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Today in Jen's Library

I listen to audiobooks while I flip houses. I also read real books which I buy incessantly.

Currently reading

Monsters (The Ashes Trilogy, #3)
Ilsa J. Bick
Time Between Us
Tamara Ireland Stone
The Message: The New Testament, Mass Market Edition
Losing It - Cora Carmack What a fun read. It kept me interested, which is something I didn't expect. It's also a relatively quick read, so big big points for entertainment value.

The plot just takes off like a jet. If Carmack intended to grab her readers with some hot and steamy scenes, she certainly did it. You'd think this would be a bad idea and make the story incredibly short. But no, it simply laid the foundation for it.

There were the usual plot speedups and leave-outs and fabrications that make this fiction that is simply based on real life. But who cares? I cared too much about the characters to really fault it on that account.

I did like the characters. Typical college students, typical young adults with typical insecurities, second-guessing themselves, skirting the truth. But like I said - who cares? I was far too entertained to criticise.

Phoebe Strole narrates wonderfully. She has the kind of expression that really makes you forget that you're listening to only one person. The characters came alive.

So all in all, worth my time. And a very good time it was.
Where She Went (Audio) - Gayle Forman, Dan Bittner Wow. So good. Review to come.
City of Glass  - Natalie Moore, Cassandra Clare Amazing.
Ice Country (The Country Saga, #2) - David Estes Action, action, action. You want action? This book has action. It's a fun read, lighter than most deep dark serious dystopians. A younger-ish audience will eat this up. It's a fantastic comic book adventure.

This is probably because the main character, Dazz, is such a troublemaker. Or, because trouble seems to be attracted to him. There are fight scenes and bar brawls and guys defending themselves and people breaking out of prison and all out general ass kicking. This is, for lack of a better term, definitely a boy's book.

There is a bit of romance, but it seems to come out of nowhere and I didn't feel it was necessary to the story. It does tie the first and second books together, but beyond that, it was just extra. I didn't really believe it; for some reason I just couldn't picture the two characters together - she was too tall and too tough, and he was kind of a dumb lumberjack type.

The plot is great. There's a lot of intrigue, twisting around, and things are generally really hard to figure out. A plot is good when it surprises you, and this one did that. Add to that all the action and you have a great story.

I'm not sure if it's a signature of David Estes or simply contained within this series, but I didn't care for the vernacular. All the cussing is native to the area, so I inadvertently kept trying to match it up in my head with the actual word commonly used. It was distracting. Also, there were times that the characters would be speaking and they'd slip out of their normal voice. I noticed it when Wes was describing something; although he was speaking, it was as if it had been written in third person. He would never have used those words because he wouldn't have spoken that way. So, some of the dialogue bugged me.

While I liked this installment well enough, I liked the first book much better. I'm looking forward to the last book in this series to tie it all up.
The Fault in Our Stars - John Green, Kate Rudd I'm not sure how to approach a critical review for a book like this.

There are two teenagers dealing with cancer and their own mortality here. I don't really recognize them as real teenagers in the way they speak or in how clever they are with words. But they are honest with the world, each other, and themselves, and that is commendable.

The book is heartwrenching. But it is hopeful at the end. I think probably the best thing I can say about it is simply this: I hate being emotionally manipulated by an author. John Green didn't do that at all. He just told a story worth telling.
City of Bones  - Ari Graynor, Cassandra Clare Cassandra Clare is an amazing author. I think every review I do of any book of hers should start with that sentence. The woman can write, y'all.

City of Bones reminds me of Clockwork Angel. We are introduced to the characters and a lot of groundwork is laid. It is a good stand-alone story, but it also is an obvious strong foundation for the series. I'm not sure if I felt this way because I know it's a series or because that's how the book read - either way, it is still a book that lays a solid groundwork of characters and conflict.

Clare has such a way with a plot. Just when I think I've figured it out, especially having read spoilers from other readers, she throws something out of nowhere. This book was no exception. I don't know how she manages to take the relationships between the characters and make them incredibly convoluted and yet simple to follow. This, my friends, is a gifted writer.

