Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood by Julian Mash

Title: Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood
Author: Julian Mash
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Ltd.
Publish Date: July 25, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Designed as a series of snapshots, told through the eyes of those who have lived it, this is the alternative history of a street rich in diversity, full of fascinating voices and unlikely encounters. Portobello Road and the surrounding neighbourhood is perhaps the most important source and barometer of social and cultural change in Britain over the last fifty years. Themes of slumification, gentrification, London as a melting pot, vintage fashion, independent record labels and the life and death of record shops emerge from these street-level accounts of the dealers and DJs, film-makers and fashionistas, punks, politicians, producers and poets who make the street what it is. In four sections covering the market, the music scene, the Carnival and the changing local population, Julian Mash weaves together their extraordinary stories."

My Two Cents:

"Portobello Road" is a travelogue that brings to life the sights and sounds of London's Portobello Road area. After reading this book, I know that this is an area that I would absolutely love to visit the next time I happen to be in London. This is a great collection of stories about the people and places that make up this vibrant neighborhood!

I love to travel and when I can't travel, books are definitely one of the best ways to visit a new place without leaving my favorite chair. Hurray for armchair traveling and hurray for travel writing! This book doesn't only give you a good sense of place but it gives you a good sense of people too. Mash spent many, many hours interviewing a lot of people that live and work on Portobello Road. He didn't just interview them about the place but also about some of their life stories. The care that he took in curating the interviews is definitely apparent in this book. I loved some of these stories.

The book is broken into different stories. Some of the stories cover various places along Portobello Road. Some of them cover the merchants that have made their living along the road. One of my favorite stories involves the little bookstore on Portobello Road (I know, so typical Meg). The bookstore, which is now called the Notting Hill Bookstore, was the inspiration for the adorable bookstore in the romantic comedy "Notting Hill" (ah yes, I love that movie).

Are you looking to do some good armchair traveling? Pick up this book and get to know the people and places of "Portobello Road!"


Friday, July 25, 2014

#SRC2014 Review: My Last Kiss by Bethany Neal

Title: My Last Kiss
Author: Bethany Neal
Format: ARC
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Publish Date: June 10, 2014
Source: BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge

What's the Story?:

From "What if your last kiss was with the wrong boy?

Cassidy Haines remembers her first kiss vividly. It was on the old covered bridge the summer before her freshman year with her boyfriend of three years, Ethan Keys. But her last kiss--the one she shared with someone at her seventeenth birthday party the night she died--is a blur. Cassidy is trapped in the living world, not only mourning the loss of her human body, but left with the grim suspicion that her untimely death wasn't a suicide as everyone assumes. She can't remember anything from the weeks leading up to her birthday and she's worried that she may have betrayed her boyfriend.

If Cassidy is to uncover the truth about that fateful night and make amends with the only boy she'll ever love, she must face her past and all the decisions she made--good and bad--that led to her last kiss.

Bethany Neal's suspenseful debut novel is about the power of first love and the haunting lies that threaten to tear it apart."

My Two Cents:

In "My Last Kiss," Cassidy dies at her birthday party. The circumstances are mysterious and no one is really sure what happens. Cassidy doesn't understand how she died and as a ghost, it's up to her to figure out what happened. The police rule it as a open and shut case of suicide but Cassidy knows better even if she can't put her finger on it as to why she knows that didn't happen. She can't remember and nothing is making sense. She needs to figure out what happened to her before she is allowed to go to the great beyond. Her beloved boyfriend, Ethan, is still able to see her and together they hope that they can find out what happened so that Cassidy can have her peace. This is a good YA mystery with a lot of paranormal activity. I was a little unsure of the premise but it really worked out and I enjoyed this light read!

There were a lot of twists and turns in this book. Any time there is a mystery in a book, I love being able to not figure out what happened until the very end. You definitely get that in this book as Neal leads the readers astray a lot of different times. Cassidy is able to follow her circle of friends, even if she can only communicate with Ethan and she finds out that a lot of them were hiding secrets too. Cassidy was hiding secrets as well, such as cheating on Ethan with outcast Caleb, and she thinks that might have been why she died.

The characters in the book weren't exactly likeable except for Ethan and Cassidy's friend, Aimee. Even Cassidy herself did some things that made her unlikeable but you can still sympathize for her situation. I thought it was really cool how Neal was able to give Cassidy that sort of gray area. It definitely made for a more interesting story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! 


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Eat Now; Talk Later by James Vescovi

Title: Eat Now; Talk Later
Author: James Vescovi
Format: Ebook
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publish Date: May 1, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the author; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Prepare yourself for a feast consumed in delicious bites. Stories in this collection can be read before bed, on a lunch hour, or waiting in line. They can even be shared with friends who complain they have enough to read. Together they ask the question, “How do you make modern life run smoothly for parents or grandparents who grew up when oxen were used for plowing, children left school after third grade to tend chickens, and meat was eaten only on religious holidays?

