Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Expected release date: June 19th, 2012
Genre: Chick Lit
Pages: 288 (Paperback)

I received a copy of Monarch Beach from Goodreads.

I realized while reading this one that unless there is a zany main character, or a unique situation, chick lit isn’t really for me. (I really enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries, for example.) If it’s mainly just about real-life struggles women go through, I start to get antsy. Maybe because these types of books are too realistic and not enough of an escape for me.

So take this review with a grain of salt.

When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kindhearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuild it. The opportunity falls into her lap when her (very lovable) mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max, spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach. With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life—and escaping the drama. But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention… and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple. This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about the mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turned upside down.

This is one of those lazy Sunday afternoon books. It has the expected drama (I gasped during the first page), the hot new guy, and a few sexy scenes. It’s enjoyable the way romantic comedies are enjoyable: you go in pretty much knowing what you’re going to get. So, in that sense, I would say this book for the most part fulfills all those desired elements.

My three-star rating is mainly due to Amanda herself. She didn’t really have any flaws. When bad things happened, they happened to her. Too much of a victim, maybe. The first chapter (the chapters are long in this book–sometimes as long as 40 pages) is essentially the backstory of her relationship with sexy but lecherous Andre, her husband of ten years. The chapter is bookended by Amanda catching Andre in the act. She had my sympathy in the beginning. What woman wouldn’t side with another woman who just caught her husband cheating on her? But all the backstory actually hurt her case for me. Red flags popped up all over the place, and I found myself thinking she was an idiot for falling for someone who even admitted that the concept of monogamy was “foreign” to Frenchmen. Hello, Amanda! Run away now!

The fact that he had been cheating on her for years and that she had no idea was a little unbelievable, too. She didn’t even have her suspicions. I found it hard to feel for her the more I knew about her past. And, again, maybe this is how things really are. Maybe lots of women marry the “wrong” men and want to believe so badly that they’re happy that they’re blind to even their own suspicions. But in fiction? In fiction, I want the woman to have some inkling, to have some plan of action when the shit hits the fan, to be stronger than the rest of us out here in the real world. To give those of us in this type of situation a role model for how to stand up for ourselves and get out.

Amanda constantly asked her best friend what she should do, but she never had any plans of her own. Then her mom swoops in and offers her an all-expense paid summer vacation in Laguna Beach so Amanda and her son Max can spend some time away from Andre.

Amanda’s family is incredibly rich, so money is not even a thought for them. Amanda often tells us about the luxuries of the St. Regis, from the chauffeured Bentley that drove them all over town, to ordering exorbitant amounts of room service. Beyond having a cad of a husband, she doesn’t suffer from or struggle with… anything, really. Aside from raising Max, she doesn’t work and has never had to. And she very well could now, at this point in her life, since Max is in school all day. Her life is pretty uncomplicated and a bit decadent. A completely different world from mine.

If the first chapter had been reduced to a few key things (Andre is a pig; Amanda’s friend from prep school, Stephanie, is Andre’s silent partner in his restaurant; Amanda has an eight-year-old son), and the details of their marriage left out (to be sprinkled in periodically later), I probably could have gotten past the brand-name-dropping. With my sympathy for her already waning, her lack-of-life-struggles only made it worse.

But this might just be another example of why I’m not the target audience for this book. Shows like Sex in the City never appealed to me. But for others, the rich life style might be something they can relate to, or something they want to live vicariously through. I’m not a brand name kind of girl, so mentioning her Manolo’s or her Theory sundresses didn’t impress me.

See what I mean about the grain of salt?

All that said, I was able to read the book with relative ease. The ending was actually a bit unexpected, which I appreciated.

If you’re looking for a beach-book, with a bit of a vicarious-woman’s-fantasy vibe, you’ll probably really enjoy Monarch Beach.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Timepiece by Myra McEntire

Publisher: EgmontUSA
Expected release date: June 12, 2012
Genre: YA Paranormal/Sci-fi
Pages: 336 (Paperback)

I was so excited to win this as a raffle door prize at a SCBWI conference. I really enjoyed Hourglass.

