Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

station elevenTJ Burns — February 27, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I love well-written dystopian novels and I love solving mysteries, so Station Eleven is right down my ally. The biggest mystery throughout was figuring out how all the players fit together. One-third through, I made a mind map and a timeline to sort things out. Putting together the pieces of the puzzle was as entertaining as it was intriguing, and it took away a bit of the sting from the heavier, more deprestation eleven2ssing subject matter.

I was enraptured from beginning to end by the captivating subject matter, the puzzles to solve, and the diverse and interesting characters.

Published September 9th 2014 by Knopf

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Sunbaked by Junie Coffey

sunbaked 1TJ Burns — May 25, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Sunbaked was a fun read! It was a lot more than I bargained for (in a good way)! The mystery was easy to guess and not a big shocker, but that wasn’t the point. The characters are what makes this story so enjoyable. Nina, who is soon to be divorced from her cheating husband, is easy to relate to and likable. She’s also a bit daring and adventurous. Danish, the entertaining, colorful yoga-instructor-slash-mail-carrier-slash-bar-tender is a handful, but a laugh-out-loud entertaining handful. Pansy, the happily-married mother of small children, who is not afraid to take on the local development tycoon or possible kidnappers, won a soft-spot in my heart. Ted, the quiet, polite, handsome, and a bit mysterious fishing lodge owner is easy to fall for.

Then there’s the whole slew of eclectic, diverse and colorful townies and vacationers, who spice up and liven up the atmosphere in this very descriptive story. The retired rock star with his British accent and his grounded, hospitable wife; the friendly, athletic bar owner, Veronica, who was born on a boat; the gorgeous, polite, and professional chief of police, Blue; the annoyed French inn owner, Michel; the rich development tycoon, Barry, and his spoiled, always bored trophy wife, Tiffany; the tennis pro, Lance, and his “beer commercial” friends; the museum curator, Alice, and even Alice’s Aunt Agatha, who doesn’t utter a word, all throw spices into the mix that each add its complimentary (or contrasting!) flavor.sunbaked2

The writing is so detail-oriented that we even learn what clothes, shoes, and accessories Nina is wearing at any given time ;). While I personally don’t really need to know what Nina or anyone else is wearing, the descriptions make the characters, buildings, and even vehicles more vivid as they come alive on the page. Even more impressive is the landscape — the ocean, beach, and brush scenes — for which we get a description of colors, sights, sounds, and smells — I felt like I was in the Caribbean. Ahhh. I’ve been to the Bahamas several times and I could just sit back and feel the mood.

While the explosive ending seemed a bit forced, this character-driven story was one fun ride!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Published May 9th 2017 by Lake Union

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The Best Kind of Magic (Windy City Magic #1) by Crystal Cestari

the-best-kind-of-magicTJ Burns — May 1, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I liked the voice. Amber’s matter-of-fact, sarcastic, joke-dropping, sassy, and a little self-depreciating style resonated with me, as did the setting — my parents are from Chicago.

I thoroughly enjoyed Amber’s snide remarks and sarcastic thoughts throughout. Amber continued to surprise me with her witty reactions, comments, and thoughts, which were not at all repetitive, but flexed according to each new situation.

There’s a theme that I found intriguing here as well, and that is the idea of fate. I’m not a fan of fate (or “the fates”) predetermining people’s destinies. I like to think that people’s independent choices determine their destinies. So the whole idea that there is “one true love” for everyone, and this love is predetermined, is for me a bunch of hogwash (put politely in a public forum 😉 ).

I am sure that there is more than one ideal mate (probably quite a few), and that each person can decide for himself/herself what s/he wants out of a relationship and life.

So… if this is a possibility, then there is the possibility that Charlie and Amber could side-step “the fates” and choose their own love connection, possibly each other… (Charlie was able to resist the siren in school, so he may be able to resist the fates and their pre-selected mate as well). I think Amber and Charlie have a positive dynamic and I would love to see them laugh in the fates’ faces and take control of their own lives.

