah.

What I didn’t like, and where the plot started falling apart for me, were all of the references to Sleepless in Seattle and the long winded dialogs when Joe and Mariah started opening up and sharing their feelings with each other.  I just didn’t find the conversations interesting, and the emotions fell flat for me because of that.   The tension between them seemed to evaporate.  Mariah kept holding Joe’s love for his horses over his head, too, even though he proved, time and again, that he was nothing like her father.  To be complete, Joe needed roots and someone to share his dreams with, but Mariah refused to believe in him or the promises that he offered to her.  It just frustrated me that she wouldn’t give him the chance he deserved, and so her lack of trust in him felt forced to me.

Grade:  C+

Review copy purchased from Amazon

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Review: Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler

 

Title: Princess of the Wild Swans

Author: Diane Zahler

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0062004925

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Princess Meriel’s brothers have been cursed. A terrible enchantment–cast by their conniving new stepmother–has transformed the handsome princes into swans. They now swim forlornly on a beautiful heart-shaped lake that lies just beyond the castle walls.

Meriel will do whatever it takes to rescue her beloved brothers. But she must act quickly. If Heart Lake freezes, her brothers will be forced to fly south or perish.

With help from her newfound friends Riona and Liam–a pretty half-witch and her clever brother–Meriel vows to finish a seemingly impossible task. If she completes it, her brothers may be saved.

But if she fails . . . all will be lost.

Review:

I read and enjoyed The Thirteenth Princess, so I was curious to see if I would like Princess of the Wild Swans as well.  The fairy tale that this book is based on has never been a favorite, and I wondered how I would feel about Diane Zahler’s reimagined version.  I liked it!  A lot!  The characters, once again, are what made the story, as well as the urgency of Meriel’s task.  If she doesn’t find a way to save her brothers soon, winter will set in and they will have to fly to a warmer climate.  Since it is autumn, that doesn’t leave her much time to come up with a solution!  To make matters worse, there isn’t anyone for her to confide in, because everyone seems to have succumbed to the evil Lady Orianna’s enchantments.

Diane Zahler’s princess protagonists make these stories for me.  They are kind and concerned, and though they might be slightly spoiled, when the chips are down and danger beckons, they will do anything to save the people they love.  Though she is frightened and confused, Meriel quickly finds the determination to save her brothers.  She knows that something terrible has happened to them – they all just disappeared, after all – and she is going to figure out where they all went.  With her father bewitched by her new, beautiful stepmother, she has no adult to turn to.  After chance encounter with Riona, her brother Cullan’s girlfriend, Meriel discovers some equally determined allies.  Both Riona and her brother, Liam, will do anything to help Meriel.  They know that the new queen is evil, and they fear what will happen to the kingdom if she triumphs in her evil deeds.

Just when Meriel is ready to give up, the townsfolk provide assistance to keep her moving doggedly forward.  Hers is a terrible task, one that she isn’t prepared to tackle, but with help from her friends and her subjects, she finds the resolution and the courage to get the job done.  Meriel matures and gains confidence in her ability to save her family, and as she discovers an impressive inner strength, she makes things happen.  She knows that if she fails, her brothers will remain swans forever, and that is all of the motivation she needs to find a way around every obstacle that springs up in her path.  Her brothers, and even her father, may have treated her like a helpless child, but Meriel will show them all that she is more than capable of taking care of herself, and them as well!  Even though each road block was more overwhelming than the last, and Meriel was overcome with self-doubt, she continued to do everything possible to save her brothers.

Diane Zahler’s writing is reminiscent of Patricia McKillip and Robin McKinley, two of my favorite fantasy authors, so it’s no surprise that I am enjoying her books as well.  I just purchased A True Princess ($5.99 for my Kindle – WIN!).  She has, in fact, been moved to my auto-buy list.  I can hardly wait to see what other adventures she has in store for her very relatable and likeable characters.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by the author

 

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Review: Winterling by Sarah Prineas

 

Title: Winterling

Author: Sarah Prineas

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-0061921032

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

“We live here, my girl, because it is close to the Way, and echoes of its magic are felt in our world. The Way is a path leading to another place, where the people are governed by different rules. Magic runs through them and their land.”