A threat from the past could destroy the future. And the clock is ticking…

Kaleb Ballard’s relentless flirting is interrupted when Jack Landers, the man who tried to murder his father, timeslips in and attacks before disappearing just as quickly. But Kaleb has never before been able to see time travelers, unlike many of his friends associated with the mysterious Hourglass organization. Are Kaleb’s powers expanding, or is something very wrong?

Then the Hourglass is issued an ultimatum. Either they find Jack and the research he’s stolen on the time gene, or time will be altered with devastating results.

Now Kaleb, Emerson, Michael, and the other Hourglass recruits have no choice but to use their unusual powers to find Jack. But where do they even start? And when? And even if they succeed, it may not be enough…

I was a little worried when I realized Timepiece is told from Kaleb’s POV. Not because it’s Kaleb, but because lately I’ve read sequels where the the story is not only told by someone else, but often by the MC’s child, or years later. I want the same storyline and time(ha)line I fell in love with in book 1! Thankfully, Kaleb’s story pretty much starts up where Emerson’s left off in Hourglass.

And, dare I say, I actually preferred Kaleb’s voice to Em’s! So that was a nice surprise.

Since I read Hourglass in February, I felt pretty confident that I’d be able to follow the plot without needing to check out Myra’s Hourglass recap. I probably should have read it. Time travel, no matter how well it’s told, will make a girl’s head spin. So do yourself a favor and brush up on everything before you dive into Timepiece, just to save your brain cells for the new stuff.

I feel like I can’t give a full review of this because somuch happens and I don’t to give anything away. (Though, I will say, anyone who was on the fence about Kaleb will be a fan now!) It’s really good! I read it in about 24 hours, unable to put the thing down.

In Hourglass, the action didn’t really kick into high-gear for me until the last 100 or so pages, but with Timepiece, it’s pretty action-packed all the way along. There are more rips, they’re constantly changing, and now the time-travelers aren’t the only ones who can see them. Plus, Jack’s creepy self keeps showing up everywhere.

It’s a fun ride!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Publisher: Random House
Expected release date: June 26, 2012
Genre: Contemporary Adult (with a smidge of sci-fi)
Pages: 288 (Paperback)

In The Age of Miracles, Earth’s rotation has inexplicably slowed down. At first, days gain an extra few minutes. As the novel progresses, days swell to 50+ hours. Our narrator is twelve year old Julia, who, on top of dealing with the horrors of a changing planet, is dealing with the horrors of sixth grade. (I’m not sure which genre box this one falls into. It’s not quite YA, it’s not quite sci-fi. But just calling it “general fiction” doesn’t quite feel right, either.)

I’ll state first that I did enjoy this book. A lot of thought went into this novel, which I greatly appreciated. It’s beautifully told, and I was easily able to finish it in a few days.

That said, I had a few issues with it. For one, the science doesn’t really hold up. It’s a little hard to believe that scientists wouldn’t have seen such a big change coming, and that, years later, they still don’t have an explanation as to what caused “the slowing” in the first place. While I know that this is one of those messages-wrapped-in-science-fiction type of stories (like Signs or District 9–the latter being far more effective), I still believe the science fiction part of it has to be strong. It has to be solid enough to allow me to get lost in the surface plot, so I can then delve into the message. (Signs was about faith?! Really? I was too busy being livid that aliens who have mastered space travel can be thwarted by wooden doors and glasses of water…)

Running parallel to the story of what’s happening to Earth is Julia’s coming-of-age story. We get to experience her first attempt at buying a bra, with falling for a boy, with finding out that her parents aren’t as infallible and resilient as she once thought. I felt a connection to Julia to an extent. I think most girls can remember how awful middle school could be. Especially middle school boys! Okay, the girls were pretty awful, too.

