Friday, February 27, 2015

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson

The Shadow Cabinet 
by Maureen Johnson
Read: February 22 - 24, 2015
Published: February 10th 2015 by Putnam Juvenile
Source: Library
Tags: Ghosts, London, YA

Series: Shades of London #3 
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

The thrilling third installment to the Edgar-nominated, bestselling series.

Rory and her friends are reeling from a series of sudden and tragic events. While racked with grief, Rory tries to determine if she acted in time to save a member of the squad. If she did, how do you find a ghost? Also, Rory’s classmate Charlotte has been kidnapped by Jane and her nefarious organization. Evidence is uncovered of a forty-year-old cult, ten missing teenagers, and a likely mass murder. Everything indicates that Charlotte’s in danger, and it seems that something much bigger and much more terrible is coming.

Time is running out as Rory fights to find her friends and the ghost squad struggles to stop Jane from unleashing her spectral nightmare on the entire city. In the process, they'll discover the existence of an organization that underpins London itself—and Rory will learn that someone she trusts has been keeping a tremendous secret.

The Shadow Cabinet is book three in Maureen Johnson's Shades of London series, and I've been waiting for it ever since The Madness Underneath released two years ago. Book two ended on a humongous cliffhanger that shattered my hopes for this series pretty hard, and I was desperate for Johnson to fix it for me. I will say that overall, I was pleased with how this story developed. For me, it was a much stronger book than The Madness Underneath, which felt very much like a transition story, to get the readers from the Ripper focused plot in The Name of the Star, to the direction the story has taken in book three. 

It is very hard to discuss The Shadow Cabinet without massive spoilers, but I'm going to do my best here. I've clearly marked anything that is a spoiler, and you should also check out my Goodreads review, where I was able to be a little more open, because I could hide more things. Here are my thoughts in five points: 

1) This book was less about solving ghost crimes, and more personal, focused on the aftermath of what happened at the end of book two. The story picks up almost immediately after the last installment, and readers see how the characters are coping (see more on Rory in the next point).  The other half of this story connects to the happenings of therapist Jane, whom Rory met in the last book. We see more of what she's doing, and some of it definitely surprised me. Where the series started off as more of a crime-suspense, featuring ghosts, The Shadow Cabinet took a more of mystical or mythological look at the whole death and dying phenomenon. 

 2) Our Louisiana transplant to London, i.e. heroine Rory, continues to be chatty, though she's more broken in this book, which is very much expected. She's not always the most observant and has some moments of being passive - or conversely doing impulsive things without thinking them through. But I still really like her, and I continue to be charmed by her inner monologues about her family and home. Rory is very much the youngest and the newest to these ghost seeing police. But she is learning, and keeps going forward during some very tough times. Rory also manages to mostly come out all right in the end, despite me wanting to yell at her a few times. 

3) This book wasn't as emotionally wrecking as it could have been, but it's also not as emotionally satisfying as I'd hope it would be. Honestly, this would have been a higher rated read, except for this point. After a 2 year wait, I needed more. This part I'm going to talk about more fully under a spoiler tag. 

4) As for other characters, we are introduced to Sadie and Sid, who are very mysterious and intriguing people who connect to Jane the happenings I noted in the first point. Rory also spends more time with Thorpe, the MI5 overseer of Stephen's group, and I liked his inclusion. He is duty focused and pretty unsympathetic, but I like that we see him as a bit more human and he helps keep Rory on track. Of course Callum and Boo are around, though I wanted more of them. And we meet a new character, Freddie, who I hope is going to be a great addition to the mix. Also, (SPOILER>>>really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Stephen better in this book as well. He is keeping some secrets, and we also get a better sense of his character overall. END SPOILER)

5) The Shadow Cabinet is a much more solid book than 2 was, and I found aspect of the plot surprising and engaging. It's pretty dark in places, though through Rory's voice, I've never felt weighted down by that aspect. She manages a good balance of tones throughout the series. This time, I also didn't feel so much like I was waiting for Rory to mentally catch up to where I was in the story. However, as I mentioned above, after a huge cliffhanger and a long wait, I wanted more emotional satisfaction from this one. This book doesn't end on a real cliffhanger, but it's definitely not the end of the series. Some things are set up for the future. This book definitely widens the overall focus - a lot of the directional transition I sensed in The Madness Underneath, is made clear here. 

