Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy











Shades of WyrdFrom Goodreads: Dante Salazar doesn’t know if he’s a drunk who dreamt he was an ancient general, or an ancient general dreaming he’s a drunk. He wakes in Las Vegas, imprisoned in an identity that doesn’t fit him, married to someone he doesn’t remember, and tormented by a stranger who won’t show his face.

A woman named Lucia haunts his memories. His love for her is the only thing that has endured the mysterious fate befallen him. What follows is one man’s search for answers. Why does he feel like an imposter in his own skin? Which memories can he trust? How will he find his lost love? And – most troubling of all – what lies buried in his back yard?

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This novel is worth reading if just for the ending alone—a shocking revelation that had me sitting straight up in bed, riveted to the explanation as it unfolded, instantly and perfectly answering all my befuddled questions that I had carried with me throughout the entire novel. I admit that the beginning of the novel was a bit slow, and though interesting, beyond confusing. As the novel unfolds, readers follow multiple characters as their stories intertwine, embarking on an intriguing, yet confusing ride as Dante attempts to make sense of his life—a life he doesn’t remember. At the same time, Dante’s “past life” haunts him, and he has no bearings on the current life he lives—with a wife, Pixie, he doesn’t remember, an alcohol addiction he isn’t fond of, and an obsession with finding Lucia, his love he is certain is from another lifetime, and thus, everything begins to quickly spiral downhill for Dante.

While readers find themselves both enraptured and confused alongside Dante, the story does have a pulling merit—making it hard to set aside as thoughts of wonderment trek through the readers brain. What happened to Dante? Is his past life real? Does Lucia really exist? Will Pixie finally break and end up in the arms of her neighbor? Who is Bernie and what sinister plans does he have for Dante?

Sparked by these haunting questions, I was drawn to the novel, even though I didn’t find any of the characters particularly enticing. Though juvenile in many ways, the characters still spurned me on, and I found myself interested in their story, even though I truly had little idea what was happening throughout a majority of the novel. And yet, in the end, it all comes together to make a rather intense, intriguing read. In fact, it was so mind-blowing for me that it changed my entire perspective of the novel, raising it much higher in my eyes, and making it one I highly suggest you read. Four stars.

4 stars

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

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Voice of the UndeadFrom Goodreads: Now that Alex is in the know about the deadly vampires that live—and hunt—around his boarding school, everything is different. Putting his talents to use, Alex is training with the Polidorium to become a vampire hunter, just like his Van Helsing ancestors. Sure, he’s only fourteen, but c’mon: This runs in his blood.

But Alex is wondering if he’ll live long enough to succeed. His archnemesis Elle, a vampire whose youthful appearance and blond hair disguise a rage that’s directed at him, is out to get him before a powerful leader called Ultravox arrives on the scene. Ultravox specializes in assassinations, but who is he targeting? As he dodges Elle’s attacks, Alex is on a mission to uncover Ultravox’s deadly plan before his friends and his school become collateral damage. There’s no time to report back; innocent lives hang in the balance, and it’s on Alex to act now—or else.

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Truth be told, this novel wasn’t even on my radar. I’d never heard of the series, and I wasn’t looking for another vampire book to read, but a student brought this to me and begged me to read it so s/he would possibly have the opportunity to read it as part of his/her outside reading project fourth quarter. Out of the 200 books I listed as choices, s/he wanted something that wasn’t on the list. Figures.

But, my student made a case for the book, and to be quite honest, I’ve never seen this student quite as excited about any reading material this entire year; I mean, s/he was only on page 11 and was gushing about how good it was. And the whole purpose of my outside reading project is to get kids interested in reading, right? So I read it. In one sitting. And it was good. Now I need book one.

Yes, this is the second book in the series, and I was a little worried that I’d have no idea what was going on, and in the beginning, I was a little confused–but I read the synopsis for book one and that pretty much put everything in perspective for me, AND, Henderson also does a great job bringing the reader up to speed, rehashing some events from book one without going overboard or info dumping.

And I really liked this story. It’s definitely a novel geared towards males, which is great since I tend to gravitate to books with females leads, and it does indeed blend a bit of James Bond with the whole vampire spectrum. While we don’t really see much in terms of vampires in this novel, they’re alluded to, and the mysterious and ever awful Elle does make a play for power in her attempts to end Alex Van Helsing, so there is that.

But this novel really revolves around young Alex playing spy while also attempting to attend school with the elite. We’re split between his time in school (which I really could have done without–the spy stuff was so interesting, but, you know) and his time hunting down the elusive vampires and trying to gain a better understanding of his hiss and static powers alerting him of danger… and it’s all very well done, and somewhat reminds me a spy kids–and the action within the first chapter definitely grabbed my attention and kept me interested. I will admit that it took me a few pages to get into the story, again, because this is a sequel and I wasn’t 100% about what was happening (we are definitely dropped right in on the action), and because Alex was thinking to himself about school, which was… eh. But as he’s thinking the vampires make his move, and suddenly he’s in the midst of a death-defying race, forced to play chicken with two speeding Mercedes as he maneuvers his motorcycle and… yeah. It’s good. Four stars.