Each character is strong in its own right. Clary is unsure without being insecure. Jace is cocky without being a jerk (most of the time). Simon seemed to be the comic relief and not at all the sad little side character that goes by the wayside. Alec is deep and conflicted. Isabelle seems like a fluff character as Alec's sister - and yet, she holds a spot in the cast that is vital to the story in a way I can't really explain.

And Magnus Bane. What a delight. What fun.

Clare is also expert at setting up a situation within the plot that seems like the primary conflict to solve, and then expanding it to a larger problem. At first the plot is a simple thing to fix, and then all of a sudden there's a horrifying villain and a much larger conflict and presto! We now have a series.

There are other characters I loved and other situations that were wonderfully interesting, all of which involved supernatural creatures. But I won't detail those for the sake of spoilers.

And the dialogue. Oh, the dialogue! It is what makes Clare's books such a pleasure to read. If she has that same dry wit in person, I would love to be her good friend. To a generation of young adults that find base humor so entertaining, she offers what I call "smart-funny." I can't tell you how many times I laughed out loud at the banter in this book. Anyone can write stupid-funny; it takes an expert to write such biting wit.

I would have given this five stars. But I felt the pacing lagged a bit. I know it's because she was laying groundwork. But I've noticed that Clare's style is to build up gradually to an exciting climax, so it's worth hanging in there even if you're bored. The payoff always exceeds my expectations. That said, she also lets her readers down easily by attempting to provide a worthy conclusion while leaving things open for the next book. In this case, I didn't feel that she left me hanging. But if I were reading this and had to wait for a sequel, I might be upset with her. The resolution to all the action was kind of blah - not bad, just meh. I can just pick up the next book and read it, so I don't feel this way. And of course I'll be picking up the next book with the attitude that "this can't possibly be the truth of the situation!" It's a great author who can create that kind of suspense.

This book is a must read in its genre. I believe it will prove to be one of the classics that future generations will love.
Walking Disaster  - Jamie McGuire, Dan Bittner The best part about this book is simply knowing what's going to happen - and yet seeing it from a different perspective. The other great thing is that you can read this as a stand alone, and then read [b:Beautiful Disaster|11505797|Beautiful Disaster (Beautiful, #1)|Jamie McGuire|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1358259032s/11505797.jpg|16441531] and get the same thing.

I'm a mom of five girls. So this particular book just made me laugh and laugh - seeing things from a guy's perspective was hilarious. Guys are so uncomplicated. And Travis is such a typical guy.

Not typical is the departure from the stereotype. Travis is a guy who really is full of angst - not just your run of the mill "guy anger," but serious questioning of his feelings and motives. He does resort to the standard inability to understand women. But at least he keeps trying, which is kind of refreshing. And his heartbreak is, well, heartbreaking. He kind of deserves it, and he's a baby about it, but it's a good thing when it's over. It's almost like he finally decides to man up, take things into his own hands, and fix the situation.

The plot really would have had enough going on with just the conflict in the relationship. There are some twists near the end that seem unnecessary. And of course the whole ending is pretty far-fetched. Odds are that would never happen, and if it did, it would be doomed. The epilogue is nice but also unnecessary. Those of us who have that life and are hopeless romantics tend to want to stay teenagers.

The audio on this is fabulous. Dan Bittner IS Travis. And he sounds a lot like Chris Pine, so visualizing Chris Pine as Travis doesn't hurt.

Fun book, guilty pleasure, great light read. Here's to Abby and Travis, may they stay together forever.
Mila 2.0 - Debra Driza Just can't get into this story right now - DNFing for now.
If I Should Die (Audio) - Amy Plum The best thing about this book is that it picks up at the exact moment the last book left off. Not many sequels do that, and there's no break in the action. While this might be a problem for some because of the length of time between books, it's great for those of us who read them back-to-back. Sometimes it pays to wait for an entire series to be written and out before you read it.

The plot in this last book departs from the previous two books in that it's action, action, action. It's written in two parts, which is good because of the way things happen. The romance pretty much goes completely by the wayside in part two. While that might be appropriate for the plot, it struck me as a little sad. The whole series is basically the story of the romance between the two main characters. So for that to take a second place to the good vs. bad plot line was ok, but not what I would have liked best.

