Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy











The Truth About AliceFrom Goodreads: Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.

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This novel follows suit of the game telephone, showing just how much gossip promotes rumors and distorts the truth.  It’s a great novel depicting a form of bullying that’s not addressed as much as the physical or taunting kind, showing how lies for selfish gain, or to protect oneself, can ruin another, whether intentional or not.

The entire novel, save the last chapter, is told from the perspective of Alice’s former friends/frenemies.  Loner Kurt, football player Josh, former best friend and outcast Kelsie, and popular diva Elaine alternate chapters, spinning their tales and giving readers their “expert” take on events that, for the most part, none of them witnessed.  And as they slowly work towards the truth of the matter, admitting to lies and other deceits for the sake of their wellbeing, it becomes clear that the events Alice is blamed for are not quite the truth at all.

Everyone in this novel has secrets.  They hold grudges, make rash decisions, lie to protect themselves, and ultimately destroy Alice one way or another, and while some of them do it intentionally, others mean no harm, but their secrecy does just as much damage as those spreading lies.  It is said that sticks and stones can break our bones, but words… can never hurt us.  And yet, I think most people would agree that words do hurt, and they leave an unseen mark that can strip away one’s soul, and that is exactly what Alice is experiencing throughout the course of the year as the school runs rampant with gossip.

As much as I hated Josh, Kelsie, and Elaine (Kurt was perhaps the nicest and most understanding of all the characters), I loved the multiple perspectives.  And the theme, the bullying, makes this an intense read. While no one technically physically bullies Alice—they don’t even really talk to her—ostracizing someone and spreading rumors about them is just as bad, if not worse, than saying it directly to their face.  It’s a powerful statement that today’s generation really needs to hear and internalize, and I highly recommend this novel to tween readers and beyond.

The final chapter is told from Alice’s perspective, and it’s just… a perfect conclusion.  I love that the novel ends on a positive note, that there is hope, yet it doesn’t undermine the effects that bullying and ostracizing had on Alice, and it doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  It’s realistic and, in my mind, the perfect conclusion to a great story.  Four stars.

4 stars

In exchange for an honest review, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and Roaring Brook Press have been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on June 3, 2014.

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Prisoner of Night and FogFrom Goodreads: In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler.

And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

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This historical fiction novel is completely different from other’s I’ve read, mainly in that is focused on Hitler’s rise to power… but not as the Hitler we know, but rather as “Uncle Dolf.” We see his rise to power through the eyes of his “adoptive” niece, Gretchen, a young woman who hangs on the very words of Uncle Dolf, idolizing him; he can do no wrong—that is, until he does.

Gretchen has grown up without a father. Her deceased father is well respected in Hitler’s circle as the man who sacrificed himself to save Hitler, but as the story unfolds, Gretched learns that not everything she’s been told is indeed true, and the bullet hole in the back her father’s tunic, as well as some sleuthing and a friendship from an unlikely source, lead Gretchen to finally begin questioning everything she’s been led to believe.

With a sociopathic brother who’s hatred for the Jews minimally outshines his hatred for Gretchen, the world collapses on Gretchen when her brother viciously beats her and Uncle Dolf stands by and does nothing. No reprimand, instead telling Gretchen that it was her fault to evoke the anger of her older brother. Beginning to see the light behind Hitler’s ways, and befriending a Jew, the worst offence she could do during this perilous time in German history, Gretchen must decide what is truth, what is right, and ultimately, what she believes.

This was a very interesting story, though I will admit that the mystery of it all didn’t really do much for me as a reader. My extreme dislike of Hilter and his entire regime made me automatically trust those stating he was a liar, and I held no doubt in my mind that Gretchen’s father was murdered by his own people, with Hitler at the forefront. That being said, Hitler is shown in two different lights here—the doting guardian, and the awful racist coward that he truly is. Though Gretchen loving looked up to Uncle Dolf—as any child would who doesn’t know any better, I was thankful to see her begin to pull away from him, even the slightest, knowing it could result in her ostracizing and possible death.