Our storyteller is a reflective one–looking back on her twelfth year and on the beginning of the slowing. (Think of Kevin’s narration in Wonder Years.) We know from her storytelling that even though there’s been a drastic change to Earth, the world didn’t end, as she’s still around to reflect on how things used to be. This left me feeling a little detached–from both Julia’s story and the urgency of Earth’s. The pages kept turning, but not because I was desperate to know what happened next. It felt more like I stumbled upon someone’s diary, and I kept reading out of mild curiosity.

That, and hoping something would happen. I wanted Julia to crawl out of her shell a little, to become less casual. I wanted her to take a more active role in her own story, to do something rash or exciting because there was no way to know how much longer Earth would still be around. But the Earth’s days just slowly got longer, and Julia’s life just slowly carried on. I wanted her to venture out into the world so we could see more of what was happening beyond her little suburban street. While the details of people choosing to live on real-time versus clock-time, how flocks of birds fell from the sky, how whales beached themselves by the hundreds, was all fascinating, I wanted more of it. I wanted to see how it played out in other neighborhoods and cities. I wanted more examples of how this change divided humanity.

This isn’t the type of book I would necessarily recommend, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it, either. It’s definitely an enjoyable read. And when you suspend disbelief, the concept really is rather unnerving.

I probably won’t wish for more hours in the day ever again!

Rating: 3 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published: May 1st, 2010
Genre: YA Post-Apocalyptic
Pages: 352 (Paperback)

Ship Breaker takes place in a world running low on oil. What we’ve done to the planet has led to the loss of places like Antarctica, huge chunks of land are underwater, and now there are Category 6 hurricanes (dubbed “city killers”).

Our protagonist, Nailer, is a teenage boy. We don’t know his exact age; maybe fifteen. He doesn’t know. It doesn’t matter to him how old he is, his life is all about day-to-day survival. Nailer works light crew, his small frame slating him to be the one who crawls through the broken down tankers littering the beach of Bright Sands, pulling bits of copper free so it can be sold to corporations who recycle the metal.

When he and his friend Pima happen upon a grounded, elegant clipper ship, they think they’ve found their coveted Lucky Strike—the lucky break that will release them from their dire circumstances. The clipper was beached when one of the aforementioned city killers swept through. On board they find a “swank” girl pinned underneath a pile of furniture.

Nailer is torn between saving this girl and letting her die (so he and Pima can cash in their Lucky Strike). If the girl were to die, they could claim all the gold and silver on board as their own. When he ultimately decides to save her, everything changes; life as he knows it upended.

Overall, the pace is a little slow, but don’t let that deter you. You’ll settle into the rhythm of it.

I’ve heard a few people complain about the violence in this, but that part of it didn’t bother me. It didn’t feel too gory or over the top. The son versus father element was a little disturbing, but more so because it was hard to deal with the idea of a teenage boy being that terrified of his own father. For Nailer to constantly fear for his life as long as his father was alive.

The theme of family was strong throughout the book, playing with the notion that family is about the people, not the blood. That sometimes your family is the people you choose, people who have your back no matter what, simply because they care about you. Nailer’s family was Pima, her mother, and the swank, Nita. His father was someone he was bound to only by genetics.

I realized, towards the end, that the book reminded me a lot of Slumdog Millionaire. The idea that just because you’re not rich or book-smart, you still have value. That even the mundane, everyday events of your life are important. Just like Jamal was able to answer the Millionaire questions because of the knowledge he gained from his experiences in the slums, Nailer was able to skirt through dangerous situations based on the life he’d led–knowing the ins-and-outs of functioning ships because he spent all his life tearing the broken ones down.

What I loved most, I think, was the concept that one choice could change the course of your life. That if you zig instead of zag, a whole new set of possibilities opens up. Is it fate that led you there? Luck? When the opportunity presents itself, though, regardless of its source, you’d better take it. You never know where–or to who–it might lead you.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Publisher: Penguin Australia
Published: August 28th, 2006
Genre: Contemporary YA
Pages: 300 (Paperback)

I adored this book. I’m not sure how I managed to go so long without reading it.