Kate, the main character, finally matures. She still tends to stubbornly advance her own conclusions and plans of action, but at least she's right more of the time in this book than she was in the last. And she apologizes and voices her feelings. We see her desperate, motivated, driven, and finally conquering. I would not call her "badass" but I think that was the aim of the author. Kate survives and goes beyond what she thought she could be and/or was.

Vincent's character morphs here from the hopeless romantic into a serious leader. And even at that, he does tend to seem a bit of a wimp as the book winds down. I wish he'd been stronger. He's strong enough, I suppose, but does tend to overreact and give in a little too often. Maybe I've read too many characters who achieve the same thing but more elegantly. Amy Plum paints Vincent as one reacting to his circumstances more often than responding. Honestly, he seems to just not know what to do with Kate. He's not incapable, he just chooses (wisely) to step back out of her way for most of the time. He is not the protector that he was previously, whether by circumstance or choice. He's more like a person in real life than a fictional character. And that has its good and bad elements.

The bad guys are pretty standard, although the primary bad guy didn't really behave in a truly evil way. There were far more concessions made in the name of fairness that any really despicable villain would never have made.

And in the end, the book becomes far more about an altruistic view about what is right and wrong, and what needs to happen in the future. It is a definite departure from Vincent and Kate and their love for each other.

The audio is narrated by Julia Whelan, who gives the characters French accents where appropriate. As long as you don't pick too much at the way she does it (as compared to the way a French person's English accent would sound), she does a great job. The voices she gives each character are very good.

This was an enjoyable series, and I would recommend it even with my criticisms. Some of the basics about the supernatural creatures are a trifle unbelievable and seem to exist only to serve the plot. But hey, this is fiction, and it can be anything it wants. Best to just roll with it and enjoy the ride.
Die for Her (Revenants, #2.5) - Amy Plum Here's a nice little novella to provide a backstory for Jules.

I like it when a short story like this one doesn't try to repeat what the novels say. In this case, the events are simply mentioned - glossed over, really - while the focus remains on Jules and his situation.

It's not a necessity for understanding the other books, but it is a nice little extra.

Until I Die: Revenants Series, Book 2

Until I Die (Audio) - Amy Plum I had not expected to enjoy this book as much as I did. That surprise in and of itself grants an entire from me.

The story starts out well enough, with our main characters in the midst of normal life. But things pick up quickly, making for some suspense and mystery. There are more surprises in store.

The plot is much better in this installment. There's a point to the action, and there is good action which is well-paced. I didn't get bored, and I had a hard time figuring out who the bad guy was. Points for maintaining the mystery, Amy Plum, because I'm pretty good at guessing the answers.

As for the characters - well, of course Vincent remains the absolute perfect, romantic, adorable, good-looking, amazing boyfriend ever invented. Plus he's French and he says things like "mon ange" (my angel), so nuff said there. Kate is the girlfriend he may or may not deserve; she's no dummy, but she does tend to act based on questionable conclusions. Georgia is wonderful and we get to know her a little better; she's not quite the dumb blonde she was in the first book, although she is pretty stupid at the end. Jules, Charlotte, JB, and Gaspar remain their steady selves. Artur and Violette are some nice additions, and they add a well-rounded flavor to the plot. And Ambrose is his usual entertaining self.

This installment ends with a shocker cliffhanger ending, although it wasn't quite the jaw-dropper I thought it would be. Amy Plum may send us over the edge, but she does at least leave us hanging by a thread. This is a great setup for the final book.

The audio narrator for this book is Julia Whelan. With the audio you get the added bonus of her version of French accents for everyone. Her characterizations are good. So while she's not the most amazing, off-the-charts narrator ever, she is still very good.

I will say that this book is markedly better than the first. If the third book continues on this path, Amy Plum will have an excellent series on her hands.
Clockwork Princess  - Daniel Sharman, Cassandra Clare This is the best book I've ever read.