With her boundless curiosity and wild spirit, Fer has always felt that she doesn’t belong. Not when the forest is calling to her, when the rush of wind through branches feels more real than school or the quiet farms near her house. Then she saves an injured creature—he looks like a boy, but he’s really something else. He knows who Fer truly is, and invites her through the Way, a passage to a strange, dangerous land.

Fer feels an instant attachment to this realm, where magic is real and oaths forge bonds stronger than iron. But a powerful huntress named the MÓr rules here, and Fer can sense that the land is perilously out of balance. Fer must unlock the secrets about the parents she never knew and claim her true place before the worlds on both sides of the Way descend into endless winter.

Sarah Prineas captivates in this fantasy-adventure about a girl who must find within herself the power to set right a terrible evil.

Review:

When I saw the coal black horse with glaring red eyes on the cover of Winterling, I immediately wanted to know more about it.  It’s a Middle Grade fantasy, and as I have been having quite a bit of good luck finding satisfying stories with these books lately, I couldn’t wait to start reading it.  Once I picked it up, I could not put it down again.  This is an exciting, magical read with a strong and feisty heroine who is moved by her heart to do the right thing.  My favorite kind of character.

Fer feels that she doesn’t fit in her world.  She hates school and the hurtful taunts of her classmates, and worse, once she climbs aboard the bus and is taken to the city, she starts to feel ill and muddle-headed.  Her grandmother, Grand-Jane, doesn’t seem to understand how wrong Fer feels when she’s surrounded by the city and her schoolmates, and she keeps insisting she go to school.  She has no sympathy when Fer gets into trouble for fighting, and Grand-Jane expects Fer to stay out of mischief.  Miserable, the girl forces herself to suffer through one endless day after another.

One day on her way home from school one day, she witnesses three wolves attacking a dog.  Upset that they are ganging up on the smaller animal, Fer bravely scoops up a fallen branch and wades into the middle of the fight, fearlessly chasing the wolves away.  When she checks the dog for injuries, she discovers, much to her surprise, that the dog isn’t a dog at all; he is really a strange boy named Rook.  Rook tells Fer about the Way, a magical portal to his world, and suddenly, Fer’s life will never be the same again.

This book had me hooked when Fer, despite her fear, bravely defended Rook against the wolves.  She is a girl who doesn’t know how to back down.  There is no challenge too frightening for her to turn away from, and she constantly puts herself at risk to save those around her.  I loved her bravery, and more than that, I loved her selflessness.  Fer never wanted anything in return, and she readily gave of herself, in a land that had long since lost the ability to be kind or generous.

Once Fer is swept up into the adventure of a lifetime, she learns the truth about her parents and the magical land she belongs in.  As she tries to discover the fate of her parents, she is challenged at every turn by the beautiful Lady and the hold she has over her subjects.  Breathtakingly beautiful and frighteningly powerful, her iron will keeps her subjects in line.  Enchanted by her glamor, Fer’s own magic slowly begins to uncoil within her, causing just enough doubt to break the Lady’s magical hold on her.

With Rook’s reluctant help, Fer searches for a way to fix both Rook’s world and her own.  With the Way opened, the weather in both realms is spiraling out of control, causing devastation and destruction.  Spring has gone into hiding, and nobody knows why.  Only the Lady’s bloody Hunts bring back the warm weather, but Fer isn’t fooled.  She knows that something is wrong, and that the Lady is leaving a terrible stain on the land. 

