July 31, 2014

Review: Buzz Kill

Buzz Kill By Beth Fantaskey
Available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR
Review copy

The tone of BUZZ KILL reminded me of NO ONE ELSE CAN HAVE YOU.  It is both chipper and dark.  Millie Ostermeyer, the heroine, is a school reporter who gets nosy after Coach Killdare is murdered.  In many books, there's a murder of a nice person that then reveals their dark secrets.  In BUZZ KILL, Coach Killdare was hated, but his death reveals some good things about him.

BUZZ KILL is hard to put down, almost every chapter ending at a place designed to keep you reading.  The mystery keeps things moving, as does Millie herself.  She's still struggling with her mom's death, in addition to her attraction to Chase, the cute quarterback she spotted going into Coach Killdare's home after his death.  Before Millie had the mystery to capture her attention, she spent a lot of time at the public library.  She's not up to speed on getting a boyfriend.

I'd be happy if BUZZ KILL got a sequel (or two).  It's very much in the vein of Nancy Drew mysteries, with a plucky girl detective, a fairly chaste romance, and clues popping up like daisies.  Things really move into gear once more bodies turn up, but the beginning of the book certainly isn't slow.

It's also similar to Nancy Drew in that the girl detective herself is as much or more an attraction than the actual mystery.  Millie has an appealing voice, both extremely stubborn and vulnerable.  Some of the secrets she uncovers during her investigation hit her in soft spots, but she keeps going because there is a story out there and because Coach Killdare deserves for someone to fight for him.  That's a heroine who'd I'd read about again.

July 30, 2014

Review: Summer State of Mind

Summer State of Mind Companion to Sleepaway Girls
By Jen Calonita
Available now from Poppy (Hachette)
Review copy

It's the perfect time of year to get into the SUMMER STATE OF MIND.  Harper McAllister's family moved to LA after her father (McDaddy) became a successful music video director.  She's become a bit spendy as she works to fit in.  But when McDaddy gets the credit card bill, he decides she's going to summer camp.

I've never read companion SLEEPAWAY GIRLS, but it's really not necessary.  It's about characters who are counselors in SUMMER STATE OF MIND and not Harper.  I really liked Harper.  I don't share her obsession with aromatherapy candles or hair care, but I felt for her struggle to fit in.  She relies on things because it's the best way she knows to make it work.  That doesn't work so well at a summer camp, but there are still people worth meeting. 

Harper's friends Lina and Ethan were terrific.  Lina in particular is very different from Harper, a real sports maniac, but they both understand standing on the sidelines.  Ethan is sweet like Harper, and always willing to talk.  Harper's twin brother is also there, egging her on at every turn (since he thinks she can't hack it).

I found the descriptions of summer camp pretty dead on.  (Except for the cabin raid.  I think those only happen in movies.  At least SUMMER STATE OF MIND gets how upsetting it would be to have your sheets and luggage ruined.)  There's the zip line, the lake, the clean up, and the singing.  There's also the enthusiasm whenever anything competitive happens.

SUMMER STATE OF MIND is a short read well suited to a long bath or rest by the pool.  It's not a complicated book, but Harper's journey to remembering who she is beneath the materialism is well done.  Don't expect twists and turns, but do expect fun.

July 29, 2014

Review: Wolfsbane

Wolfsbane Book three of the Rebel Angels series
By Gillian Philip
Available now from Tor (Macmillan)
Review copy
Read my reviews of Firebrand and Bloodstone

It's a little hard for me to accept that there's only one more Rebel Angels book to go.  I've been enjoying the hell out of this series.  It's sprawling and twisted and based on characters who make mistakes because they can't be anything but themselves.  And, of course, the villain who takes advantage of that.

WOLFSBANE did feel a bit like a holding pattern before the end.  The stakes weren't quite as high, the protagonists didn't lose quite as much - but the antagonist didn't win as much either. 

The first two books centered around the relationship between brothers Seth and Conal MacGregor.  WOLFSBANE focuses on a new relationship, that of Seth and his son Rory.  Queen Kate wants Rory in her power, but he's safe on Seth's lands.  Unfortunately, he's also a teenager and sick of staying close at home.  (Especially once he meets a teen girl).