Some unanswered questions that I hope will be answered in the next installment are listed at the bottom of this page.

The Best Kind of Magic was a fun read!
I like the idea of a matchmaker, the low-end of the magical totem pole, and yet… love really is the best kind of magic!

I received a copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: May 16th 2017 by Disney-Hyperion.

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Some unanswered questions that I hope will be answered in the next installment are:
What was Lucille and Victoria’s history? What was Lucille’s history with Mr. Hollister? Where did Cassandra disappear to? What exactly was her deal with the goblins — the deal that she broke? To protect Charlie’s father? What’s Kim’s deal? Why was Amber forced to raise her hand to show Kim around? Does Kim have some kind of power that overrides the matchmaker’s power? What did Amani see in Amber’s future? What was the “evil in the air” alluded to near the beginning?

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Tricked (Fairy Tale Reform School #3) by Jen Calonita

trickedTJ Burns — April 23, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Another exciting adventure to Gilly and friends! This time they go on a quest, during the course of which they all stretch their preconceived notions of what they (and their friends) are capable of achieving… and of overcoming. Some of the lessons learned are similar to those in the previous book, namely we all have the potential to be a hero (or a villain), depending on the choices we make. We can’t achieve our goals alone, however, and need to rely on others and trust in their strengths… and their loyalty.

New challenges, mythical beings, and fairy tale characters all bring fresh elements into the mix, creating a charming, fun, colorful, and magical tale!

I received a copy of this book from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Published March 7th 2017 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

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Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren

Prisoner of Ice and SnowTJ Burns — April 4, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I loved this book right from the start — the quick foreshadowing of the events to come pulled me right in and didn’t let me go, as questions upon questions accumulated, straight through until the exciting, satisfying, though still incomplete, conclusion.

The characters are interesting and diverse, and I never knew who to trust and who not to trust. I speculated, guessed, reassessed, and second-guessed throughout.

So many questions are still left open. Why is Katia shaking her head no? Why don’t Katia and Feliks turn themselves in to get pardoned? What do they know that we don’t know? Where is Anastasia? Is Natalia really working for Anastasia or is it someone else? (Katia? Feliks? Who are they working for/with?) What is Anastasia up to? Will Lady Olegevna, Queen Ana, Prince Anatol, and the others leave the square unharmed? Will the music box return safely to Magadanskya?

I can’t wait to read the next installment to find out what will happen next to Valor, Sasha, Feliks, Katia, Anatol, and friends.

I received a copy of this book from Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Published April 4th 2017 by Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books

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Charmed (Fairy Tale Reform School, #2) by Jen Calonita

charmedTJ Burns — March 30, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Yet another exciting adventure for Gillian Cobbler and her fairy tale friends! Gilly finds that living up to a hero’s reputation is not as easy as it might seem. She has trouble balancing fame and admiration with the precarious and dangerous position she has put herself and her family into. She quickly learns, however, that she can not go it alone if she expects to battle the most evil villains the fairy tale world has ever seen. But who should she trust? And who might betray her?

My nine-year-old daughter and I had a wonderful time reading this book. I guessed the “unexpected twist” quite early, but that did not at all damper the adventurous fun, but rather kept us intrigued and involved until the very end.

We are excited to start the third book in this series, Tricked, today!

I received a copy of this book from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Published March 2016 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

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Perfect (Flawed #2) by Cecelia Ahern

perfectTJ Burns — March 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Perfect was a fantastic read! Everything I hope for in a book and more! Suspense, mystery, unexpected twists and turns, thought-provoking content, intelligent (and at time witty) dialogue, interesting/intriguing characters who experience character growth, and a splash of romance!

Ahern’s writing style is brilliant. Following Celestine’s thought process is amazing as she grows and develops, learns from her mistakes, questions the world around her and everything she’s been taught to believe is true, draws her own conclusions, overcomes betrayal, learns to trust.