This is not an easy book to summarize, as this is a book you experience. We know that our heroine, Taylor, was abandoned by her mother when Taylor was eleven. But we don’t know why. We don’t know anything, really. We don’t know, because Taylor doesn’t.

The mystery of who she is slowly unravels as the novel progresses (told through interwoven story lines—past and present). Hints and clues are placed in the most ingenious way; you feel like a detective while you’re reading (sometimes I felt tempted to scribble a few notes for myself!). Just when you think you’ve figured something out, something else is presented, maybe a conversation, maybe a word, maybe a name, and then you find yourself scrambling to remember the bits and pieces of Taylor’s story you’ve learned so far. I flipped back to re-read the prologue at least once. It makes you, as a reader, completely invested.

I believe most readers will figure things out before Taylor does. But not in a frustrating way, and you’re constantly rooting for her, hoping she’ll figure it all out, she finds the truth. (Plus, anyone who wins the affections of Jonah Griggs has to be pretty great.)

Is Taylor an instantly loveable character? No. She’s grouchy. She doesn’t put up with anyone. Has a bit of a temper. But her desperation to understand who she is and where she comes from is what lures you in. And the more you learn about her, the more you want her to succeed.

By the end of the book, I was in tears. And, amazingly, they weren’t sad tears. A little out of happiness, a little out of relief. It’s such a beautifully bittersweet journey, and it deserves every one of its accolades.

Pick it up! I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Oh! And if you do pick it up, don’t let the prologue or the confusing/disorienting nature of the first few chapters discourage you from continuing. I was laugh-out-loud confused for a little while, but was so intrigued I couldn’t put it down.

Rating: (An enthusiastic!) 5 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.

Crazy by Amy Reed

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Expected release date: June 12th, 2012 (Copy from Galley Grab)
Genre: Contemporary YA
Pages: 384 (eBook)

Connor knows that Izzy will never fall in love with him the way he’s fallen for her. But somehow he’s been let into her crazy, exhilarating world and become her closest confidante. But the closer they get, the more Connor realizes that Izzy’s highs are too high and her lows are too low. And the frenetic energy that makes her shine is starting to push her into a much darker place. As Izzy’s behavior gets increasingly erratic and self-destructive, Connor gets increasingly desperate to stop her from plummeting. He knows he can’t save her from her pain… but what if no one else can?

Connor and Isabel meet over summer at camp, and exchange email addresses at summer’s end. Crazy begins with Connor emailing Izzy–and the majority of the book is made up of their email conversations. I’ve never read an epistolary novel before, so I cannot compare this one to any others, but I think this one was very well done. I got lost in their stories and their fluctuating moods, forgetting at times that this wasn’t structured like a standard novel.

Because Connor and Isabel are so honest with each other (so much so that sometimes the honesty made me squirm!) reading this felt incredibly voyeuristic. Like I had stumbled across a file of very personal information and was unable to look away until I’d devoured every last word. Izzy’s systematic unraveling aided in that as well; it was like seeing a car wreck on the side of the road and being unable to tear your eyes away. Equally invested and horrified by what you’re seeing come undone before you.

While Connor and Izzy’s interactions were initially funny–sometimes hilariously awkward–slowly their conversations turned into something else. I found myself trying to figure out who irritated me more. Connor was too much of a wimp and a pushover, Izzy was too melodramatic and callous. Then I hated Izzy for treating Connor like he was a worthless puppy dog who would happily follow her to the ends of the Earth. Then I was annoyed Connor was a nothing more than a puppy dog who would happily follow her to the ends of the Earth. I never loved them both at the same time!

I knew something bad was going to happen to Izzy. It was hard not to see it coming. But we weren’t sure if Connor would be able to get to her in time. We wondered which of Izzy’s promises and threats were true. We wanted Connor to tell her to stop complaining, to just take hold of her life and fix it. We wanted Connor to save her. We wanted Connor to cut her loose.

We wondered what we would do if we were in Connor’s shoes.