She is a likable and strong character, but it takes her time to really come into herself and to figure everything out. I would have liked a little more fleshing out of her character, and that of Daniel, the young Jewish reporter she begins to fall for. I also would have liked a little more action—the story did seem to drag just a little bit, becoming convoluted with side plots and stifling the main ones, such as the mysterious circumstances of Gretchen’s father’s death. But overall, it is well written and worth the read. Three stars.

3 stars

In exchange for an honest review, Balzer and Bray have been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel prior to its release today.

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Shana's Only

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Scare CrowReview:

From Goodreads: Nineteen-year-old Emily Sheppard is losing her sanity.

Ever since her mob king boyfriend, Cameron Hillard, abandoned her for her own good, Emmy has been attempting to move on with her charmed college student life as if nothing happened.

Now rejected from the underworld and left grieving over Cameron’s alleged death, Emmy realizes she belongs nowhere.

Worse yet, she is now keeping a dangerous secret.

After just a short time with Emily, Cameron has lost control over his world.

As he miserably attempts to return to what is left of his life and unravel the mess he has made of the underworld, Emily’s hate turns to desperation. She needs to kill the kingpins responsible for Cameron’s death before they come looking for her.

As Cameron secretly observes Emily, he has no idea of the danger he has placed her in—or that it may already be too late for him to save her.

Scare Crow is a tale of revenge, terror, and love as Emmy and Cameron embark on separate journeys to face enemies, correct past mistakes, and…………..

find their way to their destinies.

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Oh. My. God. While I usually try to maintain a sense of professionalism in my reviews of novels, it is impossible for me to not fangirl a little over this amazing novel by the extremely talented Julie Hockley. I finished this second installment in the Crow’s Row series late in the evening not too long ago, and I have been unable to think of anything else since. My dreams have been permeated with scenes of Cameron, my heart’s desire, as I sleep through the night, and I’m just absolutely in love. In. Love. Not only with Cameron, but with Hockley’s writing style, her characters, the plot, the suspense, the alternating points-of-view, Meatball (at one point I literally yelled out, “Meeeeeeeeeeeeeatbaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!” as I was reading). Every. Thing. I’m in love with Every. Last. Thing. About this novel.

I have been diligently waiting for this second installment since 2012, and let me just tell you, it was worth the wait. Hockley’s novel is perfection. Absolute. Perfection.

In this sequel to the amazing Crow’s Row, Hockley continues the tale of Emmy and Cameron, juxtaposing their stories as the novel unfolds. Bereft and out for blood, Emmy has no idea that her beloved still lives. Neither does Cameron realize that Emmy will stop at nothing to bring justice to those who stole her one true love in death. In a harsh reality where neither can fit into the other’s world and survive, this is a tale of love, deceit, revenge, and new beginnings.

Hockley’s story is enticing—I love the bad boy image, and although Cam is as bad as it gets, a mob king who kills mercilessly, he is also truly good at heart. And he’s impossible not to love. His heart bleeds throughout the novel; forced to separate himself from Emmy in order to keep her safe, and intent on bringing justice to the memory of his little brother Rocco, Cameron bares his soul for all to see in this beautiful novel, all the while maneuvering the underworld in a game of cat and mouse as it all comes to a head between the captains of the crime world.

And Emmy, filled with the hatred for those who killed her beau, is also extremely vivid and real. Her cross to bear is even more intricate and dangerous as she learns that even though she was set free from the underworld, she will never truly be safe, a revelation that causes her to rear back and fight with all her might.

A little dash of side romance, unrequited love, truths, lies, misunderstandings and murder all come together to create this riveting love story; you don’t want to miss it. Five amazing stars.

5 stars

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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An Interview with Julie Hockley:

If you could devise the perfect dinner date for Cam and Emmy, what would be on the menu/what would they order?

Blood sausage. Blood pudding.

You drop a huge surprise on readers in Scare Crow—what was it like to create such a surprise?

That’s funny because to me, it wasn’t a surprise to me. That was always going to happen. Though I’m happy that readers saw it a surprise!