WOLFSBANE takes place almost entirely in the world of the Sithe, with very little in "our world."  It's a chance to get a closer look at the Sithe who aren't in the center of the struggle and what they think of Seth's rebellion against Kate.  Few know that the center of their struggle is the fate of the Veil, but they can still decide who they want to side with based on how their vassals are treated and other criteria.

The time jump between BLOODSTONE and WOLFSBANE allows a variety of relationships other than Seth's and Rory's to progress.  There's romance, new siblings, and hate.  Seth's past mistakes haven't always won him friends, and some of those enemies are making their move.  The action in WOLFSBANE might be smaller, but it's closer.

FIREBRAND was an unexpected favorite of mine, but I'm glad I came across it, especially since the sequels have been so wonderful.  I can't wait to see how the Rebel Angels series concludes when ICEFALL comes out in the US.

July 28, 2014

Review: Wish You Were Italian

Wish You Were Italian An If Only novel
By Kristin Rae
Available now from Bloomsbury
Review copy

WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN is the second novel I've read lately set in Italy.  (The one I preferred was BLONDE OPS.)  I wanted to like this novel, if only because Kristin Rae is a fellow Houstonian.

The main flaw is similar to that in Stephanie Perkins' ANNA IN THE FRENCH KISS, but unlike that novel it doesn't recover.  Namely, protagonist Pippa is pissed that her parents are sending her to Florence, Italy for the summer.  Yeah, I was crying a river for her.  She's supposed to study art history there, which she doesn't want to do because she wants to be a photographer.  I hope she realizes that if she goes to college for photography she will have to study art history and it will make her a better photographer. 

When Pippa arrives in Rome, she wants to stay and be a tourist.  So she ditches her program (because Florence is a terrible place to be a tourist, obvs) and sets out.  (And yes, I was wincing about the thousands of dollars in tuition her parents lost.  Pippa never thinks twice about this.)

Most of the action takes place in Cinque Terre, part of the Italian Riviera, where Pippa heads after all signs seem to point in that direction.  She stays with her new friend Chiara, who is a good friend if a bit two dimensional.  Pippa also starts falling for two boys: Darren, a fellow American, and Chiara's bad boy cousin.  Pippa's main fault with Darren is, of course, that he isn't Italian and she wants to fall in love with an Italian while she's abroad.  And Bruno is super smooth, even if he does have a player reputation.

I think WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN has its good points.  It certainly makes me want to visit Italy and see all the sites for myself.  But the setting has more character than the actual characters.  Yes, this is a breezy summer novel, but the love interests are straight out of central casting.  Pippa has the most development, and I found her so annoying.  (Seriously kid, stop complaining about your parents.)

July 25, 2014

Review: Blonde Ops

Blonde Ops By Charlotte Bernardo and Natalie Zaman
Available now from St. Martin's Griffin
Review copy

I've read two books set in Rome lately, and I can tell you that I vastly prefer BLONDE OPS.  It's a zippy novel about a hacker sent to live with a family friend in Italy for the summer who ends up interning at a fashion magazine edited by that family friend and getting involved in foiling a plot to kidnap the First Lady.

The first thing you should probably know is that the title is a lie.  Rebecca "Bec" Jackson has pink hair.  It's mentioned so often that, even though the title is cute, it started to bother me.

Second, there is a love triangle.  There's local bike messenger Dante (who has useful cousins all about Rome) and visiting fashion blogger Taj (who is also a hacker).  Both boys are very attractive, of course, and appreciate all the trouble that Bec manages to get herself into. 

Thirdly, BLONDE OPS is full speed ahead.  The characters beyond Bec don't get much development, but she is a firecracker.  She can't resist prodding her nose where it doesn't belong, and spotting something fishy just makes her more determined to get to the truth.  She's quite clever in how she goes about getting information, not just relying on her computer skills.  The focus is really on the zany plot, which combines the madness of getting a magazine published with protecting a political figure from a serious threat.  It isn't a serious book by any means, but co-authors Charlotte Bernardo and Natalie Zaman clearly know what kind of book they're writing.

BLONDE OPS will appeal to fans of Ally Carter who are looking for more books with a nosy heroine, cloak-and-dagger hijinks, and a cute boy willing to take a few risks himself.  There are a few hooks for a sequel, but this adventure stands on its own.

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