I don’t know anyone who suffers from bipolar disorder, but I hope all the Isabels in the world who do have a Connor in their corner, someone who does everything in their power to help them, even when they get pushed away. Someone who will fight for them when they’re too not strong enough to fight for themselves.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour

And, yes, we all are, or soon will be, disenchanted, but I still want to know it all: the heartbreak, the fear, the friendship, the anger, the love. All of it.

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Expected release date: February 16, 2012
Genre: Contemporary YA
Pages: 307 (Paperback)

I was very excited when I won a copy of The Disenchantments from Goodreads. I hadn’t heard of Nina LaCour before, but when I saw that a roadtrip was going to be a central part of the plot, I was already hooked. Who doesn’t love a good roadtrip story? And now I’ll definitely be picking up Hold Still, her first novel. Her style is very simple and easy to read (no easy task!), with completely spot-on dialogue. (I’m a junkie for good dialogue.)

There’s a vintage quality to the book as well. It took a while to convince myself that the story didn’t take place in the 70s. Maybe the feeling came from the fact that our gang of four (Bev, Alexa, Meg–the three members of The Disenchantments, the worst girl band in history–and Colby, our narrator) were traveling across the Pacific Northwest in a VW bus named Melinda, or that Colby thinks things are “rad,” or maybe it was the cover art and colors, with the girl in a rainbow-adorned sweater that looks like she probably found it at a local thrift shop. Maybe it was because all the tiny, dingy towns we visit feel like they’re a little stuck in the past.

(A sidenote about the cover: Now, normally I don’t feel too much, one way or the other, about covers. It’s not a bad cover, I’m just not sure it’s the right one. I would assume the girl on the cover is Bev–though the rainbow on her chest might mean it’s Meg–and while Bev is a big part of Colby’s world, and the lead singer of The Disenchantments, this is Colby’s story. It almost feels like a disservice to him to have one of the girls, or a girl, period, on the cover. Especially since initially I assumed Colby was a girl, given the cover. Maybe the design he created with the silver crying eyes would have been a better choice. Especially if his “Art School” tag could be included!)

The pace of the novel perfectly matches the feel of a roadtrip, a very linear plotline that unfolds before us, just like the road Melinda’s driving down, edging us closer to our final destination. The pacing is done so effortlessly that I forgot I was reading. I was in that bus, too. I could see the blur of the trees through Melinda’s windows, I could feel the excited anticipation of who we’d meet next, could smell the smoke from Bev’s cigarettes.

I’m always a little leery of male POVs written by women, since I’ve read many books where the men lose some of their “maleness.” So I was worried when Bev broke the news to Colby that she wasn’t going with him to Europe after all, and that after their last show, she would be starting college. Which was definitely not part of their plan. I expected Colby to get whiny, to act a little too much like the girls he was traveling with. “It feels like forever ago, that Dad and Pete were standing there waving, and I was pulling onto the road, confident in what was happening next. And now this trip is the beginning of nothing.” But he was understandably upset, and I was rooting for him the whole time.

It was hard to not feel for the guy: his entire life plan was overturned by the girl he loves. We ache with him as he faces the vast landscape of the unknown that will be the rest of his life; the bittersweet feeling that everything is ending, yet everything is beginning, too; and who can’t connect with the torture that is unrequited love?

I thoroughly enjoyed my last tour (for least for a year) with The Disenchantments, and loved all the people we met along the way. That’s really one of the best parts about a roadtrip, isn’t it? I was just as sad as everyone else when it all came into an end. The beginning of the rest of their lives, all four continuing their journeys in different directions. We know that even if they all stay closely connected, it will never be the same. And I grieved for the loss of that right along with them.

Even though we all start off bright-eyed and hopeful, life has a knack of swooping in and dismantling our expectations and optimism, just like it did for Colby. Plans will change, people will disappoint us. But I hope we all have a bit of Colby’s bravery. That even if we become disenchanted with what life throws our way, that we’ll still forge ahead into the unknown. Because you never know what’s waiting for you around the next bend in the road.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Add it to your Goodreads HERE.