Interview with Jacqueline Gardner, Author of Thoughtless

Jacqueline Gardner is the author of Thoughtless, a suspenseful YA novel with a heroine who can read minds.  Jacqueline stopped by the virtual offices to introduce herself and chat about her book.

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Jacqueline Gardner] I’m a mellow, easy-going, sarcastic (at times), fitness nut with a cupcake obsession.

[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about Thoughtless?

[Jacqueline Gardner] During a high school football game, Bridget accidentally stumbles upon a dead cheerleader in the janitor’s closet.  There’s a killer out there.  And worse, somehow the killer knows Bridget’s secret.  The one time she actually tries to embrace her talent, it’s useless.  Bridget can’t figure out who’s blackmailing her, who killed Stacey, and why she can’t hear her boyfriend’s thoughts!

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Jacqueline Gardner] Thoughtless started with a random thought that popped into my head one day.  What if I could have read my friend’s thoughts in high school?  From there I wrote a chapter with the characters in my head to see if they had chemistry, and they did!

[Manga Maniac Café] What was the most challenging aspect of writing Thoughtless?

[Jacqueline Gardner] Deciding how far to go when it came to hearing other people’s inner self talk.  I wanted it to play a comical part in the book but I also wanted to bring in a lot of honesty.  I did my best to find a happy medium of the two.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three words best describe Bridget?

[Jacqueline Gardner] Quiet, skeptical & sarcastic!

[Manga Maniac Café] What is Bridget’s single most prized possession?

[Jacqueline Gardner] Her BF Emma (although Emma is a person)!  Bridget realizes throughout the course of the book just how lucky she is to have an honest and loyal friend.  For a while, she takes Emma for granted.

[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Jacqueline Gardner] I’d say things I dream about and music.  I keep an idea journal next to my bed and I can’t write without my music.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Jacqueline Gardner] Music (anything but absolute silence), a notebook to doodle in, and gum.

[Manga Maniac Café] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Jacqueline Gardner] I just started the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  It’s fantastic!

[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Jacqueline Gardner] The Witches by Roald Dahl

[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Jacqueline Gardner] I live in the Rockies so I love the outdoors – hiking, camping, biking.  I’m also an amateur cake decorator.

[Manga Maniac Café] How can readers connect with you?

[Jacqueline Gardner] website/blog: www.jacquelinegardner.com
twitter: @Writer_Jacque
facebook: www.facebook.com/authorjacquelinegardner
And I’m on Goodreads!

[Manga Maniac Café] Thank you!

You can order Thoughtless from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below.

Review: Tokyo Heist by Diana Renn

 

   Title: Tokyo Heist

   Author: Diana Renn

   Publisher:  Viking

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Sixteen-year-old Violet loves reading manga and wearing scarves made from kimono fabric, so she’s thrilled that her father’s new painting commission means a summer trip to Japan. But what starts as an exotic vacation quickly turns into a dangerous treasure hunt.

Her father’s newest clients, the Yamada family, are the victims of a high-profile art robbery: van Gogh sketches have been stolen from their home, and, until they can produce the corresponding painting, everyone’s lives are in danger — including Violet’s and her father’s.

Violet’s search for the missing van Gogh takes her from the Seattle Art Museum, to the yakuza-infested streets of Tokyo, to a secluded inn in Kyoto. As the mystery thickens, Violet’s not sure whom she can trust. But she knows one thing: she has to solve the mystery — before it’s too late.

Review:

Mysteries aren’t my favorite genre, but Tokyo Heist had me curious because of the setting.  Violet is a huge manga geek, which I could definitely relate to, and she gets to go globe-trotting – to Japan.  How could I not want to read that? 

Violet is resigned that she isn’t going to have the best summer.  Her mother is in Italy for work, and she’s going to be staying with her father.  To say that her father is distant is an understatement.  To say that he is distracted also falls far short of the mark.  Her father, a man she barely knows, is an artist, and a rather eccentric one at that.  When he’s in a creative frame of mind, there is no room for anything, or anyone, else. Not even his teenaged daughter.  While Violet understands that theirs is not the closest of relationships, she is shocked to discover that her father has never told his co-workers, or even his girlfriend, about her existence.  Ouch!