When Tony and Desolina Vescovi arrived in America,they collided with the 20th century. Born around 1900, they were stumped by telephones, banks, fast food, TV wrestling, and supermarkets. It was up to their only child, a son, to serve as their shepherd, and it wasn’t easy For example, how to explain that his job was taking him and his family 700 miles away when, in their day, sons stayed put to work the family farm? Or that it wasn’t wise to hide $10,000 in the bedroom? Or that the ice cream they just tried and enjoyed is called ‘Chubby Hubby’?"

My Two Cents:

"Eat Now; Talk Later" is a family memoir that James Vescovi wrote with his beloved grandparents at the center of it. These stories are bite size and many of them are only a few pages along. This would be a great book to consume a little bit at a time and really savor the stories (if you can help it and not devour it like I did). Because the stories are so short and really good, I kept saying to myself "Just one more" and would end up reading at least three more. No. Self. Control. If you like warm family stories and short stories, this would be a great pick for you.

I have a fascination with immigrant families. My own family has only been in the States since the 20th century for the most part and I love reading about families that came here with nothing and through a lot of hard work and in this case, a lot of family support are able to do some really wonderful things. You definitely get a sense of Vescovi's grandparents and how brave they must have been in order to give up some place so familiar in order to come to the States.

Perhaps you could tell from the cover but if you couldn't, the family at the center of the book is Italian and that, of course, means a ton of yummy food. The book even includes a couple family recipes at the back of the book, which was a touch that I really enjoyed. Another special touch is the family pictures that the author included!

And while this did not affect my review, I have to tell you all how much I like the cover of this book. It is really cute and definitely captures the title as well as all of the big family meals that appear in the book. This is a great cover!


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#SRC2014: Serenade by Emily Kiebel

Title: Serenade
Author: Emily Kiebel
Format: Ebook
Publisher: SparksPress
Publish Date: July 15, 2014
Source: BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge

What's the Story?:

From "Lorelei Clark's only concern was her future as a classically trained soprano, that is, until the day her father was tragically killed. Shattered by his death, she hesitantly accepts an invitation from a mysterious aunt to visit her lavish oceanside home in Cape Cod. She quickly discovers that her aunt and the two women who live with her are harboring a frightening secret they are sirens, terrifying mythical creatures responsible for singing doomed sailors to their deaths. Even more astounding, Lorelei is one of them.

In this new world where water comes alive at her touch and an ancient power pulses beneath the tide, the most important rule Lorelei must learn is that a siren never interferes with fate. When she breaks this rule by rescuing a handsome sailor who should have died at sea, the sirens vow she must finish the job or face grave consequences. Finding herself inexplicably attracted to him, she must fight to keep him safe from the others, even if it means risking her own life, and her heart, in the process."

My Two Cents:

Lorelei only thinks she has to worry about doing well at school with her singing. She has a bunch of natural talent but come to find out, that natural talent may not be so natural after all. This is a paranormal story where nothing is as it seems. Lorelei may actually come from a line of sirens. The sirens are, of course, those mythological creatures who are beautiful and potentially dangerous. As the myth goes, they have beautiful voices that they can potentially use in order to draw men deep into the sea.

Once I got into this book, I really enjoyed it. It opened a little slowly as we learn about Lorelei's time at her school and her singing practice. Once the mythological elements start coming into play, the book really picked up. Then things start to happen and Lorelei is forced to focus on something more than school (I don't want to give to much away). Lorelei begins to find out more about her family legacy once she goes to visit an aunt who can shed more than a little light about where Lorelei's family really comes from. It is definitely not anything that Lorelei expects. I liked how Kiebel did not show all her cards at once with the book. You get a little detail at a time to keep you going.

I really liked that Kiebel chose to write about sirens. I am absolutely fascinated by them. They definitely made for a good subject for a book. Kiebel adds a lot of detail so that even if you are not familiar with sirens, you will still understand the story and you will learn about them in the process.

Definitely a good paranormal read!


Review: Jex Malone by C.L. Gaber and V.C. Stanley

Title: Jex Malone
Authors: C.L. Gaber and V.C. Stanley
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Merit Press
Publish Date: June 18, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Bored out of her mind during a summer with her police detective father in Las Vegas, Jessica (aka "Jex") Malone starts doing what she does best--snooping. When she meets three new friends who share her passion for crime, from the geek to the fashionista, suddenly, the stifling desert days don't seem so long.

Her dad is never around, just like when her parents were married. But Jex's crew, the Drew-Ids, take the pledge of eternal secrecy and then get down to the good stuff--digging through the cold-case files in Dad's home office.

One of them, the thirteen-year-old case of Patty Matthews, is still a mystery. Finding Patty, who vanished into thin air, became such an obsession for Jex's father that it destroyed the Malones' marriage. So not only is this a big deal, it's personal.

