Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Calvin by Martine Leavitt

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An emotionally charged story about finding yourself — even when your mind is working against you, Calvin by Martine Leavitt is as much a look at a love, life and mental illness, as it is a love letter to the beloved Calvin & Hobbes comic strip.

calvinIn this latest novel from National Book Award finalist Martine Leavitt, a schizophrenic teen believes that Bill Watterson can save him from his illness if he creates one more Calvin & Hobbes comic strip.

Seventeen-year-old Calvin has always known his fate is linked to the comic book character from Calvin & Hobbes. He was born on the day the last strip was published; his grandpa left a stuffed tiger named Hobbes in his crib; and he even has a best friend named Susie. As a child Calvin played with the toy Hobbes, controlling his every word and action, until Hobbes was washed to death. But now Calvin is a teenager who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, Hobbes is back—as a delusion—and Calvin can’t control him. Calvin decides that if he can convince Bill Watterson to draw one final comic strip, showing a normal teenaged Calvin, he will be cured. Calvin and Susie (and Hobbes) set out on a dangerous trek across frozen Lake Erie to track him down.

Leavitt’s narrative is packed with tension, as unreliable narrator Calvin questions just how much of what is happening to him is real and how much is a delusion caused by his schizophrenia. But even while you doubt his credibility, you trust that his heart is in the right place and that his emotions are genuine, even if his account of factual events may be questionable.

A large part of the book’s charm is its ode to the beloved Calvin & Hobbes comic strip and creator Bill Watterson. Leavitt gives her Calvin his very own Hobbes, his very own Susie, and his very own adventures — but its the tribute to such a well-known and beloved series that really shines through.

But as much as the book is a tribute to Watterson’s comic, Calvin is very much a story about mental illness and how it affects one individual. On the whole, this is a relatively fluffy and light story about mental illness — Calvin doesn’t veer too far into a dark place, and the story never delves too deeply into the consequences of his illness or how it affects (or will affect) his life. But you do see how it agonizes him; how his diagnosis triggers a desire to be “normal.” It’s heartbreaking, and yet it barely scratches the surface of the mental illness discussion.

Calvin is, on the whole, a sweet story with a charming premise. Though it touches on some heavy subject matter, it never delves too deep, keeping the book as a whole a fairly light, breezy read. It is in stores November 17th.

Book Review: Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young

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Creepy and moody, Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young is a tension-filled story rich with atmospheric horror and intense emotions.

hotel rubyWhen Audrey Casella arrives for an unplanned stay at the grand Hotel Ruby, she’s grateful for the detour. Just months after their mother’s death, Audrey and her brother, Daniel, are on their way to live with their grandmother, dumped on the doorstep of a DNA-matched stranger because their father is drowning in his grief.

Audrey and her family only plan to stay the night, but life in the Ruby can be intoxicating, extending their stay as it provides endless distractions—including handsome guest Elias Lange, who sends Audrey’s pulse racing. However, the hotel proves to be as strange as it is beautiful. Nightly fancy affairs in the ballroom are invitation only, and Audrey seems to be the one guest who doesn’t have an invite. Instead, she joins the hotel staff on the rooftop, catching whispers about the hotel’s dark past.

The more Audrey learns about the new people she’s met, the more her curiosity grows. She’s torn in different directions—the pull of her past with its overwhelming loss, the promise of a future that holds little joy, and an in-between life in a place that is so much more than it seems…

Welcome to the Ruby.

Young has a knack for writing captivating and passionate romances, and Hotel Ruby is no exception — with the added layer of an ominous mystery that overshadows Audrey’s stay at the Ruby, and her budding relationship with the enigmatic Elias.

Suzanne masterfully draws out that tension and mystery, peeling back each layer just a little at a time — all building to a stunning and unexpected reveal that really changes the game and makes you rethink every moment in the book. It’s clever, intense, and brilliantly executed.

Described by the author herself as “The Shining meets ‘Hotel California,'” that apt description just scratches the surface of what Hotel Ruby has to offer its readers. Stay tonight or stay forever, your stay within the pages of Hotel Ruby will be well-spent. The book is in stores now.

Book Review: Young Widow’s Club by Alexandra Coutts

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A beautiful story about starting over after unexpected heartache, Young Widows Club by Alexandra Coutts is about finding your way back to life when it seems like everything is over.

young widows clubFor seventeen-year-old Tam, running off to marry her musician boyfriend is the ideal escape from her claustrophobic high-school life on the island, and the ultimate rebellion against her father and stepmother. But when Tam becomes a widow just weeks later, the shell-shocked teen is forced to find her way forward by going back to the life she thought she’d moved beyond—even as her struggle to deal with her grief is forcing her to reinvent herself and reach out to others in ways she never imagined.