I've read a lot of books, so I don't say that lightly. But I put this at the top of my list and here is why:

The ending: I adored this ending because it was closure. I hold it up for comparison to two particular good series: Boundless, where the right guy got the girl but . . . the really good guy got left out. Bittersweet. And then Delirium, a series I loved but was incredibly disappointed by the ending. I think Cassandra Clare has proven here that it's possible for things to end well for everyone and not be neatly tied up like a fairytale.

The writing: there are so many lines in this book that I think are just profoundly quotable. Maybe it's the 19th century language, but several are just so simple. Check the quotes about this book for a taste. It is not often that you have a book like this be so insightful into the truths of life.

The depth: I have yet to come across a fictional book for young adults that contains so many of the principles this book has. Books by Ted Dekker come close, but they never have quite the appeal that this story offers. Altruistic love, brotherly love, romantic love, propriety, honor, and basically preferring others over oneself - these aren't just good ideas, but they are some of the tenets of my faith. That they are offered to this target group in such packaging makes me amazed. That alone makes the book worth reading.

And now for specifics:

Odds and ends: I love the way we got to know Will even better in flashbacks after his death, seeing him as he aged. I got a shallow sense of Tessa's grief after he died, but that was enough when put in context. I loved the way the romance budded between Cecily and Gabriel. And that whole proposal between Sophie and Gideon was priceless. Throwing Brigit in for a bit of comic relief was wonderful. Magnus Bane was as interesting as Woolsy was intriguing (good guy or bad guy?). Morefield was a crazy bad guy, but I've read crazier, and he was crazy enough for the plot. Which, by the way, took so many turns that I was continually surprised.

And Jem. Well, he was the best part. He admirably fought his circumstances, gave up at the right time, then gave up again to serve, and then after such a long time was rewarded with his heart's desire. Right there is a picture of most people's life of faith. So beautiful.

As a side note, this book is narrated by Daniel Sharman, and he is marvelous.

Everyone should read this book. It is a masterpiece.
Fragments - Dan Wells Wow. Just, wow. This book is incredible.

Here is what I love the most: the politics and action of this book are extremely well-balanced with the characters. There are no compromises made here sacrificing the plot for the sake of the character development.

The plot has so many twists and turns that predicting what will happen is very difficult. I like to be surprised by a book, and this book doesn't just "not disappoint" - it flat out amazes. There are difficult decisions made by the main characters to do things they honestly don't know are the right thing; they just make their best guess and go for it. As a reader, I went right along, wondering if this was the right course of action. And because of this, I (as a reader) experienced each catastrophe as unexpectedly as the characters did.

The book alternates between points of view. As such, the pacing got a little tedious for me. I cared less and less about the politics and more about the action. But the politics were necessary for the story, so it wasn't that hard to put up with them. And things move along pretty quickly, so while one part might be tedious it quickly switched to action. My impatience was assuaged.

The characters deepen. Kira is a serious badass heroine! I love this character because she is so logical. She does get overwhelmed by fear and other emotions. But she continues to possess an uncanny ability to concentrate on the logical side of things and figures stuff out even while she's scared to death. Samm is steady as ever. I did love the fact that we get to see more facets of him as the story progressed. Afa is a nice addition to the cast, adding some color to the action. And Heron is the driven, frustrated meanie who, on the one hand, we love to hate while appreciating her realistic view of each situation.

Marcus and Haru are secondary but likable enough. Marcus, especially, really is revealed as a regular guy in extraordinary situations. He was the comic relief in Partials; here, he is less that and more of a wry commentary on the situation at hand. As a mediator, he is nothing if not entertaining.

The audio is narrated by Julia Whelan and is excellent.

I cannot wait for the final book in this series. If it contains even half of the action and suspense of this book, it will be nothing short of amazing.
Clockwork Prince (The Infernal Devices, #2) -  Ed Westwick,  Heather Lind, Cassandra Clare Honestly, I did not love Clockwork Angel. I did not expect to love this book. Boy, was I ever surprised.

First off, the language of the Victorian age is an absolute delight to read. I wish we still spoke that way.