Love Triangle Factor: Hmmm. I'm going to go with Mild again, but this one is tough. Check the hidden content above and my thoughts on Goodreads for more info on this point.
Cliffhanger scale: Low/Medium. Set up for a future book. But this plot works itself out, and low immediate danger to characters. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson

Conspiracy Girl
by Sarah Alderson
Read: February 17 - 18, 2015
Published: February 12, 2015 by Simon & Schuster
Source: Kindle purchase
Tags: Thriller, Older YA 

Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Everybody knows about the Cooper Killings – the Bel Air home invasion that rocked the nation.
There was only one survivor - a sixteen year-old girl.
And though the killers were caught they walked free.

Now eighteen, Nic Preston - the girl who survived - is trying hard to rebuild her life. She’s security conscious to the point of paranoia and her only friend is a French Mastiff bulldog, but she’s making progress. She’s started college in New York and has even begun dating.

But then one night her apartment is broken into and the life Nic’s worked so hard to create is shattered in an instant. 

Finn Carter - hacker, rule breaker, player – is the last person Nic ever wants to see again. He’s the reason her mother’s killers walked free from court. But as the people hunting her close in, Nic has to accept that her best and possibly only chance of staying alive is by keeping close to Finn and learning to trust the person she’s sworn to hate.

Fleeing across a snowbound New England, frantically trying to uncover the motive behind the murders, Nic and Finn come to realize the conspiracy is bigger than they could ever have suspected. But the closer they get to the truth and the closer they get to each other, the greater the danger becomes.

To survive she has to stay close to him.
To keep her safe he has to keep his distance.

Conspiracy Girl is another thrilling read from Sarah Alderson. It begins with an intensely traumatic break-in, features two unlikely characters on the run together and adds a slow building romance to sweeten it all up. 

Two years ago Nic Preston was the only survivor in a brutal home invasion that left her mother and step-sister dead. Then the nightmare continued into a high profile trial that thrust Nic in the center of the spotlight. Although it's been a slow process for Nic, she is doing her best to move on with her life, including moving to New York City to attend college. But Nic's fragile sense of safety is quickly shattered when she discovers an intruder in her house. This should not be possible in her very secure apartment with its state of the art security system. How is this happening again? Is this the same people who attacked her family before? And what are the after now? 

Much to Nic's dismay, this recent trauma puts her directly in the path of Finn Carter, a master hacker and computer wiz whose evidence allowed the suspects in the murder trial walk free 2 years ago. Nic is not pleased to see Finn again, in fact it's pretty safe to say she hates him. But she soon discovers that he might be her best chance of survival. Conspiracy Girl is told in dual narration between Nic and Finn, and it's very helpful to get both of their perspectives throughout the story.

Nic begins this book scared and beaten down by the horrible things that have happened to her in the past, especially as they're all happening again. But there's fire in her as well, and I enjoyed seeing her discover that throughout the course of this story. As much as he comes across as arrogant - because he really is good at what he does and he knows it - Finn has a heart for solving crime and protecting the innocent. I was a little worried that Finn was going to get too wrapped up in being Nic's savior. But I appreciated the glimpses we got of his past that showed why he is the way he is. And the fact that he is very supportive of Nic and thrilled when she shows the strength inside of her. 

As you've probably guessed, there's a slow building hate to love romance between Nic and Finn. I loved watching it play out throughout the course of this story. They spend a lot of time together, and much of the time, it is just the two of them trying desperately to stay alive. For their own survival, they must learn to trust each other and over time that tension builds between them and then it explodes. 

The romance, while a delicious edition, was not the main event in Conspiracy Girl. This book is a mystery and thriller, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout it. I was constantly worried that Nic and Finn would not be able to outrun their pursuers in time, and I was frantically trying to figure out why Nic was still a target. The revelations at the end definitely surprised me. One, I'm still a little confused on the motive, but Sarah Alderson did a great job keeping me turning pages trying to find out what happens next. Finn and Nic face a whole lot of danger together and things keep getting crazier for them. 