The varied chapter lengths works really well to move the story along, sometimes long to reveal a more in-depth analysis or detailed scene, sometime incredibly short to create a sense of urgency.

perfect2

I wish I hadn’t had to wait a year to read this second book — the two books would have flowed so seamlessly together. It seems more like one complete book than a duology.

The two books together, Flawed and Perfect deal with a heavy subject matter, which in its presentation is dark enough, but at one point toward the end of the second book, Ahern alludes to an even darker possible turn of events, which given the historical events of the not so distant past, would be entirely conceivable (see spoiler in my Goodreads Review).

We are presented with a system for regulating moral conduct – a Theocracy – with Judge Crevan (Bosco) as the infallible Executive Theocrat, the moral judge, the decider of right from wrong.

We get introduced to this system by Celestine, a 17-year-old who was raised in this system and genuinely finds it to be a good way to keep people on the moral path. Celestine’s Granddad, Cornelius, and her sister, Juniper, are presented as critics of the system – the free-thinkers.

It is essential for the story that we receive a description of this moral system from the perspective of an indoctrinated, like Celestine, rather than from someone who sets himself/herself critically towards the system, such as Juniper or Cornelius.

The way in which Celestine first describes “the Guild” initially led me to believe it to be harmless. The more I learned about this system, the more I came to recognize it as a brutally oppressive theocratic dictatorship, which uses fear tactics, censorship, torture, imprisonment, ostracization, and stigmatization to force the majority to follow the moral edicts of a small minority.

Perfect shows the dangers of letting a theocratic dictatorship control our thoughts and actions, and stresses the importance (and mandate!) of following what our own consciences know to be “right,” “just,” compassionate,” and “logical,” even when the political and religious system set in place forbids such actions.

Perfect is much more than an outward political critique, however. Perfect also looks inwardly, asking readers to celebrate all of our imperfections and encouraging us to accept ourselves as “perfect” just as we are — perfection in balance with our flaws.

Celestine concludes that we, “the flawed,” can learn from the mistakes we’ve made, while “the unflawed” presumably haven’t made any mistakes to learn from (at least none they are willing to admit to). Ergo, the flawed are a whole lot smarter, having learned a whole lot more.

Perfect is intriguing, provocative, and exciting! It examines external moral structures, such as cults, theocracies, and ideological dictatorships with a condemning eye, and it denounces any society’s attempt to hold its members (or any individual’s attempt to hold himself/herself) to a “perfect” standard that does not include looking to our consciences for answers, acting with compassion, learning from our mistakes, and accepting ourselves with all of our imperfections as “perfect” — just the way we are.

I received a copy of this book from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: April 4th 2017 by Feiwel & Friends

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The Pearl Thief (Code Name Verity 0) by Elizabeth Wein

the pearl thiefTJ Burns — March 11th, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

The characters in The Pearl Thief are so vivid and each is unique! I really feel that I know them. The writing is amazing! …and the mystery! I couldn’t stop reading.

Julie is a wonderful character — the perfect combination of curiosity, bravery, prowess, pluck, pride, sophistication, and playfulness. She has a good moral compass and can empathize with others, even though she has not much personal experience. The Tinkers, Ellen, Euan and their family, present an interesting class and life-style contrast, which helps put the story into its historical context, namely 1930s Scotland. Especially Julie and Ellen’s relationship displays an intriguing dynamic, as the two learn from each other and overcome their own stereotypes to establish a deep and lasting friendship.the pearl thief2

Before reading, I had no idea that this book is the prequel for the wildly popular Code Name Verity series. This is my first Elizabeth Wein book, but I can’t wait to read more. Wein’s writing is so colorful and descriptive that I felt I’d been thrown back in time to another time, another place, and I was right there beside Julia, sharing her experiences, learning from her mistakes, and solving the mystery!