When Violet’s father takes a commission from a wealthy Japanese couple, Violet finds herself embroiled in a mystery.  Somebody has stolen some van Gogh drawings from the Yamada’s, and all fingers are pointing to Skye, her father’s girlfriend.  Determined to find the drawings, and collect the huge reward, Violet discovers that there is so much more at stake than the drawings.  Her father’s life is on the line.  A yakuza boss is demanding the return of a van Gogh painting based on the drawings, claiming that Tomonori Yamada had stolen it from him.  Tomonori committed suicide years before, but Violet is starting to suspect that it wasn’t a suicide after all.

Most of the appeal of this read for me is the location.  What I wouldn’t give for an all-expenses paid trip to Tokyo (and a ryokan in Kyoto).  Even with all of the related danger!  Traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun is a dream of mine, one that I have had for a long, long time.  I want to slurp noodles at a ramen shop, stuff myself with fresh sushi, and snack on Melty Kiss and limited edition Kit Kat bars.  Through Violet, I was able to see some of the highlights of Tokyo, all without the expensive plane ticket and hotel room.

I liked Violet.  I felt for her when her best friend and secret crush, Edge, started dating her former BFF.  Everything she did to try to make things better and repair her friendship with Edge only made matters worse.  Without the mystery to occupy her thoughts, Violet would have moped around all summer long.  Instead, she spent her vacation trying to outsmart gangsters, locate a missing masterpiece, and get her father to finally pay attention to her.  I felt bad for Violet.  She was desperate to have her father’s approval, but he was always far too busy with his art to give her even the time of day.  I didn’t think her mother was much better, though, because she hopped on a plane to Italy and left her with her father, hardly a candidate for Father of the Year, without a second glance.  Just.  Wow.

Violet has perfected the technique of being invisible to avoid being bullied at school.  That doesn’t really work, but she is willing to stay on the fringes instead of getting caught up in the middle of  all of the action.  With the life of her father in danger, though, she must face her fears and start taking risks.  Sometimes observing life isn’t good enough; you have to roll up your shirt sleeves and dive into life.  It was fun watching as Violet gathered the courage to do just that.

Despite some pacing issues, i enjoyed this YA mystery.  I think it will work best for the younger range of YA readers, or anyone with an interest in Japan or Japanese art should find it hard to put down.  Violet is a likeable protagonist, and I had fun following along as she discovered her inner strengths and started to come into her own as she struggled with her relationship with her self-absorbed father.  Her lack of stealth as she raced to crack the mystery of the missing van Gogh painting had me worried about her continued health on more than one occasion.  I breathed a sigh of relief when she emerged, mostly unscathed, to the end of the book. 

Grade:  B

Available in Print and Digital

Review copy provided by publisher

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Interview with Dianna Renn, Author of Tokyo Heist

Diana Renn is the author of Tokyo Heist, a YA mystery set in Seattle and Japan.  Tokyo Heist will be in stores June 14, and Diana dropped by the virtual offices to introduce herself and chat about her book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Diana Renn] I write mysteries for teens. I love travel. I’m an amateur taiko drummer. I grew up in Seattle and now live in Boston. I struggle mightily with word counts – I think I ran over 140!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Tokyo Heist?

[Diana Renn] Tokyo Heist is a mystery set in Seattle and Japan. Violet Rossi, a 16-year-old manga fan and aspiring artist, is supposed to spend the summer with her distant artist father and work in a comic book shop. But her dad’s painting commission in Japan changes this plan, as does an art heist: Van Gogh drawings have been stolen from the Yamadas, her dad’s new clients. Someone demands a painting that corresponds to the drawings, and unless the Yamadas can come up with it fast, all of their lives are in danger. Violet’s visual skills and knowledge of manga help with her sleuthing, as does her friend Reika, who’s spending the summer in Tokyo.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Diana Renn] A few years ago, while attending a summer festival in Japan, I noticed an American girl wearing a brightly colored summer kimono and combat boots. I wondered what her story was. My image of this girl straddling cultures grew into Violet months later. I also came up with the character of Violet’s moody and estranged father, an artist, pretty early on, as well as the Japanese couple from whom the van Goghs are stolen. I liked the idea of a girl from a chaotic family being drawn to what she perceives as a more orderly family. Other characters evolved gradually, over the course of numerous drafts.