I’ll admit, there were parts of this book that were hard to read — as a wife, sitting in bed while my husband snored next to me, it was painful to imagine Tamsen’s loss. The differences in age and circumstance didn’t matter; once you’ve tied your life to someone’s through marriage, it changes you. So perhaps some teen readers will feel a bit of distance from Tamsen’s circumstance — but as an adult reader, I felt for her. I ached for her.

And then for Tamsen to be forced back into her old life on top of experiencing this tragedy. She has gone from being a wife and putting together a home and a life with her partner … to be a teenager living at home with doting parents, younger siblings, and homework. Nevermind this is where she should be at this stage in her life — it’s a startling turn of events when you thought you’d already moved on from that stage.

Coutts deftly tackles the layers of Tamsen’s grief in a way that is both meaningful and realistic. The reader goes with Tamsen on this terrible journey, and follows her through her darkest days into a place of understand and discovering the “silver lining” to every tragedy. We witness a beautiful growth in Tamsen as a character, and see her become the woman she is meant to be; the woman she needs to be. And it’s just a lovely transformation.

Young Widows Club is in stores November 10th.

Book Review: Ten Thousand Skies Above You by Claudia Gray + Blog Tour Contest

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Today’s book review is part of the official blog tour for Ten Thousand Skies Above You. Be sure to keep reading after our review for more about the book, the author & your chance to win a signed copy!

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ten thousand skies above youLush descriptions, masterful storytelling, and deeply engaging characters await readers in the world of Claudia Gray’s Firebird Trilogy. What began as a majestic and remarkable love story across the multi-verse in A Thousand Pieces of You becomes a truly epic saga about love, life, and freedom with the sequel, Ten Thousand Skies Above You.

Ever since she used the Firebird, her parents’ invention, to cross into alternate dimensions, Marguerite has caught the attention of enemies who will do anything to force her into helping them dominate the multiverse—even hurting the people she loves. She resists until her boyfriend, Paul, is attacked and his consciousness scattered across multiple dimensions.

Marguerite has no choice but to search for each splinter of Paul’s soul. The hunt sends her racing through a war-torn San Francisco, the criminal underworld of New York City, and a glittering Paris where another Marguerite hides a shocking secret. Each world brings Marguerite one step closer to rescuing Paul. But with each trial she faces, she begins to question the destiny she thought they shared.

The second book in the Firebird trilogy, Ten Thousand Skies Above You features Claudia Gray’s lush, romantic language and smart, exciting action, and will have readers clamoring for the next book.

Gray is the queen of writing about seemingly impossible relationships, and she does so here with aplomb as we dive further into the love between Marguerite and Paul — and the many complexities of loving someone and their multi-verse counterparts. Questions of fate and destiny come heavily into play, as Marguerite is forced to face some hard truths and question her beliefs — all while racing through the multiverse in search of her lover’s splintered soul, and answers to defeating her enemies.

The stakes are higher than ever in this second book, and the action never falters. There is no compromising here, with Gray raising the stakes higher than ever with Ten Thousand Skies Above You — playing off everything she established in the first book, and building a stronger foundation for what I can only imagine will be a truly breathtaking and monumental finale in the third book.

Readers will eagerly race alongside Marguerite as she bounces from world to world — and if they’re anything like me, will also cry out audibly at the agonizing cliff-hanger ending! But don’t let that deter you — this book is worth it.

Ten Thousand Skies Above You is in stores now.

Find It: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

about the author
Claudia GrayClaudia Gray is a pseudonym. I would like to say that I chose another name so that no one would ever learn the links between my shadowy, dramatic past and the explosive secrets revealed through my characters. This would be a lie. In truth, I took a pseudonym simply because I thought it would be fun to choose my own name. (And it is.)

I write novels full-time, absolutely love it, and hope to be able to do this forever. My home is in New Orleans, is more than 100 years old, and is painted purple. In my free time I read, travel, hike, cook and listen to music. You can keep up with my latest releases, thoughts on writing and various pop-culture musings via TwitterTumblrPinterestGoodreads or (of course) my own home page.

If you want to contact me, you can email me, but your best bet is probably to Tweet me. I don’t do follows on Twitter, but I follow everyone back on Tumblr, Pinterest and Goodreads.

Website | Twitter |Tumblr | Pinterest | Goodreads | Wattpad


1 winner will receive signed finished copies of A THOUSAND PIECES OF YOU and TEN THOUSAND SKIES ABOVE YOU. US Only.