I received a copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: May 2nd 2017 by Disney-Hyperion

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Lou Lou and Pea and the Mural Mystery by Jill Diamond

lou-lou-and-pea-and-the-mural-mysteryTJ Burns — February 11, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I had a wonderful time reading this with my 9-year-old daughter! We both loved the mystery and the puzzle-solving. I was so proud that my daughter solved the riddle, and the mystery, before the two main characters did! Enough clues were dropped to solve the mural mystery, but there were so many misleading clues to throw us off the trail that the story remained interesting and mysterious throughout.

I also liked the vivid setting of the Mexican-American neighborhood of El Corazón. I’m guessing that this is a neighborhood in a bigger city in California, but I would have liked to have more detailed references. Even after an internet search, I’m still not sure if this is a fictional or real location. My daughter wasn’t even sure what country this story takes place in, since she has only been to the US once and has never seen a community like El Corazón. A few more details could give this story a bit more flavor, especially for readers outside the US, or even outside California.

The Spanish phrases were wonderful! We learned some Spanish phrases in the midst of the excitement! A great way to learn a new language!

We loved the illustrations. The picture which depicts Lou Lou, Pea, and Helado confronting the culprit had us laughing for at least 5 minutes straight! It was hilarious! Well-done!

Lou Lou and Pea and the Mural Mystery was a fun, exciting, interesting, colorful, educational, and mysterious story that had us puzzle-solving, clue-searching, and culprit-guessing every step of the way!

I received a copy of this book from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Published October 18th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

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The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

the-impossible-fortressTJ Burns — January 23, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Well, huh. I have to say, in a weird way, I really enjoyed this book. I was frustrated to no end at the stupidity of some of the characters’ choices, especially Billy’s. But because I was inside Billy’s head the whole time, I could empathize, understand, and even forgive.

The Characters
Billy’s best friends (a.k.a “only friends”), Alf and Clark, are in my opinion not very good friends at all. They seem to be sort of “default friends” from the way Billy describes it. Billy mentions once that it’s not like he can trade them in for other friends. What other friends? Billy mentions that he doesn’t have a wide selection of friends — it’s either these two or none at all. I was hoping early on that Billy would dump these friends for Mary, who seemed to me to be much more in tune with Billy and his wishes/needs/personality.

Later I was convinced that Alf and Clark were not just naive and inconsiderate, but directly destructive and harmful to Billy and Billy’s future. But as the story evolves, these two friends redeem themselves in my eyes when they make the death-defying trek up the mountain to make things right. Turns out they are just naive, stupid, and yes, inconsiderate, but not purposefully harmful and destructive.

The Plot
The plot was original, entertaining, and full of surprises. My biggest emotion throughout was shock and disbelief. How stupid can a kid be?! But… being inside of Billy’s head the whole time, I totally got his confusion, his insecurity, his embarrassment, his hurt from having been rejected. It felt real. It felt human. It felt 14-year-old adolescent with no experience with the opposite sex, and little social experience at all.

The Romance
I liked Mary and her matter-of-fact speaking style, her intelligence, her problem solving skills, and her seemingly confident personality. I also liked that there is more to her, too, than meets the eye, and that she has her own set of problems, insecurities, and mistakes to deal with. Because I was not inside of her head, I could not develop empathy and understanding for some of her actions, but I could certainly try to imagine her motivations enough to get a feeling for why she does what she does — even when it doesn’t initially make sense.

Conclusion: Outrageous Originality
I have to give this story mega-plus points for its outrageous originality. I put it under “contemporary/romance” because I refuse to believe that growing up in the 80s is “historical fiction”! 😉 But all the music, brand, entertainers’, and computer names definitely give it a “throw-back” or “retro” feel that clearly put this story in time and place. Some of us (uh ’em, not necessarily me, but some) can relate, but even those who didn’t live through the early days of computers can also get a feel for what computer programming meant back then. The adolescent insecurity, however, transcends time and space.

I received a copy of this book from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Published February 7th 2017 by Simon & Schuster

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