In terms of the concept, I resisted labeling the book a “mystery” for quite some time, even though it had many elements of mystery. (Stolen art, anyone? Family secrets? Hello?) It eventually became clear that it had to be a mystery, with real suspects, clues, reveals, the whole deal. Once I made that decision, the writing came easier and became more fun, and I still got to explore the character and culture dynamics that had interested me in the first place.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the story?

[Diana Renn] Working out the mystery plot. It took years! I started without an outline. (Note to self: don’t do that again). I created a tangle of seemingly unsolvable problems. Then I tried to fix everything, throwing myself into brainstorming lists and graphic organizers to keep ideas straight. (Note to self: do that again!) I now think of my book not so much as a “whodunit” but a “whodini” (or Houdini) – I felt like an escape artist, trying to get out of the chains I’d created. I wasn’t even sure who the bad guy was when I began, let alone the logistics of the various crimes. Nightmare. But once I started figuring things out, other parts fell into place. So the most challenging aspect, plotting, ended up being the most fulfilling. I solved this weird, intricate puzzle, and now I hope readers can too!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Violet?

[Diana Renn] Creative. Determined. Introspective.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Violet’s most prized possession?

[Diana Renn] Her sketchbook. She’s an artist who would love to share her work with a wider audience, but she is intensely private and living in the shadow of her artist father. That book is the one place where she feels free to express herself and explore ideas. It’s where she makes sense of her world, drawing the people and experiences in her life. It’s also where she works out much of the mystery she’s trying to solve, usually in comic book form.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Diana Renn] Reading other writers always inspires me. I read widely and often. I went to graduate school for English and American literature, and I used to teach, so I’m sure that has influenced my writing. At the very least, I know how to do effective research!

I’m really most inspired and influenced by visual art, even though I am not a visual artist myself. I love going to galleries and museums, or just looking through books of art. Van Gogh is one of my favorites. I love how there’s this perception of him as a brilliant artist who dashed off masterpieces, when in fact he was a serious student of art. He would do countless sketches and studies of his subjects before putting a brush to canvas, really working through his ideas. When I see a van Gogh painting that seems utterly perfect, but then think about the work that went into it, I’m in awe.

I’m also influenced by music and dance. Those art forms make me alert to patterns and rhythms. Listening to a song over and over, while visualizing my story, helps me to work through tough plot points. In writing Tokyo Heist, I listened to a nine-minute recording of a Japanese koto song played by Masayo Ishigure. For years. Mostly in the car – I’d drive for miles and play this song. I can’t play the koto but I now know every note of this particular song! It really helped me to visualize and refine my story, and to evoke Japan for me.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Diana Renn] It used to be steaming hot coffee, total silence, a stretch of time. With a small child, all of those things have become luxurious commodities. I’m happy with snatches of time, and childcare. I still have the coffee, but it’s often lukewarm.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Diana Renn] Comet in Moominland, by Tove Jansson. It was one of the first novels I read on my own, and it was the most exciting thing I’d ever read. Something fascinating happened on every single page. I went on to devour the whole Moomintroll series, and these battered copies still occupy a place of honor on my shelves. To this day I love the simple but expressive line art illustrations of the whimsical creatures, as well as the exciting adventures and quests balanced with moments of introspection and quietude. The Moomintroll books are adventure stories for introverts. Brilliant.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book you read that knocked your socks off?