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Book Review: Illuminae by Amie Kauffman & Jay Kristoff + Blog Tour Contest

Today’s review is part of the official blog tour. Be sure to keep reading for your chance to win a copy!

Wildly imaginative & intensely plotted, Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff is the unforgettable Next Big Thing in science fiction and boldly lives up to the hype.

illuminaeThis morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But pursuit by battleship is the least of their worries. Their fleet’s artificial intelligence—which should be protecting them—may actually be an enemy. And a plague is slowly ravaging the fleet with terrifying consequences. As Kady plunges into a web of data hacking in search of the truth, she realizes that there’s only one boy who can help her bring everything to light . . . and of course, it’s her ex-boyfriend, Ezra.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—ILLUMINAE is a ground-breaking, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that will draw teen and adult readers of James Dashner, Rick Yancey, and Veronica Roth yet stands on its own with Kaufman and Kristoff’s unique storytelling.

First things first: don’t be overwhelmed by the weight and heft of this book. It’s 600+ pages are deceiving, in that the book is not told in traditional prose. Rather, the story of Illuminae unfolds over “found” documents, such as chat transcripts, diary entries, data logs, and more.

Also, the story is a fast-paced thrill ride, so readers not only blaze through the pages because of the book’s unique format, but because it is simply so engaging and the desire to know what happens next so strong.

Kaufman and Kristoff have dreamed up a rich, easily accessible futuristic science fiction world, in which people live throughout the universe, and populated it with smart, funny, engaging characters that readers will want to root for.

Following their saga over the course of Illuminae is exhilarating, and the ultimate reveal at the end is a delicious twist that offers readers both a satisfying conclusion and sets the stage for the next volume in this series.

Illuminae is in stores now.

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Thanks to Random House, we’re giving away one copy of Illuminae to a lucky winner. U.S./Canada only. Contest runs through midnight (PT) on Wednesday, November 4th.

To enter, tell us in the comments why you want to read Illuminae, then fill out the Rafflecopter here to complete your entry and earn more chances to win.

Book Review: My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg

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Today’s review is a guest post written by former staff-member & YA author Stephanie Thomspon.

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You won’t find Rick Bragg’s pieces in history textbooks, social studies syllabi, or even any English class curriculums, but that’s a pea-pickin’ shame in my opinion. The former New York Times award-winning journalist, writer, essayist, social commentator, my southern journeyUniversity of Alabama professor and yarn-spinner deserves a place in all of the above.

His latest nonfiction book, My Southern Journey, is an anthology of the essays he’s been writing for Southern Living Magazine and various other periodicals for the past decade, give or take. For those of us who are diehard fans, it’s a little disappointing not to have something new to guffaw over, but it is convenient to have all that wisdom in one volume.

And that’s the thing that makes Bragg’s pieces accessible to all audiences: it’s uncommon wisdom disguised as humor and wit, with a heaping dash of Southern absurdity and hilarity. Much of the time it’s dry yet polite, it touches on sometimes difficult subjects, but it’s appropriate for all ages.

Take, for instance, the following exchange in which Bragg discusses his aging mother’s new status as a crazy cat lady:

They named the smoke gray cat Stinky, because it was.

“We thought it was a boy,” said my brother Mark.

But along came a raggedy stray tomcat my mother named Will.

“He was a travelin’ man,” Mark said.

Will begot, with Stinky, four kittens: Little Will, Shorty, Little Stinky, and Elvira. “Elvira?” I asked. “I liked the song,” Mark said.

Will, his work done, hit the highway. Another stray, Big Spooky, moved in. Before Stinky—who was now referred to as Big Stinky—could be caught and fixed, Big Stinky delivered into this world a second litter: Little Spooky, Vincent Price, and Stephen King.

“I been watchin’ spooky movies,” Mark said.

A fourth kitten had Siamese markings.

“Possum Willy,” my mother said, “because he looks like a…”

“I got it,” I said.

Absurd, yes. Hilarious, pretty much. Quintessentially Southern, absolutely.

My Southern Journey is in stores (print & digital) now. It should come with a glass of sweet tea and a bag of pork rinds.

Here is the official synopsis:

From celebrated New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Rick Bragg, comes a poignant and wryly funny collection of essays on life in the south.

Keenly observed and written with his insightful and deadpan sense of humor, he explores enduring Southern truths about home, place, spirit, table, and the regions’ varied geographies, including his native Alabama, Cajun country, and the Gulf Coast. Everything is explored, from regional obsessions from college football and fishing, to mayonnaise and spoonbread, to the simple beauty of a fish on the hook.