If you could meet anyone in the entire world, fictional included, who would it be and why?

Rocco. I miss him so much.

What/who was your inspiration for your novels Crow’s Row and Scare Crow?

Crow’s Row is Beauty and the Beast meets the Godfather.

Scare Crow is Pride and Prejudice meets Kill Bill.

Do you have a playlist for either of your novels?

When I’m writing I listen to everything and anything. It’s pretty weird. I’ll be in my car, listening to whatever comes on next and boom! A whole scene comes into play. Then I have to pull over as quickly as possible and type furiously on my phone before I forget it.

While I was writing certain Emmy scenes in Scare Crow and re-editing Crow’s Row, I listened to Skinny Love by Birdie a LOT! That song makes me want to weep every time.

What’s next for Cam and Emmy?

Scare Crow was about them changing. They needed to chance. Emmy especially.  She had a lot of growing up to do and a very short time to do it. Next Emmy and Cam will have a lot of explaining to do. Cam especially.

Are any of your characters based on real life people?

No. I’ve never had a picture in my head of who they could be. They exist only in my head. Fans have sent me pictures that are pretty close, but never have I seen Cam and Emmy and the rest of them exact. Of course, there are pieces of my character’s personalities that I have scooped up from other people. Rocco has a lot of my husband’s immature traits. Hands off ladies!

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Between the publishing of the first edition of Crow’s Row, to writing Scare Crow, to formally editing Scare Crow, to formally editing Crow’s Row, I’ve learned that the more you write, the better you become. I would tell them to read, a lot. Take a critical eye to their favorite novel.

Why do you like that novel? Is it the dialogue? Angst between characters? The way the author describes?

Then I would tell them to forget everything that I just said above and write what you want to write. A fan recently reminded me that, no matter what anyone says about you or your writing, as long as you’re proud of your work, your art, then you can hold your head up high. The rest is just noise.

What is the writing process like for you?

Sometimes difficult. Sometimes excruciating. Often it seems like I can’t find the words to describe what is happening in my head. It’s rather frustrating.

What inspired you to write/become a writer?

I love the feeling of pretending I’m someone else. Don’t get me wrong, I have a beautiful life. Nothing to complain about. So I need to get my drama fix somehow.

What does your writing cave look like?

Ha! My kitchen table. I pick the worse spot in the house. No privacy. Very little quiet. And the weird thing is that I can’t write unless there’s no one around me. My husband will get the evil eye until he is forced to leave the room. I need to pick and stick to a better spot. Unfortunately, my house is pretty small, so maybe I’ll have to go write in the garage or bathroom.

Do you ever get writers block—if so, how do you overcome it?

I get writers block all the time (hello, 3 years to write one book). When it happens, I try not to panic because panic is useless. And then I panic. And then I pretend that I don’t care. That I don’t need to ever write another word. The writer’s block will not get the best of me because I’m breaking up with writing. And then I sit back down and try again, later.

Are you working on any new series at this time?

Series? No! Never again! I’ve always got a few books floating around in my head and notes lying around my house, but I will not write another series. I will keep writing because it haunts me if I don’t, but if I ever publish anything after Crow’s Row is complete, it will be a stand-alone book. Though I need to figure out what a stand-alone book looks like because I thought Crow’s Row was a standalone book.

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Haven’t read book one, Crow’s Row?  Scoop it up now for just $2.99!  You WON’T be disappointed!!!

Crow's Row

Available Now:

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4f337-juliehockleyAbout Julie Hockley:

A former germaphobe and clean-freak turned mother of two, Julie collects enough tears and snot in a month to recreate Slimer Monster from Ghostbusters. Other than playing devoted wife and mama, Julie is the funniest person in the room (according to the 3 year-old and 2 year-old in said room) and can build the most awesome Lego rocket ship you’ve ever set your eyes on (according to her). Oh, and she has a full time career and has also written a bestselling novel. Superhero, or just downright insane?

 

 
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Sector CFrom Goodreads: A rise in stroke-like cases has CDC analyst Mike Shafer on alert. Patients in every demographic in the Great Plains area, from toddlers to healthy adults to the elderly, are succumbing to rapid deterioration – and death.