[Diana Renn] I’m a huge John Green fan, and The Fault in Our Stars blew me away. I can’t remember when I’ve cared about two characters as much as I’ve cared about Hazel and Augustus, and their connection is so well-rendered. I love the big questions the book takes on and doesn’t always answer. I love how the story could lapse into cliché and melodrama but repeatedly resists.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Diana Renn] I’ve been studying taiko drumming for two years, and I play and occasionally perform with a group here in New England. I hang out with my family – I have a husband, a young child, and a needy cat, plus family in Seattle whom I visit often. I read in almost every spare moment I have. I rarely watch TV.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Diana Renn] I’m easy to find! I have a website, http://www.dianarennbooks.com, and can be reached by email via that site. I lurk in the usual places online: Facebook, Twitter (@dianarenn). I’m also on a group blog called Sleuths Spies & Alibis with six other authors. We all write mysteries for young adult and middle grade readers, and we’re all debuting in 2012 or 2013. If you’re a mystery fan, please stop by and check out our site!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!


You can purchase Tokyo Heist from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below. Available in both print and digital

Review: Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley


 

Title: Cat Girl’s Day Off

Author: Kimberly Pauley

Publisher:  Tu Books

ISBN: 978-1600608834

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Natalie Ng’s little sister is a super-genius with a chameleon-like ability to disappear. Her older sister has three Class A Talents, including being a human lie detector. Her mom has laser vision and has one of the highest IQs ever. Her dad’s Talent is so complex even the Bureau of Extra-Sensory Regulation and Management (BERM) hardly knows what to classify him as.

And Nat? She can talk to cats.

The whole talking-to-cats thing is something she tries very hard to hide, except with her best friends Oscar (a celebrity-addicted gossip hound) and Melly (a wannabe actress). When Oscar shows her a viral Internet video featuring a famous blogger being attacked by her own cat, Nat realizes what’s really going on…and it’s not funny.
(okay, yeah, a frou-frou blogger being taken down by a really angry cat named Tiddlywinks, who also happens to be dyed pink? Pretty hilarious.)

Nat and her friends are catapulted right into the middle of a celebrity kidnapping mystery that takes them through Ferris Bueller’s Chicago and on and off movie sets. Can she keep her reputation intact? Can she keep Oscar and Melly focused long enough to save the day? And, most importantly, can she keep from embarrassing herself in front of Ian?
Find out what happens when the kitty litter hits the fan

Review:

I have read all of Kimberly Pauley’s books to date, and I have enjoyed each one of them.  Her Sucks to be Me series is a tongue in cheek take on vampires (they are also Bargain Priced on Amazon as of the writing of this review here and here), and when I saw that her next project was about a girl who could talk to cats, I was all over that.  I love animals, and the thought of being able to talk to cats sounded like a fun plot device, considering how humorous I hoped that the book would be.  Turns out, I wasn’t disappointed in the least.  I hope I get to spend more time with Nat in the future.

Natalie Ng feels like she’s the under-achiever of her family.  While her sisters have cool Talents, like being a human lie-detector and being able to levitate things, hers is just plain dumb.  Nat can talk to cats.  She’s afraid her classmates will find out and start making fun of her, so she keeps her Talent under wraps.  It’s also grating that her younger sister is a super-genius and already in a higher grade than she is, and that her older sister and her dad both work for BERM, the organization that monitors Talents, so they stick together like glue.  Nat is adrift in her own family, and she feels like she doesn’t fit in.

When she and her friends discover that a celebrity blogger has been kidnapped, they spring into action.  They cat-nap (rescue?) Tiddlewinks, aka Rufus Brutus the Third, and using her special Talent, Nat gets the scoop on the truth.  Easton West has been kidnapped, and Nat’s celebrity obsessed BFFs are determined to save her!  Whether Nat wants anything to do with their rescue mission or not!  Hijinks ensue, which include an epic food fight in the high school cafeteria, skipping classes, breaking into a creepy house, and random discourse with strange cats, only one of which is pink.

I loved Nat and her relationships with the animals she meets during her adventure.  Her own cat, Meep, is genetically engineered so that her mother’s allergies don’t get out of control.  Meep is snarky, but she can’t hold a candle to Rufus.  Rufus is a prima donna in pink cat fur, aloof, demanding, and temperamental.  He also loves his person and wants to save her from the clutches of the evil woman who has kidnapped her and taken over her identity.  The cats are a lot of fun, and their diverse personalities added some laughs when tensions ran high.  I am a sucker for animals, and I loved the idea of being able to communicate with them.  They don’t pull any punches, either!  These cats can be brutally honest.  Nat can only talk to cats, though there are those occasional times when she can understand a dog, usually one that lives with a cat (so maybe the dog is really speaking cat?).