Sarah Alderson is fantastic at combining dangerous situations, lots of intensity with swoony romance and hot boys. I have been a fan of Sarah Alderson since her Hunting Lila, and enjoyed Conspiracy Girl a lot. 

Love Triangle Factor: None 
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tunnel Vision by Susan Adrian

Tunnel Vision
by Susan Adrian
Read: February 13 - 15, 2015
January 20, 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin
Source: Kindle purchase
Category: YA, paranormal, male narrator, mental/psychic abilities
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Book Description: Romance and action come crashing together when a teenage boy with incredible powers is brought to the attention of the government.

Jake Lukin just turned 18. He's decent at tennis and Halo, and waiting to hear on his app to Stanford. But he's also being followed by a creep with a gun, and there's a DARPA agent waiting in his bedroom. His secret is blown.

When Jake holds a personal object, like a pet rock or a ring, he has the ability to "tunnel" into the owner. He can sense where they are, like a human GPS, and can see, hear, and feel what they do. It's an ability the government would do anything to possess: a perfect surveillance unit who could locate fugitives, spies, or terrorists with a single touch.

Jake promised his dad he’d never tell anyone about his ability. But his dad died two years ago, and Jake slipped. If he doesn't agree to help the government, his mother and sister may be in danger. Suddenly he's juggling high school, tennis tryouts, flirting with Rachel Watkins, and work as a government asset, complete with 24-hour bodyguards.

Forced to lie to his friends and family, and then to choose whether to give up everything for their safety, Jake hopes the good he's doing—finding kidnap victims and hostages, and tracking down terrorists—is worth it. But he starts to suspect the good guys may not be so good after all. With Rachel's help, Jake has to try to escape both good guys and bad guys and find a way to live his own life instead of tunneling through others.

Jacob Lukin is a senior in high school. He likes to play video games with his best friend Chris, is excited about college in the fall, and really likes a girl in his class named Rachel. He's basically a regular guy, except for one extraordinary talent. If Jake is holding an object that belongs to someone else, he can "tunnel" to them. He can tell you where the person is in the world and what they're doing at this exact moment. 

However, when Jake was little, his dad told him never to show anyone what he could do, because bad things would happen to him. Jake kept that promise, except for the one time he got drunk at a party and shared it with some of his close friends. Now the government wants Jake to work for them, and he doesn't really have a choice if he wants to keep his family safe. But it's hard to keep his new role a secret while living his normal life. 

My thoughts
Tunnel Vision was so much fun! I really enjoyed the narrator Jake, especially. He starts off as a normal high school kid with regular concerns. His ability is just a cool talent he has. But when the government finds out what Jake can do, his ability becomes Very Important and Jake gets thrown into a world that he doesn't understand at all. He's quite naive at first and in way over his head. But one of my favorite parts of this story is seeing Jake grow up through it all. Although it takes him some time - and me some frustration - Jake ends up being highly adaptable and resourceful. He learns to navigate some very sticky situations and becomes quite badass by the end. But he's still relatable and likable through the entire story. Author Susan Adrian did a great job capturing Jake's voice, showing his character growth and making me care for him throughout the book. 

This book also has some great secondary characters, and I loved Jake's sister Myka and his grandfather 
Dedushka the most. It seemed like Dedushka, was going to be more of a comic relief character, but he added a lot of depth and perspective to this story. Although the character who surprised me the most was Eric. I like that his story arc added complexity to the overall book, especially in terms of the uneasy situation Jake gets himself into. To that end, I appreciated that we were able to see both the benefit and danger of an ability like Jake's, and why people would want so much to be able to use it. But it makes Jake so incredibly valuable and coveted that it completely alters his life too. 

We do eventually get some answers about the origins of Jake's tunneling ability, which is pretty cool and also freaky. I was worried it would be a random phenomenon at first, and I don't really like supernatural abilities that have no context, but Jake's ability to tunnel ends up having an intriguing background. If this story continues into a series, I'd love to find out more about this element. 

For romance fans, this book contains a very mild love story, which was sweet, although it was not central to the plot. It is present in the beginning and then picks up again later, but sort of abruptly. I'm always a fan of the inclusion a love story element, but I do wish we'd gotten to know Rachel better. However, 
I did really like what we saw of her. Especially that we were able to see reasons why Rachel and Jake are a good fit, in that they compliment and work together well. 