4 starsI borrowed this novel from a student.

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Next Time We Steal the CarillonFrom Goodreads: College life and crime detection are seen through the eyes of our student investigators. These contemporary temporary sleuths live through a cozy mystery set at a Midwestern college during the 1990s. Missing: a valuable antiquity. Suspicious occult occurrences, a séance, car troubles, another séance, injury in the forest, strange people not a part of the campus community are roaming the campus, pleasant fall weather, and, someone is following our Veronica. Is he some rejected suitor or someone harboring bad thoughts about our investigators? Holy smoke! What’s she going to do? What are they going to do? Will the ancient bowl return? Will our detectors find who done it? Are Veronica and Monica, who are cute as kittens, affecting the objectivity and efficiency of Ralphy and Jason? I can’t tell! Who won the game, and what happened at the dance? All these questions—and more—will be answered before you put this book down. This is a story about good kids with a devil of a job.

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This was an interesting whodunit type mystery dealing with college aged students, though it reads more as a YA or MG novel. It’s easy to understand prose and characters draw the reader in from the get go, and it’s definitely a fun ride. There are a bit more characters involved in this story than I’m used to, and so as a reader I had more people to try and keep track of, but overall Flann does a good job keeping the reader on track. I will say that I didn’t really connect with any of the characters due to the vast amount of them—they were spread a little thin in terms of characterization for me—but overall, they were likable and intriguing, spurred on by different motivations that cast them in different lighting as the novel progresses.

While I found some of the events within the novel to be a little far-fetched, the premise was on point and I thought the search for the missing artifact to be actually quite enjoyable. From crazy sleuthing in the dead of night to false antics, the characters and events kept me on my toes as it all came to a head. This is a clean novel with a somewhat humorous take on the “whodunit” mystery, and if you’re in the mood for something a bit light, then I suggest taking this novel for a spin. Three and a half stars.

3.5 stars

I was given this novel by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Clara Barton Angel of the BattlefieldFrom Goodreads: While exploring The Treasure Chest, Felix and Maisie are transported to a Massachusetts farm in 1836. Disappointed that they have not landed in their beloved New York City, they wonder why they were brought to Massachusetts to meet a young girl named Clara Barton. Perhaps Clara has a message for the twins? Or maybe they have one for her?

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While I don’t usually seek out and read MG books, I’m really glad that the publisher gave me this novel to read at my leisure. Originally, I wasn’t sure if I would read it for review or not, but since it’s such a quick read, I decided to give it a shot, and I’m happy I did. Though definitely a novel for young readers, the story itself is interesting—with a little bit of drama, lots of snooping around, and time travel, I was hooked almost from the beginning, genuinely interested in the lives of twins Felix and Maisie, especially because they’ve had it so rough as of late. Due to their parents’ divorce, Felix and Maisie find themselves uprooted from their home and moving into the servants quarters of a 70 room mansion—a mansion their great grandfather built, but that his daughter turned over to the preservation society in order to help with its upkeep. Of course, everything is new for the twins, and the loss of their stable home has them rather upset, so it’s easy to connect with them from the start. Hood does a great job fleshing out the twins, and in no time they are exploring their new home, sneaking around the mansion when they know they aren’t supposed to, and a sense of mystery and magic permeates the story as it begins to take flight.

I can see how much a 3rd-5th grader would really love this story, but I also think students as old as 9th and 10th grade would enjoy it as well. Hood really has a way with words, and this novel delivers in all the right places. While these wasn’t much in terms of Clara Barton’s story—more so frivolous information in the beginning—Hood ties it all together for Maisie and Felix, and I can see this historical fiction series becoming a favorite within the classroom. Four stars.

4 stars

I was given this novel for free by the published during NCTE 2013.

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16000436From Goodreads: Worst. Summer. Ever.

Emma Guthrie races to learn the hoodoo magic needed to break The Beaumont Curse before her marked boyfriend Cooper’s sixteenth birthday. But deep in the South Carolina Lowcountry, dark, mysterious forces encroach, conspiring to separate Emma and Cooper forever. When Cooper starts to change, turning cold and indifferent, Emma discovers that both his heart and body are marked for possession by competing but equally powerful adversaries.

Desperate to save him, Emma and her twin brother, Jack, risk their lives to uncover the source of the black magic that has allured Cooper and holds him in its grip. Face with the horror of a soul-eating boohag, Emma and Jack must fight to resist its fiendish power to free Cooper long enough to join their strengths and face it together, before it destroys them all.

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The tables have turned in this sequel to Conjure, and though one curse was broken, another looms on the horizon, one thats potential to wreak havoc threatens not only Cooper, but Emma and Jack as well.  Everything is nearly right with the world again now that Jack is finally back to his caring, loving self, however there’s another curse to break, and suddenly, Cooper isn’t acting like himself.  In truth, Nolan replaced my hate for Jack with my hate for Cooper in this sequel, and it seems there truly is no break for Emma from the mental and verbal abuse she endures, first in Conjure, and now in Allure.