While I did find Nat’s friends too stereo-typed and uber annoying, overall, I thought Cat Girl’s Day Off was a fun, fast read.  I was engaged in the story from beginning to end, and even had a few stressful moments when it looked like Rufus might meet an untimely end. Gah!  Thankfully, Nat cleverly, albeit reluctantly, races in to save the day, as well as the cranky cat.  This is the perfect book to pack in your beach bag; it’s a quick read, it’s light, and it’s a great escape from reality.  I hope Nat has more adventures, because this really is a fun read.

Note: Nat’s footsteps follow those of Ferris Bueller, but since I haven’t seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in forever, most of the nods to the movie went right over my head.  That didn’t stop me from enjoying the book anyway.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by {teen} Book Scene

 

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Review: My Own Worst Frenemy by Kimberly Reid

 

Title:  My Own Worst Frenemy

Author: Kimberly Reid

Publisher: Dafina

ISBN: 978-0758267405

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Straight outta the Mile High City, Chanti Evans is an undercover cop’s daughter and an exclusive private school’s newest student. But Chanti is learning fast that when it comes to con games, the streets have nothing on Langdon Prep.

With barely a foot in the door, fifteen-year-old Chanti gets on the bad side of school queen bee Lissa and snobbish Headmistress Smythe. They’ve made it their mission to take Chanti down and she needs to find out why, especially when stuff begins disappearing around campus, making her the most wanted girl in school, and not in a good way. But the last straw comes when she and her Langdon crush, the seriously hot Marco Ruiz, are set up to take the heat for a series of home burglaries–and worse. . . . 

Review:

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I first picked up My Own Worst Frenemy.  While I occasionally found protagonist Chanti grating, I also found her likeable, capable, and intelligent.  Maybe too smart for her own good, because she couldn’t keep herself, or her mouth, from getting her in trouble.  While watching each new disaster play out, I kept wondering how on earth she was going to clear herself of each new mess she tumbled in.  Usually face first, with plenty of embarrassment and the eminent threat of expulsion from her new prep school, and worse, a trip to jail!  Chanti keeps herself very busy getting herself out of these situations, and each new hurdle kept the pages turning.

After being in the wrong place at the wrong time during summer break, Chanti’s mom, a no-nonsense undercover cop, decides her daughter needs to be in new surroundings.  Separated from her friends, Chanti finds herself enrolled at Langdon Prep, a school across town for rich kids.  Kids jarringly different from herself, and kids who don’t hesitate to mock her scholarship and her humble background.  As Chanti tries to fit in with kids she has absolutely nothing in common with, she finds other trials to overcome.  A series of thefts has suspicions aimed firmly in her direction, as well as the two other scholarship kids at Langdon.  Determined to clear her name, and maybe hook-up with cutie Marco, Chanti finds herself in a lot more trouble than she bargained for.

I have to admit, when I first met Chanti, I didn’t like her.  She is a smart aleck, and she thinks she is a lot more street savvy than she actually is.  Then I learned that her bravado is all a front, and that she would really rather run from a confrontation than engage in one.  To keep herself from looking like a coward, she meets adversity head on.  I started to admire that trait, because I think I would have rolled over and given up a few times if I had been presented with the same challenges as Chanti.  I also started to appreciate her flaws, and her acceptance of them, as the story unfolded.

What Chanti is good at is noticing things.  She also never backs down from a challenge.  Having observed her mom in action, Chanti can’t help but mimic some of her mom’s detective skills.  It’s almost genetic.  She can’t help noticing things, and many times, it’s noticing things that get her into trouble.  She is curious about everything, and is always trying to understand other people’s motivations.  This trait annoys pretty much everyone she meets, because she can’t help but grill them about – well – everything. 