I do very much hope we will see another book about Jake to come! There's a lot left of this world that I'd like to explore. But I enjoyed this as a standalone if it stays that way. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger scale: low but great potential for more story. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Early Review: The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

The Storyspinner
by Becky Wallace
Read: January 26 - 28, 2015
March 3, 2015 by Margaret K. McElderry
Source: Edelweiss (TY S&S!)
Category: YA, Fantasy, missing princesses, magic, circus performers

Series: The Keeper's Chronicles #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Drama and danger abound in this fantasy realm where dukes play a game for the throne, magical warriors race to find the missing heir, and romance blossoms where it is least expected.

In a world where dukes plot their way to the throne, a Performer’s life can get tricky. And in Johanna Von Arlo’s case, it can be fatal. Expelled from her troupe after her father’s death, Johanna is forced to work for the handsome Lord Rafael DeSilva. Too bad they don’t get along. But while Johanna’s father’s death was deemed an accident, the Keepers aren’t so sure.

The Keepers, a race of people with magical abilities, are on a quest to find the princess—the same princess who is supposed to be dead and whose throne the dukes are fighting over. But they aren’t the only ones looking for her. And in the wake of their search, murdered girls keep turning up—girls who look exactly like the princess, and exactly like Johanna.

With dukes, Keepers, and a killer all after the princess, Johanna finds herself caught up in political machinations for the throne, threats on her life, and an unexpected romance that could change everything.

The Storyspinner is a great beginning to a new fantasy series that features magic, acrobats, a missing princess and a delicious South American flavor. In fact I was so into the story that the ending completely snuck up on me. This is partly because it stops when quite a lot is happening. Despite that, the end didn't feel like a scary cliffhanger. More like the first part of something exciting that I can't wait to dive back into again.

One of my favorite aspects of this story is the third person rotating perspective, featuring two groups of people working towards each other (though they don't all realize it). The Keepers, holders of magic, are desperate to find a princess who's been in hiding since she was an infant. They need her to help keep peace and restore balance in their world. Along their journey, the Keepers, led by Jacaré, discover that girls fitting the princess's description have started to disappear. An unknown entity is also hunting the princess, but for more frightening reasons. 

The other perspectives we see are of Johanna, the daughter of Performers, who also bears a striking resemblance to the lost princess, her family and that of Lord Rafael DeSilva. The young Duke and Johanna's paths - they would both say unfortunately - cross and then can't seem to escape each other. 

I am a fan of multiple narrators, even though that usually slows down the pacing of a book for me. However, that didn't happen for me with The Storyspinner. Although I felt like I got to know Johanna the best - the action definitely centers around her - I enjoyed all of the perspectives we got and the way the author builds both the world and the tension through their different perspectives.

As I mentioned, this book features a South American, Brazilian flavor. The Keepers even  have descriptive Portuguese names meaning alligator, viper, lion, fire,  all of which capture a little bit of the individual who possesses them. I also like how their names group them together and set them apart from the second set of narrators. As I followed the characters, I enjoyed getting to know the landscape with its heat and mango orchards, the Performer's camp featuring acrobats, Storytellers and singers, and the magic of the Keepers in the north. However, I really want a map (I'm unsure whether the final version will contain one)! I was a bit confused about the locations of everything - I'm such a visual person. I'd also like more information about the history of the Keepers. Their past war and what happened 16 years ago. 

Of course, I am always up for a good love story and two sweet and slow building romances are featured in this book, both of which are somewhat forbidden. No love triangles. I enjoyed both of them very much. One is more settled in the end than the other, but the more tentative one has the potential to be really great going forward. 

Basically, I'm counting down the days until I can jump back into this world again. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium - story just feels like it cuts off. I want more! 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula Blog Tour
Count Spatula's Guide to Kitchen Infestations + Giveaway

Blog Tour for Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula 
See below or visit Mac Teen Books for the full schedule 

Who can resist Count Spatula, the vampire and royal chef – who has lost his incisors because of cavity problems resulting from his perpetual sweet tooth? 