In my opinion, Emma is too good of a person, and whereas I wanted her to leave Jack by the wayside in book one, I was even more desperate for Emma to leave Cooper by the wayside in book two. However, with a heart of gold and a love stronger than her hate, Emma works desperately to break Cooper’s curse.  She’s a much better person than I, that’s for sure, but, while Cooper is a jerk, the difference between Jack’s curse and Cooper’s is that this time, it’s obviously not Cooper’s fault he’s acting this way. Unfortunately, I’m not that forgiving and, fault or not, his actions still hurt, A LOT, so I desperately wanted Emma to leave Cooper in the dust, curse and all. However, some very interesting facts come out about this curse later on in the novel, and it’s not just the Beaumont’s that it effects, but also Emma and Jack, unbeknownst to them, and this makes the race against time a fun one for the reader, especially with the revelation of the boohag…

While a majority of this novel was much more predictable for me than the first one, I think it was meant to be written this way in order to add shock value for the reader later on, because all at once the reader is blindsided by some events that, I, at least, never saw coming. And, these events added an extra air of awesome for me as a reader, especially because it includes some magical forms that I’ve never thought about or read about in any other novels, which is epic.

There are a number of characters in this novel that we love to hate, and with the events unfurling, it becomes obvious that there is more evil present in this novel than readers initially knew going in. While there is a resolution of sorts in this novel, an even bigger allusion to events to come is looming overhead, and I can’t wait to read the next installment! Four stars.5 stars

Entangled Publishing, LLC has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release tomorrow, October 1, 2013.

Conjure (#1)

Allure (#2)



13425130From Goodreads: Be careful what you search for…

Emma Guthrie expects this summer to be like any other in the South Carolina Lowcountry–hot and steamy with plenty of beach time alongside her best friend and secret crush, Cooper Beaumont, and Emma’s ever-present twin brother, Jack. But then a mysterious eighteenth-century message in a bottle surfaces, revealing a hidden pirate bounty. Lured by the adventure, the trio discovers the treasure and unwittingly unleashes an ancient Gullah curse that attacks Jack with the wicked flesh-eating Creep and promises to steal Cooper’s soul on his approaching sixteenth birthday.

When a strange girl appears, bent on revenge; demon dogs become a threat; and Jack turns into a walking skeleton; Emma has no choice but to learn hoodoo magic to undo the hex, all before summer—and her friends–are lost forever.

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This past Spring, I went to a book festival in my area and had the pleasure of listening to Lea Nolan speak on a panel.  Up until that point, I had never head of Nolan, but as she spoke, and then read a snippet from her novel, Conjure, I knew I had to read this book, especially as it dealt with magic, mystery, and a curse that eats the flesh right off the bone.  Sound intriguing?  It is.

This novel follows the adventures of Emma, Jack, and Cooper as they attempt to break a 300-year-old curse that, until recently, they didn’t even know existed.

With the appearance of a beautiful young woman, Magnolia, everything changes for the teens, including Jack’s easy going disposition. As a reader, I really enjoyed the lore behind the curse, and the teens’ attempts to find it, however, Jack quickly moved onto my “hate list” as he began to whine and rage against everyone accept Maggie. For me, it was hard to know whether his change was due to the influence of Maggie or if this was his true character since he changed very early on in the novel, and it think this is one of the reasons that I truly hated him so much.  Not only is he degrading and nasty to his sister and best friend, the two people trying to help him, but he is self-centered, and this is just not endearing by any means.  However, as the story continued, I realized that an outside force had to be making Jack act this way, but as Nolan shields the truth behind it from the reader quite well, it’s virtually impossible to not hate him throughout much of the novel.

Once the curse took hold, dissolving Jack’s flesh from his skin in increments, I really wanted to say good riddance because his words and actions prior had been so hurtful, and he only gets worse as the novel continues.  Yet, both Emma and Cooper prove to be better than I, and with the understanding that Jack will die when the curse finally takes his last piece of flesh, the clock to stop the curse begins ticking.  And this, in my opinion, is where the novel really begins to take flight.  With the introduction of Miss Delia, the hoodoo apprenticeship begins, and readers are brought into a completely different world full of Gullah traditions and beliefs.  This was extremely eye opening and I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel, especially as sweet Emma works so hard to save her whiny, irritating twin, Jack.  Throw in some extremely large black dogs made of pure evil, and a second curse threatening the life of Emma’s love, Cooper, and the novel becomes one of many twists and turns that keep the reader glued to the pages.

What I really liked about this novel was that there were many different events happening, but Nolan worked to explain them and bring about a resolution before moving on to the next big issue.  While the reader initially believes this novel is all about saving Jack, and much time is devoted to this difficult task, this isn’t the only obstacle staring the teens in the face.  Cooper also has a curse, but Nolan waits to focus on this aspect until the time is right, creating a roller coaster effect for readers, without the whiplash.  There is triumph, and there are letdowns in this novel, which makes it all the more real as the fate of Emma’s family and one true love are in her hands, and I loved how the novel continually picked up speed, paving the way for the sequel, Allure.  Four stars.

4 stars

I purchased this novel at a book festival.

Conjure (#1)

Allure (#2)



et cetera
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