As the charges against Chanti increase, so does her desperation to discover the real thief.  As her life hurtles out of control, Chanti tries desperately to reconcile her old life and her old friends with her new life at Langdon Prep, where it looks as though she will never fit in.  The pages starting turning with increased velocity as Chanti’s troubles magnified.  Once I got involved in the plot, I gobbled this book up in an afternoon.  This is a fun read for fans of contemporary dramas, with a mystery thrown in for good measure.  I felt that the romance elements needed to be stronger, and I’m hoping that Chanti and Marco’s relationship will be further developed in the next book.  I also hope that Chanti’s mom, Lana, will be a little more active in her life; no wonder Chanti keeps getting herself into mischief!  It’s not like her mom is home to keep her on the straight and narrow.  

Grade: B

Review copy provided by {Teen} Book Scene


My Own Worst Frenemy is available in both print and digital formats:

Review: Between by Jessica Warman

 

Title: Between

Author: Jessica Warman

Publisher: Walker Books

ISBN: 978-0802721822

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Elizabeth Valchar-pretty, popular, and perfect-wakes up the morning after her eighteenth birthday party on her family’s yacht, where she’d been celebrating with her six closest friends. A persistent thumping noise has roused her. When she goes to investigate, what she finds will change everything she thought she knew about her life, her friends, and everything in between. As Liz begins to unravel the circumstances surrounding her birthday night, she will find that no one around her, least of all Liz herself, was perfect-or innocent. Critically acclaimed author Jessica Warman brings readers along on a roller-coaster ride of a mystery, one that is also a heartbreaking character study, a touching romance, and ultimately a hopeful tale of redemption, love, and letting go.

Review:

I am a bit confused about my feelings for this book.  There were many elements that I loved and that is what kept me reading.  There were also bits and pieces that I wasn’t so fond of, that detracted from my enjoyment of Between.  I love the concept, too, but felt that the execution was just a little weak in spots.

My biggest dissatisfaction stems from the pacing.  This is a leisurely look at the life and death of one very spoiled young woman.  Starting with Liz’s death, the book jumps between the present and flashbacks to the past to unravel the mystery of her death.  How did she end up in a cold, watery grave on her birthday? Why didn’t anyone hear her fall off of her parents’ boat, or her struggles to save herself from drowning?  Liz has very few memories left, so with the help of another ghost, she begins to fill in the pieces of her life that she has forgotten.  As she slowly adds one fragment of her past after another, she starts to see that she wasn’t a very nice person, and that despite all appearances to the contrary, she wasn’t a very happy one, either.

This is a character driven book, which brings me to the other reason why I didn’t totally love this read.  I wasn’t head over heels with any of the characters, except maybe Alex.  Alex has been dead for a year, killed by a hit and run driver.  He has been stuck somewhere between life and death, restlessly seeking a way to move beyond where he’s stuck now.  He was never a popular kid at school, and unlike Liz, he had to work for everything that he had.  His parents weren’t wealthy, and he had to work at the local market, riding his bike back and forth to his job.  It’s obvious from the start that he can’t stand Liz, he can’t stand her friends, and he isn’t happy that he’s with her in death.  She is about the last person he would want to spend time with, and now it looks like he’s going to be spending eternity with her.   Life, and death, just aren’t fair!

Since Liz can’t remember much about herself, she has a hard time believing that she was as big a witch as Alex claims.  Through flashbacks, she begins to see what a mess she was.  Having witnessed her mother’s untimely death, Liz has had many issues to deal with, and they have left her with a skewed outlook on life.  Her father denies her nothing, and her step-mother and step-sister are also accustomed to getting every material thing that they want.  This leaves Liz a shallow, materialistic girl, and I never connected with her.  Even in her death, she’s hard to like.  She’s catty and judgmental, and she’s always critical of the people around her and how they look or what they have.  It’s like she still can’t see beyond outward appearances, even when she is seeking redemption for herself.  This frustrated me about her.  She is petty and shallow, from the beginning of the book to the end.   This is a passage near the end of the novel:

Nicole saunters out the back door of our house. She’s wearing a flowing white skirt that grazes her ankles, a yellow halter top that exposes her belly – which is just a tad pudgy – and a light jacket.

If I had ever met her in real life, we would have hated each other.