Collected from over a decade of his writing, with many never-before-published essays written specifically for this edition, My Southern Journey is an entertaining and engaging read, especially for Southerners (or feel Southern at heart) and anyone who appreciates great writing.

Book Review: Losers Take All by David Klass

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A rallying cry for anyone who’s ever felt sports have been forced upon them, Losers Take All by David Klass is a hilarious and much-needed examination of our country’s sports-mania culture.

losers take allFrom the author of the backlist favorite You Don’t Know Me, a dramedy about the agony of victory and the thrill of defeat.

At Jack Logan’s sports-crazy New Jersey high school, the new rule is that all kids must play on a team. So Jack and a ragtag group of anti-athletic friends decide to get even. They are going to start a rebel JV soccer team whose mission is to avoid victory at any cost, setting out to secretly undermine the jock culture of the school. But as the team’s losing formula becomes increasingly successful at attracting fans and attention, Jack and his teammates are winning in ways they never expected—and don’t know how to handle.

As much as Klass’s novel takes on the intense favoritism for sports that we see in the U.S., he also challenges the negative stereotypes that plague athletics. The result is a book that strikes a refreshing balance: showing that not everyone is cut out for sports; the value in non-athletic extracurriculars; and that it’s also okay if you ARE into sports. There is value all around.

The book is a surprisingly fast-paced and hilarious read. Some of the characters come off a bit cartoonish, most notably their villainous principal, who thinks everyone should be an athlete, and that every athlete should be a winner. But then, I’m sure any reader could probably say they know someone in their life who is very much like him — so how cartoonish is the character if he represents so strongly real people?

As much a social commentary as it is a narrative, Losers Take All is at its heart a funny, charming story about one band of misfits fighting back against an unfair system. Look for it in stores October 20th.

Book Review: Truly Madly Famously by Rebecca Serle

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Be sure to check out our Q&A with author Rebecca Serle from the official blog tour here, plus learn how you can win a copy of this book!

Romance, fame and fortune collide in Truly Madly Famously by Rebecca Serle, the tantalizing sequel to Famous in Love.

truly madly famouslyIn this romantic sequel to Famous in Love, new Hollywood “It Girl” Paige must navigate love with her co-stars, both on and off screen and all in the public eye.

Lights, camera, love!

After being plucked from obscurity, Hollywood’s newest starlet, Paige Townsen, has a hit film to her name and Rainer Devon on her arm. But being half of the world’s most famous couple comes with a price, and soon Paige finds herself dodging photographers; hiding her feelings for her other costar, Jordan Wilder; and navigating tabloid scandals that threaten to tear her and Rainer apart-and end her career as quickly as it began.

Rebecca Serle’s sequel to Famous in Love is filled with the kind of celebrity drama and swoon-worthy romance fit for the silver screen.

I was thoroughly sucked into Paige’s world in Famous in Love, and was eager to dive back in with this sequel. Truly Madly Famously does not disappoint. Filled with intriguing new characters, (melo)dramatic new encounters, and plenty of steamy romance, Truly Madly Famously is a book fans will devour.

Serle masterfully helps fans navigate the world of Hollywood alongside Paige — vicariously letting us experience the perks and pitfalls of fame, the drama of a swoon-worthy love triangle, and the challenges of navigating a new career. But what’s really so poignant and lovely about Truly Madly Famously is that, at its center, it’s a coming of age story. It’s a book about Paige growing up, learning who she is, who she wants to be, and what she wants from life — and gaining the courage to stand up for those things and go after them, with gusto!

Though Serle teases there may be more to come in the Famous in Love series (one can only hope), readers will find that Truly Madly Famously offers a wholly satisfying conclusion. The book is in stores now.

Book Review: The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones

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A beautiful and unique story about the power of love and the intensity of family, The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones is a book that will transcend generations of readers.

emperor of any placeWhen Evan’s father dies suddenly, Evan finds a hand-bound yellow book on his desk—a book his dad had been reading when he passed away. The book is the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a small Pacific island in WWII. Why was his father reading it? What is in this account that Evan’s grandfather, whom Evan has never met before, fears so much that he will do anything to prevent its being seen? And what could this possibly mean for Evan? In a pulse-quickening mystery evoking the elusiveness of truth and the endurance of wars passed from father to son, this engrossing novel is a suspenseful, at times terrifying read from award-winning author Tim Wynne-Jones.

Told as a story within a story, The Emperor of Any Place really offers readers two narratives: first, Evan, who confronts generations of family strife following his father’s sudden death and the arrival of his estranged grandfather. Then, we have the story of a Japanese soldier stranded on an island in the Pacific during World War II. Each story is equally captivating, but it’s as the two stories come together that the magnificence of Wynne-Jones’ writing really starts to shine.