I was enchanted by Fer, an unhappy, sullen girl who, like the land she comes to love, slowly begins to bloom.  There is a strong and caring magic within her, and even though she tries to deny it, it begins to grow, compelling her to use it for the good of those around her.  Her kindness transforms those around her, even the angry and tricky Rook, a boy bond by a thrice sworn promise to do things he abhors.  Both characters change and mature during their adventures, and that made this book a delight.  As they learn to care for others, I learned to care for them. 

Grade: B+

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Review: Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

 

Title: Incarnate

Author: Jodi Meadows

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

ISBN: 978-0062060754

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

NEWSOUL

Ana is new. For thousands of years in Range, a million souls have been reincarnated over and over, keeping their memories and experiences from previous lifetimes. When Ana was born, another soul vanished, and no one knows why.

NOSOUL
Even Ana’s own mother thinks she’s a nosoul, an omen of worse things to come, and has kept her away from society. To escape her seclusion and learn whether she’ll be reincarnated, Ana travels to the city of Heart, but its citizens are suspicious and afraid of what her presence means. When dragons and sylph attack the city, is Ana to blame?

HEART
Sam believes Ana’s new soul is good and worthwhile. When he stands up for her, their relationship blooms. But can he love someone who may live only once, and will Ana’s enemies—human and creature alike—let them be together? Ana needs to uncover the mistake that gave her someone else’s life, but will her quest threaten the peace of Heart and destroy the promise of reincarnation for all?

Jodi Meadows expertly weaves soul-deep romance, fantasy, and danger into an extraordinary tale of new life.

Review:

Incarnate is one of the more hyped books for the winter, and I was very eager to dive into the narrative.  This is an interesting take on the dystopian genre, which is which is one of my favorites.  In Ana’s world, there are one million souls, and they have been re-incarnated for thousands of years.  When Ana is born, however, she is a new soul.  A nosoul.  Nobody knows where she came from.  People are a bit afraid of her.  In order for her to exist, another soul had to disappear, so people aren’t happy that she’s joined them.  Her life means someone else’s permanent death, and a shocking shake up of the status quo.

Ana is left in the care of her mother, Li, a fierce woman who wants nothing to do with her.  Unlike other children, Ana is a blank slate.  She has no memories of her previous lives, because she has none.  What a terrible disadvantage for her to have to deal with!  While her peers are heading off on their own to continue the lives that they had temporarily left, Ana has no skills, no prospects, no expectations of things getting better for her.  Li is a cruel and detached caregiver.  She doesn’t see the sense in putting any effort into her duty when Ana probably only has one life.  Why become invested in someone who will only be around for the blink of an eye.

This is the aspect that I found the most fascinating about the book.  Everyone is thousands of years old. Everyone has a history with everyone else.  Everyone but Ana.  She is truly an infant to these people; young, ignorant, a disturbance in their carefully ordered society.  She doesn’t fit anywhere, and people are not shy about letting her know that.  They are dismissive of her, because they don’t know if she will be reincarnated after she dies, and they don’t think it’s worth their time to get to know her for her blip of a life.  The concept of a life not being worth much because it will likely be only about 70 years is a little disturbing.  While I understand the point of view of the citizens of Heart, I just can’t reconcile myself to anyone’s life being insignificant or worthless.  What a sobering concept for me.

I did find Ana occasionally trying.  After Sam saves her life and becomes her guardian, Ana worried about him treating her the same way Li did.  Sam never once showed an inclination to slap, hit, or otherwise punish her, so when she continued to shy away from him and push him away after spending so much time under his protection, I started to get a sense of overkill.  Li was a horrible mother; we got that message from the first chapter, when she gives Ana a broken compass and sends her on her journey to Heart – in the wrong direction. 

That one quibble was about my only complaint with this story.  I loved the world-building, and found the concept of everyone being continually reincarnated fascinating.  I also loved the mix of fantasy creatures that harried the people of Range.  I am looking forward to the next installment of the series, because I have so many questions that weren’t answered in Incarnate, and I am hopeful that some of them will be addressed in the next book.  Most important – where did everyone come from, and how are they being reincarnated?

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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