Having said that, Liz does possess one character trait that I admired, and kept me from totally disliking her.  She is so intensely loyal and in love with Richie, her boyfriend.  Though he is a flawed character as well, their relationship was convincing.  They have known each other since they were both babies, and they have developed an intense and unwavering love between them.  They have always been together, and they believe, firmly and unflinchingly, that they will always be together.

While Between didn’t always work for me, I never wanted to put it down and stop reading it.  I did want Liz and Alex to find some kind of meaning in their deaths, and I wanted Liz to find the happiness in death that she never found in her troubled life.  I just wish I had liked her better during her journey to find inner peace.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

 

 

Title: Wrapped

Author: Jennifer Bradbury

Publisher: Atheneum

ISBN: 978-1416990079

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Agnes Wilkins is standing in front of an Egyptian mummy, about to make the first cut into the wrappings, about to unlock ancient (and not-so-ancient) history.

Maybe you think this girl is wearing a pith helmet with antique dust swirling around her.

Maybe you think she is a young Egyptologist who has arrived in Cairo on camelback.

Maybe she would like to think that too. Agnes Wilkins dreams of adventures that reach beyond the garden walls, but reality for a seventeen-year-old debutante in 1815 London does not allow for camels—or dust, even. No, Agnes can only see a mummy when she is wearing a new silk gown and standing on the verdant lawns of Lord Showalter’s estate, with chaperones fussing about and strolling sitar players straining to create an exotic “atmosphere” for the first party of the season. An unwrapping.

This is the start of it all, Agnes’s debut season, the pretty girl parade that offers only ever-shrinking options: home, husband, and high society. It’s also the start of something else, because the mummy Agnes unwraps isn’t just a mummy. It’s a host for a secret that could unravel a new destiny—unleashing mystery, an international intrigue, and possibly a curse in the bargain.

Get wrapped up in the adventure . . . but keep your wits about you, dear Agnes.

Review:

I love Regencies, and I love Egyptian history, so when I heard about Wrapped, I thought that the book would be right up my alley.  While there were a few spots that seemed to drag a bit, I enjoyed reading about rebellious Agnes as she navigates through a deadly set of circumstances that threatens the outcome of the war with France.  After stumbling into a deadly mystery, Agnes, with the help of Caedmon, a young museum employee, must save England from Napoleon, spies, and a supernatural threat left by the Egyptian pharaohs, without getting herself – or her new friend – killed.

Agnes is such a clever girl, and it’s a shame that she’s bound by duty to wed a man of her parents choosing and settle down to a life suitable for a proper young lady in 1815.  Though her father has indulged her love of learning, her mother thinks all of the tutors, and all of Agnes’ reading, are nothing but a waste of time.  She’s soon to make her debut, find the perfect match, and start a family of her own.  She certainly doesn’t need to know how to speak 10 languages to do that!  In fact, Agnes’ intelligence is a strike against her within the rigid confines of her social class.  Once she’s married, she won’t be able to think for herself.  Ugh!  While it is a complete drag to have to work for a living, I cannot imagine having so little say in my own life!  No wonder Agnes chafes at the thought of getting married so quickly!

When Lord Showalter, the most eligible bachelor in Hyde Park, takes a fancy to her, it looks like her future will be golden.  Things take a drastic turn of the deadly when she is invited to an unwrapping party at Showalter’s.  While Agnes balks at the thought of removing the wrappings from a mummy for entertainment purposes, she none the less performs as she’s expected.  Unfortunately, she recovers an object that threatens both her life and her country.  Who would have known that desecrating the body of an ancient Egyptian would lead to so much trouble?

While I enjoyed the book and the ensuing mystery, I did find myself growing weary of all of Agnes’ missed opportunities to confide in her father, an important parliamentary member.  The time was never right, despite the ample occasions available to admit that she’d gotten in over her head.  Yes, it would have been extremely embarrassing to admit to her petty theft, but given the stakes of the game she was playing, a bit of personal discomfort would have been worth it. 

I thought the forbidden romance between Agnes and Caedmon was well done, and the final resolution satisfied my inner romantic.  The class differences between them were impossible to over look.  While Agnes was a rebel, her mother never would have accepted her suitor of choice.  Even Agnes was taken aback by the depth of her feelings for the penniless museum employee, who spent far too much time for his liking dusting the artifacts in the Egyptian antiquities department.  I was happy that they were able to find a HEA.