Veterinarian Donna Bailey, meanwhile, is dealing with an outbreak of her own. It looks like mad cow disease. But to be affecting so many species? Impossible.

Whatever it is, it’s spreading. Fast.

As state and federal agencies race to contain the growing threats, Mike and Donna’s searches for Patient Zero intersect at a big-game compound in a remote corner of North Dakota. There they find their answer buried in a secret thought extinct for 10,000 years. A secret entrepreneur Walt Thurman will kill to protect.

But even if Mike and Donna can escape the compound with the secret of Sector C, it may already be too late.

Because after today, extinct no longer means forever.

Ripped from today’s research and tomorrow’s headlines, SECTOR C is a near-future medical thriller fans of Michael Crichton and Robin Cook are sure to enjoy.
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Have you ever wondered what would happen if we suffered a country or worldwide lethal pandemic? While we’ve had our share of SARS, Mad Cow, and even Bird Flu, those virus’ were contained relatively quickly—but what if it was an even higher scale of outbreak? Sector C takes a look at how the government would and could respond should an outbreak like SARS or Mad Cow happen on a much higher level, and let me tell you, it isn’t pretty—though I’m sure it’s more realistic than we’d like to admit. I was appalled by the situations and reactions of some characters in this novel, but realistically it calls into question the philosophical debate of the greater good. Is it better to let a limited number suffer for the greater good, or should all suffer? Sullivan looks at this question as her riveting novel unfolds, and while it isn’t a pretty picture, it is definitely one to make readers really think.

This is a very well-written novel that takes a look at cloning. It’s intense and very interesting–both the situations and the characters kept me glued to the pages, and I highly enjoyed it.

The novel follows different characters as it unfolds—Donna the rural vet, Mike the CDC analyst, and the workers at Triple E—allowing readers to gain omniscient insight into everything that is happening across the spectrum as a rash of animals and people begin to show symptoms of stroke… ultimately leading to their death. Though it sounds scientific in nature, and it is, Sector C is easy to follow and I found myself highly interested in all the characters and the situations they found themselves in. Sullivan does a great job explaining everything, but not boring readers with scientific data or jargon, which was much appreciated. I highly suggest giving this novel a read. Four stars.

4 stars

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Side Effects May VaryFrom Goodreads: What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.

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This was an interesting read, though I’m sorry to say that I really disliked the main character, Alice–she’s a user and, as she was told many times in the novel, she’s just plain mean. Although Alice tries to blame many of her actions on cancer, it’s more that she’s a jerk who wants to make sure she gets back at everyone she feels hurt her in some way before she found out she was dying. But, lo and behold, she’s now in remission. Unable to deal with what this means—she can’t continue to lead on her best friend Harvey, she has to go back to school and face the people she tormented (granted, they tormented her too, but come on now… that’s your dying wish?), she can’t waste away in her room all “woe is me,” and she can’t avoid the world anymore—her life begins to spiral out of control.  While I understand that it’s a shock for her when she hears she’s in remission, that she had resigned herself to death, while everyone else celebrates, she hates every minute of it, and that’s hard for me to swallow. And so were her actions throughout much of the novel. She’s just mean–and karma always comes back with a vengeance. The fact that she doesn’t seem to learn from any of her mistakes also drove me crazy–and I ran out of sympathy for her fairly quickly as the novel unfolded.  Now, I’ve never ever been in Alice’s shoes, so I’m on the outside looking in, but I just couldn’t connect with her.

Harvey, on the other hand, I get! He’s a bit gullible and allows Alice to treat him like dirt time and time again, but he’s such a sweetie and… he reminds me of myself as a teen, a long time ago, when I used to pine for people who weren’t worth my time; I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment.  And I’m so glad he finally takes a stand for himself, even though it hurts him to do it.  He’s what made the book for me.  Three stars.

3 starsHarperCollins Childrens has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Edelweiss, prior to its release on March 18, 2014.

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