I have a special treat for you all today! Count Spatula has stopped by as part of his Guide to Baking tour to tell us how to get rid of the pesky problem of a chocolate mice kitchen infestations. 

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula
by Andi Watson
Published: February 24th 2015 by First Second
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N 

Princess Decomposia is overworked and underappreciated.

This princess of the underworld has plenty of her own work to do but always seems to find herself doing her layabout father's job, as well. The king doesn't feel quite well, you see. Ever. So the princess is left scurrying through the halls, dodging her mummy, werewolf, and ghost subjects, always running behind and always buried under a ton of paperwork. Oh, and her father just fired the chef, so now she has to hire a new cook as well.
Luckily for Princess Decomposia, she makes a good hire in Count Spatula, the vampire chef with a sweet tooth. He's a charming go-getter of a blood-sucker, and pretty soon the two young ghouls become friends. And then...more than friends? Maybe eventually, but first Princess Decomposia has to sort out her life. And with Count Spatula at her side, you can be sure she'll succeed.
Andi Watson (Glister, Gum Girl) brings his signature gothy-cute sensibility to this very sweet and mildly spooky tale of friendship, family, and management training for the undead.

Kitchen Infestations. An occasional series by Count Spatula

One of the the hazards of running a busy kitchen is the problem of infestations. No one wants to admit they have vermin trouble or that hygiene standards may have slipped. However, it does occasionally happen and the sooner the pests are tackled the better. The longer an infestation is allowed to prosper, the harder it is to eventually get rid of them. This time I will turn my attention to the baker's most commonplace unwanted visitor, the chocolate mouse.

I've made many thousands of chocolate mice over the centuries and it only takes two to escape to start an entire population that will plague a kitchen for months. Chocolate mice come in three varieties: milk, dark and white. White mice have the advantage of being easier to spot. All of them have enormous appetites and leave behind their natural waste product: chocolate chips.

Prevention is better than cure so take all possible precautions when making chocolate mice and ensure they are securely stored in nibble proof containers. If you worry that one or more has escaped then clean up every crumb, marshmallow and sugar sprinkle from the kitchen surfaces. Put all ingredients in jars rather than paper bags, this will stop them eating their way into everything and prevent a good deal of waste and mess. Denying the mice an easy food source will encourage them to move elsewhere.

If your mice are stubborn to shift, there are a number of ways to get rid of them. The last and least preferable is poison. Naturally, no baker wants poison in their kitchen so I would recommend other methods. Mousetraps are the next best option. If you're squeamish there are humane designs that trap the mouse rather than kill it. Be certain to release the captive as far away from the kitchen as possible. Whichever design you choose, a square of cheesecake will help lure the mouse into the trap. A very strong cheese tempts the whiskery pests best. If your mice become wise to the traps then you can bake or borrow a marmalade cat. Just the smell of a marmalade mouser is enough to scare the mice away and a cat can be pleasant company as long as it keeps its paws off the work surfaces.

While chocolate mice are a delicious treat, they must be treated with great care. The safest way to handle them, I find, is to eat them immediately after they've set, tail and all.


About the Author/Illustrator 

Andi Watson was born and raised in the north of England where he loved to draw and read books. It rained a lot. Upon graduating college he realised this was the perfect background for a cartoonist. He has created comics for grown ups and children and those somewhere in between. Occasionally he's been nominated for awards (three Eisners, a Harvey, and a British Comics Awards). He works from home where he should buy fewer books or more bookshelves. He lives in Worcester with his wife and daughter. Visit his website and find him on twitter at .


Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, February 16 – Stacked
Tuesday, February 17 – Bumbles & Fairy Tales
Wednesday, February 18 – Love is Not a Triangle
Thursday, February 19 – Alice Marvels
Friday, February 20 – Haunted Orchid
Monday, February 23 – Supernatural Snark
Tuesday, February 24 – Cuddlebuggery
Wednesday, February 25 – The Book Rat
Thursday, February 26 – The Midnight Garden
Friday, February 27 – The Book Smugglers



Win a finished copy of Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula

Giveaway is for US or Canada residents only (Sorry, other international readers!)
You must be at least 13 years old to enter
See my policies HERE

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