With an engaging heroine and a dangerous game of cat and mouse, Wrapped delivers a solid mystery.  The ending tidily tied up all of the loose plot threads, but I am hoping for a sequel.  Agnes and Caedmon make too good a team to only have one outing together.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Red Glove by Holly Black

 

Title: Red Glove

Author: Holly Black

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry

ISBN: 978-1442403390

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Curses and cons. Magic and the mob. In Cassel Sharpe’s world, they go together. Cassel always thought he was an ordinary guy, until he realized his memories were being manipulated by his brothers. Now he knows the truth—he’s the most powerful curse worker around. A touch of his hand can transform anything—or anyone—into something else.

That was how Lila, the girl he loved, became a white cat. Cassel was tricked into thinking he killed her, when actually he tried to save her. Now that she’s human again, he should be overjoyed. Trouble is, Lila’s been cursed to love him, a little gift from his emotion worker mom. And if Lila’s love is as phony as Cassel’s made-up memories, then he can’t believe anything she says or does.

When Cassel’s oldest brother is murdered, the Feds recruit Cassel to help make sense of the only clue—crime-scene images of a woman in red gloves. But the mob is after Cassel too—they know how valuable he could be to them. Cassel is going to have to stay one step ahead of both sides just to survive. But where can he turn when he can’t trust anyone—least of all, himself?

Love is a curse and the con is the only answer in a game too dangerous to lose.

Review:

I love Holly Black’s Curse Worker series.  White Cat was a big surprise for me, because it seemed like it came out of nowhere.  I downloaded the free sample from Amazon to test out my (then) new iPad, and I couldn’t stop reading it.  White Cat was the second ebook that I purchased – The Enemy by Charlie Higson was the first, if you’re curious, and it, too, was a book that was outside of my normal reading zone.  I loved them both, and never would have read them if I hadn’t made that impulse purchase of my iPad (yes, I am just as susceptible to hype as everyone else).

I love the way Holly Black messes with your mind.  You don’t know who to believe or who to trust because everyone is trying to pull a con.  I think the only one in Cassel’s family who was straight with him was his grandfather.  His mom and his brothers don’t seem to have much use for him, except for when they are getting read to pull a scam or have job they need to carry out.  Then they put the pressure on him to lend a hand, and they pull the family obligation card if he resists.  And here I thought my family can be needy and demanding.  They are nothing compared to Cassel’s.  His mom definitely needs to attend parenting classes; no wonder he wants to stay at his boarding school!

I don’t want to spoil any of the plot, so I’m not going to delve into it.  Instead, I’m going to discuss the nuts and bolts of the world of the curse workers and why I enjoy it so much.  Much of this is a reiteration of my review of White Cat.  I love the “magic” system here, and I find it so much more believable because there is a price to be paid when a curse worker uses their talents.  That only seems fair, right? If you have the ability to kill someone with the briefest touch, a little bit of you should die as well.  If you can snatch away someone’s memory, you should have to sacrifice some of yours, too.  That would make you think twice before cheating and resorting to your powers to get ahead in life, don’t you think?

Well, no, not when you work for the mob. That is the other fun part of this world.  Cassel comes from a long line of mobsters.  Why is that?  Because his family is full of curse workers, and everybody hates them!  Why? Because they cheat!  They use their powers to get ahead in the world, and that’s just not right!  Curse workers are illegal, and the government is trying to mandate testing so that each and every one of them can be identified and labeled.  What’s next? Brainwashing?   Internment camps? Capital punishment?  With politicians these days, you never know!

Red Glove is a great book, and it is different from most of the YA novels out there.  I liked the male point of view, and I think that Cassel is a great character.  Somehow he ended up a decent guy, and with his less than stable family, that says a lot about his strength of character.  I enjoyed the time I spent with him, and I can hardly wait for the next book in the series!  If you haven’t read these, give them a chance; I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Grade: B+ leaning towards an A-

Review copy provided by publisher