The Emperor of Any Place is a story rich with beautiful prose, deeply intense emotions, and an engaging and slow-building mystery, with a satisfying reveal. Look for the book in stores October 13th.

Book Review: Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl (+ A Blog Tour Contest!)

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Today’s review is part of the official blog tour. Be sure to keep reading for more about the book & a fantastic contest!

Finally the story fans have been clamoring for, Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl proves without a doubt that Natasha Romanov can certainly carry the weight of an entire plot — and is worthy of the standalone movie fans are begging Marvel to give them.

BW Forever Red HR coverThis book might just be the final push the studio needs to concede — because Forever Red is one heck of a ride worthy of a major blockbuster.

Enter the world of the Avengers’ iconic master spy

Natasha Romanoff is one of the world’s most lethal assassins. Trained from a young age in the arts of death and deception, Natasha was given the title of Black Widow by Ivan Somodorov, her brutal teacher at the Red Room, Moscow’s infamous academy for operatives.

Ava Orlova is just trying to fit in as an average Brooklyn teenager, but her life has been anything but average.The daughter of a missing Russian quantum physicist, Ava was once subjected to a series of ruthless military experiments-until she was rescued by Black Widow and placed under S.H.I.E.L.D. protection. Ava has always longed to reconnect with her mysterious savior, but Black Widow isn’t really the big sister type.

Until now.

When children all over Eastern Europe begin to go missing, and rumors of smuggled Red Room tech light up the dark net, Natasha suspects her old teacher has returned-and that Ava Orlova might be the only one who can stop him. To defeat the madman who threatens their future, Natasha and Ava must unravel their pasts. Only then will they discover the truth about the dark-eyed boy with an hourglass tattoo who haunts Ava’s dreams. . . .

Black Widow:Forever Red features all the heart-pounding adventure readers expect from Marvel, written by #1 New York Times best-selling author Margaret Stohl. Uncover a new side of the Marvel Universe that will thrill loyal fans and newcomers alike, as Stohl reveals the untold story of Black Widow for the very first time.

Stohl captures everything fans have come to love about Black Widow: her dark tortured past, her dry wit and sarcasm, her quick thinking and mad spy skills. Everything about the character feels true to herself in Stohl’s portrayal; in fact, you could say Black Widow comes to life more than ever within the pages of Forever Red. Stohl masterfully builds upon the framework of Black Widow’s past, while still putting her own stamp on the character’s story.

But just as much as fans love Black Widow, Forever Red also introduces some new characters who are equally as intriguing — with Ava acting as the perfect foil to Natasha. Though they have so much in common, they are still quite different people — and their similarities help to make those differences all the more noticeable.

And for any true Avengers fan, fear not. Some of your favorite characters earn a mention here and there — with a few familiar faces even popping up along the way. (I won’t say who … encountering them is half the fun of reading Forever Red.)

Black Widow: Forever Red is a seductive and thrilling new chapter in the Avengers universe that is not to be missed. Look for it in stores October 13th.

Buy the book: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

About the Author:

MargieMargaret Stohl is the #1 New York Times Bestselling co-author of the BEAUTIFUL CREATURES Novels and DANGEROUS CREATURES novels, as well as the author of BLACK WIDOW: FOREVER RED forthcoming from Marvel Press (Marvel YA), and the ICONS Novels.

She is the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Los Angeles Times, Indie-Bound, Wall Street Journal and Internationally Bestselling author of nine YA novels, and has been published in 37 languages and 48 countries. BEAUTIFUL CREATURES was adapted into a film (2013) by Warner Brothers and Alcon Entertainment, and was an ALA William C. Morris YA Debut Award finalist in 2010, as well as a SCIBA award finalist, a NYPL Book for the Teen Age, and a YALSA Teen Top Ten Pick. Beautiful Creatures was named the #1 Teen Pick from Amazon in 2009, and the #5 Editors Pick, Overall.

Prior to becoming an author, Margaret worked in the video game industry as a writer and lead designer for sixteen years, eventually co-founding 7 Studios game developer with her husband, Lewis Peterson. She is also the co-founder of YALLFEST (Charleston, SC) and YALLWEST (Santa Monica, CA), two of the biggest kid/teen book festivals in the country. An alumnus of Amherst College, Stanford University, and Yale University, Margaret lives in Santa Monica with her family, two rescue cats, and two bad beagles.

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3 winners will receive a finished copy of BLACK WIDOW: FORVER RED. US Only.

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