Jex is determined to find out what really happened, and her excitement is contagious. Soon her friends are all on board and so is the missing girl's brother, the hunky Cooper Matthews.

But as they dig up more and more troubling information--more than the cops ever did--they also get the clear message that someone out there wants to prevent the truth from coming out. That somebody is also prepared to do anything, absolutely anything, to prevent it."

My Two Cents:

Jessica "Jex" Malone is not happy about being shipped off to her dad's house for the summer. After her parents' messy divorce, the judge orders her to live with her father, a police detective, for the summer. Jex is sure that it's going to be horrible and boring. Luckily, she meets new friends and being as nosy and curious as she is, she and her new friends decide to see if they can solve one of her father's cold cases. Hey, at least it's something to do!

This was a really fun read and I think it will appeal to a lot of YA readers. This book is very much in the vein of a Nancy Drew novel - there is enough action to keep you excited and into the book but the subject matter is still pretty tame. I loved the mystery in the book and I loved how the authors were able to keep the readers guessing about what happened with the girl whose disappearance Jex and her friends decide to take on.

The other thing that I really liked about the book was Jex's voice in the story. There is a lot going on in her life besides just solving the disappearance. She is trying to figure out how to have a relationship with her father as she feels that he was mostly an absentee father and may have only wanted her to live with him for the summer to spite Jex's mother. Jex has a super smart voice that was very original too! I loved following her adventures in the book.

I flew through this book! The characters were good and I loved the twists and turns. This was a thoroughly fun read!


Review: Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

Title: Dollbaby
Author: Laura Lane McNeal
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publish Date: July 3, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.

For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places."

My Two Cents:

Ibby isn't sure what to expect when her mother takes her to New Orleans to stay with her eccentric grandmother, Fannie (who is white), and her grandmother's cook, Queenie (who is black), and Queenie's daughter, Dollbaby. It's the 1960s and Ibby has a lot to learn. This is a good coming of age story with fantastic historical detail that I really enjoyed!

One of the highlights of the book for me was really the characters. Ibby doesn't know much when she is unceremoniously deposited at her grandmother's house. She is young and ignorant of the way that the world works in a lot of way. I also loved Fannie, Queenie, and Dollbaby. They were really good characters and I loved the way that McNeal was able to bring them to life. I loved the way that their conversations were written. I thought that was really key in making them feel realistic. Even though it is really Ibby that is doing the most growing in the book, we do see each person change in their own way.

I loved the historical element of the book. 1960s New Orleans seems like a really fascinating time period to have lived in. Things were starting to change but rascism still played a prevalent role in society. This book explores some of that, which was fascinating to me. It is especially fascinating with regard to the characters in the book! You can see the city clearly through the author's descriptions!

Overall, this was a good pick!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: Wanted: Dead or in Love by Kym Brunner

Title: Wanted: Dead or in Love
Author: Kym Brunner
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Merit Press
Publish Date: June 30, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

 What's the Story?:

From "Impulsive high school senior Monroe Baker is on probation for a recent crime, but strives to stay out of trouble by working as a flapper at her father's Roaring 20's dinner show theater. When she cuts herself on one of the spent bullets from her father's gangster memorabilia collection, she unwittingly awakens Bonnie Parker's spirit, who begins speaking to Monroe from inside her head.

Later that evening, Monroe shows the slugs to Jack, a boy she meets at a party. He unknowingly becomes infected by Clyde, who soon commits a crime using Jack's body. The teens learn that they have less than twenty-four hours to ditch the criminals or they'll share their bodies with the deadly outlaws indefinitely."

My Two Cents:

The premise for "Wanted: Dead or in Love" is fascinating. Monroe, a teen, who is at risk of developing a rap sheet for herself becomes inhabited by the spirit of Bonnie Parker, as in the Bonnie from Bonnie & Clyde. Her new friend, Jack, becomes inhabited by Clyde. Neither one of them are sure of what is happening to them but they realize early on that they need to put a stop to it before they get in more trouble. This is a highly imaginative young adult read that will have you flipping the pages quickly.

I really liked how the author split up the narrative. Part belongs to Monroe and part belongs to Clyde. I thought it was a really interesting choice to only have one member of the present duo and one member of the past duo narrate. It was interesting to see their take on each other's times and stories. I especially liked reading how Clyde was seeing things from within Jack's body. It was a really interesting perspective.

This book is a lot of fun. The story line is very different and will appeal to many different kinds of readers. I loved that it had both a present element and a past element (you all know how I love my historical fiction). You also have an almost sci-fi/ fantasy element with the whole spiritual inhabiting. I loved how Brunner was able to capture Bonnie and Clyde's language and way of speaking. You can almost picture them saying the things that they were saying in the book. I love when characters' voices are that vivid! It really makes for fun reading!

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