The plot is deep and rich. Backstories are revealed, and things start to make sense with Will, Jem and Tessa. I could go on and on about the plot, the way things are not as they seem, and it still always seems to come back to the way these characters care about one another. There is such a sense of rightness about them; they want to do what is best for each other. Because of this, they hold secrets that wound them each deeply, sparing the others. Who does that in the modern day? They honor one another, they sacrifice for each other, they give their hearts to each other. And there is an equal love within the triangle of Jem, Will, and Tessa.

The audiobook is narrated by Ed Westwick and Heather Lind. Westwick is very, very good. Lind is also excellent at characterization, although I didn't like Charlotte's voice at all. That said, the audio edition is wonderful.

Read this. Just, read this.

The Iron King - Julie Kagawa Just not my thing at all.
The Elite - Kiera Cass I don't often want to throw a book across the room. But in this case, that's what makes this book good. And while the book is advertised as a primarily a romance, I would disagree. I think it's primarily about politics. The politics of a country, of a group of women, of a kingdom, and of a girl's heart.

So let's talk about the plot. It moved slowly at first. But things picked right up with some action heavily seasoned with America's failure to commit to a solid choice. She made up her mind, and then she decided she wasn't sure she could trust herself or the parties involved. There is a lot of angst. There is a lot of what is not miscommunication, but a total failure to communicate. The spunky America of the last book gets kind of lost in the contest; she is conflicted about the prize, and that robs her of most of her fire. Her honesty sort of goes by the wayside, and I have to say that I did my fair share of yelling at my iPod.

There are a couple of spots where America steps up and speaks. But the choices here are not so well defined as they were in The Selection. That's because America is less defined while she deals with her own personal demons. It's a pretty accurate picture of what would probably happen, honestly. You take a 17-year old, take her out of her element, put her in a new situation where she has to compete based on her own attributes as measured by others (all subjectively) and you would likely get America. She's lost some of that fire because she's in a different environment with different expectations. She's out of her element and the whole "she's so refreshing" thing has worn off. She's moved to the new school and is now settling in - and the whole place is full of mean girls.

America comes to doubt Maxon's character in a few spots. From the outside (and her perspective), that doubt is warranted. Oddly, I didn't really fault him. I find that I tend to give men in general a break more often these days. Men are who they are and they behave differently than women. This is not to say that they can't be pigs - but women also make mistakes based on their gender. So while Maxon erred, I didn't fault him immediately - and as the story continues, we find that in most cases America shouldn't have faulted him. He does make one big betrayal. But honestly, it would never have happened if America had been honest. I looked at that situation and thought 'well, what did she expect would happen? And wasn't she doing the same thing?'

At one point, America says "I've been so foolish." Well yeah! This was really the culmination of everything. Fortunately, this happened in the second book and not the third. Now there is potential to concentrate on the country's conflict and government in the third book, and our characters can be colored by those events.

I did like the ending. There was resolution and a nice setup for the last book. As for the world building in a dystopia, I wouldn't say it failed miserably. The history of the country and the wars were clear. But all that was a backdrop; if you're expecting Hunger Games here, then you will be disappointed. The plot isn't about a dystopia. It's about a contest and the politics of it.

As to characters, America's angst aside, Maxon is no longer a sappy teenager wanting to impress a girl. I really liked him here; he behaves like a prince would. We get to see some of the cattiness of the girls, particularly Celeste. And we get to know Queen Amberley (love that name!) as well as the pig of a King to whom she is married. Aspen gives America space while still staying in the game, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's found to have something going on the side with some maid in the castle.

Amy Rubinate narrates this book on audio. She is a passable narrator in this story. But I think it is better read in print. Rubinate is not really a voice actor and that gives a flatness to the story. And with such a complicated and maddening trip through the conflicted teenage heart, it would have taken a really talented, experienced voice actor to really make the characters come alive.

The last several pages (or the last hour) of the story are the best. If you can plod through America's artistic temperament, you'll be rewarded. She's smarter and back to her old self by the end. The book may test your patience at times, but the ending is worth it. I'm looking forward to the next book now.